Hero & Quest: “True” Hero vs. Reluctant Hero vs. Anti-hero

What is a hero? What does it mean to be a hero?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m pretty dismayed by the whole anti-hero craze. I’m pretty honest about my dislikes and triggers: bloody, gratuitous violence, violence against women, rape, torture and horror. While the list is short, the implications are large, lol. There’s a lot that I avoid.

And I have added the anti-hero to that list.

In my previous blog post I pondered the “True” or “Mythological” Hero. This is my preferred hero, for the most part. In fact, my favorite series are The Belgariad and The Mallorean by David Eddings. Eddings’ MC for this series – Belgarion – gets quite a few points on the mythological scale: I’d score Belgarion at 11/22 points (I credit Belgarion with points 1, 2, 4, 6-8, 10-14).

But some really thought-provoking comments by SophieCale made me think about other types of heroes. There are several types of heroes – not just two. SophieCale mentioned that she enjoys anti-heroes to a degree: Any MC who balks at their “quest”, complains about it, undermines it or bends the rules falls into my anti-hero category. Basically, if they aren’t selfless, courageous, honourable or fair I consider them anti-hero, but that’s just my own personal definition.

Thinking about this, I feel that about 10 years ago the above would be the definition of an anti-hero. In fact, wiseGeek uses a similar definition: “The anti-hero is often a reluctant hero who does not consider himself capable of accomplishing the goal. He might be selfish, addicted, corrupt, sullen, or disaffected. By the end of the journey, he typically transforms into a fuller, happier, or more complete person due to the struggles he endures.” That’s almost the exact same definition as the reluctant hero (below)! In my opinion, this definition of the anti-hero will slowly disappear to be replaced with characteristics that describe a harsher person.

Recently, we have books like GRRM’s masterwork (A Song of Ice and Fire) as well as Joe Ambercrombie’s The First Law series. I haven’t read either series to completion: I’m a wuss, remember? But my husband recently finished The First Law series and he said that it was, “depressing in the extreme. Well written with a horrible moral: that bad guys win and good guys lose and die in horrible and painful ways.”

I feel that there’s a “new” definition (reincarnation?) of the anti-hero: characters like Mark Lawrence’s Jorg Ancrath from The Broken Empire series. The nicest word I can use to describe this character is sociopath. One of my favorite reviews of the first book in The Broken Empire series, The Prince of Thorns, written by Carol at Book Reviews Forevermore touches on this issue:

The main character resists personal growth and opportunities for redemption, and commits violence after violence. We open as he watches a man die with his belly ripped open, while some of his men loot corpses, rape women and set buildings on fire, and another comes through and chops off heads. Ostensibly it is in pursuit of a larger goal, but what it translates to is a path of casual violence, both intimate and large.
-Book Reviews Forevermore, “Prince of Thorns, or Why I Do I Hate You?

So, if we set the dial at Jorg for anti-hero and Belgarion for mythological hero…what’s the middle ground?

The Reluctant Hero

From Wikipedia: The reluctant hero is typically portrayed either as an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances which require him to rise to heroism, or as a person with extraordinary abilities who nonetheless evinces a desire to avoid using those abilities for the benefit of others. In either case, the reluctant hero does not initially seek adventure or the opportunity to do good, and their apparent selfishness may draw them into the category of antiheroes. The reluctant hero differs from the anti-hero in that the story arc of the former inevitably results in their becoming a true hero.

In many stories, the reluctant hero is portrayed as having a period of doubt after his initial foray into heroism. This may be brought about by the negative consequences of his own heroic actions, or by the achievement of some position of personal safety – leaving the audience to wonder whether he will return to heroism at the moment when he is needed the most.

When I think about reluctant heroes, I think about one of my favorite characters Waylander in Waylander. There’s also Chess Putnam in Stacia Kane’s Unholy Ghosts. Kerovan of Ulmsdale in The Crystal Gryphon. I’d also add in Roland Deschain of Gilead in The Gunslinger. But, I can admit that most of my examples also show my wussiness, lol. My examples are mostly older works and authors.

What books/characters do you think of when thinking of reluctant heroes? Do you prefer the hero, the reluctant hero or anti-hero?

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2 thoughts on “Hero & Quest: “True” Hero vs. Reluctant Hero vs. Anti-hero

  1. I think a reluctant hero and an antihero are not the same at all. An antihero is a bad guy, and redemption is overrated. A reluctant hero is a regular person.
    There is a short story that’s been dogging me for decades. I don’t remember the author; I read it long ago but I know it was not fantasy. One winter day, a man stumbled upon a couple thieves, and they took everything he had: his coat, his boots, his wallet. He didn’t resist, didn’t fight. He was happy to escape with his pants on. Probably a coward. Definitely ordinary.
    But… It happened in Russia during WWII, in Leningrad besieged by the German army. The guy worked as a driver – he drove a food truck every day along the only road left to the starving city, the ice of the frozen lake Ladoga. Under bombing, under gunfire, always risking that the ice would break and he would go under, he drove his truck every day. He did his job.
    He didn’t resist those thieves and never performed any heroic deeds. Was he a hero? I would say yes. A reluctant hero – of course. If he could escape his perilous duty, he would. Was he an antihero? No, no, no!

    • I have to agree with you, that man was not an anti-hero! I would call him reluctant, too.

      I would also call him a hero – he could have refused to do run at all.

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