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Confessions of a Hero Whore

More often than not when you ask me who my favorite character in a book, film, or television series is, it's the hero. Not that I don't appreciate the grayer characters, the morally ambiguous types--tricksters, shady allies and informants, double-agents, self-serving baddies with sympathetic pasts and motivations.

But sometimes I think those grayer characters get overvalued, proclaimed "way more interesting" than the heroes, who are decried as boring and predictable when the do the right thing, and lambasted when they make a mistake. Similarly, fans who like hero characters are made to feel like throwbacks to 1952.

But where would we be without the heroes? A story full of characters whose primary motivations are self-serving or up for grabs may make an interesting read/viewing experience, but an abundance of stories like that leave me feeling ungrounded. Those gray characters are like the icing without the cake. I need to have someone in the story who I can root for without feeling like I washed myself with a dirty rag. Someone far from perfect but who I know is trying to do the right thing, even if they mess it up a lot along the way. Even if, in the end, they fail.

It's a bit embarrassing, though, to be asked who your favorite character is in fandom discussions and have to "admit":

Oh, Highlander? Duncan Macleod
Harry Potter series: Harry Potter
Merlin BBC: well, Merlin, of course
Angel the Series: Angel
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Ben Sisko
Once Upon A Time: Emma Swan
Harry Dresden: Harry Dresden

...and so on.

It's not always the case though. My favorite ST: TNG character was Data. But of course, he was the epitome of the awkwardly sincere trying-to-be-the-best-of-humanity. And my favorite character on Lost was Hurley, but y'know, Everyman with a Heart of Gold, he was. On ST: Voyager, I liked Be'lanna Torres. I have a thing for the fucked-up tough girls. But I'm not sure I would have stayed glommed onto the angry, screwed-up babes if they weren't flawed-but-trying-to-be-a-good-person. To wit: Faith on BtVS/AtS. Although she was never my favorite character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I never really had one, except possibly the foursome of Buffy+Giles+Willow+Xander. The collective heroic.

Do I get points if my favorite Anne Rice vampire was Armand? He was no saint. I could never stand Lestat, but I liked Louis quite a bit. I prefer my vampires with a soul.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 28th, 2013 07:48 pm (UTC)
I am one of those who goes for the sidekick or the snarky stand off to the side types. Mostly it is because that's what I identify with, but I also have an occasional resentment of authorial authority. I don't like being told who is always right, who I'm supposed to be interested in - the Chosen One trope really bugs me (in Harry Potter it was Neville who I was rooting for the most). Though most of the people on your list were of the self-doubting type which makes them more relatable. It is interesting though who we look to for the entry points to the story.
Mar. 28th, 2013 08:00 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't exactly "identify" with the hero. On Highlander, for example, I identified more with Richie. But I was carried along with Duncan's struggle. I understand it. I root for him.

There are some exceptions to my "hero favorite character" rule, and it is generally something unidentifiable that doesn't allow me to get carried up with the main protagonist/hero--Jean Luc Picard on ST: TNG. Didn't dislike him, didn't vibe with him, either. Same with Jack (?) on Lost. Didn't dislike, didn't wish him ill, didn't vibe with him.

It's a vibe thing. Hard to pin down. But I don't identify with the heroes I like. I feel for them and root for them.

And I have Big Time story-kink for Messiah/Chosen One trope.
Mar. 28th, 2013 08:40 pm (UTC)
My problem with the Chosen One is that it feels like the big authorial hand telling me that I have to feel something that may not have been earned. On BtVS I felt like they deconstructed the trope, and Buffy was shown sacrificing a lot for her special status.

Jack on Lost would be my perfect example of the author(s) trying to force me to root for a hero. Righteous, kept making mistakes that got other people killed, yet rarely got called on it, and it seemed taken for granted that we cared about him. Then there was that tattoo episode. Oy.

The only time I really liked Jack was when he was crazy!bearded!Jack because for once all the other characters were saying he was wrong. I think I like underdog heroes, if other characters are falling into line behind a hero I need to be able to see why in a very big way.
Mar. 28th, 2013 09:02 pm (UTC)
Well, I only get caught up in the Chosen One trope if it feels earned. With Harry Potter, for example, I think JK Rowling made it clear Harry was only "Chosen" because Voldemort *decided* the prophecy was about Harry. It could have just as easily been about Neville, but Voldemort decided it was Harry, and went after him.

After that, Harry had to rise to the occasion. In some sense, yes, it would have been lame if after seven books, he failed to do so, but he never had it easy, and from his own perspective, he struggled and very well could have failed. It was not a given for him personally, or for any of the other characters. He had to earn it.
Mar. 28th, 2013 10:41 pm (UTC)
I think it is also possible for the writer to want you to like a morally ambiguous character, even though you don't. Lestat in the Vampire Chronicles is a good example. He's not really a hero at all, he's the (allegedly) charming bad-boy protagonist that the writer obviously LOVES and so the narrative does as well. But blech. It's not always a hero thing.
Mar. 28th, 2013 09:24 pm (UTC)
An interesting topic. It relates to the only show from the most recent two or three years that I watch, namely Arrow. It would be very difficult to watch the show for someone who had a hard time with heros.

Oliver Queen is someone who operates with a different philosphical mindset from everyone else. A good portion of the show is flashbacks to the time when he supposedly changed from a worthless untrustworthy playboy to someone concerned about everything going on around him. His biggest threat these days isn't the big bad villain, but instead an honest cop (played by Paul Blackthorne), who hates Oliver for jilting one of his daughters and running away with the other on the journey that killed her and nearly killed Oliver himself. He hates Oliver's masked hero for not playing by the rules he understands, even though he knows anyone playing entirely by the rule of law in the fictional city where they live is probably going to end up a bitter failure, much like himself.

The episode last night questioned whether the audience likes Oliver because he's big and handsome, or whether there is a really difference between Oliver, the hero, from the average vengeful loony.
Mar. 28th, 2013 10:16 pm (UTC)
There is a difference, I think between the Hero who was never a bad guy and the Hero who was formerly bad seeking redemption. I like both those tropes. The second of the two often has a Doubter character who is an impediment to the Hero's good deeds because he doubts the Hero's motives and genuine desire to redeem himself.
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Mar. 28th, 2013 11:42 pm (UTC)
I don't know, it felt to me like the character Merlin poured all his self-identity into being the Hero, or supporting who he perceived to be the Hero unconditionally, as opposed to Emma on OUAT, who pays no attention to her heroic qualities, she just does what she thinks is right in the situation, and doesn't identify herself as heroic.

In between the two is someone like Harry Dresden, who I think perceives himself a hero, but tries not to think about it because that would make him freeze up, but there are times he relishes the role and the sense of superiority that comes with it. Even though he's flawed and he's well aware of those flaws.
Mar. 28th, 2013 11:51 pm (UTC)
You know something? As someone who is generally more likely to be found singing the praises of the ambiguous and the shades-of-gray, the anti-heroes and the complicated villains... I would like to take a moment to join you in saluting the heroes. Hey, where would fiction be without them? And while they certainly can be simplistic -- just like villains can -- they don't have to be. Besides, what I'm mostly a fan of is character complexity, so the more the capacity for complexity in good guys is recognized and used, the happier I am. I may not find myself drawn to them as often, or in quite the same way, even so, but I'm glad they exist, because some of them are just pain fun, and I'm glad there are people out there paying attention to them. :)
Mar. 28th, 2013 11:55 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I think it's just me and the kids and the Dudley-DoRightHero-Type fans. It seems everyone prefers the morally ambiguous characters.
Mar. 29th, 2013 09:20 am (UTC)
I think with good writing, all the characters, even the ones who try hard to do the right thing, are morally ambiguous at times. For example, Angel needs so badly to be good partly because of all the bad stuff he did as Angelus, but also because of all the times he screwed up as Angel.
Mar. 29th, 2013 01:53 pm (UTC)
Yes, making a protagonist both complex, interesting, *and* a basically good person striving to do the right thing is a difficult thing to pull off. "Complex" and "interesting" often imply "flawed", and then you have to weigh the flaws of your character against whatever heroic goals they are trying to achieve.

I suppose what draws me to a hero character is simple faith that, despite their character flaws and the ways they mess up, at the end of the day, they want to do the right thing and try to do it.
Mar. 29th, 2013 04:30 am (UTC)
Interesting. I have to admit, there is very little rhyme or reason to whom I identify with.

The one that I do not like would be the scummy protagonist. I don't get into stories where the protagonist is a thief or killing for fun. I don't mind a previous bad person on a redemption arc.

looking at your examples (or at least the ones I watch/read)
Harry Potter series: Harry Potter
Angel the Series: Angel and Connor equally
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Bashir (but that had more to do with hot doctor than anything)
Harry Dresden: Karrin Murphy and Thomas. Don't get me wrong, I do like Harry but I ended up liking his brother better in some ways
Mar. 29th, 2013 01:42 pm (UTC)
Thomas in the Dresden Files is a great character, and I was tickled when they revealed he was Harry's brother, because of my whole Family kink thing. Harry has "discovered" other bio-family since then, but Thomas was the first, and that had real meaning for him. That said, I don't find myself automatically drawn to pretty boys who the narrative seems to view through a lens of their looks and sexual lives. And TDF really does do that, despite Macho!Harry the POV character's avowed heterosexuality, because it's his brother, so it doesn't count.

I loved Murphy to bits when she was a snarky cop. Lately, her character has been meandering, and we don't see what SHE'S up to outside of her helping Harry.

My relationship with the character Connor on AtS comes secondary to Angel, mainly because I came to fall in love with Connor THRU Angel. Angel was a character I always identified with--broody, quasi-intellectual, and knowing children aren't in his future. And then suddenly, he has one, and he obviously loved that baby a lot. So I did. And then when the baby went away, I was devastated with him. And when they brought back the fucked-up feral man-child with vampire abilities, OMG.

But half of what makes Connor interesting as a character is he's Angel's son.
Mar. 29th, 2013 02:29 pm (UTC)
I can't really argue any of this.

Karrin's character lately has been putting me off in major ways (of course the ending of Cold Days nearly put me off the series). And the inability to see her outside of Harry's pov was something I discussed in the first vs third person pov post I had a month back. That is a disadvantage to first person.

I would love to have another Thomas novella or short story because it's the one time we don't see him thru the lens of his sexuality and impossibly good looks.

And it's very true, to me as well, that Connor is interesting because of his relationship to Angel.
Mar. 29th, 2013 02:48 pm (UTC)
I am reading the short stories book right now and I know there's a Karrin POV story in it. I have a feeling, though, it's all about her relationship with Harry, since it takes place chronologically after "Changes" when she thinks he's dead.
Mar. 29th, 2013 02:58 pm (UTC)
You know I read that one but have very little memory of it. I think it's partly that but more about how she's the one to hold evil at bay. But that was at least a year, year and a half ago.

I remembered Harry's birthday short story better
Mar. 29th, 2013 09:18 am (UTC)
I tend to be all over the map, but for btvs it has always been Buffy for me. I get why some fans dislike her, and why others prefer different scoobies, but I imprinted on her and that meant I hurt when she hurt, etc.
Mar. 29th, 2013 01:47 pm (UTC)
I think it is very difficult for a writer to make an interestingly complex heroic protagonist that people will *like* as well as want to root for. I liked Buffy. And I was always on her side through out the series. I didn't always identify with her in a great many things, but I don't think I'm supposed to simply in order to enjoy her story and root for her to win.
Mar. 29th, 2013 01:49 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty much right there with you. I'm always a big fan of the hero, as well as the loyal sidekick who's there for the hero.
Mar. 29th, 2013 02:20 pm (UTC)
And the other variation, a character who is a sidekick of the hero character, but who is the main character of the story being told. A good example is Merlin in Merlin BBC. I think I also used that trope in The Destroyer.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )