Antihero: A Closer Look At Artemis Arrowsmith, Part 2

Today I shall continue reviewing the development of Artemis Arrowsmith, the character who has developed to fill the role of antihero in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. This is part of a larger series of posts about the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain, and includes posts about the nature of the hero, protagonists and antagonists, and multiple posts about the more heroic characters Morel and Tara Rihtwiz. Those posts can be found by following the links to parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Last time I covered how I first included a male ranger-type character drawn from my Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing experiences, then evolved the character into being a female archer/hunter called Artemis Arrowsmith. Although I did discuss how the character underwent a sex-change and was renamed, I did not discuss the changes that occurred with her back story. That is because at this point in her evolution she had no back story to speak of.

To call Gods Among Men a large, complex tale is an understatement. It took a long time for me to understand what the story was, which made actually writing any of it rather difficult. For many years I was plagued by more problems than solutions and few of my vague thoughts made their way to written word.

Artemis was one of many characters included because I felt instinctively a need for certain archetypes common in fantasy and mythology. Over time, my thoughts on the plot began to coalesce and the real needs of the story became more clear. As that happened, some of the characters I first included were removed while others were altered, some quite dramatically.

The central character in Gods Among Men has always been Damon Roth. Part of my growth as a writer was understanding how making Damon Roth central to the story influences the development of other characters. To state this revelation in simple terms: all the other characters become defined by how they react and interact with Damon.

As originally conceived, Artemis was to be Damon’s ally. For many years I kept her personality defined based upon stereotypical notions of what she should be like, and that made her impossible to write effectively. Once I realized Artemis needed a personality and history that made her a natural ally of Damon then she came into focus.

Thus began a slow mixing and matching of traits so that, upon first glance, Artemis would appear to be the exact opposite of Damon. He was a wizard, she was almost immune to magic. Damon was wealthy and lived in a grand manor, Artemis carried all her belonging in a backpack and had no permanent home. Damon was subtle, while Artemis was blunt. Damon planned everything he did with infinite care, while Artemis lived entirely in the moment, reacting instinctively to all that happened.

Underneath all these surface differences were the similarities that would bind them together. Both were exceptionally skilled, unusually intelligent, individuals who loved leading dangerous lives. Both were orphans, raised by the Guild, and inducted into service at a young age. Both had hurt those who cared for them, and both suffered guilt and regret over their actions. They each want redemption for their past sins. They want to be heroes, but both are willing to cross the moral lines that a true hero never would.

Then came the insight that firmly moved Artemis from merely an ally to a central character once and for all: Artemis is the lens through which the reader sees Damon Roth.

Damon needed to be mysterious; the reader must wonder about his motives and history and plans. Ergo, Artemis must ponder those questions. The reader should not trust Damon right away, therefore Artemis must not trust him right away. The reader should come to understand Damon overtime, so Artemis must come to understand him. Every question, every concern, every reaction I wanted the reader to have concerning Damon became the theme that ran through all of the scenes involving Artemis.

It was in this process that Artemis transitioned from a traditional heroic model of character to an antihero. As I explained in my post about Damon as the protagonist :

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. … 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.

If Damon is going to commit atrocities, and if Artemis is going to accept those acts as being required to achieve a greater good, then Artemis cannot be heroic in the classical sense. She must, on some level, be capable of rationalizing that certain amoral acts are required, and that is something a classical hero would never do. She is not a villain, because her acts do not spring from selfish desires, and she performs heroic deeds without thought of reward. She is flawed, and those flaws make her an antihero.

Hero, Part 2: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis, Part 2

This is both a continuation of my last post, and of a series of posts about the roles of the protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain in a story, as well as my exploration on the nature of the hero. I have previously talked about the protagonist in Gods Among Men, Damon Roth, and the antagonist, Demiurge, and why both fail to be either a hero or villain. Today I will focus again upon Morel Rihtwis, an archetypal hero patterned upon classical mythological heroes.

When I started writing Gods Among Men I was heavily influenced by medieval imagery. This grew out of my love of the game Dungeons & Dragons, which itself was influences by medieval stories such as Le Morte d’Arthur, Beowulf, tales of Robin Hood, faerie tales, and even more modern works with a medieval flavor such as The Lord of The Rings.

Given this bias, I decided early that my hero would be a knight. I was young at the time, in college, and sought for a literary or historical figure I could pattern my knight upon. I considered Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain and other knights of the Round Table, but those thoughts led nowhere interesting. They worked against the emerging plot, and made the character hackneyed.

Then I thought of Charlemagne, Charles the Great, King of the Franks. He helped bring about the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture. Through foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne helped define both Western Europe and the Middle Ages. He is counted as of the Nine Worthies; nine historical, scriptural, mythological or semi-legendary figures who came to personify the ideals of chivalry.

In Charlemagne I had a foundation for a character with a history as broad and deep as any of the Arthurian knights, and was as symbolically important as Arthur himself. In fact, Charlemagne formed a group of paladins who were analogous to the knights of the Round Table and form the basis for the French chansons de geste, “songs of heroic deeds”. Charlemagne as a historical or literary character is directly associated with spiritual and cultural rebirth and renewal.

Charlemagne gave me a touchstone for the character that would eventually become Morel Rihtwis. Whenever I felt the need to give Morel more depth or expand his character, I could search though information about Charlemagne and find something useful.

Charlemagne had a brother, Carloman, who died, so I gave Morel a brother name Carloman who died.

Charlemagne had a group of loyal paladins, so Morel now had a group of loyal paladins. One of Charlemagne’s paladins was Roland, who the Song of Roland is based upon. This inspired a subplot centered around Morel’s battle with a dragon.

One of Charlemagne ‘s chief opponents was the Saxon leader Widukind, who Charlemagne converted to Christianity. This inspired a character of my own creation called Widukind, with whom Morel will argue morality and religion in order to convince Widukind to break his allegiance to the villain, Maelgar.

Morel is not Charlemagne. I made Morel into his own character with a unique history and story to tell. But Charlemagne is the point from which I began creating Morel; it is Charlemagne that I return to for inspiration on how I should further develop Morel’s character. The history and legends surrounding Charlemagne helped me build Morel into a character that will be associated with spiritual and cultural rebirth and renewal.

Hero, Part 1: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis

This post is a continuation of my 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 the protagonist in Gods Among Men, Damon Roth, and the antagonist, Demiurge, and why both fail to be either a hero or villain. Today I will focus upon Morel Rihtwis, a man whose very name translates as moral, right, and wise.

Morel is an archetypal hero. Some of the characteristics that identify archetypal heroes are:

  1. Unusual circumstances of his birth
  2. Leaves family and lives with others.
  3. Traumatic event leads to quest.
  4. Special Weapon
  5. Supernatural help.
  6. Proves self on quest
  7. A journey that leads to an unhealable wound
  8. Atonement with father
  9. Spiritual apotheosis

Unusual circumstances of his birth
Morel is born into royalty, into one of the richest and most powerful families in the world. He begins life in the highest reaches of society with all of its advantages and disadvantages.

Leaves family and lives with others.
Morel’s mother died before he was ten years old. His father was king of Zephyr and gone for most of Morel’s childhood. Morel had a brother, Carloman, who was almost a decade his senior. Morel’s earliest clear memory of Carloman is him leaving to join the military. Morel spent most of his childhood surrounded by tutors, trainers, and staff. When he was in his teens he joined the military as a prerequisite for one day inheriting Zephyr.

Traumatic event leads to quest.
Before Gods Among Men begins, Carloman, Morel’s brother, dies in a senseless accident. Carloman was the heir apparent to the kingdom of Zephyr and the Rihtwis fortune. With his death, Morel becomes the heir apparent. Also, Morel arrives in the city of Guildtown, capital of the empire that Zephyr belongs to, shortly after the city has been attacked and its military defeated. These twin events, along with the responsibilities Morel feels as heir to a kingdom, forces him to follow Damon Roth. This sets Morel on a path to save his daughter, the kingdom of Zephyr, and the world as a whole.

Special Weapon
Morel wears armor forged from the hide of a dragon. This armor grants him superhuman strength and renders him almost impervious to magic. He also carries a sword forged by Damon Roth and Morel’s distant ancestor, Gideon Rihtwis. This sword is unbreakable, never requires care or sharpening, and is capable of cleaving a person in two. Later, Morel will come into possession of a lance specially made to kill dragons.

Supernatural help.
Both the wizard Damon Roth and the False God referred to as the Lady aid Morel. In addition he will receive help from Elves. Damon saves Morels life and gives him the magical satchel that Morel will need as the story progresses. The Lady advises and protects his daughter, Tara, when he cannot. I have not yet decided how the Elves will aid him.

Proves self on quest
Remember when I mentioned that Morel will come into a possession of a lance specially made to kill dragons? He doesn’t use it against a Komodo dragon. He fights a very large, very deadly, dragon in the prime of its life. In addition, Morel must also show his commitment to honor and duty despite personal costs. He risks his life on many occasions and dies, twice.

A journey that leads to an unhealable wound
Speaking of dying, Morel dies in the first book of the series. Fortunately, this is an epic fantasy in which death is not a career-ending injury. Damon restores Morel to life, but the wound Morel receives gives him problems for the rest of his life. Later, he battles Artemis Arrowsmith, is struck in the same place, and dies again.

Atonement with father
Morel is not close with his father, though he isn’t estranged from him either. His father was absent for most of Morel’s life, so the two really know each other through what they have heard from other people. Unknown to Morel, his father was involved in a dark deed that gave rise to the villain, Maelgar Tregadie. At some point this fact will be revealed to Morel, and there will be a reckoning.

Spiritual apotheosis
During his life Morel reaches a mythic stature that makes him almost universally admired. Even his foes hate him primarily for his virtues. He becomes the example others aspire to emulate, including his daughter, Tara. After Morel’s death he is revered and mourned and cited as the person who embodied the best qualities of mankind.

Most of these qualities are shared by Damon Roth. What Damon is missing is what I believe is key to labeling someone as a hero: the moral center that guides and limits them. The limits placed upon a hero by themselves are, to me, a crucial element in their heroism. It is that moment when when the hero thinks, “I need to kill/hurt/steal/etc…, but I won’t because its wrong.”

This is the crucial distinction between Damon and Morel. Damon will do anything he believes is required to accomplish his goal. Morel will not. Morel is willing to accept failure as a consequence of doing what is moral and right, which makes him wise.

This subject is too big for a single post. I will continue with Morel for at least one more post, detailing some of the inspirations for his character. Later I will delve into his daughter, Tara, and explore other types of heroes and how they are represented in Gods Among Men.