Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fallen Heros: The blurred grey line between them and the Anti-hero

Well, now that we have a good discussion in regards to the hero/anti-hero archetype, I’m curious to see if we can take this topic a bit further, and slightly darker, so to speak. Since we can agree on anti-hero types as complex characters, how would be describe a character that possessed true heroic ideals, but due to some sort of tragedy (which could be anything) slowly and inevitably become the full antagonist he/she once strived so hard to fight against. In short I present the Fallen hero.

Now before I get into this further, keep in mind I’m not idolizing or promoting in any way for anyone to bypass making decisions for the greater good and instead to feel free to be wicked. That is NOT my intention here. Like I mentioned in my previous Anti-hero post, I’ve been very interested in the more conflicted characters ever since I started reading novels (which was much younger than most, hence all the teasing I got when I was a kid), movies, graphic novel comics and such. Add into the philosophical aspects of storytelling (Like I did in my philosophy and film course), and you’ll see me analyzing any and all areas of character development. And as mentioned before, tragic heroes, Anti-heroes in particular have always held my interest. That being said, I ask again the question, what happens when the hero falls, and out of extenuating circumstances becomes the villain?

I guess the first thing we would have to address is why would a hero character become what he or she originally was fighting against? Well for most that would fall under this category, the usual traumatic event that shakes the ideals of the hero into questioning his or her original ideology or outlook, to the point where their original virtues no longer matter, or now in such question they look at other alternatives in dealing with them, usually in darker or less ideal ways never once thought of or considered until now.

One good example of this would be the character, ‘Justice’ (interesting name) the seemingly standard antagonist the main character ‘Afro’ from the anime series “Afro Samurai”. Like with most animes (at least the better ones) this character has a complicated storyline, so in a nutshell, his profile goes like this. Justice was the best friend of the character Rokotaro, Afro’s father. They were also both part of the same clan of swordsman that wanted to end the “headband wars” which were causing countless lives being lost (more on this war in another upcoming blog post).

So wait, he was technically a good guy in the beginning? It seems that way, at least at first. However both Justice and Rokotaro had different opinions on how to end it the headband war. Rokotaro wanted to gain the top headband and hide it from those that seeked it. This did not end the wars however, and more people ended up fighting and killing each other for it, Justice felt that the only way for it all the fighting to truly end was to posses all the remaining headbands (including the #1) and end the wars by claiming himself as the ultimate rule of law and order the wars to end indefinitely. In order to do that though, he would have to gain the other remaining headbands (by defeating and/or killing ironically)up the the #2, and challenge the #1 which just happens to be none other than Rokotaro, which after a lengthy battle in front of Afro while he was still a young boy, he succeeds in doing. And yes also right in front of young Afro, all in the name of ‘peace’. As you can imagine, as a result this starts off the typical ‘revenge’ angle for Afro as he grows up. While Justice whom might have had good intentions (though oddly twisted ones) ended up doing very bad actions in order to attain them, but nonetheless, he had the potential to be a hero, but instead becomes the villain. Or in his case the hero in his own mind, much like many other well known villains.

Another example of ‘supposedly good person gone bad’ that I can think of is the character Harold Lauder, from the Stephen King Novel, “The Stand”. Just off topic, the reason why I picked him is in some small ways (but NOT in every way) his character reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger, though I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t see myself making the decisions he did, especially at the end. In a nut shell, Harold was one of the few survivors of the super flu pandemic the kills all but 10% of the world’s population. Both he and his sister’s best friend Franny Goldsmith are the only survivors left in their hometown. Harold prior to the outbreak was considered a social outcast in his local high school. Harold doesn’t help matters for himself by being rather obnoxious and uppity. Which apparently still haunted him even after so many had perished. Added to this, he has a strong crush on Franny, and sees himself as a protector of her of sorts. These feelings however are not returned from Franny who at times find him repulsive, yet does feel some remorse for him (Also the fact she at the time is a month pregnant from a previous relationship and realizes that Harold for now is the only one that can help her deliver her unborn child). It becomes more complex after meeting one of the other survivors and main protagonists Stu Redman, whom Franny falls in love with, much to Harold’s dismay. Yes there’s a jealously angle at work here.

Yet in spite of his shortcomings, he does possess a keen mind, and a lot of his ideas in navigation both for himself and Franny, towards other survivors as well as other groups traveling across the country (i.e. leaving a prominent note, on the roof of a barn, detailing their plans and directions for future travelers). This ongoing effort by Harold, for which he is later congratulated by other travelers, allows several other groups to join together in Colorado. According to his profile Harold quickly becomes a respected and well thought of member of the Boulder Community; despite his unappealing qualities he also possesses a keen mind and, often, his ideas are used to better the community. In a moment of emotional clarity, Harold realizes that he truly is accepted and valued in this strange new world, and that he has the freedom to choose a new life for himself as a respected member of society. However, unable to cast aside his past humiliations and his image of himself, he rejects his last chance at redemption and surrenders instead to his dreams of vengeance, particularly on Fran and Stu. To make a long story short, he attempts a multiple murder by planting a bomb (which was luckily thwarted but not without casualties) and sets off with another co-conspirator Nadine Cross to join the walking man Randall Flagg in Las Vegas.

The irony of it all, that on his way to Vegas, Harold and Nadine get into a motorcycle accident (which is suggested that Flagg pre-arranged, feeling that Harold was too smart for his own good for his organization), leaving him badly injured, but Nadine remarkably unharmed. Realizing he was dying he writes a note in which he takes responsibility for his actions, and expresses remorse and apologizes for them, though he knows he cannot be forgiven. Harold commits suicide by shooting himself in the head. His body is later found by Stu, Larry, Glen, and Ralph, and while they do not bury his corpse, Stu gently removes the gun from Harold's mouth and remarks that Harold’s actions were a waste not only of Nick and Susan (who died in the bomb explosion), but of himself as well. What’s sad about this that Harold did have the opportunity to become the respected, resourceful leader he always wanted to become. However since he couldn’t let go of the past or his own jealously he instead becomes his own worst enemy and falls to the ‘dark side’ of the surviving humans led by Randall Flagg.

It’s sad yet not always too surprising when a key character is given the gift to become someone greater than him or herself, only to shun it away, either from an inability to change themselves or compromise, or not being able to let go of past grievances. In any case when it happens it’s sad to see the potential that character had, only to lose it. Then again some of the best antagonists of story and film are the ones that were in some way a hero, and giving way to what some would consider as the unlikeliest protagonists and become the hero we never expect (i.e. an anti-hero or underdog) much like what was discussed in the previous blog entry. Either way, its good to look at both perspectives of these hero/villain archetypes. It seems at times the lines between them - Anti-hero, Fallen hero, Anti-villain - can be more blurred than many realize. Then again perhaps I’m diving into this research a tad too deeply.



  1. Interesting topic, mate.

    George Lucas hoped he'd fashioned Annakin Skywalker as such a fallen hero. Unfortunately, he screwed up the prequel trilogy and we never connected to Annakin as any kind of hero from which to fall - at best he was a sullen, whining brat without a noble bone in his "me me me" body (yes, Clone Wars came closest to showing how much of a butt kicker he really was, but that's Clone Wars - who but the most ardent fans have seen Clone Wars?)

    Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight, comes fairly close to your description. He loses and flips out after a life fighting crime, if I recall correctly.

    Yes, it is sad when a person's gifts go under-utilized, and they fall short of realizing a destiny of greatness - let's help each other so that doesn't happen to us!

  2. Heh, I was debating orginally about using Annakin in this one. But since he "redeemed" himself somewhat near the end of his life (RoJ) techicly he would be more of a fallen hero turned tragic hero. But from you discription, I guess form your perspective, he wasn't much of a hero to begin with..LOL.

    Ah your RIGHT about Harvey Dent/Two Face..espically the way he was protrayed in Dark Knight. He certianly fits the character of the fallen hero. I should have added him to this one as well. Well I'm sure nothing like this would happen to you, become the fallen hero of sorts. As for me I doubt it as well.. since most of these types meet untimely (though at time inevtable) demises..

  3. Hmmm I had another thought. I remember a conversation a mutuial friend of Lancer and myself, (lets call him 'Atec' for now)had earlier during the late summer/early fall. It was in regards to those that dont take accountablity for their actions. Think it had to do with those that dont take care of their health, and the conequences that come with that afterwards. Some of the clients/patients that I work with came into that conversation. Basicly we were in agreement that those in that postion, needed to accountable for what they have done to themselves to reach that level of poor health. Where we differd though is who is accountable for what they do afterwards while having their sessions in the hospital. Atec felt is still solely the patients since they should know better espcially by now, considering what they're there for now, and what they did (or didnt do) that brought them to that situation to begin with. I felt it was also the responsibilty of those that are taking care of those clients (those that work in the hospital and the relatives and/or care givers who need to montior them, since its clear that the patients cannot or simply refuse to change certian aspects of thier lifestyle, for the case of their health, and for us just to patch them up when they could have avoided the siuation altogether, is only giving them a false sense of security that they can always rely on the system to bail them out. To me thats just giving them an excuse to continue their bad habits.

    So in the case of this with the topic in hand, could some of these fallen heros be products (or victims) of a failed system where they were put in a corner of sorts and made the chocies they made due to what they thought was no other choice? OR are they still 100% acountble for their actions regardless of the situations and could have made diffrent decesions that wouldnt have made become what they are now?

    This is almost like the age ol arguement of Nature vs Nurture, the product of our eviorment or our own character. Interesting to see what comes up..

  4. BTW I happen to come accross this messageboard when doing a search for images of Harold Lauder, It's from the Stephen King Messageboard (think the offical one), and the topic, "does anyone else feel sorry for Harold Lauder?" Very intresting and detailed discussion on his character, dealing alot with what was mentioned in this one:

  5. Hey M. Wanderer,

    Clearly, you've captured a great example of the fallen hero in Harold Lauder. Comparing your comments with these on Stephen King's message board, it's most evident that people had high hopes for this fellow but he just couldn't meet expectations, sadly.

    Interesting thing about Stephen King in general - His delving into the supernatural is a facet of his continual dip into the spiritual. He often has characters and/or plots with a religious component.

    In all honesty, I jumped into The Stand just to explore an "end of the world scenario" and was (mildly at first) surprised that where he was going with it was towards showdown between "good and evil", complete with oracle/prophetess and everything.

    But, after reading enough of King to "get it", it's simply that King, as a writer, wishes to explore these themes and ideas through his writing. Personally, I think it elevates his writing even higher, because religion is a part of the story of life on this planet.

  6. Are you guys familiar with the story of Les Miserables?

    It prominently features a tension between Valjean and Javert, a convict and a police officer respectively. After serving his sentence, the convict is hardened from a life of toil and slavery to the law. Yet he is effectively ransomed from fear by a God-fearing priest who has mercy on him, giving him the opportunity to live a new life now that he has been "given back to God".

    Javert on the otherhand, a police officer who believes himself righteous by coming from poverty and strictly adhering to the law, spends his life making sure criminals pay for their crimes. His merciless zeal blinds him in his harsh judgment of Valjean (who's former crime was breaking a window out of desperation to steal some bread), and so he chases the man as if he were but an animal. He does not believe criminals change, and so he fails to see Valjean's transformation. Indeed, Valjean becomes a better man than Javert himself. When Valjean saves Javert's life, despite all the times he tried to put Valjean back into prison, Javert finally realizes what kind of man Valjean is, and can't come to terms with how his pursuit of justice has lead him to evil. In his moral crisis, he kills himself.

    A great story of redemption and tragedy. I'm mostly familiar with the musical, but that is the gist of the story. It's interesting, because if Javert came to understand more clearly justice and mercy, there's no reason he and Valjean couldn't become great friends.

    It reminds me of a U2 song called "Until The End of the World". As you listen to the song, you realize that it is sung from the perspective of Judas, as he betrays Jesus and then becomes flooded with guilt. In the song though, he does something he doesn't do in the Bible. In his distress, he "reaches out for the one he tried to destroy" to be saved, because Jesus said He would "wait, until the end of the world". Some preachers I've heard have wondered if Judas went to Jesus to ask forgiveness if He would not have been forthcoming. But Judas chose instead to end his life.

    In many of these fallen heroes, we often see some chance for redemption. Some take it, some don't. How much greater the tragedy when you have a definite feeling that the person really could have been redeemed if they chose.

    My regards!

  7. Ah, Les Miserables! I was just a little kid when I saw it, went way over my head ("big people dem movie").

    Haven't actually seen it since. It was also a Toronto theatre staple for, like, forever.

    Well placed. Quite sad, too. But, when I think about how the one we think is the bad guy reforms and becomes positive, while the one we think is the good guy ends up bitter and negative, I'm reminded of when Jesus says "the last shall be first..."

  8. I never got the chance to see Les Miserables, I have heard its good. Sounds like something I need to see for myself, thanks for the heads up Lancer.

    That reminds me, there is one Hero archetype not touched yet but mentioned a few times...the Tragic hero. Might try that, or perhaps look at the villian side of the coin...


What do you think?!