Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith

This is a continuation of earlier posts about the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain, as well as my exploration on the nature of the hero. I have previously talked about Damon Roth, the protagonist in Gods Among Men, and Demiurge, the antagonist, and why both fail to be either a hero or villain. I have multiple posts about Morel and Tara Rihtwiz, who fill the roles of classical and modern heroes respectively. Those posts can be found by following the links to parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Today I will focus upon Artemis Arrowsmith, a woman who has evolved into the role of the antihero. I begin by reviewing how I came to conceive of her character and the various twist and turns that led to her current incarnation.

In a previous post I described how I first conceived of the story that would become Gods Among Men. To recap, I was a teenage geek who loved playing Dungeons & Dragons (a.k.a D&D), and so my initial musing on the story revolved around stock characters drawn from my experiences with role-playing games.

A character-type central to D&D is the Ranger. A Ranger in D&D is a hunter, a tracker, a woodsman, a fighter who has special expertise fighting certain enemies. Back when I was teenager it was clear that the creators of D&D were basing their Ranger upon the character of Aragorn from The Lord Of The Rings, who himself was based upon archetypal hunter-heroes.

Initially, I added a ranger-type character to Gods Among Men without much thought. The story I was conceiving revolved around the wizard that became Damon Roth. When I was sketching out my original ideas, a common theme in D&D adventures were background details like, “A long time ago there was a wizard so-and-so and his ranger ally such-and-such that fought the great evil etc…” Another concept that could be directly traced back to The Lord Of The Rings and the relationship between Aragorn and Gandalf.

And so, once I began thinking of a wizard as the central character, I naturally decided he must have a ranger ally. Having no better idea than that, I created a male ranger, named him Smith (nickname Smitty), and tried to figure out where he fit into the story. I thought of him as a tough, experienced, deadly fighter who could dispatch enemies without a second thought.

I also thought of the ranger as the character that would balance the group of heroes. In my mind, the wizard would be in constant conflict with the knight figure (who became Morel) and with other characters I was starting to introduce into the story. My first draft of the ranger had him as a peacemaker that pulled each person’s extremes back toward the center so they could complete their quest.

It took me a while to realize the contradiction inherent in this concept of the character: the killer that makes everyone want to be peaceful and happy together. I found the contradiction impossible to fully reconcile, and so began changing the character more and more.

Perhaps the first major change came when a former girlfriend read my early drafts and noted, “You don’t have any female characters.” This prompted me to look at my major characters and consider which ones would benefit from a sex-change. The ranger named Smith was the first to undergo the procedure. In the process, I dropped the horrible nickname Smitty and the non-descriptive name Smith and began looking for a better name.

Being a fan of all things mythological, when I began thinking of a female hunter I immediately thought of the Greek goddess, Artemis. I liked the symbolism, so I gave my huntress a bow and changed her name to Artemis.

Later I stumbled across the name Arrowsmith; it was the name of the central character in Sinclair Lewis’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Arrowsmith. I immediately liked the name Arrowsmith because it underscored the archery aspect of the character and created a nice alliteration: Artemis Arrowsmith.

After a bit or research, I discovered the character in the Sinclair Lewis novel was a doctor torn between the demands of society and his own desires. I liked the symbolism there as well, so Artemis Arrowsmith became my new and improved ranger character.

In my next post I shall continue reviewing Artemis’s development as a character and the various influences that affected my choices with her.

The Nature of a Writer

As I read Brant’s latest post, I couldn’t help but think about my own writing. Brant’s story has so many layers, it is like a big, tasty parfait. Knowing Brant as well as I do, I think that is a comment on him as well. He is a very complex but interesting person, and it shows clearly in his writing. The nature of the writer lends itself to the color of a story, no matter how hard that writer may try to keep it out. Think of the great satirical stories, like Gulliver’s Travels. I highly doubt that could have been written by someone who loved the British. Or even V, which is a thinly veiled (at least to some people) look at Nationalist Socialism and how easily people are brainwashed by it.

I never thought my stories had that much subtext, but I did notice something about my own writing. Almost instictively, I like to attach some sort of moral to my stories. My first work in progress, Battle for Ondar, is a story about familial relationships, and how easily a country can collapse if its politicians don’t keep it together. My current work-in-progress, Moonlit, shows how people with an infectious, incurable disease are still people, and what happens when society forgets that. I think these two examples say a lot about me as a writer and a person.

In reality, I like to think of myself as an environmentalist. I love nature, especially water-related nature, and keeping wild things wild. I also have – as my Dad calls it – a bleeding heart. I don’t do very well in debates because I can see the other person’s point-of-view. I almost always prefer the underdog or the sidekick in movies and television, not the main character. And I stand up for anyone who isn’t there in an arguement. I love bad movies, romantic comedies, and sarcastic comedians. I have an impressive collection of shark movies alone, and every Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode I could get my hands on. I also am intensely interested in how people cope with major stress. A great example of this is how peasants in Europe coped during the Great Schism, when people actually thought that no one could get into heaven because there was no clear Pope (Catholics should know what I am referring to).

These things make up my character, and whether I like it or not, are going to show up in my work. I want to flesh out the characters to represent a single thought or ideal, and watch it play out in the plot of the story. So in Moonlit, I put a little of myself in Lyka, the heroine. She is a wildlife biologist who has lived a pretty sheltered life among her books and labwork and animals that don’t talk. At the very beginning of the story, her life is thrown into the unknown. How will she deal with that? We don’t know how she will deal with that yet, as I have only written about two chapters. I daresay that she will manage much the same way I might if I were thrown into a similar situation. Hopefully, that doesn’t spell doom for too many of the book’s characters…

The Nature of the Hero

Over the last few months I have come to realize that my story, Gods Among Men, has a subtext I did not originally intend. Implicit in the characters and their interactions is the question of what it means to be a hero or a villain. Given the parts of the story I have focused upon so far, I have written mostly about the characters I think of as heroes in one way or another.

I have always thought that some of my characters where “more pure” in their heroism than others. I am familiar with various mythic traditions and did weave ideas that appealed to me into various characters. Before now, however, I never tried to formally define the various types of heroism and how they applied to specific characters.

The formal concept of the hero can be traced to Greek mythology. The word hero originally meant the person was a demigod; the offspring of a mortal and a deity. At this point the word does not imply any moral virtue, merely parentage.

Looking back, I realize now that this idea influenced the development of my protagonist, Damon Roth, and his relationship to my antagonist, Demiurge.

An important step in Damon’s true quest is to become the God Among Men. To achieve this goal, Damon must form a bond with Demiurge, a god-like being. The relationship Damon seeks with Demiurge is not dissimilar to that of a grown child with an aged, ailing, parent. Symbolically, Damon becomes Demiurge’s child and in so doing become a demigod and hence a hero; at least by the criteria of classic Greek mythology. By becoming a hero, Damon steps closer to his true goal: redemption for his past sins and the salvation of his soul.

In later mythology, the concept of the hero became associated with other characteristics. Courage, self-sacrifice for the greater good, the willingness the face danger and almost certain death, and various moral qualities. The moral qualities become especially important. A hero in later works is often defined by the lines they will not cross, the acts they will not commit, even when everyone else says the acts are necessary or even required. A hero in later mythology is the person who risks all, including the safety of those closest to them, because their moral center demands it of them.

By this standard for heroism, Damon fails to become a modern hero. Yes, he has courage and will face danger and certain death. But he is also the ultimate pragmatist. If the surest way for him to achieve a goal is a dark deed, then he will cross that line with little hesitation. And, while he will ultimately sacrifice himself, it is not so much for the greater good but to complete his redemption. Mankind as a whole will benefit, but Damon’s reason is a selfish one designed to benefit himself. To be a modern hero the end result is not sufficient; the means you use and the reasons behind your actions matter.

Damon wants to be a hero, but never can be. He can become a demigod, he can be a protagonist that provides the story with a direction and a plot, but his own moral failings keep him from being more.

In Gods Among Men the role of classical hero falls upon Morel Rihtwis, a man willing to sacrifice the world rather than let innocents suffer. A man of destiny who wants power solely so he can help others. He actively pursues greatness and seizes his destiny. He regrets the personal sacrifices he must make, but never seriously considers not making those sacrifices.

A more modern version of the hero is embodied by his daughter, Tara. She wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, until she sees the cost she must bear to do so. At this point she would turn aside, except she comes to realize how many would suffer if she did so. She accepts her personal sacrifices for the betterment of all. Greatness is thrust upon her, her destiny is set by forces out of her control.

I will revisit this exploration of the concepts surrounding heroes and heroism in later posts. I plan on focusing more upon Morel and Tara and delving deeper into my motivations for how I have developed their characters. After that I will look also at other variants of heroes including Byronic heroes and antiheroes. After that I will turn my attention to the villains and antivillains in Gods Among Men and the mythic roots behind their characters.

Antagonist: A Closer Look At Demiurge

A while back I wrote abut the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain in my story, Gods Among Men. Today I will delve deeper into the role of antagonist and how my character, Demiurge, fills that role.

The antagonist is fundamentally a reactive character. It is the protagonist that initiates the action and drives the plot. The antagonist reacts to what the protagonist does. It is common for the antagonist to either be the hero or villain of the story, but Demiurge is neither.

Once, a very long time ago, Demiurge was a great hero. That was before he was killed in his war with The False Gods. In the final battle he was utterly destroyed, yet continued to exist. He is now a grotesque aberration, neither dead nor alive. He has no choice in this. The one thing he fundamentally cannot change is himself.

Demiurge’s current relationship to most people is similar to our relationship with insects. If an insect annoys us we either make it go away or kill it. If an insect is doing something interesting we might watch it for awhile, but likely not interfere. Otherwise, we ignore insects. Few insects occupy our thoughts for more than a moment and all are soon forgotten.

It is this attitude that keep Demiurge from being hero or villain, antihero or antivillain. The mundane world means too little for him to either save or destroy it. He has no interest in causing harm, and makes no effort to stop tragedy.

Damon Roth, my protagonist, is another matter. Damon Roth at one point has something Demiurge does care about, and proceeds to play a shell game with it so Demiurge can’t find it. What is it that Damon has that Demiurge wants? My MacGuffin, the satchel I wrote about in a previous post.

Damon Roth puts Demiurge in a unique position. Demiurge wants the satchel more than anything else in the whole of creation. He cannot ignore Damon like he does others. Nor can Demiurge kill him. Damon has arranged that if he dies Demiurge will never find the satchel. This allows Damon Roth to lure Demiurge into a battle of wits and wills, subtle manipulations and opaque strategies. A game of chess with everyone else as pawns to be used or discarded as the situation demands. A contest both know can only end in the destruction of one of them.

What does Damon Roth want from Demiurge? Demiurge is the God Among Men, and that is what Damon Roth needs to become if he is to save all life on the planet. The only way Damon can do this is to destroy Demiurge and steal his immense power, knowledge, and memories.

What Damon needs to accomplish this goal is in the satchel. He must have the satchel and be near a distracted Demiurge in order to succeed. He dare not let Demiurge near the satchel until he can guarantee these conditions.

The other character’s in the story revolve around these two figures and their cosmic conflict. They follow one or the other for a variety of reasons. Their individual fates depend on which one is ultimately triumphant.

Protagonist: A Closer Look at Damon Roth

In an earlier post I spoke about the various roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain. In that post I spoke in general terms about how those roles are filled in my story, Gods Among Men. Today I will delve deeper into the role of protagonist and how my central character, Damon Roth, fills that role.

The protagonist is the central character around which all action revolves. He is the driver of the plot, he creates the situation that everyone else responds to. Often the protagonist is either the hero or the villain, but not in my story.

Damon Roth cannot be the hero because he does not embody heroic ideals. In his past he committed horrible acts for his own benefit. Acts which harmed many, including people he cared deeply about, though he was unable at that time to acknowledge those feelings even to himself. The important point of his character is that he is still doing this. He will again commit and cause atrocities that will harm many including those he cares for.

This makes him seem like the villain. However Damon is not a villain either, at least not now. In his past he was a villain. He committed evil acts to promote himself; to advance his power, wealth, and ambition. Now he is searching for redemption. The acts he commits in Gods Among Men, as terrible as they will be, are intended to save mankind, to save the world and everything on it. To avoid the death of every living thing on the planet he believes, truly believes, that he must follow a ruthless plan that leaves a path of death and destruction in his wake. Some must suffer so all may be saved.

Important in this distinction is the word, “believes”.

Just because Damon believes his actions are required does not make it true. His goals are clear, and the threat real. The path he chooses to address this threat and achieve his goals are dictated by the man he was as well as the man he wants to be. If he is successful then mankind and the planet have a hope for survival, not a guarantee. And his failure does not mean the death of hope. His solution is one possible answer out of many. It is the answer he believes in, the one he has the skills and personality to achieve. It is this ambiguity that also prevents him from being either antihero or antivillain.

If his plan were the only hope, with his failure resulting in the inevitable death of all life on earth, then he would be an antihero. A savior who lacks heroic qualities. If his plan were flawed, or the threat non-existent, then he would be an antivillain. A destroyer with at least some noble qualities. Since neither of these conditions are met, he cannot be either antihero or antivillain.

In the end, Damon must face the ultimate test. Successfully saving the planet is not enough for him to achieve the redemption he seeks. If it were, then his actions are tainted by the same self-serving motivations that made him a villain in his youth. To redeem himself Damon Roth must eventually sacrifice himself. His quest requires him to commit an act that harms himself terribly, but guarantees the world is safe.

Gods Among Men opens at the moment when Damon first realizes he must make such a sacrifice. Everything that happens from that point forward hangs on his acceptance of that fact.

Damon cannot be classified as either good or bad, hero or villain, antihero or antivillain. He is a flawed person of tremendous abilities dealing with an immense problem in the only way he knows how. In the end it is the reasons for his actions and how he adheres to those convictions that will determine his true worth.