Tuesday 25 June 2013

We don't need another hero?

Actually I’ve nothing against heroes. I’m happy to read fantasy books with a cool heroes putting down the smack on the bad guys. I grew up on that stuff. Obviously I want it well written, with intelligence and passion, but if it can be boiled down to ‘good guy smacks bad guy’, no problem.

However – let’s be clear about this. Fantasy is defined by being free and open. It contains elements of the fantastic. The imagination of both author and reader is unbound. That’s fantasy. There’s nothing on the box that says ‘hero required’.

I read a lot of non-fantasy books.  Actually, that’s a lie – I get very little time to read these days. In the past I have read a lot of non-fantasy books. Books that are about people rather than heroes. Books that have protagonists. The main characters in the catch-all that is ‘literary fiction’ are often just ordinary people going through the struggle of their lives, and we get caught up in their stories, hooked by the same fascination that attracts so many people to soap operas, combined with the beauty of the writing, and the deeper observations that the author is attempting to make, the deeper truths they try to approach.

Although fantasy can be as broad as literary fiction, but with the added goodness of being able to step outside any boundary reality imposes... actually it's a much more limited genre in many respects, straitjacketed by expectation.

Reaction to Prince of Thorns, and specifically the protagonist, Jorg Ancrath,  often runs thusly:

Call this a hero? I can’t get behind a hero who does XXXX or YYYY. What were you thinking, Lawrence?


This author desperately wants me to like Jorg and approve of his actions. I however am built of finer stuff and my moral fiber will not allow me to support such a character.

Some are less reactionary and simply file Jorg under ‘antihero’.       

However, I don’t think Jorg is a hero, anti-hero, or villain. He is, for want of a better description, a person. I didn’t set out to make the reader like him and I certainly don’t expect the reader to approve of his actions. My only goal was that the story about him be interesting and make the reader care.

Traditional anti-heroes in my experience fall into two categories. There are the every-man types, ill-suited to the heroic roles thrust upon them – Frodo would fall into this group. And there are the pragmatic, sly, or cowardly ones, often saved from the reader’s dislike by their charisma and wit, or by the comedic value of their failures, perhaps we might cite Vance's Cugel the Clever or GRRM's Tyrion here.

Jorg confuses some by straddling the categories. On the one hand he won’t back down and is fearless and dangerous – traditional hero characteristics. On the other hand he is sly and charismatic – traditional antihero characteristics. Add to that the fact that he has no interest in doing good, and is happy to murder his way toward his self-serving goals – traditional villain characteristics.

I think Jorg could be described as all of them. What Jorg certainly is not is ordinary. He’s a prodigy, extremely intelligent and creative, old beyond his years, charming, a very skilled swordsman. Yes he has failings – anger control issues, a lack of scruples, a poor singing voice, an inability to compromise, lack of empathy, but he is in the traditional fantasy vein, someone extraordinary.

In my next book the main protagonist fits the anti-hero mold more closely, swapping a measure of angst for less conflicted greed, and replacing skill with bluster. He’s a man out of control of his destiny, whose goals are small and decadent ones that he tries to snatch at as the world sweeps him along.

I don’t feel however that the character is less original. The ability to fit a character into a broad category doesn’t by necessity rob the reader of any enjoyment. They say the devil is in the detail. But then again, so is all the good stuff. I’ll do my best to get that right and hope you enjoy where it takes us!


  1. I think any Venn diagram that's going to try to hold Jorg is going to be one very broken, bleeding Venn diagram.

    As they say, there are two types of protagonists...those who fit into categories, and those who don't. :)

  2. "In my next book..."

    So, there's the answer to my previous question! So glad you'll keep on writing, now I'll be less sad when I finish Jorg's story in the upcoming Emperor.

  3. Masterfully Put, I think i enjoyed Jorg's character more because i couldn't quite place him in a classical archetype. he is the complex product of his situation, intelligance and motivation. and i'm glad he's not been labled as a 'hero' or 'anti-hero'

  4. "a poor singing voice" lmao...

    but hey you forgot to mention the best anti-hero ever RIDDICK. now that's a category one can put JORG in ;)

    then again there's Batman in Batman Begins, jason bourne from bourne identity and roger brown from headhunters, Beatrix Kiddo from Kill-Bill, Marv from Sin-City, Lisbeth Salander from dragon tattoo, V from V for Vendetta and the list can go on...

    one can say Jorg is the determined-kind. He gets what he wants, one way or another, with the brothers or on top of their corpses...

  5. For me, the voice matters, too. Jorg is so totally un-whiny, un-apologetic and matter of fact that I found myself rooting for him despite the classes in Ethics I took. :)

    I stopped reading Covenant because of the things Thomas did but because of his constant whining, and even Tyrion has lost a few points in Dance for the same reason. It may be a realistic portrayal but I still wanted to shake him and tell him to forget about where those whores may go. The graveyard, most likely.

  6. *NOT because of the things Thomas did*

    Something eats words here. ;-)

  7. All self-respecting heroes can expected to be a little reluctant. It wouldn't do to dive head-first into glory. Frodo takes this path of modesty and accepts his burden with good graces at Elrond's Council. I don't think it's fair to call him an antihero. Not that I have anything against antiheroes. Gollum is my favorite character in the Lord of the Rings, after all.

    I don't think it's necessary or productive to view villains as evil. Often they have similar traits to a hero, but unlike a hero, a villain does not change. This causes her or him to go down a darker path, and every story is a tragedy if told from a villain's perspective.

  8. Do I hear a hint of Flashman in your next narrator?

    1. Could be... http://fantasticalimaginations.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/upcoming-fantasy-novels-in-2014-part-1/

  9. I'm a little drugged on allergy meds right now but I'll put it thusly: dafaq. I'd vote for Jorg for president. I'd let him sleep with my sister. I love that guy. He doesn't fuck around. /End.

  10. ^ What he said.
    Jorg is amazeballs. He's my favourite fantasy character of all time and seriously, there's something poetic about his voice. Not his singing voice, of course, but writing voice. I think the only category he fits into is "pure fucking badass".

  11. THIS is why Prince of Thorns hooked me immediately. Jorg is such a refreshing main character--he's not easy to define, and he's full of surprises. While most heroes and anti-heroes fall clearly into the black and white of love, justice, good and evil, Jorg lives in a grey world of his own choices. I love the unpredictability of the characters in these books.

  12. This reminds me again why I love your blog. The characters and the dialogues are one of the most intriguing traits of your novels. After reading about both Jorg and Jal, I firmly believe that I don't need to approve of a character's deeds to emphasize with him, to find his story compelling, I just need to believe in him, and really Mark -among others- you're a master of storytelling and character building! Waiting for the Liar's Key.

  13. I agree with everything you said.
    Finally a character who is different than the others.
    Only one thing matters, that he is interesting. That makes me care about what happens to him next, and it doesn't let me put the book down.
    Masterfully crafted characters with a masterfully crafted story and a perfect ending.
    Thank you.

  14. G'day Mark,

    I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for writing such amazing stories. I finished Prince of Thorns last night and keen to continue onto King of Thorns!

    This post was quite interesting also, I saved those hero circles to look over later. Jorg was indeed an interesting character. At times I hated the little shit, while at others, I truly admired him. If anyone asks me about his character, I'll use your words; "What Jorg certainly is not is ordinary."

    Thanks again for being awesome!

  15. VILLAIN: (in a film, novel, or play) a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot.

    A little boy who goes around raping and murdering innocent people is a villain. The fact that he's clever, fearless or charismatic doesn't change that, many villains are all of those things. Ghengis Khan was all those things, and he was interesting, and he was a villain.
    Now, IMO, writing about a villain is fine, but trying to pretend he's just a regular person is dishonest.
    This modern inability to call a spade a spade is why Facism is creeping across the west unchecked.

    1. "but trying to pretend he's just a regular person is dishonest"

      :D Good thing I don't do that then.

      Best of luck with the creeping faScism.