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14 August 2009

The Dark Hero

I have been thinking about dark heroes lately. As a romance reader, I love them. So many romance writers write them well---I went to hear Ann Stuart speak on this topic at the RWA national meeting. She writes some spectacularly dark heroes (and I root for them even though they have done very bad things), and I searched the web for more on dark heroes. Her name, and her heroes, came up there, too.

I thought what she had to say about the dark hero was so interesting and I've posted excepts from her interview (originally posted on All About Romance (see http://www.likesbooks.com/200.html)).

In summary, here's what she had to say:

"My heroes aren't honorable men, at least, not by conventional standards. They have their own moral code that they wouldn't break, and of course half the interest in the book is making him break that code, which is usually the one thing he holds on to.

My dark heroes... tend to be lost souls, men who think they can't be redeemed, men who no longer want to be redeemed. At some point in their lives they crossed some kind of invisible line and they've given up on thinking they have any kind of decency or goodness. Since they're bad, and done bad things, they make sure no tough but vulnerable young woman confuses matters and tries to tell them they're worthy of being loved.

....The danger of a dark hero is irresistible to me. The battle for redemption is on such a huge scale that the triumph is even more powerful. 31 years ago, when my first book came out, the cover copy said " and one was Adam, a dangerous but compelling man who was either trying to murder her - or seduce her. Or perhaps both ..." .... A writer always has to make certain her villain isn't more interesting than her hero. I neatly avoid the problem by combining the two.

Secondly, I write extreme darkness because I think if the hero and heroine can survive what fate throws at them then they can survive anything.
....In the end, what saves my hero, redeems him, is not the love of a good woman. My heroes tend to be charismatic, gorgeous, and good in bed. Most women love them. What saves him is his ability to fall in love. To care for someone, when he's tried so hard, for so long, not to care about anyone. It fascinates me."


I asked her at Nationals what sustains the dark hero? Why is he motivated to be so bad all of his life? She answered usually not of revenge---that's petty and trite...and just not interesting. Their badness is part of their moral code, they live for it and their interpretation of honoring that code keeps them motivated. Pretty complex. And oh yeah, she said, they have killed--as she said above. That makes them as dangerous as they are bad...buts some meat behind the threat.


As a historical author, I don't come across many heroes that have all of these characteristics---they seem to work especially well with paranormal heroes, but I am scratching my brain for one in a historical romance.
What do you think? Can you recall some really dark historical heroes that meet most of the above critera? I'd like to hear about them---and read them!

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8 Comments:

Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Kathrynn! I like dark heroes. I like dark heroines, too. Though in both cases, I tend to prefer it if they redeem themselves rather than being redeemed by the love of a good woman/man. And I often prefer them paired with a romantic partner who is equally morally ambiguous, though there are some books I love where the love interest is more traditionally "good."

As to historical heroes who fit Anne Stuart's definition, I think Sheridan Drake in Laura Kinsale's "Seize the Fire" and Johnny Cain in Penelope Williamson's "The Outsider" both do.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Fascinating post, Kathrynn! I tend to like dark heroes because frankly they're more interesting than the all-around good guy who seems to have no demons or neuroses.

One that immediately comes to mind is the Knight Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert in "Ivanhoe." When we first meet him, he takes the Jewess, Rebecca, as a prisoner. His emotional journey goes from wanting to rape her, to wanting her to convert to Christianity, to wanting to marry her and run off to Jerusalem together where they can enjoy their mixed marriage in peace.

He is prevented from becoming her champion after the Knights Templar condemn her for witchcraft (specifically for bewitching Brian de Bois-Guilbert). Ivanhoe eventually comes to Rebecca's rescue and -- it being the Middle Ages -- God is always on the side of the victor and Rebecca is freed. Brian, however, loses his life; in fact he willingly gives it up so that the innocent Rebecca can live.

I dramatized the novel for the theatre company I ran some years ago, and I also played Rebecca. The moment of Brian de Bois-Guilbert's onstage death still sticks in my memory and my gut as one of the most powerful I have ever experienced as an actress because the dark hero's sacrifice is so great -- the ultimate price, in fact.

Sidney Carton in "A Tale of Two Cities" also strikes me as a dark hero.

I'm no help with dark heroes in Romance, though. And in the classics, the dark hero usually has his noble epiphany, but he rarely gets the girl. Instead, he dies.

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Kathrynn Dennis said...

Thanks for the pointers, Tracey. I too like it better when they redeem themselves alone, rather than with the help of a good woman...that sounds too done too much. ;-) I'll definately check out Sheridan Drake and Johnny Cain!

9:17 PM  
Anonymous kathrynn Dennis said...

Thanks, Amanda. I haven't read Ivanhoe in many, many years, and I bet the version my Grandmother gave me when I was a tween was an "age appropriate" version (I can't recall the threat of Rebecca's rape).

I have to go back now and re-read--study up on Brain de Bois-Guilbert. I would have loved to see you play Rebecca! Very cool.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Kathrynn, I have a still photo on my computer, but I can't figure out how to upload it to a comment. When I right-click on "properties" it just shows it in "My Pictures" rather than a whole string of specifics to that photo.

4:22 AM  
Anonymous kathrynn dennis said...

Hmmmm, I didn't know it was possible to download a photo to comments! You could post it as your profile photo..it will show up beside your name, small but good! Amanda as Rebecca, very cool image I'd like to see!

10:51 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I'm not sure it is possible, Kathrynn, and I'm hardly a techno-geek; so I can add it as a P.S. to my post on Wednesday.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely you are familiar with the wonderful Patricia Veryan? Roland Fairleigh Mathieson in her Golden Chronicles Series epitomizes all these traits. I've read The Dedicated Villain three times, and have cried each time.

3:02 PM  

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