From Noble Hero to Murderer and Back Again

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Something I’ve started to find odd in fantasy books is that most characters have no problem taking a human life.  I can understand monsters, but it’s rare that a fantasy hero will have any hesitation in killing.  Even if they’ve never killed before and there is no thinking back to the act.  Sword stabs, body falls, and the hero moves on to the next chapter.  When I was younger, this never phased me and it’s only recently that I realized how strange it is.  This isn’t even the beginning of the situation.

Ever read a book where the character is noble, honorable, and everything good then commits blatant murder in a bar fight?  Again you see this in fantasy a lot where local thugs are put in as drunken fodder.  It’s as if the local guard were given a memo that these characters are allowed to kill if pushed in any way.  I’ve always wanted to read a story where a hero does this and is arrested.  Maybe I’ll do it at some point, but it wouldn’t make sense for Legends of Windemere.  I’ve already established that the heroes know this is a bad thing.  Fight and injure is one thing, but killing is something else.

Then there is the emotion behind killing.  This is more teaser than spoiler since I won’t use certain names.  While writing the 5th book of Legends of Windemere, I got to a fight between Luke Callindor and another warrior.  It suddenly dawned on me that Luke had never killed another man before.  He’d taken out monsters and humanoids like orcs and goblins, but this was something else.  The other heroes are more used to death with their former careers or the life they grew up in.  Luke is rather pampered in that way, so this was a big scene.  One that he had to talk to a few people to get his head around because it scared him that he didn’t feel as much guilt as he expected.  It wasn’t full grief over taking another life, but it was a reaction.  I think this milestone for a character is overlooked rather often.  Killing a goblin or demon is one thing, but the first kill of another human in battle strikes me as needing an emotional and mental impact.

Now this isn’t a call for no killing in stories because some require the violence.  All I’m saying is that it should fit the established character.  Wolverine and Punisher will kill an enemy without batting an eye or shedding a tear.  Spider-Man and Superman will try to find another way or accept that they might fight the captured enemy again.  It’s simply who they are and the code they follow.

As an author and a reader, one must take the mentality of a character into account when analyzing their actions.  We might do or feel something different in a situation than what ends up on the page.  If you’re the type to have no problem killing someone in a bar fight then that’s you.  If the character has been established as killing only as a last resort or is a pacifist then they shouldn’t take that life.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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24 Responses to From Noble Hero to Murderer and Back Again

  1. Olivia Stocum says:

    Killing (humans) should definitely have an effect, in my opinion. I’m glad you had Luke analyze what had happened and to think about his reaction to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It opened up an interesting door for all of the characters too. It really showed that even though Luke has been the longest running character, he’s the least experienced out of the heroes. All of the others have developed a ‘tolerance’ toward death because of their pasts.


      • Olivia Stocum says:

        I think that’s great. The ‘average’ reader will relate better to a hero who is learning as he goes. That has always been my favorite part of any fantasy series.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Doesn’t come up that often too. It’s usually kill, clean sword, and now I’m a man! People really don’t like heroes that show a sense of ‘weakness’ when it comes to violence.


  2. It’s a really interesting point, and one of the things I appreciated about the Hunger Games trilogy. The books put Katniss through a really gruelling kill-or-be-killed experience, the sort of thing many other sf+f protagonists have been through, but they make it more interesting by showing how that affects her psychologically. It’s something I’d like to see more of – characters facing the difficulty of those decisions, and the change it makes to their personalities.


    • Me too. I’m trying to fit it into my own series where it’s acceptable. I’ll admit that some characters are simply ‘tougher’ than others, so they don’t show the effects of their actions. Not clearly anyway. Maybe an increase in a vice or something.


  3. Papi Z says:

    People call Superman soft because he won’t kill. In my opinion, that makes Superman the real hero because he finds another way, which makes him Superman. He could easily kill people and solve a lot of problems, he chooses not to.

    Wolverine and the like are killers that have tendencies that lean towards doing the right thing. I imagine if they did an origin story with the first person he killed, it may affect him more than it does now.


    • It does show a lot of self-control and you have to factor in something else with him. If he starts killing his enemies without a care, how long until people fear him turning on humanity?

      It’s strange how they overlook the ‘first kill’ of some characters. Wolverine and Punisher are written with such a casualness towards taking a life that it’s hard to see them any other way.


      • Papi Z says:

        Punisher started with revenge for his family. In that instance, I also would not bat an eye at capping some fools.

        I think it speaks a lot to today’s society that the “anti-heroes” are respected more than the real heroes.


      • Punisher was also a former soldier, so there was a background there. Still, he wasn’t born that way. You are right that anti-heroes are respected more than the boy scouts. Think about how people look at Captain America who I think is cooler than he gets credit for.


  4. twixie13 says:

    This is one of those things I’ve thought over every so often, particularly with one story I’d been editing. The main character ends up fighting a serial killer and a guy that’s been helping her. He gets into a scuffle with the latter, stabs him out of self-defense without really thinking too much about it… He’d likely regret it once his adrenaline rush wears off. I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts turning up in his nightmares along with all the other crap that’d happened. Still thinking this over, but your post made me think about it again.


  5. melissajanda says:

    I’ts good to know Luke is not too “eager to deal out death and punishment.” We need more heroes like Luke so thanks for creating him.


  6. 1WriteWay says:

    Excellent points, Charles. It always makes me uneasy when it’s too easy for a hero to kill, even if he has killed before. I’ve always thought of heroes as having some sort of moral code (kind of like why they are heroes and not monsters) and so, even if the hero has to kill, I would expect him to be conflicted morally. I would imagine Luke to have conflicting thoughts about killing, even if he has no recourse.


    • He definitely has issues with it unlike the other heroes that have accepted death as part of life. They still try to avoid it, but they’re not as openly affected by having to take a life. As one character explains, each person finds a way to come to terms with their actions. Then again, fantasy worlds always have a more ‘acceptable’ level of death than Earth-based stories. Easier to claim self-defense, I guess.


  7. M T McGuire says:

    It’s a very astute point. Yes, I’d say that any hero will be uncomfortable with killing a fellow human, possibly a fellow anything. For me, one of the best ways to demonstrate evil in a character is to have them do just that; kill without remorse.




    • I agree to some extent. There are heroes who can reach a point of killing without remorse. It’s about the mentality and experiences. If it’s established that this is the character’s mindset then I think it works. There are some excellent plot lines around heroes that are remorseless killers of evildoers. Past coming back to haunt them, bordering on that one kill that will push them into villain, etc. I keep thinking about Punisher and Wolverine with this mentality.


  8. Kirsten says:

    Great post! For me with Wolverine, because of the name, I had no problem the first time he killed. It was as if the name foreshadowed the action. Whereas, Superman, is a name that inspires us to be better than the typical man. Does this make any sense? I do like that you have Luke discussing/analyzing his actions.


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