Thursday, February 18, 2010

Irredeemable Hero Material?

Watching THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (I liked the books very much when they were first published and am enjoying the TV series) reminded me of the reincarnation motif so common in vampire romance. I don’t care much for that trope, but lots of readers obviously do, and it goes back all the way to the original DARK SHADOWS. Remember how Barnabas kidnapped Maggie because he thought she was the reincarnation of Josette? I’ve had an idea about a story focused on a vampire obsessed with his dead lover who uses his hypnotic power to make a female victim believe she is, and act as much as possible like, his lost love. He does this to a succession of women, starting over with a new one whenever the last one is “used up.” Suppose he and the heroine fall in love and for some reason he can’t or isn’t willing to brainwash her like the others. When she finds out what he’s been doing to other women all this time, will she continue to love him? Will she ever feel she can trust him—or trust her own feelings for him?

What acts would disqualify a character from being a romantic hero? Murder? Probably not, depending on the circumstances. He might have had a good or at least excusable reason for killing. I’d think any form of premeditated child, spouse, or animal abuse would be an absolute downcheck. However, I could visualize making a hero out of a man who’d committed domestic violence in moments of impulsive anger, if it’s clearly shown that he feels remorse and has taken steps to redeem himself, such as anger management therapy. Or, say, he was drinking when he did it and has since gone through Alcoholics Anonymous and stayed clean for years. I can’t see myself as having the skill to create such a hero, but I can imagine a gifted author who could. Rape? That wasn’t a disqualification in older historical romances, provided extenuating circumstances existed (e.g., the hero mistook the heroine for a prostitute and her resistance for play-acting) and the man was portrayed as a good guy at heart. The conventions of romance have changed in recent decades, though. Marion Zimmer Bradley redeems a rapist in TWO TO CONQUER, which, however, isn’t a romance. Thomas Harris ends HANNIBAL with a portrayal of a cannibalistic serial killer as the hero in a “Beauty and the Beast” love story—but I think Dr. Lecter is a unique and inimitable example!

Any thoughts on what actions in a character’s past would absolutely disqualify him as the hero of a romance?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


  1. "When she finds out what he’s been doing to other women all this time, will she continue to love him?"

    If she does, I'd throw the book against the wall or burn it or something, because that's tantemount to previous spousal abuse. A character like that is not hero material, in my opinion, no matter how well-presented he is. This is because statistics show that once a man is violent to a woman and/or child, he is extremely likely to become violent again. I could not forgive a book which would perpetuate the belief that an abusive man can overcome his past for any reason. There are too many dead women who believed it and too many children growing up without their birthparents because of it, if they're lucky enough to be alive at all. It can happen, but it rarely does. I would definitely not risk a friend's life or the lives of her children by encouraging her to believe that it is possible.

    I do believe an author has a social responsibility on some issues and this is one of those issues.

    When I hand over a Romance novel to a friend, part of me is hoping it will encourage the reader to believe she deserves true love, kindness, and respect from the man she loves.

    I wrote an article for Romancing the Blog on a related topic, 'How the Romance Genre Can Save the World.' I'll pop over and find the link.

  2. Here's the link-

  3. It isn't so much what a character has done in the past that the reader fastens onto.

    Rather, it's what the deed portends for the FUTURE that determines the romantic tone.

    And the portents are really in the hands of the writer -- if the writer wants to create a Romance, the writer can rationalize or explain the past deed one way. If the writer wants a horror story, a heroine sucked in or seduced by an evil creature, the writer can color the deeds another way.

    The past is known, the present is developing, but the future is really where the "romance effect" resides.

    That's what the HEA is all about - the EVER AFTER, not the past or the present.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  4. "That's what the HEA is all about - the EVER AFTER, not the past or the present."

    Yes, and in order for an HEA to work, it must be *believable* that the Hero and Heroine are capable of making it happen. That does require the Past and the Present in backstory.

    Especially when we consider the SFR readership. My guesstimate is almost all of them are over thirty, which means they've had their own romances, good or bad, and are probably extremely busy raising the resulting offspring, some all by themselves. They know it takes more than Hot Sex to have an HEA. Otherwise, what happens to the relationship when sex isn't possible?

    These are smart, sensitive women. They know all about domestic abuse and the statistics. Maybe some of 'em were a statistic. They're not going starry-eyed as fast or as easily as a 20 year old might.

    In SFR, I liked how Susan Grant handled MOONSTRUCK. That couple was monumentally screwed-up, but she managed to demonstrate in a believable way how they could find true love and be healed by it, and live happily ever after.

    Take Captain Picard in 'Best of Both Worlds,' voted by at least one magazine as the Best Star Trek Episode of All Time. (forget which) He was already well-known as noble and selfless and all that, so when he got Borgified and helped the Borg committ atrocities, it was easy to believe in his redemption in the end. The way the Borg was presented, also, made it believable that Picard had no control. Remember the tear? Remember his recovery? Remember the movie, Star Trek First Contact? (my personal favorite movie)

  5. Thanks for the link, Kimber An. Great blog post.

    I agree about "social responsibility" in any kind of writing (which is different from the idea that one has to put an explicit "moral" in every story). I do believe in redemption through love, however -- but it's true that one has to be realistic about the sadly unlikely prospect of curing a hard-core abuser.

    Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST got flak from some reviewers who insisted the movie encourages girls to think they can reform a "beast" (in the sense of a violent man). I don't see it that way. Belle starts becoming attracted to the Beast only AFTER he reveals through his actions that he has already started to change.