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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Humor, Tragedy, and the Dynamic Story (Part One)

“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”

Richard Feynman
Don Quixote by Adrien Demont, 1893

 Part 1: The Anti-Hero

One thing that I'm fond of in stories is a sense of wonder, defiant assertion in itself, and a feeling of fondness and tenderness.

Those were some of the very reasons why I liked Adventure Time so much, but very few stories can capture the essence of these ideas as well as Don Quixote.

After reading through it and starting a second reading just recently, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what made this story click, until I found this painting here on the right.

The writer of the post described Don Quixote as the "anti-hero" of the story, which is surprising because he's often referred to by literary giants like Stephen King as the greatest hero in history.

By definition, an anti-hero is a protagonist that lacks heroic attributes. So how then can someone who defiantly lacks such heroic traits be regarded as one of the greatest heroes of all time?

For example, Deadpool is a hilarious example of a complete anti-hero, but throughout the movie he keeps saying the same thing. "Don't call me a hero. I'm not a hero." And I'm sure most of us would agree. Deadpool is fantastic, but he isn't a hero. He's chaotic neutral at best.

But what makes Don Quixote any different? Could it be that he isn't actually a true anti-hero?


The author of the post I read was completely correct. Don Quixote is the personification of the anti-hero trope. He's someone who is, perhaps well-intentioned, but so delusional that any heroic notions he exhibits are filtered out by his ideological worldview.
Of course, this raises an interesting philosophical question. Is heroism defined by intention, or action?
Is someone doing good for bad reasons, like Deadpool, heroic?

And is someone doing wrong because of their twisted interpretation of their good intentions, like Don Quixote, a heroic person despite the end result of their actions?

There is no clear-cut answer, but there is something interesting.

It might be possible to be an anti-hero and a hero.

Here's why.

Deadpool is just as surprised as you are.
There are prerequisites- qualities or traits that a hero must have to be defined as a hero, and then there are associated traits. It's possible to meet all of the requirements without any of the associated qualities that usually come along with them.

In other words, heroism is not a package deal.

In my humble opinion, these two things are the only set-in-stone requirements for a character to be considered a hero.

1). Good intentions. Now this does vary, but not too much. For example, Deadpool just wanted to save his stripper girlfriend, which one could argue was a good intention. However I'd go as far to say that consistently good intentions are what makes a hero, not a self-serving one. While Deadpool is a fantastic fella, his desire to get his girlfriend back and reap revenge did not come from a heroic heart.

2). Drive. It doesn't matter if someone has the best intentions in the world. If they don't ever take action, then they aren't hero material. Which brings me to my next point...

Things that are not requirements for heroism:

1) Competence. That's right, competence doesn't matter. And Don Quixote is kind of the proof of this. It is theoretically possible for a hero to be terrible at their job, but that doesn't mean they don't qualify for being the Hero™. This is something only a handful of stories have explored. The anime series One Punch Man is wildly popular for this very reason. A lot of people don't realize it, but what makes One Punch Man so funny is that he meets all the criteria for being a hero- he is extremely powerful (overpowered, in fact) and has completely benevolent intentions, but sucks at being a hero.

For non-weebs out there, Hancock is another great example of this, and some might argue that Mr. Incredible in the first Incredibles movie is another, albeit to a lesser extent.

Don Quixote is a hero in every sense of the word, except he sucks at it. The outcomes of his attempted heroism reflect this.

In one scene, Don Quixote rides up through a dense wood on his donkey-steed Rociante, and hears the wailing of a boy in distress. When he arrives at the scene of the suffering, it's an indentured servant- only a young boy- being lashed with the whip, tied to a tree, by his master.

The boy cries for help fro Don Quixote, and the master quivers in fear when he sees Don Quixote raise his weapons and threaten to let the boy go. The boy explains that he messed up a job, and that's why he was being lashed, but his master hadn't payed him in weeks. Don Quixote forces the master to let the boy go, and Don Quixote commands him to pay the boy his wages, plus extra for the lashings, but the boy pleads with him not to leave. Don Quixote, being so sure in the obedience of the master, leaves anyway, and the master ties him back up and lashes him even worse than before.

He had the drive and intentions of a hero, but in his stupidity he not only failed to save the boy from the whip, but made it worse by angering the master who then took it out on the boy, saying, "Come, child, let me make sure that I owe you even more" before tying him back up and resuming the lashings.

I googled "folly" and this came up, so whenever you think of folly, imagine this duck building.
Now here's another thing that makes this type of character interesting.
In a way, I think there's a second type of anti-hero.

In my post about villains I talked a lot about stories where there is no villain. But, in some stories, the protagonist is their own worst enemy- thus raising the question of whether or not they are their own villains. In these types of stories, it isn't immediately clear whether there's no villain at all, or if the villain is the protagonist. Perhaps "villain" wouldn't be the right word, since a villain has to have a reason to hate the protagonist and hold personal malice against him / her, but in a way the main character can have a sort of duology where they are both their greatest ally and their greatest antagonist.

That's why Wake Up, Sir! is one of my favorite books, because Alan Blaire is his own worst enemy and I love it.

I apologize if this post seemed a bit short, but rest assured this is definitely the shortest piece of the 7-part series. You can expect the next part to either be posted tomorrow or the day after.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

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