The Very Best Anti Heroes

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So I’ve been talking quite a bit about who’s the very best at being bad guys lately. And I’ve also chatted about some of my favourite villains before. But do you know what I’ve never done on here? Got into who my favourite anti-heroes are- which is why I made this list! I have quite the lineup for you, so lettttts bring out the contestants:

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Dorian Gray– possibly the quintessential anti-hero. What makes his journey so enticing is that he starts off as little more than a blank slate, yet as the story goes on, his little faults were drawn out and painted onto a horrifying canvass! (which, incidentally, is literally the plot for the book 😉 )

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Doctor Faustus– speaking of the ULTIMATE anti-hero, can we get a round of applause for the original schmuck-that-sold-his-soul-to-the-devil?! Louder- not sure he can hear you in hell…

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Macbeth– we’ve got to get a Shakespearean hero in here somewhere. And man, is Macbeth a killer anti-hero- I mean, he’s literally a killer and he’s not much of a squeaky clean hero (out out damn spot… which was technically said by his wife)

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Galharrow– a newbie, but a goodie, Galharrow may be rough around the edges, but he’s wicked funny and remarkably sympathetic (probably one of the nicer ones on this list).

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Prince Jorg– I was so tempted to fill up this list with *all* the Mark Lawrence characters- because I’m pretty confident he’s the king of anti-heroes at this point- but in the end I decided to just go with Jorg because he really takes the biscuit (and stabs you in the face afterwards).

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Narrator from Notes from Underground– this unnamed narrator is quite the misery guts- eaten up with resentment and anguish, he’d give even Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov a run for his money- and that’s saying something!

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Robert Wringhim Colwan– before there were any other confessions related books or movies, this guy was doing the dirty. Possibly crazy or enticed by a demon- who can say!?

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The Godfather– so you come to me on the day of little importance to me and you ask me for an anti hero… and I’m gonna point you in the direction of the original godfather- cos he strokes cats in a menacing manner! (not something he actually does in the book, but whatever)

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Kaz Brekker! Yes, his name comes with an explanation point. It’s deliberate.

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Victor Vale– I feel almost mean putting him on this list, cos he’s so misunderstood… but also technically quite bad 😉

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Celaena Sardothien– okay, some of you may say “she’s not an anti-hero”- and yeah, that’s probably true by now, sorta… but she did literally start out as an assassin and was still happily killing people till book 4 (though most of them technically deserved it)

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Jaime Lannister– just about any hero from GOT would do, but honestly, none have had a bigger turnaround than Jaime. I started out loathing this guy- no one could have convinced me at the start that I’d end up praying he doesn’t die!

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Adelina– Adelina has one of my *favourite* character arcs- which I can’t get into cos of spoilers, but it’s sooooo good (read it)

And we’ll stop at thirteen, cos that seems appropriate for Halloween 🙂

So do you agree with my choices? Who are your favourite anti-heroes? Let me know in the comments!

Why can’t characters just be evil?

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In recent years, there’s been a concerted effort made to humanise evil. Through the rise of anti-hero stories, we seem to put violence on a pedestal, to worship the wicked and praise perversion… Or do we?

nearly got everything peaky blindersYes, there has been more and more of an interest in anti-heroes of late- but when we explore these topics, like in the spate of gangster stories we put on our screens, we still are fully aware that these characters are doing bad things. Indeed, it’s almost written into the formula- if the protagonist seems to be reluctant to engage in misdemeanours, the writers shake up their lives, throw them for a loop and *bam* they’re committing atrocities again. We know full well they’re the bad guy in the story- anti-heroes are just villains in the role of the hero after all- and we’re on board with that.

So does this mean we think evil doesn’t exist? Well, I can’t speak for everybody, but it’s like I said, we’re conscious of this character’s role in the story. Indeed, I’ve often been disappointed by an anti-heroes that fail to do their job properly. Take the example of Maleficent. Now, I’ve got nothing against the film and I get it was made for kids, yet many will agree that it fell short of the mark- chiefly for failing to make the villainess truly malevolent. It’s very notable that the biggest change from Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty is that she doesn’t want to kill the girl here, only send her into a cursed sleep. And it was this reluctance by the writers for her to go fully dark that meant this unforgettable villain lost her menace and consequently michael corleone godfatherthat the message revolving round the impact of human cruelty was never properly realised. For me, it would have succeeded if it had got the Michael Corleone balancing act from the Godfather right- sure, make the protagonist  understandable, but don’t lose sight of the fact they’re the bad guy!

aslanThe fact we want them to fully realise that core of evil isn’t to provoke chaos in the real world– no, it’s to identify something far deeper than that. You see, there aren’t many “perfect” characters in the history of literature– well apart from lion Jesus 😉 . Even in the biblical tradition, particularly in the Old Testament, people make errors all the time. Why? Because if the cast of the Bible was littered with only perfect people, there would be nothing to aspire to and no mistakes to learn from. We are drawn to complexity. No character can be wholly good, just as no character can be entirely evil.

And this is why we love anti-heroes so much. It’s not because we reject the idea that evil exists. It’s because we get that we have a lot to learn. And sometimes you can learn things from the dark side- the clinical psychologist Dr Peterson often points out that we have to incorporate a little bit of our inner monster in order to succeed: 1) because it’s not heroic to be weak and 2) because we have to be in control of our inner luke skywalkermonster in order to overcome it. That’s why the hero is so often the person that mirrors the villain- they’re the one with the power to defeat the darkness, BUT like Luke Skywalker, they show restraint when it comes to the fight. A hero isn’t someone who’s never tempted- it’s someone who overcomes that temptation. Still- and here’s the kicker- how are we supposed to overcome that inner demon if we don’t understand it? That’s where anti-hero stories come in.

maleficentTo go back to Maleficent, it’s all about trying to puzzle out the causes of evil. Where there was scope in the original was that we didn’t know why the character was evil. While terrifying, Sleeping Beauty Maleficent was never fully developed in terms of what the hell were her motives anyway. Thus here’s the part of the new movie that worked- underneath all her awesome aesthetic, there had to be that pinprick of goodness or she’d continue to come across as a cartoon villain. And, of course, that’s fine- but I think most of us crave a little more complexity.

So I think the real reason a character can’t just be evil is that our hearts rebel against the notion. We barely believe in the Aslans of literature as it is (being lion-Jesus is a little unattainable 😉 ). In the same way a character can’t just be good, we need villains to have a little humanity to work. We’re all a little bit of both after all.

Well, my thoughts got a little rambly there, but what do you think? Where should the line between good and evil be in books? Let me know in the comments!