Sunday, 22 January 2012

Villains and Heroes

This week for the WriYe Blogging Circle we're all talking about our villains and heroes. I took several days to figure out what I wanted to say and it's still really just a vague idea, so here's hoping the post doesn't somehow head somewhere weird.

Like my previous post. I'm still torn over whether I think that was okay or cringe-worthy. Anyway, on with the post.


According to David Eddings, the man who made me want to write fantasy, there are four basic personality types for heroes: Galahad the Pure, Gawain the Brave, Percival the Dumb/Naive, or Lancelot the Heavyweight Champion of the World. I don't know what made me suddenly think of that again, but it immediately put me in mind of T.H. White's The Once and Future King, so here's my take on those four archetypes:


In White's book, Galahad is the perfect knight. Almost inhumanly perfect, in fact. He's renowned for his gallantry and purity. He's the only knight pure enough to be trusted with the Grail, but he's also too pure for this world and with the Grail in his hands he ascends to heaven. Look a little further, though, and you find that his mother tricked his father into bed and then gave little Galahad up to be raised by nuns. Small wonder the poor man took refuge in religion. He's the pure hero with a dark past.


Gawain is the nice guy. He helps the younger knights, is generous to the poor and is the defender of womenfolk. He's also a healer and a seriously dangerous warrior. He'll willingly sacrifice himself himself for his king, but somehow he manages to come out of it smelling like roses. Therefore, not only brave but also lucky.


Percival is the idealistic young man who saw a group of knights ride past and thought it would be pretty cool to be like them. He's the guy who stuffs up the holy quest because he didn't quite understand that he was actually involved in a holy quest. Once someone gets the idea into his head, though, he tries again and this time he succeeds. He's the not-too-bright but persistent one.


Lancelot is by far the darkest of the four heroes. He's the best, the strongest and the most dedicated... but he's also the one who sleeps with his best friend's wife and dedicates himself to the pursuits of the warrior because he needs the discipline to overcome his sadistic tendencies. He's awesome and heroic, but it's because of the darkness that he's such a committed force for light.


After that you'd think I'd have something intelligent to say about villains. Well, I don't. I'm the person who often doesn't even figure out how to shove a villain into the story until about three-quarters of the way through the first draft. I'm trying to improve, though, so I've been reading a lot about villains. So... I figure why not try to sound intelligent anyway? I've got four hero archetypes there and everyone says the villain is the hero of his own story, so let's look at it this way:
  1. What would it take to turn Galahad's piety into a conviction that he needs to purge the world of sin?
  2. Imagine Gawain turning his knack with the ladies into the talents of a charming seducer. Make him into a demon or a vampire. Let him fall for the hero's love interest and try to convert her into something like him. Then remember that he's a lucky devil and watch the hero try to fight against that.
  3. Wait, I have to turn Percival into a bad guy? The only way that could possibly work is if there's a worse bad guy behind him who's got him absolutely convinced that he's the good guy. Or it could be a woman. We've all seen the nice guy turn into a bad guy because there's an evil witch with her hand around his heart. He makes a naive villain just as easily as a naive hero, really.
  4. This one is easier, because how much difference is there between Lancelot the Hero and Lancelot the Villain? I mean, really. Dark, sadistic and dangerous make pretty good villain characteristics.

My heroes and villains

Now that I've got this list, it's time to take a look at my own work. I've got 14 completed first drafts, using a total of 12 different heroes. I end up with:

Galahads: 2
Gawains: 4
Percivals: 3
Lancelots: 3

The villains are a little harder, because... well, mainly because I'm steadily coming to the conclusion that I need to do a lot more work on my villains. This is my best effort:

Galahads - 4
Gawains - 4
Percivals - 1
Lancelots - 2

Plus a bonus where I had a collective of four bad guys who'd fit rather nicely as one of each.

I'm sure those stats say something interesting about my style of characters, but other than concluding that I seem to like nice guys/girls who are willing to sacrifice themselves but win anyway, about all I can get is that my villains seem to be idealists. Galahads dominate the villains, while Gawains dominate the heroes.

By the way, these archetypes seem to work just as well for both male and female heroes.

(Oh, and the other members of the WriYe Blogging Circle are also talking about this topic right now. Check out their posts!)


  1. Awesome, awesome post. I read Eddings but I didn't know he said this. You really took it and made it in a fun and interesting way to understand. Rock on.

    I see you like Gawains. I, too, am partial to them. But I think my villains are more Lancelot-ian.

    Man, I'm going to talk like this forever.

  2. You speak to the Lancelot lover in me. You have no idea how much I was thinking about Lancelot as I read this, lol. I'm a King Arthur nerd at heart. I love the idea that you classify all your heroes and villains as one of the four. But, mostly, I LOVE the idea of turning Perceval into a "bad" guy. Kind of reminds me of that show on ABC Once Upon A Time and the last episode that I saw (The one about the Huntsman) and how the Queen had his heart. Interesting. Great post!

  3. It was in The Rivan Codex, a companion book to the Belgariad and Malloreon series.