What Makes A Hero(ine)? A wee rant in defense of one

If actions speak louder than words, why do we fall in love with book characters who do horrible things, simply because we know their intentions are good? Especially in Romance, the hero is usually a man with a past (or even present) filled with many violent deeds that would make us run for safety if we couldn’t see into his thoughts (translate: in real life). But everyone instinctively trusts in him, because we expect the story to have a happy ending–through his actions. Why is that?

 

Take Bryce from Wolfen, for example. The guy has a hair trigger, and can go on a murderous rampage at any moment, and nothing short of a reinforced panic room or cage will stop him. He’s bigger and badder than anything out there–even his own people are wary of him–and if you didn’t know his thoughts, you’d probably give him a very wide berth. But give him a Wolfen designation, and he instantly becomes a hero, the things that made him a threat suddenly become useful tools to save the day instead of destroy it. Before he’s even proven he can be trusted, you’re rooting for him to overcome his difficulties, to learn to control the beast inside him, and save the day.

wallpaper FS Wolf-Out

On the other hand, you have Desiree: small, weak, physically the least threatening character in the book, with past/present actions just as bad as Bryce. With her circumstances just as much out of control. The only difference is that she uses her brain, rather than her strength (or lack thereof) to survive and overcome her many hardships. But instead of garnering support, she’s either hated outright, or barely tolerated when her motives come to light toward the end of the book. She is an instant villain, by virtue of… her birth? Her sex? I’m genuinely curious. Why is she not a hero? What makes her so different from Bryce?

Dez

To my way of thinking, Desiree is hands-down, bar-none, 100% unrivaled, without question the strongest character in this book. Not because of what she’s done, but because of what she’s endured, and because she’s become even stronger because of it. And, let’s be honest, if she were a man, she would be one of the heroes–what she does is what we have come to expect from cursed heroes, who only need a heroine to give them the courage to stand up to their oppressors and become great leaders in their own right. Much like Bryce, who has Sinna’s gentle presence to make him want to be gentle for her.

The difference, then, must be that she is a woman. We expect men to endure hardships, do what needs to be done in the name of the greater good and the happily ever after. Women are meant to be the prize at the end of that struggle, not equal actors in their own right. Desiree is incongruent with the stereotype. She doesn’t fit into a mold; doesn’t have sympathy for her tormentors, doesn’t take abuse lying down, doesn’t readily martyr herself for a cause. Therefore, she must be wrong. An antihero, or even a villain. We can just sweep her good deeds under the rug. Ignore the pangs of conscience she has about bad deeds performed in the name of mercy or self-preservation. The ends don’t justify the means in her case–she’s not Bryce, after all.

I can hear people silently asking, “Why on earth would you write a character like that into a romance? Let alone give her such a significant romantic ending??”

To this, I smile kindly and reply thusly:

Wolfen is not a romance. It has a romantic element, yes, but it’s meant to be much more than that. And Desiree is in it, the way she is, because she needs to be there. I wanted a heroine who would stand out in a crowd. I didn’t want a standard, tough-yet-sensitive girl coming into her own–I already had Sinna for that. Desiree is everything a “standard heroine” ought not be. She is broken, damaged beyond repair, both physically and emotionally. She is a true product of nurture in her time, a victim who rebels against her fate and fights like hell to win her own life back. She is also very much alone. Hated, abused, summarily dismissed, until someone needs something.

I wanted to prove a heroine could be all that, and still deserve a hero, and a happily ever after. Because she is, and she does.

She doesn’t wilt beneath the weight of her flaws–and she shouldn’t. She doesn’t blame herself for the way people treat her, or in any way try to excuse their behavior, or try to change herself to appease their beliefs of what “worthy” means. I admire that about her. She hobbles around with her head held high, unapologetically herself, and when people spit at her, she smiles. Because as much as they might hate her, all those people still need her. As flawed as she is, Desiree is indispensable, and she knows it. They know it, too, and they hate her even more because of it.

You know that quote from Firefly?: “If you can’t run, you crawl. And if you can’t do that, you get someone to carry you.” To me, Desiree embodies that sentiment in everything she does.

And as for her romantic happy ending, it was never a question of, “Why did he have to get stuck with her?” He didn’t get stuck. He met his match in her, looked through a predator’s eyes and saw another predator. He earned her by looking past the obvious and seeing the truth of her. By treating her as he would anyone else in that situation: as someone fully capable, and whole. Not a victim, not a throw-away, not a wastrel, plague, cripple, or punching bag. Just her. Desiree.

I, for one, think every heroine deserves that. Don’t you agree?

 

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