(Or the Rise of the Anti-Hero)
We thank the incomparible Ms. Turner for the inspiration and the fact that your song is now stuck in my head.
The idea of the anti-hero is hardly a new one; literature is full of examples and several of these have served as inspiration, to some degree, in The Chronicles.
Conan the Barbabarian (or Conan the Cimmerian originally) was a thief, a killer, and a rogue who was more interested in his ongoing survival than helping people, that sort of came as a happy coincidence than his primary concern.
Elric of Melnibone, a necromancer and power-hungry beast who was looking for revenge rather and personal satisfaction predominantly but he ended up hailed as a somewhat hero all the same.
Lestat de Lioncourt, he is mostly interested in being a great vampire and surviving. He gladly uses people and even makes others vampires so that he isn't lonely. He is mainly concerned with his pursuit of sensation and hedonism but has a loyalty towards his friends and will protect them. That does not mean that he'd risk his life for them, though. He is selfish and vain.
All of these characters and others are not, in themselves, heroic beings but they do heroic things and that is part of what makes them popular, we think. let us analyse it more closely.
The Hero of Olde
Imagine your typical hero, hero. They tend to be attractive to look at, they are muscular if male and lithe and slender if female, they are excellent in combat, and virtuous to a fault, usually ascribing to some antique Code which fell out of fashion among everyone else. They are a paragon.
Will always help the weak and defend them against evil
Will confront evil wherever they find it
Be at the front of any charge
They never lie or deceive people
Never do anything for personal gain; they will not cheat, steall, or murder
They will always go back for an injured colleague that falls behind
They would risk their life to save that of a person in danger
They will see everyone else as Good as they are
There is quite a depressing quote on heroes, I think you know it, though Asmodeus has paraphrased it a little;
"There are two types of people in this situation; dead heroes and live bastards. Remember that it was that live bastard that pulled your arse out of the fire while the dead hero is still down there..."
Heroes are well and good, they have their uses, but they do tend to become rather predictable after a while.
How the Hero Did Evolve
A long way back in time, when genres were much more tightly controlled, the hero would often be the one diguised as a member of the 'lower classes' and, despite his diguise being about as convincing as Superman's, would remain anonymous until it was time to realise his destiny. Now, narrative causality would ensure that he learned to get in good shape, not catch any horrible or disfiguring diseases, and get the right amount to weapons training to be useful.
Through various adventures, which he would enjoy with a number of interesting sidekicks, who served to help him learn and essential skill, he arrives where the villian is waiting and kills him in a dramatic battle. Sometimes, for variety, his first attempt fails and he is imprisoned, only to escape and kill the villain in a more unexpected and less-evenly-matched final confrontation.
It worked for centuries, that good formula and, oddly enough, it came back with some subtle differences and remains quite popular in two or three different incarnations. Let's summarise it and let you figure it out;
Unregarded and hidden away in less than idea surroundings.
Conditioned to believe they are unattractive and worthless.
Some form of abuse suffered, at least subtly but enough to make the reader uncomfortable.
Secret destiny revealed by mentor type character.
Become immediately attractive to pretty much everyone at that moment
Get a lot of cool friends, at least one of whom dies in heartwrenching fashion.
Are usually the scion (often unknown or illegitimately) of some powereful monarch or PowerFul Person and heir to an Amazing Thing.
Have martial or other gifts unlike "anyone we have ever seen".
Have a fully-functional deflector against even the most dramatic forms of death until they arrive at their destiny, where it malfunctions but, it turns out, actually did work because they're not really dead afterall.
See? It makes sense when you break it down properly.
Predictable. Lacking in nuance. Lacking in Depth.
Entertaining and enjoyable obviously if that's what you are in the mood for, there is no doubt about that. It's like a straight action movie, it's fun to watch but you know they're going to win in the end, you're just enjoying the journey, the explosions, and the witty one-liners; usually from the morally-flexible ethnic sidekick.
The anti-hero is, as one might expect, the hero that isn't. They do, as we mentioned, do acts of heroic scale; they fight monsters, kill bad people, resist oppression, defeat the villain, etc. but they are, more of than not, motivated by their own needs and desires rather than those of others.
Take Deadpool; he's out for revenge initially; then he moves onto being worthy of entering whichever heaven or afterlife his girlfriend is in. He does heroic things and defeats evil but he's doing it for himself, ultimately. This does not make him any less likeable, though. His wisecracks and excellent repartee of course help with that but, and here's the key, him not being perfect makes him more accessible.
Look at it this way; these paragons, you're born as one of those. You're born Chosen and with amazing talents, you can't become that. The anti-hero, though, they're just like us, warts and all. They tend not to be attractive or popular but, they tend to not really care about that.
Like all great comedians, they tend to use humour as a defense and to be liked or, at least, considered inoffensive or, in Deadpool's case, obnoxious enough to be left alone.
He would certainly have a joke about that title, and no hesitation in telling it to you. Asmodeus enjoys making people squirm, he likes making them uncomfortable, and out of their depth.
It is commonly thought that he gains pleasure from people's discomfort and, ultimately, pain and suffering because, to many, one thing leads to another. He does nothing about this talk though, of course, he is aware of it.
Instead he makes silly and dirty jokes, makes people uncomfortable in his presence, shares socially unacceptable observations (often of a sexual or anatomical nature), hides away in his little hidey-hole and buries himself in his 'work', he lets people arrive at their own conclusions. He works very hard to make sure that those conclusions are the wrong ones.
He has a plan and is not shy about people dying along the way as long as he is not one of those people. He will take risk but never direct ones because he is, to a point, very careful to make sure that no trail can lead back to him.
He is in no small amount of danger should he be discovered but, then again, he has gone to incredible lengths to make sure that he is not.
Add to this that he has spent a lot of time and effort making sure that people do not even consider suspecting him of doing anything intelligent or creative.
The tagline of The Chronicles of Enoch : Preludes includes the following
"In a time of danger and the rise of the shadow....one would think we need a hero.
....We need a bastard.."
This, to me, encapsulates the need for the anti-hero. Let's be honest here, if the hero type is predictable and follows certain rules without exception, they are both predictable and a liability. If they are going to behave in a certain manner when faced with certain circumstances, they can be manipulated.
Take Sable. He is not a typical hero in a number of ways but, in his essence, is a moral and honourable being. He will endanger himself in order to protect his friends or the innocent, he would stop a nothing to protect Enoch (something Gilgamesh manipulates masterfully in Darkness Within but, thankfully, for a good reason). He allows himself to be captured and brutally tortured so that his friends can get away, resulting in a lot of pain and suffering for himself along the way. All of this happens because Sable can, as a hero, manipulated, his actions predicted.
Asmodeus willingly sacrifices people who trust him, would shoot the hostage and then the enemy without compunction, he would 'trust' his friends to act as he anticipates they would when they are in a dangerous situation he created but not cry too much if they failed to escape unscathed.
Why? Because very few people know Asmodeus as he really is, they know one or more of his personas but they, very importantly, don't know him so he's not invested in anyone. Well, almost anyone but that's as much of a spoiler as you're getting.
So; that is why we don't always need heroes because an anti-hero is more interesting, more entertaining, more frustrating and engaging, more unpredictable and, with all of that, they are a much deeper and enjoyable character. People love the anti-hero because they can identify with them, see themselves as them, and even admire them.
Or maybe we still need heroes because sacrifice is what really gets things done when everything is in the balance but we also need a capable bastard or two to help them out.