Megan’s post yesterday has me thinking about more serious subjects — and one that comes to mind is honor. I think one reason why historical romances of all types (and fantasy fiction too) have such an emotional impact on readers is the characters’ attachment to honor. This honor is not just a code of behavior, but the idea that if you do dishonorable things, it changes you, it stains you. Honorable characters may have been dishonorable in the past, but when the critical moment comes, they do what needs to be done.
Aren’t the most honorable heroes often the most romantic ones? Think of the heroes in Barbara Metzger’s “A Debt to Delia” and Gail Eastwood’s “The Lady From Spain,” or any of Carla Kelly’s or Patricia Veryan’s heroes. Think of Georgette Heyer’s “Cotillion” — Freddy has his own immutable sense of honor. Think of Maximus in the movie “Gladiator,” or of so many characters in “The Lord of the Rings.”
What do you think? Who are your favorite honorable heroes? Does their honor make them more attractive?
And does the fact that romance and fantasy novels value honor mean that they are “mere escapism,” or are they actually celebrating something very real that our cynical times tend to wrongfully ignore?
All thoughts welcome!
Cara King, www.caraking.com
MY LADY GAMESTER, Signet Regency 11/05
I do like silent, honorable heroes, although my favorite kind are the super-tortured kind, like Dain in Lord of Scoundrels and most of Anne Stuart’s heroes. And since I’ve only had one ginormous cup of coffee, I can’t remember all of the honorable heroes I’ve loved, but even when the hero starts out as less than honorable, for me the most poignant part of the book is when the hero does something honorable, even if it goes against everything he’s done before. He’s been redeemed by love, and that just melts my heart. I do love Carla Kelly’s heroes, although Lord Ragsdale is my favorite, and he is not honorable, at least not in the beginning. So I guess I like honor among thieves (and blackguards, and rakes, etc.), but I agree that honor is a necessary quality for a hero.
Oh, this is Megan, btw. I forgot I was logged in under the wrong name.*
*see not enough coffee comment above.
I think many of us need images of honor. Unfortunately, the news media rarely shows them, unless it’s a spectacular sort of honor shown by heroic police, fire-fighters or rescue workers. It is vitally important to recognize them, of course, but the media rarely portrays less physical forms of honor.
In novels, heroes (and I include heroines in that definition, of course) can perform acts of honor involving physical bravery. But ovels can also do portray the inner struggles of those who make decisions and sacrifices that may be completely unnoticed and unappreciated.
One of my favorite Regency historical romances is My Dark Prince by Julia Ross. At several points in the story, solutions to the hero/heroine’s problems presented themselves, solutions which would have allowed them to be together but would have been dishonorable and diminished them in my eyes. Each time, these temptations were resisted. The ultimate resolution was slow, requiring the characters to grow and work and wait (and suffer) for their happy ending, which was much more satisfying for not being a quick fix. I loved it!
Yes, and Elena needs coffee too. I really do know that the word “novels” starts with an “n”. 🙂
My heroes tend to be honorable men who try to do their duty and almost lapse into being stiffnecked pains in the whatever, saved only by their essential hotness.
I think Jo Beverley’s heroes are great examples of men motivated by honor.
Elena, I think you make a great point about “less physical forms of honor.”
When I think of honorable people, that includes someone caring for an ill or aging parent . . . someone who helps out a stranger . . . someone who steps in and does an unpleasant job instead of passing the buck.
None of us is perfect, but I witness plenty of selfless, “honorable” behavior in my daily life — and so I don’t agree with the cynics who think humans are one hundred percent Darwinian “survival of the fittest” creatures.
And isn’t that one reason why the Cinderella story has such staying power? Cinderlla is someone whose labor is taken for granted, and not acknowledged . . . and we can find less extreme examples of that all around us. By the end of the story, her worth has been recognized. So it’s a story of justice, really.
People can call that escapism, or wish-fulfillment, or fantasy, if they like. But that’s not the same thing as saying it has nothing to do with our real lives.
(waxing eloquent today, I fear)
I *love* the idea of “essential hotness.”
Some of my favorite books deal with characters who find they are honorable in spite of themselves–that they try not to be, but they just can’t help it. 🙂 There seem to be many Balogh characters like this–the heroes in Dancing With Clara and Thief of Dreams come to mind. Or Laura Kinsale’s newest, Shadowheart. Or…well, you get the idea. 🙂