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“No more (Anti) heroes anymore…?”

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  • “No more (Anti) heroes anymore…?”

    Mr Moorcock, et al,

    I am a relatively new member of this forum so please excuse any woeful ignorance of themes that may have already been explored.

    I would like to invite comment on the title of this post. I have for a while now become disenchanted with various forms of popular entertainment, stories, films et cetera. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy most forms of popular entertainment; it’s more that I end up being able to predict the ending of a film or the way a particular plot will be expounded. (Probably seen to many films!)

    It just seems to me that in the age of, “Harry Potter” and the eon of, “Eragon” the multiverse has never looked so, well, uniform.

    Lets take Ms J.K. Rowling, (I write this as a fan of her work, but also in despair as to the behemoth it has become!) she has undoubtedly popularized fantasy writing perhaps more so than any other writer of modern times, (present company acknowledged) in doing so however she has most assuredly set the tone for subsequent authors who may be looking to write fantasy novels in the future thus,

    1. Hero
    2. Dodgy past
    3. Trained in some way (Sword / Magic)
    4. Various tests
    5. Showdown with evil nemesis (Defeat of evil nemesis)
    6. Home in time for tea and crumpets!

    I realize that the above formula was around way before Ms. Rowling, in fact some of the best fantasy novels use this formula. The difference is that her global success has in my opinion cast this formula as “THE” way to write a fantasy novel (S). Marketable, profitable, safe.

    Where are the (anti) heroes of old? Normal, flawed, characters that have hero hood thrust upon them and who sometimes fail. (Mr Potter has yet to fail at anything!).

    I believe that fantasy writing has a lot to offer, as well as providing entertainment it can also offer life lessons to the reader. Quality fantasy / Sci-fi storytelling should be about recreating the atmosphere of the fire hearth, conjuring up pictures of our ancestors gathered around for warmth telling stories or listening to the story weaver, expounding great deeds about, (what are essentially) normal people thrust into extraordinary situations.

    To me a hero is a buffoon in shiny armour and a big sword. An anti hero is a character cloaked in mystery that struggles with life’s eternal enigmas. (He may also have a big sword, but his armour is quite tarnished…dented…broken even..)

    I know which one I would like to be.

    What say you? Am I right to despair or will Ms Rowling et al having had their day retreat to the wild steppes of fantasy land.

    Personally I blame Tolkien (Also as fan of his work, I know sacrilege)

    Kind Regards,


  • #2
    The anti-hero did very well for himself in the 80’s as I recall, particularly in the comic and film genres. Perhaps that was a side effect of the 80s being a rather self-obsessed time, if that generalisation holds any water.

    Perhaps the return of the traditional hero type shows an underlying change in cultural values from self-aggrandisement to a longing for a greater involvement in community? I’d hope so, even if it is a forlorn hope.

    But you can’t argue that Wolverine isn’t still cool. Way cool.


    • #3
      I think to some degree it's the problem of publishers who constantly seek the lowest common denominator and have found that the optimum audience is with young teenagers, many of them girls, who (they think) prefer sentimental 'nice' protagonists. I don't read a lot of fantasy and what I like tends to have anti-heroes (or heroines) so I haven't noticed
      any trends. I've nothing against Hairy Pooter but I just don't find such books interesting, any more than I was ever attracted to Narnia, say. As a kid I liked William, who was something of an anti-hero for kids (and vastly popular) and E.Nesbit, whose children seemed very credible and far from goody goody. I then preferred books written for an adult audience, from Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G.Wells to John Steinbeck or Aldous Huxley, say. So I have no nostalgia for hobbits, poohs or anything except Toad of The Wind in the Willows. You couldn't call Toad a hero... After that I liked doomed Greek, Norse and Celtic mythological heroes.
      If, as you say, anti-heroes are hard to find, this could be something to do with the times. Noir fiction and movies seemed at their height in the postWW2 period, when rain-drenched urban romanticism seemed the order of the day. Maybe post-Iraq (as with post-Vietnam) we'll see a few more cynical anti-romantics (who are really wounded romantics... )
      coming up. I wonder what you make of something like Heroes, which surely allows at least an ironic interpretation of what a hero is ? The Byronique hero is often popular (Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre, Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights and all their Harlequin descendants). Certainly Tolkien hasn't done anyone any favours by sentimentalising myth. But such writers frequently dominate the best-seller lists -- have done so at least from the late 18th century. There again in literary fiction Brett Easton Ellis doesn't exactly make nice and Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon don't write about nice people much while Hannibal Lector remains probably the most popular bad guy since Dracula. Walter Mosley's urban adventure stories don't tend to be filled with sweet-natured protagonists. So maybe you're looking for a specific kind of epic fantasy good bad guy ?
      What about Gene Wolfe or Steve Erickson ?
      Or Conan, even ? If you want to go back to basics. Solomon Kane ?

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      • #4
        Just inbetween, Harry Potter's got millions of children back to reading! (And nearly as many adults). I think this is by all means commendable in a media world of fragmentation and speed.
        Making an improbable figure suddenly become the only possible hero against a villain who threatens to conquer all and everything is a formular that already worked well in the Bible (David vs Goliath) and appeals to most people - who themselves are aware of their inadequacies - and tells them what they wish to hear: there may come a day when all depends on YOU.
        Google ergo sum


        • #5
          ...i seem to have been read well...hehe

          Many of the works of literature you mention are old favourites of mine, in particular Wuthering Heights, as a child William, and the E Nesbit stories I was introduced to by my grandmother.

          Your comment about cynical romantics (wounded romantics) is well made. Characters within a story may protest, sometimes too much but the interesting ones (in my opinion) are outwardly cynical whilst hiding an inner passion. The struggle between these two opposing forces is to me an incidator of their status as an anti hero. (Heroes dont bother concerning themselves with shades, its right becuase they say it is! Perhaps i have strayed into the law Vs chaos alignment argument...whoopsee, one for another day perhaps)

          Huxley is relatively new to me, and I have only read Brave New World, Orwell on the other hand is again, an old favorite, in particular "Coming up for Air". This book never fails to move me and its protagonist is so normal as to be almost grey. However as with with all of Orwells novels you get the minute details of the characters routine and self depreciating comments on bodily functions. Orwell seems to delight in showing his characters various flaws, I think this makes his characters very real.

          I have never read Conan, and will take a look in the near future, Nor any Fritz Leiber, i am given to understand he is worth a try!


          • #6
            Leiber's a superb stylist and ironist. Howard's a little rawer, but by no means unsubtle (as he's sometimes painted).
            Oddly, I've read almost all Huxley except Brave New World, which I couldn't get on with. Actually, I didn't like 'Revisited' or 'Island' either.

            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
            The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
            Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds

            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
            The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
            Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses


            • #7
              Originally posted by Michael Moorcock
              Leiber's a superb stylist and ironist.
              The Lankhmar stories alway seemed to be desriptively stylish without being slick, with vivid dimensions that did not overwhelm the stories or the characters. Few fantasy characters are cooler than the Mouser.


              • #9
                I have the Chabon serial bookmarked.

                After my post, I picked up my copy of the first volume of the White Wolf Lankhmar stories, deciding it had been too long since I had read them. It has an insightful introduction from some improbably named fellow named Moorcock...


                • #10
                  From the title of the thread (on assumes referencing The Stranglers), it is of some note that the anti-hero in music (be it rebellious rock 'n' roll, punk, indie) has been with us since the early days of rock 'n' roll.

                  Since then, they may have changed clothes, genre, subject, country and so on, but regardles, they been alive and kicking for some time in that field. Kicking till their very end in some cases. While middle-of-the-road musak may predominate the charts, the anti-heroes are always there.

                  So why is the anti-hero such a common denominator in music, when only but a fasion in literature? Maybe I just go to the wrong bookshops...


                  • #11
           assume correctly, i didnt start out to referance, "The Stranglers" but it seemed right after i had written the post.

                    "...Kicking against the pricks..." to paraphrase a well known book is something i enjoy also...


                    • #12
                      Spirit of the Age?-

                      First post.

                      If I may suggest:

                      The current state of the Western World may have a lot to do with the desire to be Right if not righteous, and so, saccharine icons are being presented both as a sort of psyco-cultural crutch, as well as a propaganda technique.

                      Since Der Fuhrer is currently the most powerful man in the world, and that is Apocalyptically-frightening in itself, perhaps there is a profound need to re-invent or re-discover the golden hero in popular myth.

                      When men who would otherwise be considered heroes, such at Pat Tillman who volunteered to fight the misguided War on Terra, was assassinated (likely for something he ought not have seen), it becomes perplexing to anyone remotely awake as to whom to look up to and admire.

                      As a writer, and 'fan' of the Anti-hero, I co-miserate with all above who have missed the archetype in recent years.

                      Ani Maamin B'emunah Sh'leimah B'viyat Hamashiach. V'af al pi sheyitmahmehah im kol zeh achake lo b'chol yom sheyavo.

                      "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." - Phillip K. Dick


                      • #13
                        Anti and pro heros

                        The nature of the hero is in flux. Sixties were the writers on the edge with acid madness. Then the soldier returning or in Brit land the very special warrior seeing though slaughter for hire.
                        Seventies gay warriors, and strange cops, dying in tutus.
                        Eighties photographers dying awfully AIDs warriors and survivors. The Indian who did not sell ceremony
                        Nineties old Indians walking into the stars.
                        Turn of the century A woman dying of polio relapse forced to live in a Bronx walk up and strung out model living in in a hell squat, saying fuck this. The kid who runs the Denver Deep.
                        Now: The biker dyke bitch who prceeds me though the door into the room filled with crooning Xed out baddies , throw a fridge at the first gunny to move. Or the soldier lady in her wheel chair with her husky pulling her up a long hill smiling so warmly at the artist sketching the hobo jungle.
                        These are people to take a walk in the sun with.


                        • #14
                          For recent work I've become partial to Steven Erikson's Malazan Empire series and George R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice books (fantasized Yorks and Lancasters, anyone?)


                          • #15
                            It seems there's a bit of a fatigue going around with anti-heroes. I think it could be that it's not easy to pull off properly, and sometimes you end up with characters that wear the reader out. Maybe there has been a glut of one-dimensional anti-heroes who are dark for the sake of being dark and as a result quite tiresome.

                            Of course, I say this as I finish up an urban fantasy novel where the main character is the epitome of nihilism and cynicism from the 90s . . . perhaps I should turn her into a plucky ex-cop turned private detective and have her fall in love with a vampire instead.