We were sampling some of our finalized chapters in The Perfect Seven to our writing group the other day, and because our MC isn’t the quintessential hero, it dredged up a discussion we seem to continuously revert back to. Unlikely heroes. The majority of our group believe that the last ten years have been the decade of the unlikely hero, but Mathair and I argued that there has always been a plethora of literary works with them in it.
People have been reading for centuries, as the written word is one of the oldest forms of storytelling in the world. And, whether it’s for entertainment purposes or just escaping into a different world, the MC has always been the soul of a novel. It is who the reader takes that journey with, therefore forming a relationship and ultimately connecting, but not every MC is “user-friendly”. I have found, as an avid reader and a writer of fiction, that the more human the main character is, the deeper I become involved in the whole of the novel: the world, the events, the side characters and how they relate to that MC, ect. In an age that is in constant pursuit of perfection, it seems as though we have forgotten how beautiful imperfection really is, how the simplicity of a flaw can be exquisite and that the darkness inside can be something to embrace rather than shun.
The literary world is littered with unlikely and anti-heroes and the Young Adult genre seems to be feeling the impact the most. Protagonists have transformed over the years to nerdy, orphaned wizards, and teenage girls that lead a rebellion against a totalitarian government, but in hindsight, unlikely heroes have been in the forefront of the literary world for years. The appeal of a multi-dimensional character with various ghosts and/or vices is something that resonates deep in the hearts of an inherently insecure society. It forces us to look at ourselves and perhaps, even use this characters emotional, cathartic journey for our own.
And, it isn’t just for an introspective mind, many classic romances have stemmed from readers pining for the Byronic hero, which has captured the hearts of women the world over. I remember reading Pride and Prejudice and finding my fictional soul mate in Mr. Darcy, as many others have, I’m sure. I had, at first, thought him a rather cold, and clinical man, but as the book progresses and Elizabeth inevitably begins to peel back his many layers, I found Mr. Darcy to be a true, honorable and wonderful man with a depth that surpassed even the heroine. Mr. Rochester was another that jumped off the pages of Jane Eyre and his brooding, mysterious mannerisms have made the novel a true romantic classic. Intricate men like this have been the ultimate fantasy for women long before Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte wrote those masterpieces. And, though there are fans with a longing for a more archaic, male lead, I doubt they would ever live up to our beloved, and complicated legends of romance.
Tragic heroes have also been immortalized as fan favorites in the literary world, the tormented souls from Emily Bronte and Gaston Leroux, Heathcliff and Erik, have always been a personal favorites of mine. But, it’s not just romantic literature and YA that have coined the unlikely hero. Comics have been prominent fixtures of the Americana culture for decades and the unlikely hero has been it’s staple. Spiderman, V, Wolverine, and Deadpool are just to name a few and, let’s not forget the unlikely heroine. The most recent are Bella Swan from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. An awkward, old soul whose only solace is found in the obscured, supernatural world around her, but Scarlet O’Hara is the one that stands out in my mind. Selfish, manipulative, and cruel, she is the embodiment of what a woman with drive and ambition could’ve done in the Civil War era. Not to mention, Elizabeth Bennett, the Pevensie sisters, Hermoine and even Katniss Everdeen.
Breathing, walking, living contradictions are anomalies and fascinate the public because they can identify the most with these characters, so I don’t see the theme dying out anytime soon. After all, isn’t there an unlikely hero in all of us?