Other than serial killers, rapists and psycho villains, is there such a thing as an unredeemable hero? I started pondering this question after the Tiger Wood’s fiasco.

Throughout fiction and the movies there are men who’ve committed horrible deeds and yet we decide they’re worth saving. Why? Consider uber-sexy Brad Pitt who played Achilles in the Hollywood version of the Trojan War (Troy); or Viggo Mortensen who portrayed an ex-hitman in one of my favorite movies, A History of Violence. Both of these characters performed brutal acts. Both were tortured souls battling inner demons. Both were easy to hate.

So what made me cheer for them? After all, a hero who’s totally unredeemable is a selfish human being. His every act is for his own pleasure, every thought to further his own purpose. Saying I’m sorry for my sins or that I made a mistake is not enough to redeem such a person. Even finding a medical diagnosis to try and explain away his actions isn’t enough to make him worthy or forgivable.

What does?

Running away from the horror as Viggo did in A History of Violence wasn’t enough. Usually these men have to sacrifice the one thing that has always defined them. Unlike the heroes in a typical story they are not simply changed by a simple act--for example, letting go of revenge in order to grow as a character. Because they didn’t start out a hundred percent honorable, they have to change at the core. The trait that people admire about them often has to be squashed. The powerful warrior has to allow himself to be defeated. The monster living inside him has to allow itself to be loved. Only then can the redeemable hero emerge.

Share your thoughts. Can you think of other characters people might consider unredeemable?

26 comments

  1. Mary Marvella // March 24, 2010 at 11:14 PM  

    Thought provoking! I like to make readers wish my bad guys would be redeemable.

    One male protagonist denied that his second daughter was his. Is he redeemable as a romance hero? Should the heroine forgive him? So far she hasn't.

  2. Scarlet Pumpernickel // March 24, 2010 at 11:21 PM  

    I thought of Jay when I read Pam's post. MM's hero in "Margo's Choices." She makes it so hard for Margo to forgive him, yet she also makes you want for him to be redeemed. I like the kind of hero that appears unredeemable. But then, my favorite character in history is Napoleon.

  3. Beth Trissel // March 25, 2010 at 12:07 PM  

    Very interesting post. I love it when bad guys are redeemed.

  4. Joelle Charbonneau // March 25, 2010 at 12:27 PM  

    Great post. Funny, but I think there is an interesting line between redeemable and unredeemable. A hero has to be flawed enough to make him interesting, but not too flawed that the reader can't make the journey to redemption with him. There have been some romances where I just can't take the journey with the hero because he had too many flaws that I found impossible to love. (Drug habits or turning backs on family tend to be big turn offs for me.)

  5. Pamela Varnado // March 25, 2010 at 1:05 PM  

    Mary, you have a real talent for making an unredeamable character redeamable.

  6. Pamela Varnado // March 25, 2010 at 1:07 PM  

    Scarlet, bad guys always make the most interesting heros. At least in my opinion. Napolean is also one of my favorite historical characters.

  7. Pamela Varnado // March 25, 2010 at 1:09 PM  

    Beth, thanks for commenting. I enjoyed writing it.

  8. Pamela Varnado // March 25, 2010 at 1:12 PM  

    Joelle, nothing in life is usually black or white. There are some characters I have to dig real deep to learn to just like. But I tend to root for people who've endured a lot (even if it's not pretty) and somehow find the strength to pull through.

  9. Cyrano // March 25, 2010 at 1:30 PM  

    My favorite heroes are the ones that are tortured. The ones that have a past that rips at their souls, the ones that on first sight aren't so heroic.
    To me, a hero or heroine for that matter that is introduced as nearly perfect is, well...boring. These are the books I often find myself putting down.
    Now, the stories or movies I devour star the seemingly "unredeemable" hero.
    I didn't see a History of Violence (have to pick that one up) But I did see Viggo in Eastern Promises and in that movie he made a Russian mafia hit man look sexy. The thing I liked about the film, besides the nude fight scene, is that Viggo's character appeared unredeemable at the movie's opening and even much of the way through. But this quiet "bad guy" turned out to be a good person in the end.
    Loved that flick!
    Loved Troy too, Pammy. Not quite as much as you, but Brad Pitt with long blonde hair, a killer body and portraying a seemingly unredeamable (at the beginning) character is my cup of tea!
    I gravitate toward the outwardly strong, silent, scary hero who really has a big heart hidden within a chest full of sculpted muscle.
    All hail the seemingly "unredeemable" hero!!!
    Excellent post Pammy!
    Love you,
    Tamara

  10. Nightingale // March 25, 2010 at 2:39 PM  

    I love the bad boy heroes! Thought provoking post, Pam. Now I'll spend hours trying to think of other unredeemable heroes I've read about.

  11. Debby Giusti // March 25, 2010 at 2:45 PM  

    Pam,
    Great post!!! Love your Ramos. A bad boy seemingly at first glance, but you show the interior that yearns to be loved. Great writing!!!

    The Golden Heart announcements are today--always an exciting time! Good luck to all!

  12. Mary Marvella // March 25, 2010 at 3:17 PM  

    Thanks, Pam and Scarlet.If folks say a character can't be redeemed I work hard to make them want or need to forgive him.

    Pam and Scarlet created some bad guys, but I don't want them to be redeemed.

  13. Pamela Varnado // March 25, 2010 at 5:16 PM  

    Cyrano, Brad Pitt is the best. I still say he should have won an academy award for his performance in Troy.

  14. Pamela Varnado // March 25, 2010 at 5:19 PM  

    Debby, I'm a little sad. I wanted to get that phone call from RWA, telling me I'd finaled in the Golden Heart contest. Well, better luck next year.

  15. Pamela Varnado // March 25, 2010 at 5:20 PM  

    Linda, bad boys make the best heros. To me, is hard to show conflict when the guys are too good.

  16. Your Wonderful Daughter // March 25, 2010 at 6:14 PM  

    I love it Mommy! And I am going to have to agree with everyone else.....bad boys do make the best heros! We love you! Smooches!

  17. Your Wonderful Daughter // March 25, 2010 at 6:15 PM  

    I love it Mommy! And I am going to have to agree with everyone else.....bad boys do make the best heros! We love you! Smooches!

  18. Barbara Monajem // March 25, 2010 at 7:04 PM  

    I love tortured heroes, too, as long as they have a sense of humor.

    Georgette Heyer has a few more or less unredeemable characters that I wish I could write about!

  19. Anonymous // March 25, 2010 at 7:39 PM  

    Interesting that you blog about this topic today. I'm reading Linda Howard's Death Angel. The female character's love interest is the villian who is an assassin. Go figure. And to give kudos to Linda she makes you love this man half way through the book.
    If only I could be so good.

    Connie Gillam

  20. Pamela Varnado // March 25, 2010 at 8:05 PM  

    Hey Connie, Death Angel is such a great book and a great example of of a hero the author has to work hard to redeem.

  21. Pamela Varnado // March 25, 2010 at 8:07 PM  

    Hi Barbara, thanks for commenting. I'll have to look out for a Georgette Heyer novel. Ehat genre does she write?

  22. Pamela Varnado // March 25, 2010 at 8:09 PM  

    My sweet daughter, Tina. I'm glad you found time to comment. I know you've been busy going through a change of command. Stay safe and give the boys a kiss from grandma. Smooches!!!!!

  23. Mary Ricksen // March 25, 2010 at 8:54 PM  

    There is nothing better than a really bad boy, with good inside. Great Post guys!

  24. Judy // March 25, 2010 at 9:34 PM  

    Hi, Pam! I love bad boys as long as there is something redeemable about them. My heart aches when everyone thinks he's bad and we know he's much more than that.... Interesting, though, as it's a way to pull readers in...

  25. Barbara Monajem // March 26, 2010 at 10:13 AM  

    Pam, Georgette Heyer wrote many, many Regency romances (and she also wrote mysteries). She was an English author who died about 40 years ago, alas, but many, many of her books are being reissued by Sourcebooks.

  26. Joanne // March 27, 2010 at 11:54 PM  

    Interesting post, Pam. I love tortured heroes, as Barbara suggested. Quiet, with a sense of humor.