sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Male Literary Heroes

As a writer, there are literary expectations for what a hero is and isn't. Traditionally we anticipate a type of Byronic hero. Byronic heroes are idealized but flawed characters exemplified in the life and writings of Lord Byron, characterized by his ex-lover Lady Caroline Lamb as being "mad, bad, and dangerous to know". The Byronic hero typically exhibits several of the following characteristics:

a strong sense of arrogance
high level of intelligence and perception
cunning and able to adapt
suffering from an unnamed crime
a troubled past
sophisticated and educated
self-critical and introspective
mysterious, magnetic and charismatic
struggling with integrity
power of seduction and sexual attraction
social and sexual dominance
emotional conflicts or moodiness
a distaste for social institutions and norms

being an exile, an outcast, or an outlaw
"dark" attributes not normally associated with a hero
disrespect of rank and privilege
has seen the world
jaded, world-weary
cynicism
self-destructive behavior
a good heart in the end

This pattern is particularly common in "romance novels".

My question for you, dear readers, is, if true, why this is the case?

14 comments:

  1. Where is Nero Wolfe now that we need him?

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    1. Jack Willoughby is chipper as he strolls home from his weekly poker game, money in his pocket, a smile on his lips, and a smoldering Lucky Strike hanging loosely. He has just reached Nero Wolfe’s stately brownstone on West Thirty-Fifth Street when a sedan whips around the corner and two gunshots ring out, nearly hitting Willoughby. It is a warning, and the message is clear: The next bullet will not miss. Rotund investigator Nero Wolfe has made more than his fair share of enemies over the years, and it seems one of them has decided to strike, targeting Wolfe’s indefatigable assistant. Some might run for cover, but Jack Willoughby is not the type. With the help of Wolfe’s brainpower, Willoughby will find the man who wants him dead—unless the killer gets to Jack first.

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  2. One of my sister's writes romance novels about the Middle East, with titles like "Royal Sheik" etc. Sells them, too (self-pub). I haven't read them, but I'd imagine the hero fits your template.

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    1. I don't read romance novels, but there are others who may visit my blog (or your blog) who do. Maybe you should give her a plug.

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    2. That's what blogs are for.

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  3. I don't think that is true, at least not what I read. Those with the things you listed with a few exceptions (intelligence, adaptability) are not hero material in my mind. The hero in what I read has an ingrained sense of honor.

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    1. I don't know. Pulp fiction these days churns out a different brand of heroics.

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  4. Well, you've kind of just described someone who's
    A) hot
    B) been through a lot, which has added depth to his character
    C) clever
    and
    D) has struck out to forge his own way

    The world won't beat him down-- he's too strong and smart for that, and sexy to boot.

    So then... what's your question again?

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    1. So, Jenny, you say that it describes me?

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    2. hey, if the shoe fits... ;)
      You could change your profile description to simply read:
      LL: Byronic hero.

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  5. Replies
    1. I didn't put down that the hero sends a bottle of wine to the hot girl and her friend at the end table...

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  6. Intriguing question. My organizing mind took the list of attributes and started sorting them. Here's what I got:

    high level of intelligence and perception
    cunning and able to adapt
    sophisticated and educated

    suffering from an unnamed crime
    self-destructive behavior
    a troubled past
    has seen the world
    "dark" attributes not normally associated with a hero
    being an exile, an outcast, or an outlaw
    a distaste for social institutions and norms
    disrespect of rank and privilege
    jaded, world-weary
    cynicism

    self-critical and introspective
    emotional conflicts or moodiness
    struggling with integrity
    a good heart in the end

    mysterious, magnetic and charismatic
    power of seduction and sexual attraction
    social and sexual dominance
    a strong sense of arrogance

    The hero doesn’t necessarily have to have been a bad boy. He can also have been unjustly punished for something.

    The punishment could be anything from prison to social punishments like shunning, demotion, whisper campaigns, firing, etc. This naturally contributes to the hero’s jaded view of the world and his distaste for social institutions and norms (and authority figures, whom he perceives as untrustworthy) to the extent that they have been the instrument of his unjust suffering. He no longer is content to accept the appearance of truth and justice, but determined to find the real thing and he becomes very impatient of all shams.

    However, the hero also learns to find his own strength in this adversity. He develops intelligence and perception, learning who to trust. He becomes sophisticated and delights in verbal jabs at his opponents, leaving them the worst in encounters. He develops physical fighting prowess so that he will not be physically bested. This accumulation of skills, along with his developed powers of observation and wry social commentary are what contribute to his aura of mystery and charisma.

    From his suffering, he learns the ethical complexities of society, the hypocrisies and dilemmas. While he is a social critic, he also is highly critical of himself. This leads to many inner struggles over his integrity and frequently he becomes frustrated with his ability to live up to his own exacting standards, hence the moodiness. However, in the end, he is able to find his way to the right path and a way of living that will allow him to look himself in the mirror in the morning.

    As said before, the hero’s accumulation of skills contribute to his aura of charisma. They increase his social dominance. His independence of institutions and distrust of authority broadcasts his self-reliance and his power to back himself up. To the extent that he demonstrates his ability and willingness to protect the weak and bring justice, women and children gravitate to his protection. Women are charmed by him and try to attract his attention and regard, but only that special someone can secure his heart.

    What do you think? Have I made it a little more human and less pulpy? There is independence and strength there, which aren't developed in a hothouse conditions, but rather a crucible of some sort. (Pick your crucible.) There's some transgression of social norms, but it has to be ultimately of a harmless variety, otherwise he can't be heroic.

    If it makes you feel better, there are all kinds of flavors of heroes in romance territory. I've read of alpha types, beta types, gamma types, and omega types, and all kinds of variety in between. (Don't know why they use greek letters.) So Byronic is not all there is.

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