A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Antihero: a protagonist characterized by lack of traditional heroic values

There’s a dictionary-style definition for reference. Examples of this kind of character range from Disney’s Elsa to Marvel’s Loki. There’s probably an even wider spectrum than that. For some reason, people are drawn to characters who wreak havoc. I’ve come across several articles suggesting why.

  “They embody our hidden desires…”

  “They allow us to embrace the darkness in us…”

  “We identify with them because they show us who we really are--”

  Okay, stop. I used to think I was a cynic, but looking around, I seem to see humanity in a slightly more positive light than the average know-it-all writing on literary subjects for trendy blogs. Is it really just me, or is there something about these statements that doesn’t quite ring true?

  I kind of doubt somehow that we actually love antiheros for their moral shortcomings. I mean, if we really liked evil that much, there are plenty of villains that could be said to “embody our hidden desires” a lot better than any antihero ever could. Because of arguments like the above, Christian fiction tends to cautiously avoid antiheros. I think that’s a mistake. I think we need them. At least with those of us that are trying to stay on the right track anyway, I believe that the sympathy that antiheros arouse may come from the good part of our nature—that elusive “image of God” that we are all created in.

  Here’s what I mean:

1.      We have all know how it feels to wreak havoc

Think about it. Sometime in your past haven’t you run off in a fit of panic and thrown all Arendelle into a devastating mid-summer freeze? Haven’t you ever killed eighty people in two days? I mean on your own scale, of course. Our own mistakes are always the worst. Who doesn’t know how it feels to tear things up? Is it because we really, deep inside want to tear things up, or is it because we know how it feels and can imagine it so vividly?

2.       Stars shine in the dark

I’m a fan of high-contrast. The thing about antiheros is not that there is evil in them, it’s that there is good in them! That’s actually what makes them compelling. The realization that there is something buried inside a character that gives them a chance is what keeps us hanging on, white-knuckled. If you’ve seen Thor: The Dark World, you know it’s peppered with hints at this element in Loki. That singular moment when he shields Jane from the aether shines almost bright enough to blind you with hope.

3.      Desire for redemption

Hope for what? For Darth Vader, for example. Okay, Darth Vader is crossing over into villain territory. Still he illustrates the point. Even though that robotic black mask isn’t half so affecting as Loki’s incredibly emotive face, let alone Elsa’s highly expressive animated visage, Luke’s not alone when he feels the conflict in the once-good villain’s soul. It seems that there is something in us that thirsts to see redemption even after horrible things have happened. Especially then.

  How’s that for a hidden desire?