Monday, 11 May 2020

Why To Take The World By Storm

"That I avow to be true," spake Cathba. "Good indeed is the day, glorious and renowned shalt thou be, the one that taketh arms, yet passing and short lived!" "Noble the gift!" cried Cuchulain. "Little it recks me, though I should be but one day and one night in the world, if only the fame of me and of my deeds live after me!"

Take the world by storm.

Is that not the very essence of fantasy? Our homages to the tales of Gilgamesh and Ghengis Khan, Hector and Henry V, Arthur and Augustus, the figures of myth and history who changed the world and live on in memory? While that is a viewpoint that's been rejected by many authors, most notably Le Guin, it is a stance that's been taken from Eddison and Tolkien to Rowling and Jemisin. It is as much of the genre's warp and weft as mysterious wizards, dark lords, and beautiful princesses.

Why do they do it though? I thought it might be interesting to attempt some sort of taxonomy of the motivations that lead so many lads and lasses to the fine career of fantasy hero, and what it tends to mean for their stories. Of course, they're not strict definitions and heroes tend to move between categories from time to time, but they're still useful rough categories
They're Gonna Kill Me!

The most straight-forwards motivation, many a future hero has taken their first steps towards adventure only because it's an alternative to spooky horsemen with big black cloaks ushering them to the great beyond. Leave them alone and they'll stay in their nice rural backwater until they're buried in it. That reluctance to leave makes them relatable for many, which is probably a reason they seem to be the most common type of hero in the genre.

That familiarity is a double-edged sword though; many authors often find there to be something a little milquetoast about such characters. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but even as someone with a love for such fantasy, picking out the difference between Frodo, Rand Al'Thor and Shea Ohmsford takes a fine comb. A little spice goes well here; either making the hunted character a veteran soldier or the like, or a criminal fleeing retribution (or making a bargain with the law). 

Most Likely To: Sleep in the woods, meet shady characters on country roads, feel homesick, actually save the world

Least Likely To: Swear, play the field, be ambitious

Favourite Examples: Rand Al'Thor & co, Erik von Darkmoor & Roo Avery, Frodo Baggins

You Will Pay For That!

Maybe you invaded their country and wrecked their culture. Maybe you burned down their village and stole their favourite girl. Maybe you killed their father and should prepare to die. Whatever the villain of the piece did, they really do deserve to die, and it is totes mcgoats going to happen. There is, unsurprisingly, a certain intensity to these avenging angels (sometimes hidden under the surface), but I'd suggest the bigger unifying characteristic: doubt. Are they really doing the right thing? Is this worth more death? And most importantly, am I going to get away with this?

The familiar nature of that emotional arc might be a weakness at times, as too is the straight-forwards nature of it. It certainly lends itself to single books more than series. I also think some avengers are a bit marmite in popularity due to authors using it to make potentially dislikable characters sympathetic. It's a bit like a classic simple dish; can be hard to adapt, can be hard to nail, but oh so good when it works.

Most Likely To: Keep a list, wonder what they're becoming, have climatic duels, join a crew of misfits

Least Likely To: Forgive

Favourite Examples: Kiall, Monza Murcatto, Baru Cormorant

Just You Wait

Some characters need no prodding. Some want to be stars, to dazzle the world and leave their mark on it. They're the ones pleading to get into big schools, joining armies, breaking into places. Particularly breaking into places; insofar as I see it, this feels like something of a a criminal archetype in fantasy. Now there's a flattering comment to make about ambition. However, even there, I just don't see it a lot, unless we're talking characters evolving.

I'm not entirely sure - while being fairly sure - why authors dodge this idea. Yes, they're not as naturally sympathetic and relatable, but it opens up so many interesting avenues for readers. Think how fascinated we are still with the stories of mythical and historical characters who were just this way. As some of you might have noticed, I'm a big Hamilton fan, something I share in common with huge amounts of people. Hamilton's story? Huge ambition and tragedy. Is there no demand for stories like that in fantasy? I don't belieeeeeeve it.

Most Likely To: Trample the jewelled thrones of the earth beneath their feet, have a sensitive ego, come to a bad end, make friends of enemies and enemies of friends

Least Likely To: Go back home to a quiet life, back down, obey rules they don't like

Favourite Examples: Conan, Rin, Jimmy the Hand

What Martyr Complex?

When danger comes, most of us seek some degree of self-preservation. We might return fire once we've hit cover, but we hit cover first. Some of us, for whatever reason, are wired a little different. Daredevil attitudes, martyr complexes, facing up prophecies about death... it's all there. Some characters have that. They're there because they see danger and while they could try saving themselves, they have the exact opposite reaction. To me, that's one of the more interesting types.

Of course, they can come across as self-righteous, patronising, seemingly perfect, stupid... and so on. I think it's also one of those motivation types where the reason behind it has to be well explained, or things can get a little repetitive. Nevertheless, I do very much enjoy this sort of character, mainly because they're active without being jerks. Well. Usually.

Most Likely To: Put themselves in harm's way, tell the others it's too dangerous for them to come, get told they're an arrogant jerk

Least Likely To: Surrender, Turn Over Innocents, Be Healthy Emotionally Speaking 

Favourite Examples: Harry Potter, Pwyll Twiceborn, Rand Al'Thor (once evolved)

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

This might be the least used motivation along with 'Just You Wait'. Characters are usually given strong motivations to go adventuring and just being the person who finds themselves swept up in things is rarely seen funny enough. Which is funny because The Hobbit, one of the genre's foundational books, does just that.

It seems that when it's done, it's often done with the more comedic orientated end of the genre. It makes sense - they're the most likely to be incredulous, which makes for good jokes. You could also argue that a lot of detective stories are kind of like this way - they're just the person who got called into that particular rotten case. 

Most Likely To: Try running away, wonder which god they offended, refuse to quit out of sheer spite

Least Likely To: Want to be there

Favourite Examples: Frodo Baggins, Rincewind


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