Blurred Reflections – Mirrored Heroes

Hello Everyone!

Sadly there was no photo credit with the picture. I would love to know who made it, it's brilliant.

Sadly there was no photo credit with the picture. I would love to know who made it, it’s brilliant.

Okay, so I found a meme on the Facebook that I shared with my Writing Group, and it got me thinking. We all write or read with a distinct line between our Protagonists and Antagonists; a separation in character that keeps us aware of who is who by their actions, words, thoughts, and motivations. Sure every Hero and Villain has their flaws, they need them; flaws give the characters depth and realism. But my thought is this: how far can we blur those lines as writers? How far can we push that envelope?

Is it acceptable to readers to make the line almost invisible? What if the love and hate for both the Protagonist and the Antagonist was so great that you couldn’t tell who was who? Just from this simple meme and a comment from one of the members in the Writers Group (thank you Kelli Armstrong!) the brain fluids began swirling and bubbling. I totally have a story idea I had to scribble like mad to get the quick and dirty notes on paper before I forgot them. Sadly, I have no time to work on it now, too many other projects at the moment.

Now when I say blurring the line to the extreme, I mean more than The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson or The incredible Hulk created by Stan Lee. I’m thinking closer to the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.

In the book we follow Robert Neville who appears to be a lone hero surviving in the aftermath of a worldwide pandemic- a virus that he is immune to. Forget the movie; the book, which was written in 1954, takes place in Los Angeles. Okay, I’m getting off track… So, in the book Neville seems to be the hero that can create a cure and save everyone. Yet in the end we get hit with a whopper of twist. We learn that our hero has been the monster the entire time. Neville is the beast that stalks the streets while everyone is sleeping. He is the terrible creature that steals people from their homes and does horrible tests and experiments on his captives.

We learn that the infected have in fact formed a new society, a fact that is barely even brought up in the movie, along with many other interesting twists. (I highly recommend reading the book, it will surprise you, I promise!) I won’t spoil the book for those that haven’t read it, or at least I won’t spoil it further…

So to my knowledge, this book is one great example of what I’m getting at. As writers, how much can we dissolve the line between good and evil? As readers, how much blurring are we willing to suffer through if the Hero/ Villain role is so similar we have trouble figuring out who to cheer for?

Would you be interested in a story that kept you wondering about who was actually the Protagonist? Would you hate it? I would love to hear your thoughts. Also, if you know of any other great books that dance along this line of good and evil I would love to hear about them too!

Thanks for stopping by! Have a great rest of the week, Everyone!

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12 thoughts on “Blurred Reflections – Mirrored Heroes

  1. I’m willing to put up with some blurring – it works very well in some books. But ultimately I like to know who I’m rooting for. There has to be something in a protagonist to make me empathize. A sudden twist I did not see coming – if no clues were laid out before-hand – would put me off as a reader unless it was done superbly well.

    • Good point. I didn’t actually think about the investment in a character, the empathy to see a Protagonist succeed. My brain was running last night, hehe.
      I’m not a fan of the twist with no clues leading up to it. It feels “cheap.” Thanks for the input, Rati! 🙂

  2. Interesting thoughts, Joe. I love twists and turns in my books, but I also agree there needs to be clues and foreshadowing beforehand. Not necessarily obvious….I like them subtle, so you really have to be paying attention to catch them. The ones that after the twist happens, you look back at what you’ve previously read, slap your head, and say “It’s so obvious now, I should have seen that coming!” I think blurring the lines somewhat is acceptable and can add to the tension and suspense in the story as you try to figure out who is who. Ultimately, for reader satisfaction, I think we have to be able to know who we’re rooting for. “I Am Legend” did a superb job of setting up our “hero” and then turning it around. The clues were there, if we looked, but the story carries along so well they’re easy to overlook until the twist happens. I think this particular blurring works so well, because Neville is as surprised as we are, to find he is not the “good” guy.

  3. Mirrored heroes/villains (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NotSoDifferent), Anti-heroes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AntiHero), Anti-villians (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AntiVillain), what comes to mind is a few of these, Red Harvest, The Glass Key, Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, The Warrior and the Sorceress, Last Man Standing (I think only one of these is a book, but all similar in nature retold in different ways), for the most part, triangles of brutality (which come with little subtly), where the good, and the bad fade within their own myth to some how present an inequitable equality.

    I Am Legend, I tend to see as a reflection of how different societies treat one another, like how like the west has treated non western society for 2000+ years, and also how some eastern societies have also don over the similar period. It’s a case of humanity has not learned to live with differences, but the variables are far more complex, with so many different influences creating convergences, and divergences to the political, cultural, social, and natural. I Am Legend in one way might be described as being dual/mirrored Dystopian societies/communities, neither seems ideal; so how might a reader relate to such maters, they’ll seek out the relationship which best relates to themselves, and so readers that might find themselves disenfranchised by the society they live in, will be drawn to the alternative one. While the majority might find they are drawn to Neville as he seems to depict what they find normal in society, without knowing the past. The different types of fear portrayed in the story by both sides, hide the past well, as many readers have different perceptions on what is normal, or different. There can also be a possibility to review the tale in a political/class (which seem to evoke in-differences) sense to the relationships on both sides at the blurred line.

    I admit, I’ve only watched the two films which relate to the book, the recent one by the same title, and the 1964 film, Last Man on Earth (though I did go and read http://www.academia.edu/344238/Vampire_Apocalypse_A_Biocultural_Critique_of_Richard_Mathesons_I_Am_Legend to get a more rounded look at the differences between book, and films). At some point in time I might find the book, and read, but not just at the moment.

    In pondering over the above, one could find themselves with a wider, and more diverse reading public on both sides of the mirror, but it would have to be written well in order to engage the diversity, perhaps also many people it may be lost too, as they might find the twist, and other messages uninviting in relationships to their known/perceived external perspective towards societies/community.

    Apart from the ordinary thoughts on other books/films which present similar characteristics of a blurred line where the switch is flicked in the equilibrium of the characters external+internal projections; No real idea, maybe one or two of these… http://io9.com/5911265/most-mind+blowing-surprise-endings-from-science-fiction-and-fantasy-books or http://tenmania.com/books-twisted-endings/

    Cheers!

    • Wow! Fantastic comment! You really spell out the thoughts I had in a much more concise way, I think, than I did.

      I know A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing were both Americanized re-tellings of Yojimbo. And they do a great job using the anti-hero to its full effect.

      I Am Legend was also made into a movie (aside from Last Man on Earth) in a film called Omega Man, which I think was in the 1970’s.

      I’ll have to check out the links you added, I’m always excited to learn something new. Especially if I can play with it in a literary form.

      Thanks for the great comment Sean! 🙂

  4. Personally, I love this blurred line & I’m a massive fan of the anti-hero (in fact, I’m writing a blog post about anti-heroes), because
    it keeps us guessing and I think it’s closer aligned to reality i.e. how much do we really ever know about someone? Plus, in reality (as opposed to fiction) most people are never pushed to extremes & therefore may never find out exactly what they’re capable of doing. This is just one of the reasons why I love the show ‘Breaking Bad’ so much – Walt’s character is the classic anti-hero & the audience is constantly pushed over that morally-acceptable-line…depending on the individual preferences of the audience, some find that line sooner than others. Lolita is another example of an anti-hero who takes the reader so far, and then finally ambushes them and pushes them over that line. I could talk about this subject for hours – LOVE this anti-hero!!
    Thanks for the book recommendation – I will definitely try to get my hands on it (my reading time is greatly reduced with young children). 🙂

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