Tag Archives: anti-hero

Lymond 3: love is cryptonite

Lymond has fallen in love. It was possibly the best fictional moment ever.

Some thoughts about how the most superior, restrained, unreachable character I have ever read managed to fall in love believably. (And this is a useful thing to look at, given how often a great, tortured hero is made void by falling in love.)

I had no idea how Dunnett would have him fall in love with Philippa, given that he is superior to everyone he meets – and they always want him more than he wants them, which always gives him the upper hand.

It seemed to be a two-armed approach – though I’m sure the beast really has at least ten arms, and I’m just missing all the subtleties, as usual.

1. Philippa doesn’t give in to Lymond’s bullying, where everyone else in his life, at some point or other, does. The worst threat he can hold above her is to deny himself the friendship of she and her mother, which he can’t afford to do (as this halves the friends he has in the world, poor old Lymond). And even then she won’t be turned aside.

2. She is as inquisitive as him, quicksilver intelligent, and courageous in a human, error-filled way that he is not. So whilst the fact that she can stand up to him has some fascination, it is tempered by the way that her brain sparks his alight, and by the ways she surprises him – and most of all by the fact that she made him laugh.

Here is a brilliant moment: Dunnett has spent five books plumbing the depths of Lymond’s restraint and, particularly in the fifth book, paring away all the human sentiment in him that holds him back from greatness. And then Philippa makes him laugh, by hitting him with a costume axe.

Then, when the realisation that he’s in love strikes, he walks around in a daze all evening, not aware of what’s going on around him.

It reminds of an anecdote an old boyfriend told me: He saw a guy jump the curb on a skateboard. The skater didn’t land the jump and stood there, staring at his board, for a whole minute. By the fact that he was so put out by misjudging such a simple trick, said boyfriend knew he was a pro.

So here’s how I think Dunnett pulls off the ultimate anti-hero in love: With his great powers of intellect and restraint, he doesn’t let that knowledge affect his life, or the way he conducts his life. But he is unable to control his actions quite so well as before, and an element of unpredictability has entered the life he is used to controlling down to every last expression.

I have some thoughts about heroes and their heroine-as-kryptonite that you can read here.

Lymond 1: the anti-hero and the witness

to people who are more clever than I (but see how clever I am! I even use correct grammar!) this may be obvious. To me it was not.

It is very, very difficult to write a successful anti-hero if you allow the reader inside his head.

This answers a lot of questions as to why bad-boy romance heroes are so often nauseatingly noble and misunderstood. Or rather, why the fact that they are noble and misunderstood is nauseating.

We are inside their head, we are privy to their struggle and their real motivations, and the things driving them that no-one else can see or know. Unless done with a masterful touch, being inside their head bursts the bubble of cool around them.

Dunnett’s incomparable anti-hero, Lymond, is almost always seen from the outside. We are not privy to his motivations or his plans. This distance creates the tension at the heart of the books:

His actions from the outside look villainous, cold and destructive; we see him as his world sees him. As the narrative draws to its climax the two versions of Lymond become mutually exclusive – one must give way to the other. It is then that we’re let in on the master plan that retrospectively reshapes the whole narrative, and transforms Lymond into a hero – albeit a dangerous, complex and self-destructive one.

In being kept distant from him we long for access, as the people around him long for access, and this slavish devotion to a character who won’t share himself, no matter the cost, lies at the heart of the series.

And how does she keep us out? Enter the Witness.

Each novel takes a different kind of witness: a person who falls in with him, and tries to make him out, and fails. In Queen’s Play, Lymond even becomes the witness to himself as his disguised self begins to take over his true self. In carefully choosing what these witnesses want from Lymond, and by what ideology they order the world, Dunnett is able to show Lymond in whatever deceptive light she choses.

The final element that I think makes this such an effective technique – the hero misunderstood by the witness – is that Lymond never feels compelled to defend or explain himself. He allows himself to be misunderstood because common opinion is not important to him. His actions speak for him, the man who can speak circles around any subject on earth.