Heroes, Anti-Heroes, And King Lear Fiction Part II

Posted: March 21, 2012 in Inkspots, Musings
Tags: , , , , ,

Let me begin this part, by first defining the roles of  the Hero, the  Reluctant Hero/Unlikely Hero, and  the Anti-Hero. I think part of the problem we Scribes were having talking about this topic is  that there some confusion between an anti-hero and a reluctant hero. Hopefully this will help  to clarify before we go any further.

The Hero:

In Greek literature, a Hero was a character who was “dead” for only the dead could carry out the impossible. Some characters were literally dead, others went through the realm of the dead to get a talisman that gave them super(or above) human strength.  They were either demigods or beloved of the gods for the most part, though most at this point had a fatal weakness. This vanished from their character roughly in the time of the Middle Ages in Europe and the Hero became more what we see and understand them to be today when he entered the realm of the faerie tale.

Traditionally, Heroes are more handsome, stronger, and more noble than the “everyman” hearing or reading the tale. In faerie tales as well as pulp fiction and early comic books, the hero is the one that upholds the moral absolute and is able to over come the villain(s) and obstacles in his path through despite the handicap of not being able to “sink to their level”.

Characters like this today are referred to rather disparagingly as “white hats”  because  of the high moral standard they keep and the righteous way that they move throughout the story are seemingly unattainable by the reader.  A look back through fiction and history shows this is nothing new, heroes have always been above and a challenge to, the everyman reading the story. They have either no flaws, or very small flaws, and often are seen as a two-dimensional version of the Reluctant or Unlikely Hero.

Characters that fit into this category are:  Prince Charming (or any Prince usually from a faerie tale), Clark Kent,  The Lone Ranger, Tonto, Nancy Drew, Billy Bud*, Rose from “Rose in Bloom”, Rachel from “Ivanhoe”, The Hardy Boys,  and Dick Tracy to name a few.

* Might also be considered the Christ character

The Reluctant Hero/Unlikely  Hero:

A character that is not one that wants to get involved in a conflict.   They tend to be more on the plain side, and they also tend to have  no real formal training in the art of hero-ing. They keep their head down and go on about their business, until. With a reluctant hero/unlikely hero, there’s always an ‘until’ which is what takes this ‘everyman’ from a regular character into the hero category.  It’s this ‘until’ moment that gives them their reason for getting involved in the larger story arch.  Their reason for battling the antagonist is  personal.

While the Hero would stand up against the villain because what the villain is doing is morally perceived as wrong or cruel, the Unlikely Hero stands up against the antagonist  because   they are protecting their family, protecting their land, or protecting their planet. Reluctant heroes or unlikely heroes  are more common than any other hero on the market today, in fact I’d go as far to say that they make up more than 70% of the current market.  They have more grit, and greater flaws than the Hero, and are more likely to do things that the hero wouldn’t do, like harm someone to get information or steal when they are in need. They don’t have the same moral center that the hero has, right and wrong are more blurred for them but they are still definitely there.

Characters that fit into this category are: Indiana Jones, Iron Man, Mara Jade, Han Solo,  Shasta from “The Horse and His Boy”, Marian from BBC’s “Robin Hood”  Dustfingers, Frodo,  and Wesley from “The Princess Bride”.

The Anti-Hero :

A character that is not classically handsome, does not hold the sterling values of a traditional hero, and is motivated to stand against the antagonist for reasons of self-gain.  At times, the anti-hero can be a more sympathetic villain, working against the hero  and the antagonist, for their own reasons which are understandable and even acceptable to the reader. The usually have no qualms in doing things that the regular hero would find unacceptable like killing, maiming, and destroying to get what they want.

There are degrees of anti-hero, from the disillusioned hero(Sherlock Holmes) who finds that their value isn’t recognized by the world at large, to the one that the system of justice has failed (Punisher) to the  villain with a soul (ex-murder and brawler Riddick who fights because his life is threatened) and   in the dark morass of this field it takes a careful footing not to push too far. The degree between anti-hero and villain is at times  very small.

Characters that fit into this role are: Dirty Harry, Cat Woman, Riddick,  The entire crew of Serenity (Firefly), Scarlet O’Hara,  Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, Batman,  Katniss,   Dexter,  Punisher, and The Shadow.

It’s interesting to note, that there are nearly no real heroes in King Lear type fiction. I’ve yet to find one. They just don’t fit. The heroes in Lear fiction are  Reluctant Heroes and Anti-Heroes.

Which brings me to ask, where have all the real heroes gone? And why aren’t we Scribes writing them any more? Have we gotten sucked into the slip-stream of the latest trend and abandoned them? Or have we as a people outgrown the need for sterling doers of good deeds? What do you think?

Encourage one another Scribes.

  1. Hmm. I think I easily confuse the reluctant hero with the anti hero. 0.o So the entire crew of serenity is antihero? odd, I never would have guessed. Except for Jane, of course. I mean, the others wanted it too, but I wouldn’t consider the doctor or his sister antiheroes, more like reluctant heroes. Batman’s an antihero? I can see that. He’s pretty cool though. 😛

    • The captain on the first episode kills the hunter sent after him to ‘get’ him by kicking him, into the ships’ Intake. He only wants to fly and be left in piece-the Reevers are a threat to that. River is psychotic, Shep while a man of the cloth is dangerously violent. Each and every one of the characters has a self-first motivation. And remember, that’s not bad, it’s just not a hero. And there is a slew of ranking in the anti-hero department, Sherlock is an anti-hero too. And before anyone asks, Rivers self motivation is to stay away from the “Blue hands two-by-two” and I find no fault with that.

  2. Aye, I can see River as an antihero now that you put it that way. I just tended to think of her as a psychotic reluctant hero. (i.e. when she helps out what’s her name when they’re trapped under enemy fire, although that could just be survival instinct) The captain is an antihero in that he wants to fly in peace and that he hates the ruling government and wants to tear them down by any means necessary. I still say the doctor isn’t…he’s just looking after his sister. Shepherd is definitely violent when he needs to be, but he always seemed like a reluctant hero to me…he has his faults but he seems to care for people and want what’s right, and I believe he struggled with joining a pirate ship at first.

    • I don’t see Shepherd as ever really doing anything for anyone else. I think he’s closet to Jayne he just won’t admit it. Jayne at least is honest. The Doctor never really seemed to me, to care about the crew other than they were keeping his sister safe. Again, there’s nothing wrong with having an anti-hero in a book, but they are extremely different than a hero.

  3. Galadriel says:

    Doctor Who is an interesting case here, because he can vary from “anti-hero” in the sense of not perfect to the sense of only slighty better than the bad guys. TV Tropes’ article on “Sliding scale of ani-heroes” explains it much better than I could.

Be brilliant, be peculiar, be peculiarly brilliant.

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