Voila part 3! Hope you enjoy!
Link to part 1 – (https://alilbit0fme.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/fantasy-literature-project)
Part 2: Heroism
i.) Working towards a definition of ‘heroism’
In the satirical text, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones defines heroes as ‘mythical beings, often selected at birth, who perform amazing deeds of courage, strength and magical mayhem, usually against huge odds’. One half of this definition pertains largely to a subgenre of fantasy called ‘sword and sorcery’, popularised in the nineteen-twenties and thirties by authors like Robert E. Howard who wrote the pulp fantasy stories of Conan the Barbarian and Kull of Atlantis. Howard’s stories depict muscular battle-hungry warriors and self-motivated men of action. These heroes are unrealistic because of their unlimited free-will and near invincibility, which is a large part of the textual appeal for some readers. Wynn Jones’ definition also refers to classic epic fantasy texts like The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien in which the small but well-nourished hobbits perform brave deeds as part of their cause to destroy the Ring. The second part of Wynn Jones’ definition relates more to the heroes of contemporary fantasy. She explains that a hero usually turns out to be just as human as the reader, often ‘in the right place at the right time, (or the wrong place at the wrong time, more likely)’. The heroes in contemporary fantasy texts have obligations and concerns other than themselves, such as Adoulla’s duty to Dhamsawaat, as well as experiencing very real danger, which is evident in the significant death toll in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
I have touched upon the definition of heroism but I have not yet examined what ‘makes’ a hero. Fantasy authors stretch the definition of heroism because each text sheds new light on different aspects of the ‘hero’. When every depiction of heroism in fantasy texts problematises and confuses any potential definition, it becomes difficult to work towards an idea of heroism. This is especially the case when authors of contemporary fantasy depict heroism in interesting and realistic ways. By realistic, I mean that these authors depict their heroic characters as flawed beings who often make the wrong choices, leading them into danger. That is not to say that early fantasy texts are facile but the dichotomy between protagonist and antagonist reduces to the ‘good’ hero triumphing over ‘evil’ villains while the textual focus is the hero taking control of his destiny. In contrast, the hero of contemporary fantasy often has little control over his destiny and does not fall in a simple paradigm of good or evil. This complication adds a sense of reality to the fictional world of the text.
A hero is not self-defined but constructed by those around him. This is evident in the initially negative presentation of Jaime Lannister in GOT because one of Lannister’s first scenes is when he pushes Bran Stark out of a window after Bran sees him having sex with Cersei, his own sister. As well as this, Lannister is far from being a hero in Eddard Stark’s eyes; Stark considers Lannister to be untrustworthy because he murdered Mad King Aerys Targaryen despite being a member of the Kingsguard, sworn to protect him. Yet Martin reveals in the third book of the series that, if Jaime had not broken his oath to his king, Aerys would have burnt King’s Landing to the ground along with all its inhabitants. Perspective is intrinsically tied to heroism in the sense that perhaps, when reading the text, we are encouraged to harbour the same sentiments as some of the characters.
When an author experiments with conventions and tropes things become much more interesting. Morgan’s protagonist, Ringil, suffers from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing the execution of his lover. In Crescent Moon, Adoulla regularly bemoans the fact that he has to fight ghuls instead of being able to enjoy a cup of cardamom tea and a good meal in his favourite townhouse. Both these authors build upon past depictions of heroism in fantasy by portraying their protagonists as flawed human beings, liable to feeling raw human emotion or craving simple hedonistic pleasures.
ii.) The makings of a hero
An important question here is what actions a character takes to become heroic. Does he behave nobly in every circumstance or does she negotiate a successful escape from a dangerous situation? Is there a checklist of steps a character must take to secure his title of ‘hero’ or is it something more internal, a sense of enlightenment on the part of the character?
In Wells’ and Brennan’s texts, the protagonists are selfless. Moon, the hero of The Cloud Roads, puts himself in grave danger for the Raksura, a group of people to which he does not yet belong. Yet, after seeing the Raksura’s enemies, the Fell, carrying away a group of Arbora, Moon puts aside any past conflict he has with other Raksura and chases after them. In A Natural History, Isabella has no desire to claim credit for the scholarship about the rock-wyrms of Vystrana, preferring that her murdered husband’s name remain underneath the title of her research. This is her lasting dedication to his legacy so that his name carries on while she furthers her own future research. Selflessness is heroic and noble because it benefits others rather than just those who act.
Ahmed’s protagonists, Dawoud and Adoulla, are in poor shape due to age and former injuries. Adoulla is described as ‘a fat old man sweating heavily though the sun was hardly up’ while Dawoud ages significantly and loses strength every time he casts a spell. These characters get hurt, rather than easily triumphing over threat. Yet what makes them heroic is that they have spirit rather than brawn. Dawoud fights hordes of skin ghuls and Adoulla threatens the Falcon Prince that if he betrays Dhamsawaat, he will drink his blood. Due to their weaknesses, the threat seems greater to them which makes their heroic actions more significant.
Rothfuss’ text commences upon a backdrop of gossip and hearsay surrounding Kvothe’s identity. Kvothe tells Chronicler that he is ‘the very special kind of myth that creates itself’. Effectively, by telling his story, he rectifies the gossip, giving his own account of how Kvothe, the hero, came to be. In this, Kvothe makes himself the hero because he takes the reins of the story out of Chronicler’s hands and tells it in his own way. This is interesting because it emphasises the subjectivity of heroism by encouraging the reader to judge whether Kvothe’s actions are heroic and whether he can be wholly believed, as ‘the best lies about [Kvothe] are the ones [he] told’.
Some texts contain no heroes; instead, some characters merely behave heroically. In The Mirror Empire, Lilia poses as a reincarnation of the god-like figure, Faith Ahya, to convince Ghrasia to allow the passage of thousands of refugees into Liona. Essentially, Lilia dons a heroic ‘costume’ to accomplish what she wants. This scene is particularly indicative of Hurley’s treatment of heroism because it suggests that heroes do not exist but certain situations require heroic action. In Martin’s and Morgan’s texts, the authors both play with the notion of grey characters as heroes. In GOT, Martin’s heroes are far more complex than simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as every character is capable of both. When an incognito Lord Varys brings wine to an imprisoned Ned Stark, Varys suggests that honesty and honour do not win a person a long life. Although Varys has no honour, he uses his power to ‘serve the realm, and the realm needs peace’. Stark may have his honour but is powerless in a prison cell. In Martin’s world, feats of derring-do and gallantry rarely correspond with a long life. Tyrion critiques Lord Brax for drowning in his armour claiming that ‘if that was gallantry, he would take cowardice every time’. Sansa even finds out to her horror that ‘in life, the monsters win’ after witnessing the death of her father. Common sense and pragmatics seem to prevail over ‘hurrah-and-huzzah’ falsities. Morgan’s protagonist, Ringil, consorts with the supernatural enemy Aldrain, Seethlaw, and it is never clear to whose side he swears allegiance. By the ending of The Steel Remains, Ringil looks into a mirror and is ‘no longer afraid of what he s[ees] looking back at him’, a suggestion that he embraces his dark side.
iii.) On quests
A character requires an incentive to become heroic or display his heroic qualities. This incentive is the quest, a shared commonality amongst the heroes of these novels. The hero embarks upon a quest to defeat a tyrannical despot and his armies, to seek enlightenment or to rescue a captive royal. In a sense, the quest is the vehicle by which a character can enact heroic deeds.
The ‘saving the world’ quest involves a character or group of characters preventing an enemy from destroying the world. In Ahmed’s novel, Adoulla and his companions save their city of Dhamsawaat by preventing ghul-of-ghuls Orshado and the manjackal Mouw Awa from taking the Throne of the Crescent Moon. In Morgan’s text, Ringil and his former battle-companions rescue his cousin, Sherin, and slay the demonic Aldrain who threaten the future of the world. Within the main quest of the narrative there is also the internal quest of the hero. For instance, in Ahmed’s text, Adoulla saves Dhamsawaat so he can fulfil his oath to his one true love, Miri, and beg for her hand in marriage. Adoulla regularly bemoans the fact that Zamia and Raseed take great pleasure in killing ghuls and berates the young dervish Raseed for being overzealous and refusing to partake in more sensual pleasures. Adoulla takes little pleasure in killing, considering love to be a far nobler quest. In Morgan’s novel, Ringil’s quest to save the city of Trelayne becomes intertwined with the fulfilment of a prophecy told by a marsh dweller woman that ‘a dark lord will rise’. Ringil undergoes a character transformation by executing his former lover, Grace-of-Heaven, for selling him to the Aldrain. In this, Ringil fulfils the prophecy because he is, in fact, the dark lord risen.
The numerous characters in Hurley’s and Martin’s texts have individual motivations for personal gain or the progress of their clan or family. In Hurley’s text, Lilia only wants to find her mother, even sacrificing Gian, who helped nurse her back to health, to achieve further progress in this quest. In Martin’s novel, all the families seek growth and prosperity through careful alliances. Families are even willing to betray other families for their own gain, which is the case when Robert Baratheon promises a lordship to anyone who assassinates Daenerys Targaryen. The third book in the series even reveals that Littlefinger convinced Jon Arryn’s own wife, Lysa, to poison him and make up a rumour that the Lannister’s had orchestrated his assassination. The identification of the hero becomes difficult when every character in these texts has a separate quest. Yet a quest purely for personal gain is not entirely courageous because it only helps one person at the expense of others. In these texts, the heroes are those who navigate the treacherous and volatile worlds contained within these texts while staying true to themselves. In GOT, Eddard Stark quests for the truth of the Baratheon children’s birth rights despite the danger of crossing Cersei Lannister. In The Mirror Empire, Ora Dasai takes the blame for Roh’s letter in cipher to the Kai, their leader, even though this certainly means punishment. Amazingly enough, the reward for these heroic traits is often death. Despite this, these quests of selflessness and fearlessness define the hero because he takes that path anyway although it may lead to his demise.
In Brennan’s, Rothfuss’ and Wells’ texts, the quests are more personal. In A Natural History, Isabella quests for the advancement of science in the field of dragon anatomy. Danger presents itself on her quest when she is captured by smugglers. Isabella tells the smugglers that her group of dragon naturalists will be able to stop the dragons from attacking people. By doing this, Isabella escapes with her life whilst also managing to enlist the aid of the smugglers to locate the dragons. Isabella manages to get out of a bad situation and further the quest by thinking quickly and sweet-talking the smugglers. In NotW, Kvothe’s assistant, Bast, wants his master to return to his heroic ways because he seems to have ‘lost’ his heroism during his self-imposed exile. In a sense, Kvothe ‘relives’ his heroic past by telling his story and, in turn, recollecting the experiences of the quest. For instance, while at university he saves a fellow student from burning alive and, later, slays a draccus. In The Cloud Roads, Moon solves his initial quest of finding his people relatively early in the text. When Stone takes him to the Indigo Cloud Court, one of the homes of the Raksura, Moon’s quest then becomes learning to accept his own people and then himself as a Raksura. Moon initially has trouble finding a place within the hierarchical Raksuran society and does not want to answer to anyone given that he lived as a ‘wild solitary’ before. Moon must learn to come to terms with himself and others around him figuring that ‘if [he] can’t fit in here, it’s not them; it’s [him]’. When he finally agrees to be Jade’s consort to ensure the future health of the Court, he accepts their differences and sacrifices his own prior misgivings to connect with his own people, allowing himself to belong somewhere. Essentially, he must overcome himself.
In these texts, there is a commonality of characters becoming heroes through a quest, yet each quest differs in how the author frames the quest and how each character becomes a hero. So, does the quest make the hero or does the character become a hero by embarking upon a quest? My hunch is that a character is not a hero until he embarks upon a quest yet the quest provides the possibility for heroic deeds.
 Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, (Great Britain: Vista, 1996), 92.
 Joseph A. McCullough V, “The Demarcation of Sword and Sorcery”, Black Gate: Adventures in Fantasy Literature, accessed May 17, 2017. https://www.blackgate.com/the-demarcation-of-sword-and-sorcery/
 Wynn Jones, 92.
 Martin, 85.
 ibid., 114-15.
 George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords, (New York: Bantam Books, 2011), 506-7.
 Morgan, 49.
 Ahmed, 48.
 Wells, 634.
 Brennan, 331.
 Ahmed, 65, 272.
 ibid., 252-53, 265.
 Rothfuss, 45.
 Hurley, 506-7.
 Martin, 633.
 ibid., 636.
 ibid., 765.
 ibid., 746.
 Morgan, 344.
 Ahmed, 171.
 ibid., 272, 26.
 Morgan, 122.
 ibid., 343.
 ibid., 282-3.
 Martin, 111-13.
 Martin, A Storm of Swords, 1114.
 Martin, A Game of Thrones, 528-9,
 Hurley, 406-7.
 Brennan, 130-32.
 Rothfuss, 659-661.
 ibid., 449-50, 585-6.
 Wells, 175.
 ibid., 128.
 ibid., 690.