Tag Archives: Anti-hero

Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter P




is for Protagonist




A protagonist is the main character in a story. S/he may be cast as hero or anti-hero.

I tend to cast my protagonists in the role of narrator in my stories, often telling different chapters from different perspectives. As a result, it may be argued I have multiple protagonists, each of their stories important for the reader’s enjoyment of the piece.

In Chicken or Egg: A Love Story, there are 3 protagonists. Paula is the traditional hero type, trying to figure out what’s happening in her life in order to restore order to it. Nigel is the anti-hero. Cast as a traditional villain-type, he is the main orchestrator of the conflict. Sometimes hero, sometimes villain, sometimes love interest for Paula and foil and pawn for Nigel, the jury is out on Daniel’s main role. Whatever his function, the reader is meant to feel pathos (another P-word meaning to evoke emotion–usually pity or sadness–for a character in a literary work) for all three characters.

Where do you stand on the role of the protagonist in the stories you read? Do you prefer them to be hero, anti-hero, or a little bit of both? Weigh in with your opinions in the comments section below.

“Heart Shaped Box” not for the faint of heart

In Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill, Judas Jude Coyne, aging grunge rocker and collector of oddities and antiquities, purchases a ghost online. He later learns the ghost, Craddock McDermott, is the step-father of his ex-girlfriend, Anna, and he has a vendetta settle with Jude. Both Craddock and Anna’s sister, Jessica blame Jude for Anna’s death. After the ghost kills Jude’s assistant Danny and nearly killing Jude, he and his current girlfriend, Marybeth (whom Jude has nicknamed Georgia) set out on a quest to deliver Craddock’s ghost home.

Heart Shaped Box is a novel reminiscent of Stephen King’s early horror stories, such as Christine, Carrie or The Shining, that is to say, it is more gory horror than spooky horror. For me, the joy of reading horror should have the same effect as rushing down the highest embankment of a roller coaster–heart pumpingly scary. When I was a preteen, I was hooked on the Real Canadian Ghost Stories series I used to buy from the Scholastic Books magazine. Those stories were freaky, so much so that I had to stop reading them once I found I couldn’t sleep soundly without my bedroom door open, the hallway light on, and first checking in my closet and under my bed for ethereal trespassers. In this respect, Heart Shaped Box does not deliver.

Hill’s horror is gruesome and violent and not for the faint of heart. After Marybeth pricks her finger on a ghostly pin hidden in Craddock’s suit, and the wound festers, Hill describes it in high definition. When Jude’s finger is blown off after he’s shot, Hill paints the picture for the reader in glorious, living technicolor. It’s a testament to Hill’s prose and storytelling ability that I continued to read in spite of being utterly and totally grossed out. Coyne’s character (think Treasure Trader’s Billy Jamieson) is a reluctant anti-hero. A drug abuser and alcoholic raised by an abusive father, he goes through a series of girls half his age, referring to them by their cities of origin rather than their given names. He pities himself enough to want to give in to Craddock’s mind control and end his life, but when that plan is thwarted by Marybeth, Jude turns around, vowing to do her the same favour. The only way to do that is to see his quest through to the bitter end, in spite of the fact that it may mean the end of his life as well.

Heart Shaped Box is a good read, but it’s not true horror. Quite frankly, there are more chills to be had listening to voices from Zak Bagans’s ghost box on The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures series or TAPS EVPs than reading this novel, but that’s not to say it’s not worth reading. Joe Hill is an excellent author, worthy of my earlier King comparison. He tells a great story, sure to put a chill in your heart and a churn in your belly.

Do you read Joe Hill? What do you think about his knack for tale telling this bloody brand of horror?


The Anti-hero

I love Dexter, be it reading Jeff Lindsay’s novels or watching the television series. It was weird at first, rooting for the bad guy, but the more I read/watched, the more I realized that “bad” had shades of grey. Lately, many shows feature protagonists who are more anti-hero than hero. Take ABC’s Once Upon a Time, for example. It’s no secret that my favourite character on that show is Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold, a man who killed his wife, chopped a man’s hand off, held a woman hostage, and beat an old man with his cane, twice. Through it all, I root for him. I feel the loss of his son, the anguish in his love affair with Belle, the plunging psyche as he picked up the remains of his prized possession, the chipped cup, from the hospital floor. Scandal is another example. Olivia and her team have murdered, stolen, and lied. Olivia herself is in an affair with a married man and was involved in rigging votes in the last presidential election. Is it wrong to want to see her and Fitz together? To want Fitz to remain blind to her conspiracy? To want Mellie to die in childbirth? To love Cyrus for calling off the gun for hire he’d paid to murder his own husband to keep the secret buried?

For two weeks now, I’ve been watching FX’s The Americans. The premise is intriguing: Russian spies carrying out covert missions while posing as the all American family. As I watched this week’s episode, I questioned my interest in the show. Talk about anti-heroes? Elizabeth and Phillip pose as heads of a nuclear family, living out the American Dream in their house in the suburbs with their son and daughter. Last week, they used their garage to store the spy that raped Elizabeth during her training in the trunk of their car. This week, Elizabeth poisoned an innocent college student and the two blackmailed his mother for the cure. Elizabeth played the nurse to the boy while Phillip beat up the uncle, broke his hand, strong-armed the mother, and nearly suffocated the boy to get what he wanted, which was for the mother to plant a bug in a politician’s office. As I watched, I thought, “How horrible. I don’t even think I like these characters.” Then Phillip sat in his car after suffocating the boy and nearly cried while Elizabeth consoled him. I won’t say I root for him as I do Dexter, but I think I watch to put together the glimpses of humanity. So long as the gruesome brutality is balanced with the humanity, I may continue to watch.

I am no stranger to television brutality. Shows like True Blood, Vampire Diaries, and Walking Dead are full of it, but the macabre is acceptable, almost expected, given that the characters are vampires and werewolves and hunters and zombies and just trying to survive. Shows like this don’t bother me much. What I find horrific is when the monsters are human, drawing blood for nothing more than the horror of it. Dexter, I understand. He witnessed his mother brutally murdered in front of him as a toddler. Dexter’s impulses are born of blood. He knows what he does is wrong. Unable to quash his compulsion, he has found a way to control it instead, killing only those who deserve to be killed. Not the same for Joe Carroll on Fox’s The Following, who gets others to kill for him a la Charles Manson. I can’t figure out why he does what he does other than the fact that he can. American Horror Story is another show that pushes the blood-soaked threshold, but it does so with a subtle irony and hidden horror stereotype allusions that elevate it from horrific bloodbath to interestingly compelling.

The line between good and evil has blurred for the traditional superhero types as well. Gone are the days in which the hero does good both in and out of their costumes, like Batman or Superman. Today’s heroes fall nothing short of human. This week’s Arrow, for example, showed Oliver brutalizing his own mother for answers. On Person of Interest, Detective Carter often bends and/or breaks the law to save Reese and Finch. Even the president of the United States is not exempt—this week’s Scandal saw Fitz murder Verna in her hospital bed to prevent the jury tampering secret from getting out. Gone are the days of good and evil, of black and white; welcome to the days of anti-heroism and shades of grey.  

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