|In the film Agora, Orestes of Alexandria loves the mathematician |
and philosopher Hypatia. Orestes is a worthy hero, but he will
not win Hypatia's heart. Nor will he save her life.
This week on Heroines of Fantasy, we’re going to talk about heroes.
Now, don’t worry – the heroines won’t be left out of this discussion. They can't be. After all, in matters of love it takes two to tango. (Or three, or more, if you and/or your characters are living the Chinese curse of having an interesting life…) So when we talk about how our heroes love, we must at least make reference to the heroines who have captured their hearts.
It’s a common complaint that female characters in fantasy have historically been confined to the role of Romantic Interest for the Hero. She waits on the sidleines while he proves his worth, and her everlasting love will be his reward when all the manly adventures are over and done. Scenarios like this one have rankled readers -- especially women readers – because they so often undermine the potential of female characters to reflect the true complexity of real-life women.
I am of a mind that clichés like this not only shortchange our heroines, they also shortchange our heroes. By giving the heroes of fantasy an inordinately simple path to romantic fulfillment, we impoverish their characters, allowing them to escape the true complexity of real-life men.
Now, maybe this is what many are looking for in fantasy. There’s probably more than one person out there who has finished that engaging book, or gone home (or to the bar) after that entertaining movie, and thought, “Wow. If only the rules were that straightforward. Slay the kraken; win the girl. Now that’s a world I wouldn’t mind living in…”
Whether or not your taste is for uncomplicated love in the context of fantasy, I’m going to ask you to indulge me this week and talk about male characters who experience the reality of love in our fictitious worlds.
To get the discussion started, I’ll put someone forward that not everyone would expect to find in the romantic hero pile: Tyrion Lannister, from George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Tyrion can be devious and cruel. He is bookish and ugly. (Ugly in the novels, not in the HBO series.) No one expects him to ride to the rescue in a suit of shining armor. Yet he is in his heart of hearts a romantic. He has a well-hidden soft spot when it comes to women, and a great need to experience love. We see this in his relationship with Shae; we hear about it in the bitter memories of his ill-fated marriage to Tysha. The discord between Tyrion’s romantic inclinations and the reality in which he lives is a source of constant tension; and it is one of the many threads that makes Westeros feel like a real place in history.
There’s my example. Now it’s your turn. Talk to me about heroes in love. Real love, in all its beauty and cruelty, with all its nuances, inconveniences, uncertainties and confusions. Who are these heroes? How have they loved? Who have they loved? Did they get the woman in the end? (If it was ‘real’, they probably did not. But I’d like to know…unless, of course, the reveal would involve too many spoilers.)
And here's something else to think about as the discussion moves along: As we break boundaries in the ways our female characters live, are we also breaking boundaries in the ways that our male characters love?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich