Thursday, March 19, 2009
Don't ask me why, but lately I've been thinking a lot about characters and redemption--and being able to forgive characters' transgressions. The heroine I'm currently writing (from A MIDNIGHT CLEAR, Oct. '09) did something really stupid in the past, which led to another occurrence that I hope modern readers can forgive her for. I *think* they will be able to, mostly because I've made it clear that she isn't the stupid 19-year-old girl that she was then, that she's 'paid' for it, and--here's the biggest part--in many ways, she was simply a victim to her time (the Edwardian era--so, early 1900's) and circumstances.
Many writers and readers are drawn to 'bad boy' heroes, but they must be redeemed, or we, as writers and readers, must at least be able to understand why they do what they do, and be able to forgive it. In romance, you see a lot of "He's a thief, yes, but he's secretly stealing to feed his starving siblings," or "He's a rake, yes, but he was abandoned/rejected by both his mother and father and therefore is emotionally detached and afraid to get close to someone, lest they abandon/reject him, too." (I confess, I used a variation on this in my June 2007 release, TO LOVE A SCOUNDREL). Even some of our favorite romantic movies have had similar 'excuses' when our hero has done something cruel to our heroine ("Becoming Jane," for instance. How could you NOT forgive poor Mr. Lefroy? Jane did.)
But where do you draw the line? Just last week, we brought up Anakin Skywalker as an example of a hot, tortured hero. I confess, I'm a major Star Wars nerd, and while I can easily point out the negatives (and there's tons of them!) in the three newer Star Wars movies, I still loved them, and mostly was intrigued by Anakin's character arc. What made him turn from the curious/smart little boy who grew into a young man passionately in love with Padme, a Jedi with rare talents who had the potential to 'bring balance to the Force'-- to the evil Sith Lord, Darth Vader?
Just as I assumed, it wasn't just some fanatical quest for power that led him to the Dark Side--it was his love for Padme (by then his wife, pregnant with his child). He was convinced she was going to die, and he would have done *anything* to save her, including casting his lot with the 'bad guys.' And that's exactly what he did. But what about there near the end of "Revenge of the Sith," when his pregnant wife showed up and tried to reason with him...only he'd become so twisted that he became jealous and crazed, and strangled her, almost killing her?
At that point, can we still sympathize with Anakin? Can we still forgive him, since he only started down that dark path *because* he loved her so much and was desperate to save her? Is it easier to forgive him because we can see that he takes no joy in doing 'bad stuff' (see the top picture--notice the tears)? Is it easier because we've already seen "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi," and we know that ultimately Anakin/Vader kills the Emperor and saves Luke, redeeming himself? Does it change the way you look at Vader, if you see the original three movies now?
Can you fully accept a 'redeemed' hero (or heroine!) who's done some really bad things in the past? Does he need to have had sympathetic reasons for having done his misdeeds in order for him to be fully redeemed in your eyes (i.e., stealing to feed starving siblings, or Vader's fanatical desire to save Padme's life)? If so, is there somewhere you draw the line? (for example, I could *never* accept a redeemed rapist--no matter what the circumstances were--but I am able to sympathize with Anakin/Vader). Some thoughts to ponder...
Posted by Kristi Cook at 9:58 AM