Confessions of a Hero Whore

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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 I think sometimes 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. Morally gray characters are like 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 shows genuine courage, and 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.

An engaging hero character requires work on the part of the writer. Many heroic characters face odds so steep that their success, or the traits they possess that allow their success, make them larger than life and difficult to relate to. Giving them flaws that humanize them, though, is tricky. If a hero character is flawed in ways that make him or her unlikable, a reader/viewer can feel manipulated by the narrative–as if they’re “supposed” to like them, even if they don’t.

One thing to remember, though, is that there is a difference between the viewer/reader rooting for the hero even though s/he’s a better man than you, gunga din, and being able to “relate to” him or her. I often don’t relate to the heroes that I find myself rooting for. I can’t imagine being them. But I root for them nevertheless, because the writer has made them sympathetic, human, and likeable.

It’s a bit embarrassing, though, to be asked who your favorite character is 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.

Once Upon a Time links

How/Why the Evil Queen became evil (no real spoilers, just the teasy promise that the question will be answered soon):

http://www.tvguide.com/News/Once-Upon-Time-Lana-Parrilla-1041311.aspx

One thing is clear, the Mayor isn’t going to be brought down anytime soon. The long-term arc of the show is about her defeat. But hopefully the background reveals will make her a bit more gray than black and white.

How the TV show Lost influenced OUAT’s fairytale world:

http://www.tvguide.com/News/Once-Upon-Time-Horowitz-Kitsis-1040425.aspx

“We never thought about Lost or Once really as mythology shows, even though mythology obviously is a part of [both]. They are character shows to us. “

Sounds like they’re developing a mythology for the show through both the actual text of fairy tales and their own development of the characters as both fairy tale characters and modern people. Storybrooke is the Island where they are trapped, and the people in it are gradually revealed through non-linear flashbacks.

So far, I trust what they’re doing, and where they might go. If it’s anything like Lost, it should be a twisty, turny ride.

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Fall TV and the Politics of Merlin

Once Upon a Time is proving better than the pilot would have suggested. I like the non-linear way it is telling the back story of the characters, and how it is embellishing the fairy tales to make them more complex and interesting. I think of this show as Lost in reverse—characters from a fantasy place all trapped in the contemporary U.S. together.

And I am hoping, like Lost, it is able to successfully reinvent itself each season without losing its charm or forgetting its roots. Lost was brilliant in that respect.

In other news, the show Merlin has become a bit of a new TV obsession for me.

One thing I don’t like about it is the poor Morgana character development. If you want an effective villain, you have to give some glimmer of her having the sorts of character weaknesses that lead to such villainy, and show a more gradual evolution of the character as she falls prey to those weaknesses, and that’s something they just didn’t do very well.

Also, the politics of the show are a bit dodgy. Maybe I’ve watched way too much Deep Space Nine (in fact, I’m sure of it), but showing nearly every Freedom Fighter character as corrupt and evil and having the heroes essentially being collaborators who are playing a very long game and allowing innocents to die in the interim…. Well, it makes me uncomfortable.

But the show hits so many of my story kinks I can grumpily overlook these flaws. It has gorgeous scenery, myth, swords and sorcery, secrets and secret identities, a charming, powerful, overlooked hero, interesting complex family relationships, long lost parents, faeries, trolls, dragons, and griffins.

And ironically, I seem to have developed a Merlin/Morgana thing after Servant of Two Masters. More in a Epic Destined!Enemies kind of way, although I would not object to a few brief moments of hate lust.