Hero versus villain... protagonist versus antagonist... Seems rather cut and dried, doesn't it, but is it really? But can a villain actually become a hero?
Of course he can. It's all a matter of perception.
I've recently begun watching Wolf Hall on Masterpiece Theater. For those who aren't familiar with this drama, it's the story of Thomas Cromwell, and the part he played in the events of his times, that is during the reign of Henry VIII. Of humble birth, Cromwell was taken under the wing of the great Cardinal Wolsey, and nurtured. The Cardinal's unmakiing was Henry's failure to have a son by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. His pride - and his nation - decreed he must have an heir. Of course, his becoming infatuated with a young girl named Anne Boleyn didn't help matters any. She had spent some time in the French court, and was smart enough to realize that if she gave in to Henry - ie sleep with him - she would quickly lose his favor. But she held out and kept her eye on the prize - becoming Queen of England. For that to happen, Henry needed his first wife annulled, which would also have made any children by that union bastards. He only had the one daughter, Mary, and he was willing to have that happen in order to gain a son.
I've read a number of stories and histories dealing with this time period, and almost invariably Thomas Cromwell is painted as a villain for his part in the fall of Wolsey, the divorce of Henry and Queen Catherine, and breaking with the Pope and the formation of the Church of England. But here he is actually the hero, the center of the story. The man himself has not changed, of course, merely how we are to perceive him.
So what does that mean for a writer? Just that the person who is the center of your story can be a villain and still be the hero. Not only the virtuous need apply.
In this story, Anne Boleyn is painted as a villainess, but if you should read or watch Anne of the
One of my favorite villains cum heroes has to be Dr. Hannibal Lecter. I've read all the books, seen all the movies, and love them. Hannibal is a serial killer, and an unrepentant one at that. He makes no bones about what he's done. Granted, he has reasons, and how he became the way he is is well told in Hannibal Rising. But the fact remains he has done things which don't exactly make him hero material. And yet that is just what he is, for he is the center of every story, even when he is not onscreen, so to speak.
Lucifer is portrayed as highly intelligent and brave, and unafraid to take on someone who is as powerful as he is, if not more so. Even knowing that God is all-knowing, he takes a stand for what he believes in and fights for it. Is that not the definition of a hero? And yet he has been vilified for many years.
Lucifer also features as the hero/villain of a series of graphic novels written by one of my favorite
A good hero is not perfect. He has flaws and imperfections which make him human, and place him within the understanding of the readers who might be less than impressed with someone who is without fault. At the same time, a villain can have his good points and his virtues. And be interesting enough to fill the role of hero.
Wouldn't life be dull if every character was one way or the other? It's how you handle the flaws that sets your characters apart, for good or for bad. Who doesn't love a bad boy?
I think every writer needs to make a hero of a villain at least once in his or her career. I know I intend do.
You've met him already, and he too is a serial killer. You'll be seeing him again.