Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Discussion Post: Reluctant Heroes

As I was reading The Darkest Minds a few weeks ago I was totally loving the main character Ruby and her struggle to come to terms with not only her power but her role as a hero. It got me thinking that a lot of my favorite MCs are very similar in that they don't want this role of hero or savior that has been thrust onto their shoulders. So that gave me the idea for a discussion post explaining why exactly I like a reluctant hero. 

As the name may lead you to believe we're talking about those characters that don't want the responsibility to save the world as they know it. They may have these extra special powers that give them this role or their circumstances have thrust them into this role. Throughout the course of their story they come to terms with their role as hero and either realize what it means to be a true hero or fall into antihero territory. Either way I am Team Reluctant Hero and here's why.

1.) Much easier to empathize with. I mean who likes responsibility?

 PUT YOUR HAND DOWN TAYLOR! The answer is no one! Well maybe some people. I definitely don't like responsibility. It gives me so much anxiety. I'm always afraid I'm going to fail. Add that fear and anxiety to something as high stakes as saving the world, then my choice would be to hide under my covers until the world ends. When I'm reading these epic kinds of stories I always think, "how would I respond?" And I assure you I would not willingly accept this role as hero. So when I see a protagonist nervous or complaining how they have been thrust with an impossible task I think "I feel you!"

2.) Much more realistic!

This is much of the same reasoning but it seems completely unlikely to me that a person will willingly accept their role as hero. If a character is given all kinds of crazy powers and/or all kinds of crazy responsibility and they give in without a fight not only are they a cocky little jerk but they also feel unrealistic to me. I mean one does not simply walk into Mordor so why is Frodo all "yeah sure, whatever, NBD."

3.) Reluctant Heroes are far from perfect and that's pretty cool.

They make all kinds of mistakes. They probably fail miserably at least the first time they try to do anything heroic. They're not the strongest or the smartest. Reluctant heroes are usually the everyman types. They're Arthur Dent and Peter Parker. They don't want or understand this burden that has been placed on them and this causes them to do the wrong thing more than once. Not only does this make them likable and realistic but it's so much more compelling. If it's so easy then everyone would be a hero!

4.) They're character arcs are so much more interesting

Okay so they made their mistakes, they failed, something bad happened but like all people reluctant heroes learn more from their failures than their successes. They come to grips with their role and responsibility and they have that aha moment that not only can they do this but they don't have a choice. Something shifts in their minds and they become this amazing and badass character. You've already connected with them and are rooting for them to succeed so now you're all "HELL YES!"

I know this just another played out character archetype but it works for me. Along the heroes journey it's much more interesting to me if you refuse the call to adventure and learn the hard way that adventure chooses you!

Some of my favorite reluctant heroes (besides the ones previously listed)
-Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling (also Neville): 
How many times does Harry whine about being "The Chosen One" and how he alone can defeat Voldemort? Answer: a lot!

- Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins:
She doesn't want to go back into the arena, she doesn't want to be the Mockingjay, she doesn't want to bring down the Capital

- Quentin Coldwater in The Magician King by Lev Grossman: 
He's not at all up for finding these keys. He just wants to do magic and get drunk!

- Cinder in The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer:
No spoilers but she's got a lot of responsibility that it took her three books to come to grips with.

-Alina Starkov in the Grisha trilogy:
The sun summoner is the only one to save Ravka apparently but Alina doesn't want to be the savior or the saint they're making her out to be!

What are your thoughts on reluctant heroes? Do you also find them more likable and compelling? Leave me a comment with your thoughts and who your favorite reluctant heroes are.


  1. PUT YOUR HAND DOWN TAYLOR! That had me laughing.

    I am a huge fan of reluctant heroes. I think that when a lot of responsibilities are placed on a character and they just take in their stride,I find it so unrealistic! :/ and Katniss is my favourite. She definitely never wanted to be the spark!

    Thanks for sharing and have a great week! xxx

    Alex @ The Shelf Diaries

  2. Agreed! Reluctant heroes are the best. Besides, a hero who's all "yep, I'm pretty much the greatest thing ever since I'm the obvious hero here" would be kind of obnoxious to read about. Kind of like reading a book starring Professor Lockhart. I'll take my Harry Potters and Neville Longbottoms (so glad he made your list!) any day. Great post! Sorry I'm a few days late in commenting!