Thursday, March 21, 2013

I Really Don't Like Bad Boys (Except When Tolkien Writes Them)

On Tuesday we talked about the nature of heroes like Tuor--basically, your cookie-cutter Superman types. There are plenty of these heroes that I find compelling in other texts. In comic books (and comic book movies) I prefer Supermans over Batmans, Cyclopses over Wolverines, and Captain Americas over Iron Mans, etc. There is something about the square-jawed paragon archetype that I find attractive in a character.

Tolkien is, as he is in many ways, my exception in this, I think because he plays with the nature of heroism in specific and unique ways. Obviously hobbits, but the lines can be even finer. As we mentioned in class (and supplemented by additional thoughts):

  • There are the really nice-guy characters, who have battle prowess but are not quite as famous for it, and are so nice, in fact, that they don't even eat animals because they're too cute or something (Beren, Tuor, even Faramir with all the reading he does). 
  • There's Aragorn, whom I would posit is probably in a class on his own and is a hard-core good guy who is basically perfect and good at everything, a noble warrior, but also humble about it. Also, when Tolkien introduces him to the hobbits, he looks like a bad guy, and that's his angle, that's what makes him interesting. 
  • Our super-noble Elvish warriors like Fingolfin, Fingon, Glorfindel, Beleg, who are generally really good guys but, remember, basically everyone in Middle-earth is "fallen" to a greater or lesser extent, but still fallen. They still have pride that won't let them be housed by the Valar, and, like these three especially, tend to get themselves killed in hopeless battles (like being Turin's friend). 
  • And then we have our bad boys that are still heroes. But they are never 100% heroes nor 100% bad boys. 
...Or the reasons that they are "bad" are really compelling or even heroic, and this list is endless and perfect and I love them all: Maeglin (rape baby, broken home, raised with the guy who killed his father, can we say Issues?), Maedhros (cursed, daddy issues, has to protect/corral his idiot brothers, was the only one in a host of however many thousand who said "hey this shipburning, maybe let's not?"; was also tortured for 50 years, that's got to atone him for some guilt, right?), Boromir (classic case of wrong thing for the right reasons), heck, Turin of course (he admittedly tries hard, and poor darling, he's legitimately cursed), and let's throw Thorin in there (more bad things for right reasons yay), Aule for being edgy (way to train everyone who ultimate goes darkside, bro), even Feanor (without whom we wouldn't have most of this exciting story, remember).

Remember (sorry for using myself as a case study here, you are going to help me negotiate my feelings) I don't like bad guys or edgy heroes or anit-heroes normally. What is Tolkien's secret????


Troy Wells said...

I think what makes Tolkien's "bad guys" different is that Tolkien gives them history. Most stories only portray bad guys when they are being bad. You never find out what made them bad or if they are perhaps just misunderstood. Tolkien's bad guys are given history and (I am thinking of Turin) you usually meet them when they are still considered good guys. It would be much easier to write-off Turin as 100% bad if you only met him after he kills Beleg, but if you meet him before and witness his "conversion" it is a lot easier to sympathize with his whole situation. It's the same thing as if we had only episode V to judge Darth Vader versus having all six.

Troy Wells said...

That's right, I just brought Star Wars into this;)

Megan said...

True! Maybe this is why I never ever want to see The Silmarillion made into a movie--a mini-series, maybe, but not a movie. Because it takes time to craft complex characters the way Tolkien does. Or, I dunno, maybe Joss Wheedon could do it.

Yes, I just went there, too ;)

Anna Adams said...

I think the fact that Tolkien allows for his characters to suffer the consequences of their actions improves his heroes. I know other characters in other stories do suffer, but it seems like all too often the heroes come out without so much as a scratch. I think Boromir, for example, is so well liked because he dies and redeems himself at the end. If he didn't die it just wouldn't mean as much that he sacrificed himself. And would Turin's story really be that interesting if he wasn't cursed and made all the mistakes (an understatement, I know) that he does? This is my theory anyway. Maybe I'm just tired of the main characters living in other stories. People need to be less afraid to kill off their characters! Feel free to disagree with me.