June 18, 2010 – A Rant on Weak Male Characters

Warning: This post contains literary criticisms and therefore, logically, involves large amounts of cursing.  There are more cuss words, and of a stronger nature, in this one post than in my entire first book.

While posting on someone else’s blog, I had a thought.  I mentioned in my post that I did not like Catcher in the Rye, Hamlet, or The Odyssey.  Of the three, Catcher in the Rye was probably the book I hated the most.  Holden Caulfield came from a privileged background, and yet he spent about 300 pages whining about how life and everyone around him was terrible and no one understood him.  The teenage angst and whining was intolerable (and I was a teenager when I read it).  

Hamlet was just a pussy.  Even after he has what he thinks is conclusive proof of his uncle’s guilt, he still stalls and vacillates for several more scenes before doing what he ought to have done before the second scene in the first act was out: kill his murdering, usurping uncle.  MacBeth didn’t put up with that shit, I can tell you that (which happens to be why I like that play much, much better). 

The Odyssey bothered me on two levels.  First, Odysseus can’t keep his mouth shut, and everyone in his command dies because of it.  I know pride cometh before a fall, but could he have at least avoided taking everyone else with him?  That’s poor leadership. 

Secondly, Telemachus falls into the whiney, do-nothing pussy category.  Here he is, grown to adulthood, but he can’t kick some freeloading suitors out of his house and protect his mother?  She’s got an angle for keeping the suitors at bay; clearly she is more clever and resourceful than he is.  I kept asking my English teacher why Telemachus didn’t just go in there a kick ass and take names.  Sure, there were a hundred of them on and only one of him, but as my dad says about flocks of birds in horror movies, if you shoot enough of them, the others will take the hint and leave you the hell alone.  Telemachus only had to go in while the suitors were sleeping and whack a dozen or so of them; the rest would have fled and licked their nuts like wounded dogs (another of my dad’s lines–did I mention he’s a professional comedian?). 

At least, at the end, Odysseus is able to do this, although what he must think of his son being such a candy-ass, I don’t know.  Kind of makes it not worth coming home, doesn’t it?  Oh, for the days of the Iliad, when you could pierce a man’s eye through its socket with your spear before taking a break for lunch.  Men got things done on the fields in front of Troy.  Yeah, it took them ten years to finally raze the city, but that just shows you the Trojans weren’t pussies, to be cuffed about the ears at will like Telemachus or Hamlet.  They were worthy adversaries and the war was long, but glorious (dulce et decorum est pro patria mori). 

I figured out, in high school, that I like books with strong lead-male characters.  But it didn’t dawn on me, until just recently, that I have subconsciously carried that into my book.  I will admit that Anselm does vacillate a bit when it comes to romancing Kalyn.  After all, I do need a little suspense for the reader.  Not to mention he has a good reason to be nervous: he watched Kalyn’s mother love and leave Isaac, and he’s understandably afraid that he might suffer the same fate.  In short, he’s afraid of getting hurt.

But when it comes to action (as opposed to romance), Anselm is a ball-buster.  His kill count in the first book is three (plus three or four nameless Imuechmehah who were asking for it).  When he captures the mercenary human working for von Gault, he uses mind control to get the man to tell him everything he knows (no torture).  When he and Micah go in to rescue Ciaran from where von Gault has hidden him, they take Mark with them.  Mark is later shown dead, but apparently untouched.  It is not explained in the first book, but my vampires have the ability to kill someone while they have them under their control.  They can simply will people to quit breathing and to go to sleep forever.  A gentle, painless death for someone who helped kill Isaac (their leader) and who captured and tortured someone under Anselm’s care.

Anselm looses his patience for gentle, though, when it comes to Jonas.  His nerves are already frayed and his temper short after everything they’ve been through, when Jonas starts trying to move in on Kalyn.  When Jonas later attacks Kalyn, that is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  If he had attacked anyone else, Anselm might have stopped with a sound ass-whipping, but Jonas messed with Anselm’s girl, and that was an automatic death sentence.  He cuts out Jonas’s throat in a grizzly scene of splattering blood in the pale light of dawn. 

The violence escalates at the end of the book, when Anselm discovers that one of their own is a traitor, If possible, this is even more inexcusable than what Jonas did, and Anselm resorts to torturing the traitor to get information, then executes him/her (I do not want to give away the traitor before you read the book!).

Anselm himself admits that he “does what needs doing,” “does what’s right, regardless of the consequences,” and (my favorite line), “separates the chaff from the wheat.”  He is the antithesis of Hamlet, who seems to be reluctant to dole out justice and take back what is rightfully his (the throne).  He is the antithesis of Telemachus, who won’t step up to defend his mother, even if that means fighting against heavy odds.  If Anselm has to, he will go against heavy odds, because doing what’s right is more important than surviving.  Sometimes the best you can hope for is to take some of them with you.

But Anselm isn’t afraid to retreat and regroup—his boldness doesn’t translate into foolhardiness.  If necessary, he will wait to see justice done, but rest assured it will be done.  Or, as he agrees with Kalyn, “revenge is a dish best served cold.”  Unlike Odysseus, he takes care of his people first, his agenda second.  He may be perfectly willing to lay down his life for a just cause, but he won’t allow anyone else to suffer as a result.

We don’t see as much of Micah, but we can see, when he’s angry (which isn’t often; he’s normally quite good-natured), that he will kill in cold blood.  In fact, Anselm has to hold him back several times, because Micah will run headlong into danger; his righteous anger does cause him to be impatient and impetuous.

Joshua is the other male character we see the most of in the book.  He is calm and patient—even more so than Anselm (when trying to describe him, the best I could come up with was “the Dalai Lama with sex appeal;” he has a very similar aura of serenity and kindliness about him), but looks can be deceiving.  Joshua is a very strong leader and takes his responsibilities to his people very seriously.  He is quite content to get what he needs by charm (and he exudes that like an asphalt layer in August sweats), but rest assured, if charm fails, he will resort to using anything within his power to get the results he feels he needs—be that mind control, threats, or brute strength.  (You can see him get angry and make threats in my short piece published here a few days ago entitled “Joshua versus Senator Joe McCarthy;” that captures the essence of him.)

Only Ciaran is not a strong male character.  Poor Ciaran gets the crap beat out of him several times (something I need to remedy in the next book; he needs some combat and firearms training—and I happen to know some people who can give that to him), but unlike those other aforementioned literary characters, he doesn’t whine about it.  He tries to fight back, the best he knows how, and when under torture he nobly stays silent.  When rescued, he wipes off the blood and soldiers on.  Even my physically weak characters have great strength of character.

P.S.  Because I recently ranted elsewhere about people who quote foreign languages, but don’t translate them, the Latin quote is “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”  Although there is a poem by the same name (“Dulce et Decorum est”) which argues that it’s not.

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