Sunday, December 6, 2009

What is an Anti-Hero?

It has been suggested many times this semester that the character, Thomas Covenant, created by Stephen Donaldson is an anti hero. While reading the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the unbeliever, I tried so hard to feel sympathy for the leper. I wanted him to experience some sort of incredible epiphany that would change his bitter outlook on life and make him a more likable character. It hasn’t happened yet. I began to think about other “anti-heroes” that I have come across in literature. It made me wonder, “What makes a likable anti-hero?”
Anti-heroes usually have imperfections that would keep them from being considered heroic. They tend to have obvious flaws such as, selfishness, ignorance, lack of manners. A hero is generally courageous while an anti-hero usually has feelings of helplessness. Sometimes they can even share qualities with villains.

According to Wise

“The anti-hero is often a reluctant hero who does not consider himself capable of accomplishing the goal. He might be selfish, addicted, corrupt, sullen or disaffected. By the end of the journey the anti-hero typically transforms into a fuller, happier or more complete person due to the struggles he or she endures. In many cases the anti-hero dies at the end of the story, even while overcoming.”

Thomas Covenant has been shunned from his community and most of society. In our world, he is disliked but in “The Land” he is considered a “hero.” In this other world he is considered a chosen one and battles against evil. But for some reason, the general consensus in our class was that he could never be a likeable character.

In other works of fantasy there are dark characters that could be considered anti-heroes.

Severus Snape from Harry Potter is quite a complex character. He holds a similar characteristic of bitterness as Thomas Covenant. He bullies his students and takes out his frustrations on them. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t read all of Rowling’s books but Snape surprises the reader many times. In the end, he certainly does have some redeeming qualities.

I also read somewhere that Gollum could be considered an anti-hero. He flip flops throughout the entire Lord of the Rings series. Because of his multiple personalities, he is hard to trust. Gollum tries to keep his promise to Frodo even though he struggles with his desire for the ring. In the end Gollum turns out to be the reason the ring is destroyed, even though it wasn’t exactly planned.

Even though Gollum and Snape can be extremely unlikable, I have found some redeeming qualities in the both of them. They are two characters that I would be willing to give multiple chances. I don’t exactly feel that way about covenant. I think that many readers, myself included, are very stuck on the rape of Lena. Despite its purposes in the series, I just don’t think I can forgive him for it. Every once in a while, I see some courage in his actions but his negatives weigh too heavy. He doesn’t really care much about “The Land.” He just goes where the wind blows him. He doesn’t even believe that it is a real place half of the time. Even an anti-hero displays some desire to change his circumstances or to help others. I don’t see Covenant having an epiphany any time soon.

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