On Writing: Characters to Love, Characters to Hate

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I’ve been asked quite often why I never went back to write more books in my first series, the LonTobyn Chronicle.  There are several reasons — I had other things I wanted to write, I had completed the story I set out to tell, I felt that I outgrew the worldbuilding — but probably the main reason is that I got bored with my lead characters, Jaryd and Alayna.  They were both so . . . nice (and I say that with as much of a sneer as I can manage) that after a while I just wanted to slap them both.  They were virtuous and kind, generous and wise beyond their years.  Their faults were superficial, their magical powers the stuff of future legend.  They were, in short, just the sort of people I would wind up hating in real life.  By the end of the series, they seemed soulless; if I could have killed them off without angering my fans, I would have.  And their deaths would have been bloody and painful.

One of the reasons many people do not like Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever books is that they cannot get passed the fact that ole Tom is such an utterly distasteful person. Within the first hundred pages or so of the first book of the first trilogy, he rapes a girl.  Many readers can’t get beyond that single hateful act, and to be honest, I can’t really blame them.  And even if a reader can continue reading, even if they can accept the narrative explanation for what Covenant does in that early scene, they are confronted again and again by his cowardice, his selfishness, his complete lack of all those noble qualities with which I over-imbued my lead characters in the LonTobyn books.  He is, in short, a protagonist who is almost impossible to like, and for many readers that is too great an obstacle to overcome.

I have also heard people criticize Neil Gaiman’s award-winning novel American Gods because the lead character, Shadow, is too bland, too unaffected by the horrors and tragedies occurring all around them.  They will tell you that he is too stoic in the face of his wife’s death, too willing to go along with the schemes of the mysterious Mister Wednesday, too content to be drawn along by events rather than trying himself to shape them. 

Where is the balance?  Is there even one to be found in general terms, or is every hero a fresh reinvention and therefore open to experimentation, innovation, exploration?  Are their qualities we can give a hero that would make him or her too evil to be sympathetic?  Would you be willing to read a book in the point of view of a hero who is virtuous in most ways, but is an unrepentant racist?  A misogynist?  A terrorist?  A serial killer?  Most people will tell you that there are certain lines one can’t cross in today’s fiction market.  The first one often mentioned — and certainly one that I could not possibly cross myself, either as writer or reader — is child molestation.  In today’s market, there is no way to make a child molester into anything but a monster, the most abject villain.  But of course, eventually someone is bound to try.  Could you read such a book?

I’m Jewish.  I would find it very difficult — perhaps impossible — to read a book in which the lead character is a Nazi, even if that person had host of laudable qualities.  For me, that is a bridge too far.  On the other hand, I have to admit that I DID get past that early scene in the first Covenant book.  I read all six of the early books, and while they were disturbing, while I found Covenant to be a deeply frustrating character, to this day I cite those books as some of the most influential I ever read.  It was while I was reading Donaldson that I made up my mind to become a professional writer.  I also loved American Gods and liked Shadow as a POV character.  On the other hand, I have come to hate Tolkien’s portrayal of Aragorn, for many of the same reasons why I grew sick of my own LonTobyn heroes.  His virtue is, to me, overbearing, unreal.  He is so *good* as to seem remote.  I can’t relate to him.

Part of what makes Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen work as characters is that they are flawed.  Harry is impetuous, undisciplined, a poor student.  As he ages, he becomes surly and temperamental.  I like that about him.  Katniss, is selfish.  She is sharp and hard, and not at all like the public persona she adopts during the Hunger Games; that tension is part of what makes the story work so well.

Lately I have been reading a couple of books — one a published novel written by a friend, another an unpublished manuscript also by a friend — that have made me think long and hard about what it is I look for in a hero, both as a writer and a reader.  I like dark heroes.  I enjoyed writing Tavis, the lead character in my Winds of the Forelands series, who was a spoiled brat, but eventually grew into the person I (and my readers) wanted him to be.  I have loved writing Ethan Kaille, the hero of Thieftaker, who has been scarred, literally and figuratively, by a dark past.  I don’t know, of course, how readers will respond to him.  He does something in the middle of the first book that many will find unforgivable.  We all have limits as to what we can accept in a protagonist.  We all have lines we cannot cross.

What are yours?  What traits can’t you forgive in a protagonist?  Some of my favorite characters, in addition to those I’ve mentioned already, are Ender in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, Spanner in Nicola Griffith’s Slow River, Tobin in Lynn Flewelling’s The Bone Doll’s Twin.  I love Jane Yellowrock and Will Hawthorne, Belinda Primrose and Kestrel.  Which characters have you loved?  Which have you hated?  What made them work for you, or not?

David B. Coe
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31 comments to On Writing: Characters to Love, Characters to Hate

  • I have a particular soft spot for Belinda Primrose myself… :)

    I got through about 3.5 Covenant books, hating them all the way, and finally realized I didn’t have to read the whole series, so I stopped. The protagonist most likely to put the book down and never read anything by the author again was the main character of SIR APROPOS OF NOTHING, by Peter David. I like EVERYTHING ELSE David has written, but the MC of SAON was such a bastard, such an unforgiveable jackass, that I actually don’t think I *have* read anything by David since then. I stopped halfway through the book and that was it.

    My favorite-ever bastard of a character is Gerald Tarrant in CS Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy. I *aspire* to write a Tarrant-like character someday. He’s very nearly perfect. I just want to roll around in the awesomeness that is his coldblooded murderous self. :)

  • I got to the rape in Covenant and put it down and never went back. A few other books I’ve stopped have been for violence that just got too out of hand for me. I stopped mid-scene in one book and haven’t touched it since. I liked American Gods, but remember very little about Shadow, which might say something. (It might say I read a lot and it’s been a long time!)

    One character I really don’t like is Granny Weatherwax in Terry Pratchett’s novels. She is sanctimonious, mean, and always right. I just keep hoping that she’ll get viciously hurt at some point because of the way she is cruel “for people’s own good.” That kind of cruelty is unbearable for me. Now, cruelty because someone is a bastard is fine, but the “this will help you” or “because I love you and you need to hear it,” just makes me crazy.

    I like my own villains in my demon story–one’s a demon, one’s a tv producer (wait, am I repeating myself?). The demon is uttelry selfish and she’s mean and all of that, but she’s pretty good at making folks think she cares about them. The tv producer (Thomas) is selfish and obnoxious, but I think he’s got some room to grow, and the horrors that he sees is involved in do wear on him.

    I admit, I liked Voldemort. I thought he was pretty well done and compelling. His obvious inability to understand love for others made him pitiable, which was important.

  • I really like Galad Damodred from the Wheel of Time. He isn’t one of the main characters, but he is exceedingly well realized. He is a master swordsman, loyal, honorable, and absurdly good looking. He is ridiculously and stereotypically good, which is his biggest flaw. He does not function well when facing shades of grey. He joins a fantasy version of the KKK because he doesn’t understand that an organization can espouse one set of ideals and act on another.

  • Unicorn

    I’ve said this before and I’m saying it again: one of my favourite ever main characters is Moist von Lipwig of Terry Pratchett’s “Going Postal” and “Making Money”. He’s a conman; he lies and steals shamelessly throughout his story (especially “Going Postal”), but you simply can’t help liking him, partially because he’s genuinely disturbed by the idea of using violence.
    On the other hand I didn’t like Rand al’Thor from Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time”; I couldn’t finish “The Great Hunt”. He seemed so cold, somehow. And though Rowling’s brilliant writing kept me reading through “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, I haven’t reread it over and over like I did with the other six books; Harry was so snappish throughout that book.
    Thanks for a very interesting post.
    Unicorn

  • I wuold say child molestation or child rape would be a definate line for me – as well as abuse of the disabled. With adults, I am pretty forgiving because most adults at least have a hand in their situation whereas torturing those who had no choice in the matter bothers me. Lie David said, this line is getting closer and closer to being crossed – just look at George RR Martin’s work. If you read ASoIaF while keeping in mind that the Stark children are between the ages of 5 – 16, it makes it difficult to read.

    Wouldn’t this look at flawed protagonist also apply to flawed antagonist? it difficult in today’s day and age to get away with a one chade evil character.

  • Thanks for the comments all. Lots of titles to consider for the to-be-read pile, and a few, it seems, to avoid completely! Mark, to answer your question, I do think that this can apply to antagonists as well, but while it can be fun to have an antagonist who your readers like (I loved writing Cadel in Winds of the Forelands for just that reason), it’s not essential that your villain be sympathetic. Understandable? Yes. Multi-dimensional and complex? Absolutely. But not likable. Thomas Covenant would have been a very good antagonist. But he is a far more problematic protagonist, which is part of what makes the series so interesting.

  • One of my all-time favorite characters is Tyrion Lannister in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. So very flawed (alcoholic, bebauched, murderer, kinslayer, conniving, and full of righteous self-hate), yet even after 5 meaty volumes, I’m rooting for him as much (or even more) than the protagonist, Jon Snow. Come to think of it, maybe he IS the protagonist.

    I also love Will Lawrence, the hero of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, whose heroic principles and love (for his dragon and country) are his own undoing. Another memorable character for me is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s interpretation of Morgan le Fay in the Mists of Avalon. Again, a precieved ‘unlikeable’ character whose own principles put her at odds with everyone around her, yet clearly she is the flawed heroine.

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    David, we shall have to agree to disagree on Aragon. He is my favorite character of all in the Trilogy, and I cannot watch the movies again–good as they are–because they handled him so horribly, taking out everything that made me love the character so much. He doesn’t seem at all dull to me. He seems noble, patient, driven, many qualities I find very interesting.

    As to not so good characters, the number one complaint I get about the Prospero’s Daughter’s books is that people do not like Miranda in the first book. Not everyone. Some people like her right off, but others don’t like her until the later books–when everything goes wrong for her and she becomes less arrogant and kinder.

    As to what I do and don’t like…I like characters with nobel goals. Their actions don’t always have to live up to those goals…in fact, for interesting characters, often they do not. I wouldn’t mind reading about a character committing a crime, if I understood his motives. I don’t tend to want to read about people with unpleasant motives. (I put the Covenant books down way before he got to the rape.)

  • Megan B.

    I have trouble getting past overt misogyny or any kind of extreme condescension. I will keep reading, but I will despise that character! Of course, if the writer has made me hate the character as a person then they’ve done their job.

    I also have a real problem with any type of rape scene in books and movies. I stopped watching A Clockwork Orange because of it.

  • Two words: Hannibal Lecter

  • ajp88

    PandoraSwift, I can’t agree more. I read the title of this post and instantly thought of that noseless dwarf. The reader roots for him constantly even when he’s outwitting Starks. When he warns someone not to utter a certain word again, you draw in your breath and forget to breathe again when the word is repeated and a crossbow fired. Almost every POV character from ASOIAF fits into this category. Sure, the Stark children are young but no more than any of the pivotal players during medieval times.

    Cadel was one of the first characters like that I ever read. I despised him and loved him and the way he went out was just perfect.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    My favorite characters are usually side characters. Though I love all of the main characters in Firefly, probably my favorite is Kaylee (closely followed by Jayne, one of the most perfect flawed protagonists ever). Butters in the Dresden Files, Thero in Lynn Flewelling’s Night Runner series, Fred Kwan in Galaxy Quest (raise your hand if you even know which character I’m talking about).

  • sagablessed

    Hm, my Favorite protagonist? Regis Hastur of MZB’s Darkover Novels. He is stuck in a position he loathes, but fills the role out of duty. Plus he has 2 love interests that complicate matters.
    Antagonist? Toss up between Darth Vader and Pennywise. Darth because he tormented by his past, Pennywise because he is not what he seems.
    Secondary character? Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of Henry VII, from Tanya Huff’s BloodLine series.

  • Ken

    I like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden. Over the course of the series, he’s had to make some very hard choices and he’s done terrible things for the best of reasons and he struggles with that. I, too, thought of Tyrion from the Song of Ice and Fire as I was reading. He has his flaws and they are as plain as the nose…ok, well, maybe that’s not the most appropriate saying in this case :)

  • David, I adore scarred scared characters as both protag and antag. The more broken they are the better I like them.

    That said, I recently wrote a scene that is sticking with me far too much, in which Jane Yellowrock does something so horrible (when she is a child) that has caused me to pause. I think I crossed a line. And yet, I am going to leave that scene and that action in. I am going to take a chance that readers will accept it and keep on with the series. It’s a gamble. And I love the chance to do that! What a great job we have!

    As to characters with flaws and lines not to cross, I always heard, don’t kill the dog. But I’ve done that too. LOL

  • Drizzt eventually bored me, though I don’t hate him. The concept behind the character was great, but after a while he was just repetitious and whiny. The older I get, the more a character has to earn their angst. Rand alThor and his girlfriend irritate me. By the end of book 3 I was begging Rand to just get it the heck over with. Break the world already and let’s get on with this story. I didn’t get nearly that far with Thomas Covenant – didn’t even get to the rape. I believe my thinking at the time was something like “this man is a tedious dickhead. I have plenty of those in my life already, why would I waste my time on a fictional one?” And that was that.

    Pea and I have agreed to disagree over Granny Weatherwax and I think it’s a good example, for me, of knowing a character is wrong and liking them anyway. She is a manipulative, conniving person who frequently does the right thing for the wrong reason, or refuses to do the right thing for some selfish reason and has to be manipulated into it by Nanny Og. She’s downright cruel sometimes. Her treatment of Magrat is inexcusable. And yet…I like the cranky old bat. If I had to deal with her real life counterpart I might want to kill her, but something about Granny resonates with me. It’s the arrogant, impatient side of me that wants to steamroll other people when they get in my way and yet also wants to be the good guy. Certain things about Granny, such as the moment she tells her sister she’s angry “because I had to be the good one,” while knowing that she is and always will be at best a feared and tolerated member of her culture’s fringe, never a safely comfortable one – those moments touch an emotional chord with me.

    (PS Jagi – you are so right about what the movies did with Aragorn. It broke my heart.)

  • Enjoying the comments very much.

    Jagi, agreeing to disagree is good. I liked Miranda very much. Her edges made her interesting.

    AJP, thanks for the kind words re. Cadel. That was pretty much exactly what I was looking for.

    Faith, I’ll look forward to reading what Jane does (or did, I guess I should say).

  • My problem with Covenant wasn’t the rape (although that was the last straw) but his ridiculous sense of entitlement. He spent every breath being sorry for himself and demanding that everyone else be twice as sorry as he was. By the time I reached the rape scene, he’d annoyed me so badly I couldn’t take another moment with him.

    I tend to fall in love with characters, and this past weekend I did it again. I just finished reading “Rot and Ruin” by Jonathan Maberry, and right now I’m crazy about the character of Tom Imura. Tom is a zombie hunter, but he doesn’t do it for the reasons you might assume. Tom is strong and fast – you have to be to work as a zombie hunter. But he’s also patient and loving, even if his brother doesn’t see it right away. His patience is his flaw, as you’ll discover when you read the book. And please, go read this book!

  • Rape, definitely, is where I draw the line. I’ve heard of dark and gritty, but that takes it too far. I *was* more forgiving of Sir Apropos as I read the books, partly because of the noble direction hinted at in the first two. I gave up after that, though, when I learned that Peter David himself couldn’t write anything beyond the third. It made me sad.

    I feel a bit out of my depth here, though, because I read for story and not always for character, and I tend to side with the protagonist as I read because I’m an optimist. I also haven’t read any a) Discworld, b) Song of Ice and Fire, or c) Wheel of Time, so maybe I fail at this topic, anyway.

  • I’ll have to side with David on Thomas Covenant. I loved hating him. And, like David, I can blame those books for sparking the fire of writing in me.
    Based on a lot of the posts, I’m not the average reader. I won’t put a book down if it offends me. If the character (protag or antag) rapes, pillages, plunders, is a sadist, racist… it doesn’t matter – so long as those actions or traits are NECESSARY for the story. Faith, I can guarantee I’ll keep reading Jane Yellowrock until you quit writing.
    I’ll join the Tyrion Lannister fan-club, too. Gotta love the little guy!
    What I do dislike is when an evil character is evil for evil’s sake. Sauron, for me, was … bleah. Nothing. Give me his reasons, however misguided or wrong, and if he believes them, I’ll go with it.
    To me, a protag with a selfish streak, fighting evil not just to save the world but because he/she sees some personal gain (even if that gain is just getting out of the bad situation they stumbled into) is much more believable than the good Paladin on his white charger going off to battle Evil because he is Good. Tossing someone who knows she’s a terrible person into that Fight-The-Big-Bad-Evil situation is just so much more fun (to write) and interesting (to read).

  • I’m a Thomas Covenant fan, precisely because he was/is such an arrogant bastard. He did redeem himself by the end of the sixth book, and as he grew to accept the ‘Land’ his ‘unbelief’ sustained the story rather than tore it down.

    … the rape scene snuck up on me and was gone before my shocked senses registered it. I think it was my ‘disbelief’ that allowed me to continue reading. I’ve read the series many times since, and although the scene lost none of its visceral horror for me, as a reader and a writer, and perhaps with a few more years under my belt, I can see it’s context within the story. As a reader it’s about as close to my line in the sand as I want to get. As a writer? (and a woman) … I haven’t gone there yet, and I wonder if I could. I guess I’ll find out when the story arrives and wants to be written

    … I wonder if I read the books now would I have the tolerance and patience to stick with Thomas throughout his Journey? … I don’t know the answer to that either.

  • Lyn, I’m totally with you on Sauron — sounds like you and I have similar tastes in these sorts of things.

    Widder, I think I would have far more trouble getting through the Covenant books now than I did when I was young, but I base that on my memory of the books, not on an unsuccessful attempt to get through them. I think the rape would bother me much more now than it did then — being a husband and a father of girls has changed me, without a doubt. At one point, during the Winds of the Forelands series, I did write a rape scene. It was my villain committing the assault, not a “hero.” Still, it was one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever written. And also one of the best.

  • Razziecat

    David, I would urge you to take a closer look at Aragorn in the books. At the start he is arrogant, impatient with the hobbits, and overly sure of himself. He completely misses the fact that Boromir is obsessed with the ring, and makes the wrong decision in letting Frodo go off alone to think, then fails to keep the company together when they run off searching for Frodo, resulting in Boromir’s death and the breaking of the fellowship. He is far from perfect. I liked him in the movies, too; it was the movies’ treatment of Faramir that upset me, even though in the books Faramir comes off as a little too perfect.

    For myself, I loved Felix Harrowgate in Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinth books, but he is not an easy person to like. Another character describes him as “vain, self-centered, hot-tempered and a born trouble-maker.” He’s all that as well as selfish and mean. A lot of readers can’t stand him, but he does have redeeming qualities, although you have to look hard for them. And he had a horrible past that explained a lot of the bad stuff.

    I would have difficulty accepting a hero/protagonist who was a rapist, a child molester, or a bigot, but a lot depends on the story, the quality of the writing, and the plot. Another deal-breaker would be a protag who abuses animals.

  • Razziecat

    Oh and I almost forgot, I have to put in a good word for Granny Weatherwax! Come on guys, Granny has faced down Death himself! And if you read “Lords and Ladies” wherein Granny takes on the not-so-sweet-and-adorable faery folk, you learn a few things about her past and what she gave up to become the most bad-ass witch in the Ramtops. She’s not the cuddly type, no; she’s tough as old leather. But she sticks up for the ordinary people who depend on her, even though they drive her crazy. Go Granny! :)

  • Awesome, thought-provoking post, David. For me, as a reader, heroes absolutely must have good intentions. They can be rash, uneducated, ignorant, ill-tempered, inept, weak… They can blunder their way through life and make an utter mess of things, but they absolutely cannot be a coward. This is not to say they can’t be terrified, but rather that when it comes down to it, they must do what they believe is right.

    As for Aragorn and Sauron, I agree that the reader only gets a very one-dimensional view of them, but I still enjoy them, and I don’t _think of them_ as one-dimensional characters. It’s important to remember that the story is an epic romance told very much from the viewpoint of the hobbits (Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam to be precise), and the story we’re seeing is very much skewed by their inherent timidity and “small town” upbringing. While we only see Aragorn acting in a noble, wise manner, I feel like there’s enough subtext there to get a sense of his self-doubt and fears–all the stuff that makes him human. We don’t see enough of Sauron to get the same subtext, but I project onto him very real, very human motivations. In fact, Baldairn Motte, the mosaic novel I co-wrote with Craig Comer and Ahimsa Kerp came about when Ahi and Craig started batting around the idea, “What if LOTR was told from the viewpoint of the soldiers in Sauron’s army?” Did they think of themselves as the bad guys? Probably not. Ultimately, our mosaic novel had nothing to do with the LOTR, but it steered us in the direction of writing the story of war from the perspective of characters on all sides, where there weren’t your traditional good and bad guys. Having said all that, I’m probably approaching LOTR from the perspective of a modern fantasy readers who is accustomed to anti-heroes and flawed characters, so maybe I’m projecting things that aren’t really there.

  • JJerome

    I agree with Garrett that cowardice is an unforgivable sin among heroes. A second place would be blandness.

    How about Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser for lewd and lascivious behavior, Elric for not using sun screen and Conan for juicing up?

    Thomas Covenant is very frustrating, and yet, I gobbled up the series, especially number 2. His character was so utterly fascinating because of its sheer improbability.

  • […] David B. Coe on On Writing: Characters to Love, Characters to Hate. […]

  • As for lines to cross I think it would depend heavily on how the character was portrayed, how their actions are represented in the context of their own thoughts and beliefs (Dexter anyone?).
    The Gap series by Stephen R Donaldson (I couldn’t stomach Thomas) had a main character who starts out being the bad guy. He is, in Stephen Donaldson’s way, disgusting and cruel and a little psychotic. But his inner thoughts are laid bare to the reader and you gain an insight into the reasons behind his decrepitude. You come to understand that he doesn’t really want to be bad but he thinks that is the only way to survive in the world as he sees it (a twisted world view at that). Part way through the second book I was really barracking for him because he was changing. His obsession with possessing the other lead character, a woman whom he treated poorly, slowly turned into a kind of friendliness and care and I kept hoping he would take the next step and respect her. It really was a close thing though as to if I was going to read on beyond the first half of the first book.

  • TwilightHero

    Can I say I loved and hated the same protagonist at different points in the series? Rand Al’Thor. (Spoilers follow!) In the first few books he’s a bit bland, it’s true. But once he’s acclaimed as the Dragon Reborn and sets about building his forces, in books four, five and six, I quite liked him. He had achieved what is, for me, the ideal ‘hero’ state; flawed, but not letting those flaws define him; confident in himself and his abilities, but still human.

    And then he spiralled downwards from there, becoming more and more angry, moody, depressed, etc, so that by the twelfth book he’s almost a villain himself. He had his moments, even then – Semirhage and the Domination Band, anyone? – but except for those, he’d become one of my least favorite characters. At least in the end, he sees what he’s become and changes accordingly.

    Concerning what I won’t tolerate in a character, protagonist or otherwise, I’d have to agree that sexual violence will forever scar someone in my eyes. Captain Kennit, from the Liveship Traders trilogy, was quite a likable villain until the rape scene in the third book. Troubled childhood or not – and I particularly liked the Nietzsche observation, that he’d ‘become the monster’ – that was unforgivable.

    Having said that, though, I would also agree that the most terrible things can play a role in the confines of a story. One of my main characters was abused physically, emotionally and yes, sexually, over a prolonged period of time. I beat myself up over it, but I needed her to change from a relatively normal person to someone cold, ruthless, and unforgiving. (And yes, this a protagonist.) Rape is such a horrific crime because of that sense of violation and exploitation. Nothing else quite conveys that, and it changes people.

    And I can’t help chiming in on the Sauron thing. I too disliked him as a villain: not because he was evil for evil’s sake. I find those types of villains to be the most difficult to pull off – how do you portray someone who goes around killing people ‘because he feels like it’ without making him two-dimensional? – but among the best when someone does. (Can’t think of any in books I’ve read, but…the Joker, for example. Or if anyone’s heard of a little video game series called Final Fantasy, Kefka Palazzo.) No, I disliked Sauron because he was a faceless threat. (Literally.) He was given no personality at all, except as the ultimate evil. It was only after reading the appendices in LOTR that I discovered his backstory; that he was once the servant of the first Dark Lord; that he used to be quite charming, back when he had a body; that he used that charm to bring down an entire country; and that, though his body was lost in the cataclysm he caused, his spirit lived on, continuing to plot the conquest of Middle-Earth and the downfall of his enemies. That was what made him interesting in subsequent rereadings; the knowledge that he wasn’t just the dark god looming on the horizon. Or at least, he wasn’t always.

    Okay, I’m done. Thanks for listening. Great post, David :)

  • And still more great comments. Razz, Garrett — I enjoyed the LOTR books, and the movies, too. I went along with the Aragorn as hero thing as I read, because I realized that Aragorn and the other humans, as well as Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf most of all were meant to be larger than life. The real “people” of the story were the Hobbits, and their humanity made the series work. But as heroes go, I just find Aragorn to be boring. And Sauron as the Uber-villain I find a bit lacking, too. I like my antagonists human, flawed, understandable. I agree with Twilight that the more one learns about Sauron from the Silmarillion, the more interesting he becomes.

    Jerome, I have to say that I disagree on the cowardice thing, at least in part. I think that a hero who is a coward but most overcome that cowardice in the end, can be a terrific, and fascinating protagonist.

    And John, I liked the Covenant books and HATED the Gap books. Which I merely bring up to point out the ways in which one reader can be moved and another bored, or put off by the exact same material. Thanks for the comments.

  • Owllady

    About Sauron: maybe he wasn’t supposed to be fleshed out. I figure he’s there to be the primary bad guy but not the story’s focus. Readers see more of Saruman and why he turns out the way he does, and he has a major role in the story as told in the books.

    In my own writing, I have a main character who, in an early draft of the story, critiquers said was too nice. I balked at changing him because he was *supposed* to be nice. Since I started exploring his background and bringing out his controlling side, I’m having more fun with him. Wait, that came out funny…