Thursday, January 2, 2014


Back to blogging! One new year's resolution is to post more. Anyway, Wes mentioned the anti-hero, and I thought maybe we could talk about anti-heroes, how you would define that kind of protagonist, examples maybe?

In my understanding, the anti-hero is usually someone who isn't heroic in the standard sense because he lacks some of the striking "good" qualities of a hero, while he has the heroic qualities of strength or purpose or something that gives him power. And he uses that power (and perhaps some underhanded "unheroic aspects") to do something good. That is, his character might not be heroic, and his motivation might not be heroic (he might want the right thing for the wrong reasons, like revenge or money), and his methods might not be heroic, but what he achieves is heroic (the results). And for whatever reason (this is tricky to accomplish), the reader identifies with him in some way.
The classsic pairing has been Superman (hero), Batman-Dark Knight (anti-hero). Superman does the right thing for the right reason. Batman does the right thing for the wrong reason. Both use heroic strengths to achieve something good, but Batman also uses bad tactics.
Scarlet O'Hara is an anti-heroine in that she has heroic strengths that help her survive the war but more than that, to help others (her whole family, her beloved's wife that she hated ever) survive the war. She's willing to do anything to save her farm, including marrying her sister's fiance (not heroic, but achieved a good end). She's actually more of an anti-hero than Rhett (who actually realizes that his romantic need to be a hero in the war was pretty stupid).
There was a time that "antihero" was used to refer to "nebbishy guys" like Benjamin in The Graduate, who have no heroic strengths and aren't at all "Bad", but that didn't last, fortunately. They aren't anti-heroes but more like "everymen".
The Byronic hero is generally considered to be artistic and "moody" and obsessed with women. I wouldn't say they're anti-heroes, but what we romance writers would call "the romantic hero"-- heroically tormented emotionally.
But the antihero usually is the one who does the right thing for the wrong reasons (but with some strength or power that would ordinarily be considered heroic). A villain will often do use heroic strengths to do the WRONG thing (though it might be for the "right" reasons like religion or patriotism).


Anonymous said...

I logged on to check the archives, and surprise, a new post. Wonderful.


PS: Hope I can get Blogger to work for me.

Anonymous said...

/houseboat here/

I think of 'anti-hero' as more of a kind of genre/skeleton/protocol kind of thing than about the actual moral make-up of the character. Like, what to expect while reading this story, what the payoffs will be, etc. In a comedy the payoffs will be a series of funny incidents. In a horror story they will be a series of horrifying incidents. In a heroic action story they will be a series of challenges in which the character does something heroic, something admirable.

In an anti-hero story there will be a lot of places where the genre tropes (of detective story, or s&s story, etc) are set up -- but each payoff has the main character doing something that disappoints the reader's usual, positive expectations. This is a pattern, the reader comes to expect it.

What the character actually does can be noir, or wimpy (Rincewind) -- or creatively evil beyond anyone's expectations (Flashman).

Chechov et all have some characters who do very evil things for very evil reasons -- but we don't call those 'anti-hero stories'.

Edittorrent said...

Hi, Wes! this came out of our discussion.

Houseboat, yes, I think the plot implications are really interesting because it actually subverts our expectation that the central character is "good" and will have "good effects."

Characters, being people, are more interesting than that. :)