Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Anti-hero and the rise and fall of heroic virtues!

                                        [image courtesy: Flickr Creative Commons;  yosoyjulito]

 My ever faithful Collins Concise Dictionary (2001) defines the antihero as "a central character in a novel/play/etc who lacks the traditional heroic virtues."

Traditional heroic virtues are those that you'd expect a typical hero to possess; prudence, bravery, moral fortitude, and a sense of justice. The antihero therefore, is a character lacking these virtues. Instead of being prudent, he can be rash, instead of being brave, he can be cunning, instead having moral fortitude, he can be amoral and instead of being just can be corrupt. Subsequently the anti-hero can be a lot of fun to write!

I have noticed a rise in the antihero in recent years, characters such as Hellboy, Dexter, Le Stat and many more, are all non-conventional "heroes". Their behaviour ultimately is for good, but aspects of their personality and behaviour are definitely far from the realms of 'heroic virtue'.

Despite all this, the antihero must be redeemable (or if not redeemable at the very least likeable!) He should not do anything so heinous as to be unable to restore the readers faith in him. This is where ulterior motives are important. Those bad things your antihero says/does - need to have a good ulterior motive behind them. A traumatic childhood, a painfully failed relationship that has bittered his personality can be good reasons too. Oftentimes however, the antihero is simply forced to do bad things by someone else - but the reader and other characters are almost always unaware of these reasons. The true reason for the antihero's anti-heroic behaviours is usually revealed at another time. 

Why exactly the antihero has become so popular is a bit of a mystery to me - perhaps it has something to do with the global climate of suspicion and scepticism that has brought rise to these flawed heroes. I don't know. Either way, the Antihero is not only fun to write, but great to read. A good hero with antihero tendencies is intriguing and will keep the reader turning pages, guessing and predicting until the very end!

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