1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Let's hear it for the modern hero!

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by At Dusk I Reign, Apr 15, 2011.

  1. Picture the scene if you will: you open a book, possibly one with a nice glossy cover and a title that's been lovingly designed and embossed in gold, and start reading. Almost instantly you find yourself transported to a world far removed from our own, caught up in a cyclone of mayhem, destruction and magic that isn't really magic because we all know there's a logical reason for everything. Mother turns on father. Sister turns on brother. Cat turns on dog. Goat turns on...well, who knows what goes on in the mind of a goat? Carrots may well play a part.

    Ruminating on ruminants will get you nowhere, however. What you're looking for is a hero, someone who'll vanquish the darkness (no doubt at great personal cost) and become a beacon of all that is lovely and nice.

    Except that's not what you get. No, that would be too simple. Old-fashioned, even. And let's be honest here, you don't really want it, even if you believe you do.

    What you need is an idiot.

    Don't worry, though. He's new and improved. He's a product of the Zeitgeist. He's modern.

    Not for him the burden of being noble. That's old hat. It belongs to a bygone era where diminutive beings with hairy feet were happily accepted and doing the right thing didn't automatically evoke howls of derision. No, this guy's way too slick for such shenanigans. He doesn't see the world in terms of black and white, right and wrong. That's not cutting edge, and he's a cutting edge kind of guy, his universe painted solely in shades of grey. He'll happily stomp your pet rabbit if it gets in his way. Not for any particular reason, you understand – he could just as easily step over it – but at least it shows the kind of man he is.

    And you need to be shown. You need it hammered home, at the end of every page wherever possible. That's your fault. You only bought the book. The fact that you're able to carry out simple transactions at a store doesn't mean you're capable of drawing your own conclusions. You're not. You need everything to be spelt out for you in block capitals, preferably in crayon.

    Once that fact has sunk in, you take a closer look at the hero in which all your hopes reside. He's scarred. Not just physically, though a visual manifestation is always helpful (reinforcement, see? The author's name might as well be Pavlov). His mangled visage (or missing fingers, or any number of mutilations you care to imagine) pales in comparison to the wreck that is his mind, though. He's damaged. This makes him cool. He only does the 'right thing' because he has to or because it furthers his own agenda. This makes him super-cool. You'll be reminded of just how groovy he is throughout the remainder of the story. Some of this will exhibit itself as misogyny or racism, but don't get too agitated because it's all done in a knowing manner, and a sidelong wink from the author makes everything okay, doesn't it?

    If you manage to stick it out until the final page you may discover that you feel slightly dirty, like there's a layer of grime on your corneas. Don't worry, it's a natural reaction. It's because you're a dinosaur. You probably labour under the delusion that a novel's protagonist should exhibit at least some of the traits most decent human beings accept as a matter of course: compassion, altruism, nobility.

    That's not what modern heroes are about, and the fantasy genre is all the better for it.

    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  2. Behelit

    Behelit Troubadour

    I enjoyed the eloquence of your post, but I think your final statement is a bit bold.

    Before I disclose my reasoning, I'd be interested to grasp a better understanding of why, to you, this makes for a better fantasy. How exactly does this modern world-view best the archaic black/white? As refreshing as it might be, let's go beyond the novelty of it.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2011
  3. My fault for not explaining things better. I tend to meander, and sometimes my tongue is lodged too firmly in my cheek.:eek:

    It doesn't. Not to me, at least. I don't particularly like modern hero, which is why I refer to him as an idiot. I'm all for moral complexity, but some authors seem to swing too far into the realm of 'anything's acceptable as long as you can justify it to yourself' territory. I'm probably a bit of a reactionary in this regard: I don't actually see the world in shades of grey. Too bad for me that so many authors and publishers think this world-view is simplistic and worthy of contempt.
  4. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    An interesting issue.
    For me, the world is made of shades of grey as well as black and white, depending on the situation. Especially in war, there are plenty of situations where at least I couldn’t judge what is right and what is wrong. Or can the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki be viewed in categories of black and white? I don’t think so.
    I don’t approve of applying such logic to anything however. There are some things that are just plain evil in my eyes, but even with some of those, others might disagree.

    Viewing war as something noble and heroic isn’t as common as it has once been anymore. This might have to do with the emergence of heroes committing morally dubious actions. Wars, where one side never does anything that can be viewed as evil are extremely rare, even today when western countries try to fight their wars with minimal harm to innocent people.
    In earlier wars, this wasn’t much of a concern. So having a “heroic army” that doesn’t plunder, rape, kill civilians and so on isn’t very realistic. And all this wasn’t an issue for early war hero-stories. In Greek mythology for example, rape was a very common occurrence among men as well as Gods and the fate of the lower classes wasn’t of any interest either. Misogyny and racism were perfectly normal back then as well. In these stories the good side doing such things and still being good and noble was no problem, but for modern readers it often is.
    The easy way out of this problem is having Orcs, Undead or anything of the sort as enemies. This might have been one of Tolkien’s reasons for writing his story like he did: The enemies where obviously evil and fighting them obviously right, maybe a contrast to the real horror of World War I he has experienced before.

    I don’t like stories where this (in your words) new way is taken to an extreme much either though. I didn’t continue with “The Song of Fire and Ice” where the “noble ruler” executes someone who just fled some ancient danger for “cowardice” in the first chapter and plenty of people die at a thirteen-year-old’s wedding a few chapters later. I just don’t care which of these more or less ruthless nobles rules the country in the end and therefore I’m not interested in the book no matter how good it might be from a literary and realistic point of view. I also didn’t buy a book where the main character is a torturer, shown doing his work at the very beginning of the story. The same goes for similar stories like these but I don’t think they’re that common.

    In my current story the main characters has very strong moral convictions and keeps to them even though he mentor of dubious wisdom feels differently on many of these issues.
    In her story, there isn’t a full war, however. They are fighting against a group of terrorists who aren’t associated with a single country, therefore I can avoid the issue innocent victims of the good side much more easily.
    In the story set earlier, I have one character who probably falls into the category you describe. He isn’t the “hero” however, and I don’t expect people to like him too much even though the main character does. He too is doing things that don’t follow the modern codes on warfare though, but there are lines they wouldn’t cross while the enemies do and it’s still obvious that it’s better when they and not the other side win. Still, I’m not sure if you’d be satisfied with this story. ;)
  5. That's a thorny issue, certainly. And I suppose it depends on which version of the truth you believe. The justification at the time was that the bombs would save hundreds of thousands of allied lives. I've since read various accounts from experts which indicate the Japanese were on the point of surrender but were rebuffed so that they could be used as an example to the Soviets. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, however. Given that Japan was the aggressor, I think what followed was inevitable. Which, I realise, is not the same thing as being justified. I'll let smarter minds than mine figure it out.

    Oddly enough, I'm a Martin fan. My objection to the breed of hero who's crept into fiction (not just fantasy) over the last few years isn't that they're not perfect. Perfection is dull unless the writer is supremely talented. All I want are some redeeming characteristics, some traits I can admire. Martin at least delivers that, though they're often swamped under the weight of characters I wouldn't invite round to my house.

    I've been in war zones, though not as a combatant. I've seen the worst aspects of humanity brought to the surface by conflict. Conversely, I've also seen the best, people helping those they don't know at great cost to themselves (often death), for no other reason than it's the right thing to do. War in novels can likewise throw up morally-dubious characters, but it doesn't have to. There is good in the world, and people do exhibit admirable traits regardless of whether they think they'll get rewarded in this life or the next. That's the kind of person I want my hero to be. Cynicism is fine, but I prefer it if authors at least give me something to cling to. Nihilism just ain't my bag.

    If you write as well as you post I'm sure I'd enjoy it. And whatever my grumbling, novels are supposed to be entertainment. They give me good reason to vent, though.:)
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  6. Digital_Fey

    Digital_Fey Troubadour

    This underlines one of my main problems with books published these - and not just fantasy...*cynical muttering* Before I go down that road, though, let us stick to the point: a very well written and amusing piece, Dusk. Why is it that anything good and noble is seen as 'weakness' these days? Readers seem to rave about sadistic, mentally unstable/tortured male protagonists. And while the days of blond knights in shining gold armor might be over, I don't see why we have to root for the fallen angels all the time either. It takes a skilled author to present a world in all its shades of black, white and gray. That's why I'm such a fan of authors like Gaiman and Pratchett, who realize that a real hero doesn't have to be anything but human.
  7. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    I completely agree with this.
    And I think, I probably haven't stumbled over any of the stories you're talking about yet. Outside of fanfiction at least, which you don’t read judging by your posting in the thread about that. This kind of thing doesn’t seem to be too popular here, most so-called “dark” stories are about women falling in love with vampires, werewolves and the like. Another theme I’m not interested in at all, but probably not what you mean.
    Maybe I should give Martin a try after all during the next holidays. ;)
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2011
  8. Thank you kindly, Fey.:eek:

    I haven't read any Gaiman (apart from his collaboration with TP on Good Omens), but Pratchett has to be one of the most humane authors plying his trade today. Pity there aren't more like him about.

    He's not everyone's cup of tea, and you may decide he's not worth reading. But at least you're prepared to give him a chance.:)

Share This Page