The Christmas break is over and January is already halfway gone, so it’s past time for me to pick up the thread of my 26-Week Book Challenge. This week is actually quite tricky, not so much in the answer to the challenge (that’s pretty easy), but in how I’m going to weave a post around it.
What I’m going to discuss today is my favourite male character, and I could go two ways with this. The first is to go with the title of this post and discuss the phenomenon of the book boyfriend. The second is to have a look at the expectations modern readers have of male protagonists.
I’m feeling reckless, so I’ll try both.
I should get the most important bit out of the way and state that my favourite male character is Fitz from Robin Hobb’s Assassin and Tawny Man trilogies. I have previously waxed lyrical about how much of a genius Robin Hobb is and how much she has influenced me, but much of the appeal of her books has always been in Fitz himself.
I really need to reread these books, because I read them long enough ago that details are very fuzzy, but the main thing that remains very clear is that from the moment the book got its hooks into me I was as much in love with Fitz as it’s possible to be with a fictitional character.
I should explain that I’ve always fallen in love pretty easily. Back when I was a teenager my romantic brain hopped from boy to boy, and the only way for me to fall out of love was to find another boy to fantasize over (and it generally went no further than fantasizing). Every night before I went to sleep I’d work my way through all sorts of scenarios involving me and the Boy of Choice (and a lot of kissing), so for me it was only a small step further to do the same thing with characters from books. In my dreams I married Aragorn (this was before I found out about Arwen, the bitch), I ran away with Dasyel from Volkhavaar, I dallied with the demon Azhrarn…
And then I ‘met’ Fitz.
Even now I find it difficult to explain what appeals to me so much in Fitz. A good part of it is his looks – I’ve always been a sap for the dark-haired, dark-eyed look and am shamelessly fond of eyecandy. Part of it is also in the fact that you spend two trilogies inside his head, and you go through every harrowing event in his life with him.
(As an aside, one of my enduring fantasies is finding Aladdin’s lamp and being granted three wishes. One of my wishes would be some sort of device that allows me to be transported into a book and live through the entire life of any of the characters in the book. Even then, I’d never want to be Fitz. The things he goes through… Some really are too terrible to contemplate. Robin Hobb is a brave woman to be able to do that to her characters.)
Anyway, Fitz is my ultimate book boyfriend. I love him to bits, and I suspect I always will. I should also add that ever since reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, Locke himself is a good second. The only reason he isn’t replacing Fitz is because Fitz is just too damn good-looking.
To move on to the second thing to discuss here, that is something I have been thinking about for the past few days following this post by Kira Lyn Blue. That post discusses female protagonists, but many of the things Kira discusses could just as easily apply to male protagonists. Readers often have certain expectations of a male character and will complain if the main male doesn’t comply with these expectations.
Fitz is anything but your average overpowering alpha-male character. Most of the time in his books he is a background character in the overall politics of the Six Duchies, no matter how crucial he is to what happens next. He is not a charismatic leader; he is quite the opposite. He is a man who has learned early on that few people can be trusted, and as a result he doesn’t really open up to anyone. He’s often sullen and surly, awkward in social situations. He is, in fact, very much akin to Nighteyes, the lone wolf he has bonded with. It shows the strength of Hobb’s writing that such a man has become such a popular figure, but I can’t help but wonder how many of Fitz’ admirers are men, and whether he doesn’t appeal more to women. (I have absolutely no idea of this, btw, I’m purely speculating here.)
Personally I like my protagonists to come in any kind of format, as long as they’re compellingly written. Not all romance needs an overbearing alpha-male, and not all fantasy needs a morally flawless hero to lead from the front and vanquish evil forever. Give me a romantic hero who isn’t ashamed to cry, and a fantasy hero who doesn’t have to be in charge of everything. As long as you write them well, they’re no less men for it.
What do you think? How do you like your book boyfriends and protagonists? I’d love to hear from you!