Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The unheroic hero

Posted by: Julia Knight

And so it came to pass that a load of edits for my follow up to Ten Ruby Trick landed in my email and I was knee deep in them. And lo! I forgot I was supposed to do a blog post. Meep!

Luckily, something came to the rescue just in time. I’m a member of a few fantasy forums, and this particular one had a discussion about heroes and grittiness, among other things.

Or rather, protagonists who aren’t heroes. The trend in straight, non romantical fantasy, seems to be for antier and antier “heroes” (or it seems so perhaps, especially this side of the pond). Or main characters, or just protagonists. To follow in the footsteps of someone unlikeable, perhaps irretrievably so. And it made me wonder, just what is it that makes a character likeable? And how far to the unlikeable do we each like our characters?

Thomas Covenant was too far for me. The only redeeming thing was he wasn’t written to make what he did look at all likeable or heroic. He just happened to be the main character.

Other times, the bad guy has so much charisma (or all the best lines) that he’s fascinating to watch—such as Hannibal Lector. It worked for me in Silence of the Lambs, but not in the films where we saw more of him. Because he was only in small doses, his awfulness didn’t overwhelm me.

So for you (when and if you read non romantic fantasy), what makes a hero heroic, and would you read a protagonist that wasn’t, and wasn’t even trying to be?

Julia Knight writes fantasy and historical adventure with dollops of romance, and her next release, The Viking's Sacrifice is coming in January from Carina. You can find out more about her here.


  1. I like Swain's idea that the hero - or any major character - should be enviable in some way. You'd like to be able to do what they do, whether it's good or bad. Bad boys / anti-heroes work because they're off the social leash and can do what you can generaly only think, or wish, you could do.
    Covenant failed for a lot of people because he did nasty things to people who didn't deserve it, and then he moped pitifully about himself, not the victim. That's not a hero.
    So, for me, a hero is a person with a moral compass he or she aspires to hold to. Even if they fail, they try. However, that struggle shouldn't be the be-all and end-all of the story. Enviable and admirable, even in defeat and failure, because they will get back up and try again.

  2. Very nicely put Dave,and I think you're right about Covenant. He didn't really care what he'd done to anyone else, it was all about how awful he felt. Like I say though, I don't think he was written to look heroic.

    But yes, the enviable - very well put

  3. David ... that is such a good explanation ... thank you.

    Julia ... me, I'm a traditionalist. I like my heroes to be heroic, even if reluctantly :)


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