Breaking the Heroic Spirit

Yahoo Image Search

Yahoo Image Search

Going hand in hand with forgiveness, Charms of the Feykin touches on the breaking of a hero’s spirit.  Betrayal, loss, helplessness, mistakes, and the whole buffet can build up to make even the most honorable champion snap.  This can be countered or minimized by a strong bond between heroes, but there will still be some damage.  Physical wounds can heal, but the mental and spiritual ones can linger forever.  Even in reality, I’m left to wonder how you recover from such a blow.

Something that I’ve thought about in regards to heroes is that they are more emotionally fragile than villains.  We always point out how the bad guys are harboring insecurities, which are kept behind arrogance and cruelty.  Yet, the good guys have a similar issue that leaves them more vulnerable.  If something happens or they stray from their path then they are wracked with guilt.  This goes back to the forgiveness aspect because they need that to recover their heroic spirit.  One of the most common fates for a hero is falling from grace and failing.  We, as a species, love to see the good guys fall, but not always rise back to their glory.  Heck, mythology is filled with heroes dying at the end of their journey.

The key to a hero’s recovery, at least to me, is giving them hope.  This could be the promise of a better future regardless of their damage or that they can find redemption.  This is where those close bonds can come in useful.  For a character that has been isolated, there might not be much to help them recover.  They would have to find the strength to carry on and heal within themselves, which can lead to more harm or a false recovery.  Imagine a hero who has caused the destruction of a town by accident.  They are doubting their methods and role as a hero, but get themselves to believe that it was for the greater good in defeating evil.  This means you now have a hero who may do worse because the ends now justify whatever means.  Hope from outside sources can undo this fragility of heroism and bring one back from the edge.

I can only think of one big tip if you’re going to be breaking one of your heroes. Make sure the mistake or whatever causes the breakage is logical.  If a hero is doing something unheroic then you need to explain why prior to the event.  Establish that the action is either a trick, an accident, or done on purpose in response to something.  Maybe this is the final act of a hero pushed to his limits and he’s had it with letting his enemies live.  That does reduce the guilt in a way, but it can start him toward being a villain or quitting out of bitterness.  I will admit that part of this depends on the readers accepting the reason for the event.  That’s always the sticking point.

So, can you think of a time when a hero was broken?  (Why do I think Star Wars and Lord of the Rings will be mentioned a few times?)

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.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Breaking the Heroic Spirit

  1. That kind of hero is usually broken long before we meet them. Frank Castle, the Punisher, comes to mind. I think you write the downward spiral at your peril. There may be a great redemption at the end, but readers might not get that far. There is a reason why nobody ever talks about the Marvel movie, Hancock. I fell into that too, and took a character on the downward spiral. It’s my worst selling title. Having said that, I think you have a distinct advantage with a series. Many of your readers are already invested enough to carry on.

    Like

    • Honestly, I enjoyed ‘Hancock’. Don’t think it was Marvel or DC, but an original creation for the movie. A series definitely helps with breaking a hero because you can do it gradually, so it doesn’t seem rushed. I think a lot of old fantasy had the hero that became jaded over time too.

      It is odd that modern broken heroes start that way and the drop is all in backstory. I wonder if this connects more to humanity’s dwindling attention span and patience than bad storytelling. On the other hand, it could just be nobody has done it well in a long time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This topic interests me. Attention spans have certainly dwindled, but there are genre issues at play too. If I pick something up expecting an heroic adventure, I am going to be disappointed by 12 chapters of wallowing. On the other hand, if I’m looking for something literary and soul searching, I’m unlikely to pick up something billed as heroic fantasy, or superhero sci-fi. Best research I can think of is Sherlock Holmes and his period when no case was interesting enough.

        Like

      • 12 chapters of wallowing sounds like it would be a pain in every genre. That tends to be the after-effect too, so I wonder if such a thing would have more impact if you knew the hero when he or she was happy. You start to hope for them to pull out of the depression with a different view than if you first met them at their lowest point. An odd example is the Prince from the Sands of Time trilogy. The first game had him as sarcastic and upbeat, but the ending turned him rather gloomy for the second game. It wasn’t taken very well since he wallowed and yelled a bunch. Yet, he found a middle ground in the final game after some redemption was achieved. Again, this works with a series, so a solitary book might require either a group adventure to counter the gloom or skipping the fall.

        Liked by 1 person

      • This could be relative to the old advice, get to the scene late and leave early. You might think of it like backstory in a way. I think it’s a perilous story to produce. Snow White may have slept for 100 years, but it wasn’t all documented. We skipped ahead to the end. Pixar says, “We admire the hero more for trying than for succeeding.”

        What I mean by those little gems is that I think it can be done. I wouldn’t spend too much time on it, unless it is a character who will not be redeemed. Think Walter White or Darth Vader.

        Like

      • Never heard of that one. I think it all depends on how the break happens. You mention Snow White and I agree that it would be boring to hear about 100 years of sleeping. Yet, what if part of it is a series of dreams that she had where she plunged into madness and recovered her sanity before waking up? That would be rather interesting. Also long, which goes back to time being needed for it to work.

        The backstory idea reminds me of Jason Bourne who is revealed as the movie progresses. That does seem to be the modern narrative, but only because it’s interesting. If he was a CIA desk clerk then I don’t think we’d care as much.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If you wrote that version of Snow White, would you call it Alice in Wonderland?

        Like

      • I was thinking the same thing. Then again, how do we know Sleeping Beauty didn’t dream about being Alice? Seems more like her thing than Snow White.

        Liked by 1 person

      • We’re all diverse now, maybe she dreamed of being Thor. (Ducks, in case someone throws Mjolnir my direction.)

        Like

      • Eh, who wants to be Thor? The guy seems to get left out of most of the big events and isn’t very good at carpentry even with his magical hammer. He’s got nothing on Fix-It Felix.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. N. N. Light says:

    Yes, I see that it’s popular to have the hero already broken in books, film and television but I find the journey from “normal” to “broken” to “victorious” more realistic than just “broken” to “victorious”. As a reader/viewer, I need the complete character arc. No one’s mentioned it yet so I’ll bring up LOTR. Tolkein was a master at the complete character arc and used it on many of the characters (Frodo, Samwise, Aragorn, Gandolf, Arwen).

    Like

    • Never thought of Arwen, but that was more because she wasn’t really involved in the book. Boromir has an interesting story arc from hero to fallen to hero. Shows it can happen in one book if based off one big mistake or you start the characters on the edge. It is strange to see a character get redeemed or find peace from an act that was never witnessed in the book, but I guess it saves on time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. L. Marie says:

    I can’t help thinking of Tony Stark in some ways, who blew it with Ultron’s creation. I also think of Boromir, Aragorn, and Gandalf, who are mentioned here. I also think of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series. In every book of this series, the hero(ine) is a broken individual whom everyone underestimates. One woman is viewed as insane–very difficult to come back from that.

    Like

    • Think I’ve mentioned my issues with Tony Stark and his ‘Link/Samus Aran’ style character development. We do seem to look down on broken people in the real world. It’s almost like a reflex that is rather shameful. Have to wonder where that stems from.

      Like

  4. Bookwraiths says:

    Great topic. All readers seem to love their heroes put through hell only to rise again. Far too many examples of broken heroes to list them all, but since no one else has mentioned them, I’ll go ahead and say Darth Vader in movies and Thomas Covenant in fantasy literature. Vader follows the classical arch of hero/villain/redeemed hero, while Covenant is nearly an anti-hero who is broken by his disease but slowly learns to accept love again and sacrifice himself for others.

    Like

    • Love those examples. The thing with Vader is kind of odd. Erase the prequels and you won’t really have that initial hero phase. It’s mentioned, but he’d be thought of more as a full villain. Wonder if you can write a story about a villain falling into grace. Actually, I just remembered Megamind, Wreck-It-Ralph, and Despicable Me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You’re getting some great comments. Too bad we can’t get group comments, but that’s probably just crazy talking. I see the mention of the Tolkien characters. I don’t see some of them quite the same way. Aragorn may have been down on his luck prior to the opening page, but we didn’t see that. He’s on the way up in the story. Sam wasn’t really broken, not like I imagine it. Golum was broken, but never quite reached redemption because of his final motivations. Part of that might be MY PERSONAL DEFINITION of broken vs defeated. Gandalf was defeated and came back stronger. To me, broken is more like talking to your Pringles can whilst drooling. Now if we want to talk about Thorin Oakenshield we may be closer. I don’t think anyone cheered for him at the end though.

    Like

    • That’s one thing that WP should work on. You eventually get blocked from the conversation unless you run the blog. The broken thing is definitely stemming from various definitions. I think of it as a person that’s lost hope in the world and/or themselves. They just want to lay down and die or quit instead of marching on. So, I tend to think of a spiritual/willpower break before a mental one. This might be why I think of Boromir, Frodo, and Thorin out of the Middle Earth heroes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • In my mind, Thorin fits the mold the closest. Golum came close though. I think we are supposed to follow the comments as our option. Nobody really does that though.

        Another suggestion, does Moses qualify? What about the Israelites who were with him? I still see it more as a defeat than broken, but am I getting close?

        Like

      • The Bible is a tough call considering the belief system around it. The characters don’t really have much in the way of development and story arcs like fiction novels.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Some of those stories provide a decent outline. Author can add character, set it in outer space, whatever. Still royalty becomes slave, becomes beloved rebel, then outcast, then enemy, etc.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s