Well, I guess I don't think a hero has to be heroic and protective and all that at the beginning of the book, and most really aren't. There has to be some change between the guy at the beginning and the guy at the end-- I mean, he can't be uniformly humongously wonderful, or what crazy heroine wouldn't fall in love with him on page 1?
Darcy, btw, doesn't save Lydia until about 2/3rds through the book. He certainly has no desire to protect Elizabeth's feelings or her sister's nascent love when we first meet him. So I'm not really sure that Darcy is a good example of Theresa's point-- rather he's a good example of MY point, that -- while Dahl's hero was protective from the start-- heroes don't have to be heroic early on. Darcy and most heroes get better as the book goes on, which means they have to start with some heroic deficits.
The guy grows into being terrific. He's got to show the potential, certainly, but if he's entirely heroic from page 1, what opportunity does he have to grow?
Different ways of structuring, I think. But I really don't think a "hero" in the sense of the male lead has to be "heroic" in the sense of protective and benevolent at the beginning of the story (at the end, sure. Usually).
So I'm right. :) The Dahl hero is set up as a "regular guy," wanting sex alone, and it's a surprise to the heroine that he's really kind of a control freak who wants to keep her safe. She comes to appreciate that.
But I don't think all or even most heroes have to start out with some sort of instinctive protectiveness towards the heroine or anyone else. They CAN be that way, but they don't have to be that way. The heroine, after all, is dangerous to them in some way, and so they might not WANT to protect her because they have to protect themselves against her (Buffy and Spike, for example-- sure, he ends UP sacrificing himself to save her, but he starts out trying to kill her-- and he's more heroic because he's made that journey from where he started)).
I think especially in the opening, we must be wary of making characters too totally evolved. That can lead to boring stories. They need to be interesting, sure, but they don't have to and shouldn't be perfect, and so heroes, I think, don't have to be protective to start with. They have to be interesting. But I am crazy about sequencing. I think the END should be different from the beginning, and so should the characters at the end. So what might be de rigeur at the end might be kind of boring if you put it at the beginning. A hero growing into love, sacrifice, protectiveness is more interesting than someone starting out that way and not having much to do to change (in Dahl's case, he has to accept that the heroine can take care of herself, and that he can love her even if she's not constantly in need of protection).
Anne Stuart frequently has heroes who are plain dangerous to the heroines at the start. Or at great odds with the heroines. Or just kind of uncaring. They end up being more protective, sure, but they don't start that way. I like that. I don't write that way-- wish I could!-- but I like to read it. I like some sense that this person has some problems that love can help fix, that he needs the heroine so he can become better-- he's not got all the ingredients for heroism perfectly mixed from the beginning.
Room to grow-- that's really what I want in a character at the beginning. :) At the end, sure, love can so empower him that he gets all protective and sacrificial. (This is sounding a little sexist- the heroine can save him too!)