Antihero: a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.
They are the protagonists you love to hate. Protagonists that are more villains than the archetypal heroes. They exhibit clinical narcissism and grandiosity. They usually lack the self-awareness necessary for change. Are they capable of growing and developing self-awareness? What would it take?
I’ve made no secret of my fascination with antiheroes. I wrote about them in 2010 here. I’ve been intensely interested in how a human being becomes such a person. With my antihero Evan Quinn, I wanted to explore three things: how an American would react to a totalitarian dictatorship, how an American would deal with emigration to another country under circumstances echoing Russian emigrants who left the USSR in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and what could happen with someone whose PTSD is left untreated.
Americans now are more familiar with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) because of our military veterans and their suffering with it. PTSD is not unique only to war veterans, especially those who saw combat. Anyone who experiences extreme psychological trauma in which he feels threatened and powerless to protect or defend himself can develop PTSD. This includes children who experience physical or sexual or psychological abuse, accident survivors, domestic abuse survivors, survivors of crime, and survivors of natural disasters. It’s important for the survivors of trauma to talk about their experience and how they felt as soon after the trauma as possible. Talking begins the process of psychological healing from the trauma. So when the media descends on a town destroyed by a tornado, for example, and starts interviewing the survivors, that is helpful somewhat. The media, however, are not trained to guide the survivors through processing their experience and feelings so they don’t get stuck in the psychological flashback loop characteristic of PTSD. Not everyone will develop PTSD after major psychological trauma. I don’t know why. I have not heard that researchers have figured that out either.
Perceval’s Secret is the beginning of my exploration into Evan Quinn’s psychological present and how that affects his choices and his life. We don’t like to think too much about the powerful effects our past experiences have on our lives, but they make us who we are. That’s also true with Evan. Joseph Caine and his family provide a sanctuary for him that, I hope, may give him what he needs to break out of his PTSD. However, in the subsequent four novels, I really put him through the ringer as far as his choices are concerned. In Perceval’s Secret, he only begins to notice the effect having power and control exerts over him. I have the final scene of the final novel in my mind, although I’m still uncertain how it will end. The question for the Perceval series is this: Does Evan Quinn have the capability to redeem himself, and if so, how?
Other antiheroes have been far from redemption. Their creators have seen them as psychopaths, incapable of human connection and empathy, and without conscience. Dexter Morgan of the Dexter series of novels (and TV shows, although these took a different direction than the novels) is an example, or Tom Ripley in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels. Hannibal Lecter. Looking farther back in literature, there’s Kafka’s K, Camus’s The Stranger, Holden Caulfield, Tyler Durden and the Narrator in Fight Club, Philip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s mysteries, Scarlett O’Hara as one of the few women anti-heroes, and yes, even Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. There’s also a long list in film and TV of antiheroes.
What makes an antihero? What in a character’s past makes her the villain in her own story? That’s part of Evan’s story, too. Not many antihero creators dive into that murky sea. I believe his past holds the key to Evan’s healing. Now if I can just convince Evan….