Sunday, April 24, 2011

Damaged Heroes

On Friday I was chatting on twitter with Marg in Australia about one of my fictional men—Gareth in Named of the Dragon—for whom I've always had a "thing", and Marg agreed he was attractive. "Broody, damaged type," she said, and meant that in a good sense. Later on that night, in that serendipitous way that sometimes happens, I went to see the new film adaptation of Jane Eyre (starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, above) whose hero, Mr Rochester, could be the dictionary definition of the "broody, damaged type". And reader, I adored him.

Loved the film so much I went back for a second time today, to see it over. And with Rochester AND Gareth sitting brooding in my mind, now, I've been thinking about why I find some damaged heroes so attractive.

Notice I say "some", not "all", because with my apologies to Brontë-lovers everywhere, I have to tell you Heathcliff's not my type. I mean, there's damaged, and there's Damaged, and some brooders have gone so far to the dark side that the only thing to do, in my opinion, when you meet them is to run.

No, damaged heroes only work for me if they are of a certain type, like Rochester, or Mary Stewart's Raoul in Nine Coaches Waiting, or the Captain in The Sound of Music, men who aren't psychotic but are cut off in their way from life, grown cynical and disillusioned. Men who have the strength of mind and character to function well, to hold their own, but who inside are heartbreakingly lonely.

It all goes back for me, I think, to my love of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale in childhood, with the kind and generous beast who needs the girl to save him. Only her love, freely given, can restore him to his true self.

In a way, that's true of all my favourite damaged heroes, only in the stories that I love the best the woman's not the rescuer so much as she's a catalyst, an independent equal who brings meaning back into the hero's life and gives him someone else besides himself to care about, and want to be a better man for.

Rochester, in the book, calls himself "Heart-weary and soul-withered", and says of being around someone like Jane that "such society revives, regenerates; you feel better days come back—higher wishes, purer feelings; you desire to recommence your life, and to spend what remains to you of days in a way more worthy..."

And I find it rather interesting that in each story—Beauty and the Beast, Jane Eyre, The Sound of Music, and Nine Coaches Waiting—the heroine not only leaves, but runs away...returning later of her own free will to give the hero what he needs to become truly whole again: her love.

Of course, in my own damaged hero book, the heroine stayed put after she'd left until the hero came to her, but that's just me. And if I ever meet a real-life Heathcliff I'll be getting that restraining order...

What are your thoughts on the damaged hero?

(Don't forget to come back Thursday, to read Julie's next post)


  1. Oh, Susanna! You don't like Heathcliff? (sigh) Maybe I do just because I'm a little warped myself. (Either that, or I'm just far too in touch with my inner Cathy.)

  2. I love damaged heroes, and have written a couple myself. I just wrote one, and I was so in love with him I neglected to notice that he was a bit of a jerk. Fortunately, my editor pointed it out and I have excised his jerkiness. Well, most of it. Because a little jerkiness is okay, if the hero is DAMAGED. And, apologises afterwards. And doesn't hang dogs or dig up dead bodies, like Heathcliff.

    Have you seen this wonderful, wonderful cartoon by Kate Beaton?

  3. Julie, I LOVE that cartoon! And you're right, I do excuse a bit of jerkiness in damaged heroes, just so long as by the end they've got over themselves and can convince me that they're worthy of the heroine.

    Karen, sorry about Heathcliff, but for me he's beyond brooding. Doesn't mean that YOU can't love him, though...

  4. The dark and mysterious stranger with a broken heart that only you can heal has timeless appeal. But in real life, I want a man who can set aside his secret pain long enough to remember to take out the garbage :P

  5. I'd forgotten about Heathcliff and the dogs. :( Now I might have to break up with him. Are you sure Hindley didn't just frame him for it?

    And the cartoon is hysterical. :)

  6. Ah, Susanna. Only you can write such brilliant, persuasive, thoughtful posts that reduce me to girly squealing. It's not fair that such eloquence in you inspires such, "squeeee! YES! WOOOOOO!" in me....

    I was already bouncing in my seat by the time I saw the Nine Coaches Waiting cover. When you mentioned Beauty and the Beast I had pretty much melted.... I couldn't agree more!

    I've never managed to read WH. I flicked through once, caught Heathcliff starving a bunch of nestlings to death or some such, and decided he wasn't for me. And that's the polite version. (In reality, my reaction was much like Anne's from that cartoon. I LOVE Hark A Vagrant, and that's the pick of the bunch.)

    So, anyway, I love damaged heroes. But, like you, I prefer the withdrawn to the, er, dickbag versions. And as long as he KNOWS he's been a jerk and has learned about it, then I can stand some jerkiness, too.

    I've suddenly remembered why I like writing what I write. *happy dancing off to treat with her damaged hero*

  7. I just typed in a brilliant, insightful clarification and defense of Heathcliff, and just after I hit "Post Comment," my browser went kablooie. (sulk)

  8. I totally agree with everything you said, Susanna, including not liking Heathcliff. He really is a step too far and totally beyond redemption. If I had to choose, I think I prefer the bad boy heroes that need taming rather than damaged ones who need love and nurturing, but it depends on the story. I always fall in love with your heroes!

  9. Stephanie, well put, but I think I might take out my own garbage if it meant having Rochester or Raoul...

    Karen, no, Hindley didn't frame Heathcliff :-) But nice try!

    Anna, I KNEW you'd be with me on this one! You want to swoon a little more? Watch this YouTube clip, wherein Mr Rochester explains just what I was talking about in the post:

    Christina, I think the key for me is that the damaged hero has to be fixable, someone who's capable of looking after not only himself but the heroine, too, in the end, and not someone she'll need to be coddling the rest of her life.

    I'm enjoying this discussion!

  10. Damaged, broody, intense, but with a sense of humour that he only shows to certain people! Drool!

    It is almost like the broodiness has to be a mask for me, but that underneath there is a good guy who picks and chooses who he lets in. I would of course, make the grade!

    Thanks for the mention in this post Susanna.

  11. A little bit of damage goes a long long way...

  12. I absolutely agree, Susanna! Heathcliffe didn't do it for me because he didn't reveal any true heroic qualities and was too cruel - that's how I remember it anyway. But the Captain in the Sound of Music, most definitely! Mary Stewart's heroes too. That commanding, yet brooding passionate nature gets me every time!

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