"I may not know how to fly but I know how to read and that's almost the same thing."-- Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz

"...while finding true love was one of the most splendid things that could happen to you in life, finding a friend was equally splendid." -- Felix J Palma, The Map of the Sky

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

J = Jerks in Literature

Not to be confused with B-day, today I want to acknowledge that not all main characters have to be nice or even likable to be considered the main protagonist. You can have a miserable person as a protagonist and it doesn't necessarily make it the story of an anti-hero.

Let's start with a classic: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Ebenezer Scrooge, is a man so unpleasant 'Santa Claus' (God or Fate) sent 3 (4 if we count Marley) ghosts to haunt him into death or redemption. The story, despite revolving around an angry, greedy old man, hasn't been out of print since its original publication in 1843.

There's also The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The story is about Quentin Coldwater (teen wizard) who is never happy. No matter what he gets, he always wants more, and when he gets more, that's not good enough either.Although I personally found the book as unlikable as it's protagonist, the story became a NY Times Bestseller and an internationally best-selling novel.

And I wouldn't be caught forgetting Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon. Why bother pointing to one character--Jaimy Gordon spread the misery around in this one. Tommy Hansel is a scam artist trying to rip off a low class racetrack by bringing in a better class of horse. Then you've got his girlfriend Maggie in love with the horses more than the man who owns them. And just about everyone who is involved with anything at this particular track knows exactly what Tommy is up to...after all, they're crooks too. And don't get me started on the treatment of horses in this story...it's like PETA's nightmare. But this book despite the cast of damaged characters still earned a National Book Award.

So I guess my point is this: A character who is "nice" and "respectable" and "likable" doesn't always matter. Sometimes what matters is the story that supports the main character's existence, even if he's a total jerk.


  1. The Artemis Fowl books illustrate this also. Protagonists need to be real people. Real people are not flawless heroes. And not all good people are nice. Great topic.

    TD Harvey
    A to Z participant

    1. Yes! I think I started reading one of those, but I was just outside the age range to properly appreciate it...But I remember a scene where this punk Artemis is lying to his shrink...I just want to slap him, lol.

  2. TW used to read a lot. Sometimes the jerky characters are the best and most inneresting.

    1. I agree; I wanna know what makes them tick!

  3. Like what you said about the girl liking the horses more than the man who owns them :)


    1. Thank you!
      I'll stop by your place soon!

  4. Absolutely true... And if the MC's journey involves him/her becoming a better person in the process, all the better. Nothing quite as inspiring as redemption, eh?

    Thanks for the visit over at Quiet Laughter yesterday, and for getting involved with the great mystery of "infrou" -- loved your comment :)

    1. Redemption is definitely important. I think too, when there's lack of evolution, it's important to show or imply why... People usually put up miserable walls for a reason. If an author can make a reader empathize with someone they don't like--that's important too.

      I have to admit, I hadn't heard of Curacao; as a species humans tend to be migratory, if not as individuals...So I took a guess! (I have since looked Curacao up)


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