Today begins Part Two of our discussion of why we love chivalrous characters. If you missed part one, you can read it here. My friends from Goodreads, D.D., Beth, Soph and Zoe and I all agree that chivalrous heroes are the most interesting and most admirable. Here’s the rest of our discussion:
Katharine: Why do you think that so many bestsellers have selfish, abusive men as the main character? Do you think that it’s the attraction to the “bad boy”? Do we as women think we can “save” them? Or, do we feel so badly about ourselves that we think we don’t deserve any better? Or is it just human nature to drift toward the low, the base and the vulgar?
D.D.: The hook for readers seems to be in the idea that the worst of men will change in order to stay by the ‘saintly’ heroines side, it appeals to the vanity in all of us. The ‘Oh I’m so wonderful this man will change his very personality so that I allow him to stay by my side’, so not just vanity but self delusion as well. And, when you dig deep and get to the root of it, your find it gives the women all of the power in the relationship, making the relationship ‘safer’. Which is pretty funny really because these ‘Alpha’ males are sold to the reader as being all powerful and yet they turn in to the heroine’s puppy.
Beth: A story is drama. It’s easy to create drama when the characters are selfish and abusive; it creates instant conflict. An author has to work a lot harder to create a conflict keeping two rational, loving people apart, giving them something to overcome. We all enjoy a story of redemption, but I have trouble identifying with a woman who chooses a man that doesn’t respect her.
The other common fallacy in romance is the “I love you so much that I want to change everything about you,” story. That’s not love.
Soph: I do not understand the attraction to the ‘bad boy’. I like having the villain or ‘bad boy’ as a foil to the hero and as a contrast, highlighting the heroes character more. Some people do just seem to prefer to go for the rebel rather than the heroic good guy. I think some people may find this type of character more interesting and make the story more eventful. (I don’t believe this; a bad guy makes the story more interesting as they cause problems to be overcome but not to be in place of the hero. If Elizabeth had ended up with Wickham rather than Darcy I would not have been pleased!) Unfortunately, in some cases I do believe people think they don’t deserve any better and also I think it is becoming more common to drift to the bad rather than the good and I think this is due to influences from other aspects of life in today’s society, which is such a shame!
Zoe: I think authors get away with these sorts of heroes because a) the hero is extremely attractive and b) he is, (how shall I put this delicately?) good in bed. In addition, there’s more to these heroes than just the negatives – they are often extraordinarily generous, and like to make big romantic gestures, to make up for their inadequacies, I suppose. But it’s all so fictitious. The hero has these terrible lows and is forgiven because he counters with incredible, realistically unattainable highs.The bad boy persona is made up of mystery, creativity, unpredictability, mistakes, moodiness and forbidden-ness. Not all of those traits are bad. The problem is the switchside. The “good boy” is often sappy, predictable and mundane. Yes, there is definitely an attraction for the bad boy.
Or is it just human nature to drift toward the low, the base and the vulgar? I think this is true. People want new and exotic topics – they feel they’ve exhausted simple romance. The massive turn to BDSM demonstrates this.
Katharine: Do you think that the stories we read have an effect on us? Do you think that stories that uplift and encourage can change the world for the better? And in the same way, do stories that glamourise abuse or selfishness harm the reader, even if he/she doesn’t realize it?
D.D.: I do! I can’t help thinking that some of the books girls read are dangerous, it’s all very well to say it’s ‘just’ a story, but they do influence you. I think it’s sad that, at the moment, the majority of books are telling girls that boyfriends who want to hurt them but don’t are hot, hunky and romantic when in reality they need medical attention!
Beth: I believe that mature people can separate fiction from reality, but the tone of the literature in which we immerse ourselves has to affect us. It’s a sad thing when a woman tries to create drama in her real life by choosing someone to love who isn’t worthy. Ladies, bullies aren’t romantic. True redemption stories are the exception, not the rule. You can’t change someone else. As a happy wife of thirty years, I have a little advice. Find a man who loves you and respects you, just as you are, and who you love, just as he is.
Soph: I definitely think that stories that we read have an effect on us – they definitely have had an effect on me! [Reading] has also helped give me the confidence to keep my resolve to not just ‘settle’ in life, and to wait for the right person to come along, my hero, who fulfils my romantic requirements (which are high after reading all these stories!), however long it may take! Stories that make abusive relationships seem the ‘thing to do’ can also affect the reader, and this is an awful message to be sending out. A current example of this, I think, would be 50 Shades of Grey. A few of my friends have read the trilogy and recommended it to me but I have no wish to read them at all. The message sent out by the relationship between the main characters is not a healthy one, in my opinion, and I think it can and will have a bad affect on some of the readers, especially the younger readers (around my age, 17).
Zoe: Yes to all of them. Garbage in garbage out. I think it’s easyto accept a fictitious bad boy that you would never get involved with and subconsciously translate that acceptance into the real world and get into a heap of trouble.
Katharine: Have you ever read a book that you were so put off by the behavior of the “hero” that you gave up? What would you have liked to have said to the author?
D.D.: So many times!!! I won’t give any names because, in the end, I chose to read the books, no one forced me! I don’t think I would have said anything to the author: if that’s the sort of stories that they want to write, that’s fine by me, I just wont read them.
Beth: I almost always finish a story, but there have been books in which I had no idea why the heroine kept trying. I just wanted to shout, “Dump him!” I’ve seen the opposite too, where the hero persists in chasing after a nasty, selfish woman. “Run away. She’ll never make you happy!”
Soph: I have always done very thorough research into the books before reading them so as to avoid the situation of coming across a ‘bad’ hero. I am also one for the clean romance, and make sure of this before reading a romance as a bedroom scene for me is unnecessary and ruins the story and the romance in a book, and it would count for me as behaviour from the hero which puts me off.
Zoe: Yes! Out of control anger, bitterness, murderous intentions, abuse and rape is not cool. My God! You call this jerk a hero?
Thank you, ladies! And thank you, readers, for joining us! If you want to check out some of the books on our Chivalrous Heroes list, you can find it on Goodreads. Also, don’t forget to sign up for the Falling For Your Madness Giveaway!