Antihero: n. a central character who lacks conventional heroic attributes (such as being morally good, idealistic, and/or courageous)
There is nothing I love more than a well-drawn antihero. In fact, some of my all-time favorite characters fit into this archetype. I’m not sure what it is about watching a morally ambiguous protagonist navigate their way through life that is so captivating. Maybe I can relate to them better than I can a traditional hero? Their shades of gray are endearing and give me reason to root for them? Their redemption is so close I can taste it?
Whatever the case, I’m not alone in my love for this type of character. Turns out, my fellow PubCrawlers are the same. After a very lengthy (and highly entertaining) email thread on this topic, I decided it was imperative to share some of our favorite antiheroes…
There’s no ignoring Harry Potter’s Severus Snape! His goal is obviously admirable (protect Harry at all costs), but his methods of doing so toe the line of villain. He goes out of his way to make Harry’s life miserable, plus he’s horrible to a good number of other students in the process. And in many ways, his love for Lily is selfish, not selfless. Still, Snape knows his own errors and lives to right those wrongs. I rooted for his redemption throughout my entire reading experience.
Howl’s Moving Castle also comes to mind, and gosh do I love Howl. He’s vain and shallow and sometimes cowardly, but he carries a heavy burden of responsibility, and for that reason, I cut him slack. (Thankfully, Sophie does too. While also giving him a much needed kick in the pants.)
Us PubCrawlers also talked about Game of Thrones–which is full of so many characters it’s hard to narrow down to a central antihero–and Jaime Lannister and Arya Stark both came up. Jaime for obvious reasons, and then Arya because of her cunning-ness. To quote Leigh Bardugo, “That girl looks like a hero at the start, but she’s a stone cold killer.” Other honorable mentions to the one and only Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby), Crowley (Good Omens), and Tyler Durden (Fight Club).
FROM COMIC BOOKS:
Batman, Ironman, Wolverine, Magneto! What is it about comic books that give us tortured antiheroes? All of these characters have a relatively sympathetic end goal, but their methods of getting there are sometimes questionable. They act as vigilantes, cutting down anyone in their way (Batman, Wolverine). They hide behind fronts and drip of arrogance (Ironman/Stark). Magneto is an especially interesting one. As Marie Lu mentioned in our thread, he waffles between antihero and flat-out villain, but Young Magneto is particularly awesome and sympathetic.
Perhaps THE antihero, at least for me, is Star Wars’s Han Solo. Sarcastic, witty, one to act first and question later. He has questionable morals (he’s a smuggler, after all), and yet his heart seems to be in the right place on the Big Issues, making him easy to root for. The charisma and charm don’t hurt either.
Léon (in The Professional) is a close second. This hired assassin is ruthless and without mercy. He has only one rule–no women, no children–and it’s this small sliver of morality that makes him sympathetic. Once Natalie Portman’s character enters the story, cheering for Léon becomes almost easy. (Sidenote: if you haven’t seen this movie yet, get on it. One of my personal favorites!)
A few more noteable film antiheroes… Deckard in Blade Runner (yes, this movie is adapted from Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but I’m lumping it in with the film characters). Clint Eastwood in pretty much any Western he starred in, plus the Dirty Harry franchise. And Jack Sparrow from Pirates. (Somehow, I still love this selfish, cowardly, often-drunk-and-worthless liar, even after all the stunts he pulls.)
We’re big Battlestar Galatica fans at PubCrawl, so naturally, Kara Thrace (Starbuck) and Gaius Baltar came up in our discussions. These two are both complex and tortured, often acting with very questionable motives. Still, we find ourselves rooting for them both. Same goes for Firefly‘s Malcolm Reynolds. This captain fought for the losing side of the war, and continues to go rogue long after. He’s a smuggler and a thief, entirely unapologetic, bitter and rash. It’s his fight for the little guy, the common man, that keeps him sympathetic.
There’s also Ben Linus from LOST. This guy was the king of manipulation. A liar and murderer, he hides behind a calm and well-spoken shell, and there’s no denying he’s brilliant. Terrifying, but brilliant. And let’s not forget Zuko from Avatar! As Susan Dennard pointed out, he becomes almost a pure hero as the story continues, but at the beginning he embodies many antihero traits: a short temper, little patience, and a downright villainous goal to kill the story’s protagonist.
But what about the ladies? After typing up this entire post, I was a little appalled to realize all the classic antiheroes that came to mind for me (and my fellow PubCrawlers) were male. Are antiheroines really that rare, or did we just overlook them? Katniss might be considered an antiheroine; she’s pretty reckless and violent, and her selflessness almost always come back to her sibling, and only her sibling. Same goes for Cassie in the just-released The 5th Wave. In TV-land, maybe Kate from LOST?
Who else? Let us know who you’d add to these lists (male and/or female) in the comments. We could talk about antiheroes/heroines all day!