A post by Molly Templeton at tor.com: Holding Out for More Heroes
I always like Molly Templeton’s posts, and of course I’m always happy to see a post saying that you know what, heroes are great, but I am just a little taken aback by the tone of this post. Here is how the post begins:
If there’s one kind of question guaranteed to make me roll my eyes, it’s one about guilty pleasures. You don’t need to feel guilty about the art you enjoy. There are things in life about which a person should feel guilty … but liking a particular kind of art or story or character or movie or song is not, generally, among those things.
And yet there’s a thing I love that I’ve been feeling squirmy about. I don’t feel guilty, exactly, but I feel self-conscious and dorky and then feel guilty about feeling those ways, which maybe transforms into a feeling that’s a cousin to a guilty pleasure? It’s in the same general vicinity, at least. … I found myself forced to admit that I love paladins. And I really feel like I’m not supposed to say that in public. … I could not feel more uncool for confessing to this. It feels like announcing that I’m a boring person who only likes simple, happy stories, when that is the furthest thing from the truth.
I … do not feel like this at all. I mean, at all. I had to pause for a moment to contemplate this.
It’s not that Molly Templeton thinks that the notion that a story centered around good guys are always simple, happy, boring stories. She adds:
But I don’t think a do-gooder has to be simple, or plain, or a stick-in-the-mud …
And, honestly, I think the apologetic tone is creeping out again here. Let me rephrase that:
A do-gooder does not have to be, and usually is not, simple, plain, one-dimensional, flat, unbelievable, or boring.
There is no need to say cautiously, “I think” or “in my opinion” or “it seems to me” in front of that assertion. It is just obviously true, and one could list off a thousand examples without the slightest difficulty. The example Templeton uses here is Maia from The Goblin Emperor, always an excellent (very excellent) choice. One could add Thara Celehar from the second and third books set in that world. Celehar is also not simple, plain, one-dimensional, unbelievable, or boring. He is overly self-effacing and passive, which is none of the above, but is a big reason I have not read the third book.
Celehar is also totally different from Maia, which there you go, look, two genuinely nice characters who are totally different from each other. Not that this is surprising, because that’s how it works when you are doing a solid job of characterization, which is absolutely for sure no more difficult with characters who are nice than characters who hover on the edge of being bad guys.
Templeton asks for suggestions for fantasy, specifically fantasy, where the protagonist is a genuinely nice person trying to do good things. I am happy (VERY HAPPY) to see that TUYO is mentioned multiple times in the comments, and thank you all very much! I recommend dropping over to that post if you would like to see what other books are mentioned in the comments, but I will mention the ones that sprang to mind for me. Some of these also appear in the comment thread of the linked post; other’s don’t; all of these leaped to my mind waving their virtual hands in the air going Look! Look at me! Nice do-gooder character who is not boring so one-dimensional!
1) Cazaril in The Curse of Chalion, which is mentioned in the comment thread
2) Penric, obviously, and that is also mentioned in the comment thread
3) Cassandra in The Touchstone Trilogy, which isn’t really exactly fantasy, but, I mean, sort of?
4) Medair, in the Medair duology, because THAT really is fantasy, but also
5) All sorts of important characters in And All the Stars, which I grant is not remotely fantasy, but once I started thinking of AKH, what was I supposed to do? Trying hard not to say too much about the specific character I have in mind here, but I will add that this book contains possibly the single most amazing plot twist I have ever encountered.
6) Kit, in From All False Doctrine, which I am indeed re-reading now.
7) Cliopher in The Hands of the Emperor, another one mentioned in the comment thread at the linked post.
8) Paksennarian, obviously, also in the comment thread
9) El, from the Scholomance trilogy, and seriously, you cannot think of both El and Cazaril and then declare that all good-guy characters are the same, because ha ha ha, wow, no. El refutes that notion NO MATTER WHO she is compared to. Any other do-gooder character in the ENTIRE WORLD of books is going to be wildly different from Galadriel Higgins.
10) Frankly, Daniel in the Death’s Lady trilogy is the single nicest person I have ever written.
Okay, I will add that I have picked up a few books from the comment thread at the linked post and maybe soon, this month even, I will close my laptop for two weeks and read a whole bunch of books, including these.
Meanwhile! Favorite book that hasn’t yet been mentioned where the protagonist is a good person trying to achieve good things. Doesn’t have to be nice, does have to be a do-gooder, any other book spring to mind? Oh, I just thought of another, which I will mention in the comments if no one else gets to it first.