avatar_the_last_airbenderHello again everyone, I’m here to bring you the fourth installment of my archetypal hero series. So far we’ve looked at the tragic hero, the willing hero, and the unwilling hero; to continue the series in this post we will be looking at the anti-hero. Anti-heroes are often some of our favorite characters–characterized by their distinct inability to be heroic despite whatever noble intentions they may possess. They are often comedic characters with a propensity towards failure in their actions which leads, in part, to their anti-hero status. To give you some examples of characters I think of as anti-heroes I would have to list both Sokka and Zuko from the Nickelodeon show Avatar: The Last Airbender. While these two characters are both very different in their nature, I think they both serve as anti-heroes to the story in the earlier seasons. Sokka is more of a traditional comedic anti-hero who also serves as the comic relief throughout much of the series. He has a noble heart and desires to be a hero but lacks the ability to bend an element. Zuko, on the other hand, is an antagonistic anti-hero whose goal is to capture the protagonist and prove himself as a hero to his father and sister. He does not serve as a main source of comic relief, however it is hard not to laugh at some of his early failures in this area.

Anti-heroes can be very important characters to any story; they provide a sense of realism that readers can appreciate and often relate to. We love our virtuous and willing heroes because they give us something to aspire to, but we love our anti-heroes because we can see ourselves be them. All fantasy literature is, I  believe, escapist; but to quote Patrick Rothfuss: “If you want to write a fantasy story with Norse gods, sentient robots, and telepathic dinosaurs, you can do just that. Want to throw in a vampire and a lesbian unicorn while you’re at it? Go ahead. Nothing’s off limits. But the endless possibility of the genre is a trap. It’s easy to get distracted by the glittering props available to you and forget what you’re supposed to be doing: telling a good story….” What I mean is this, a good story is escapist because it draws the reader in and makes the audience as much a part of the story as the characters themselves. It is easy to abuse the freedom of fantasy literature and write an awesome story that is so unrealistic no one gets attached to it. We desire escapism so long as what we are escaping to is a believable universe, and anti-heroes help us to feel that by being a little less heroic and a little more human. 

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One thought on “Archetypal Heroes: The Anti-Hero

  1. So true. I remember talking to someone who is not a fan of sci-fi who observed that – if I wanted to write this kind of thing (which I do!) the trick would be how to keep it relevant. It’s a really hard balance but anti-heroes are doubtless a big part of that. I’m thinking LOTR without hobbits, or Dragonlance without Tasslehoff. Batman without Robin. =D Something to keep in mind, definitely. Thanks!

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