While at Norwescon, I was on a panel talking about rogues, heroes and anti-heroes. Apparently the subject is still bugging me, because I feel the need to continue it here, talking about anti-heroes in particular. The usual anti-heroes that I think of when the subject comes up is Elric of Melnibone and Thomas Covenant. I hate Thomas. Never liked him. Couldn’t get through the first book even. But I loved Elric. It’s been so long since I’ve read those books, though, that I can’t tell you why. They are all packed up and waiting for my eventual move that I can’t get to them either and have another look.
The conclusion of the panel was that anti-heroes do good accidentally or only selfishly. They frequently cause chaos. We talked about how heroes and anti-heroes can both be dark and do horrible things, sometimes for good, sometimes for not so good (like revenge). Sometimes they steal just because they want something or because they need money or what have you. There was some agreement that anti-heroes have some driving flaw or tortured past that has created them, though it does not excuse their bad behavior/bad choices.
This week the discussion came back to me while watching Justified. If you don’t know the show, then this next bit won’t make any sense. There’s this scene in the season finale where Boyd and Raylan were together and both end up saying to each other something to the effect of: how do you go to sleep at night not believing you are the bad guy? (different words for each, but that’s the essential idea.) I was thinking about both men in terms of being heroes and anti-heroes and I’m not sure if either are straight heroes.
Raylan has done bad things. In the season finale, he does more bad things, or at least sets them in motion. Boyd has done bad things and sometimes feel sorry, sometimes not. It’s hard to know if Ralan feels particularly bad, but he usually feels, as the title says, Justified, as does Boyd. Boyd of course deals in the criminal trade, but is loyal and is deeply in love with Ava. He also wants to improve his standing in life and is highly driven. Ralan of course works on the side of good, but he is a very dark hero and I think walks awfully close to being an anti-hero. What seems to save him from that is that he does have lines he won’t cross. Even saving his family, he finds a roundabout way to allow a murder to protect them without actually breaking any oaths. Technically. Meanwhile Boyd commits to a more extensive criminal project. The reason he’s an anti-hero to me is because he’s still driven by mostly selfish motives and causes a great deal of harm. Ralan will do good because it needs doing. He’s also not mean and sometimes Boyd is. I think meanness can’t be a part of a straight up hero.
I’ve been thinking about the character I’m trying to develop for my current WIP. I like dark heroes. My current protagonist is not heroic. She’s not much of anything. I can’t find her flaws and her traumas. Yet. I’m poking with a sharp stick. I want her to do bad things. I want her to have flaws and failings. She’s just not there yet. On the other hand, she’s not all that helpful. Mostly she just is. I’ve developed some of her backstory, but the impact hasn’t become something I feel yet. One thing that I know for sure is that I do not want her to be too good. I want her to be walking the edge because that’s what interests me more. And right now, she’s just too damned good and it’s not working.
Tell me, what do you think about anti-heroes? Do you like them? Do you think the definition here is a good one? What would you change? Talk to me.