When I told my husband about yesterday's post, he agreed with me that Silver is a Lost Soul, but said that he had an advantage over Heathcliff in that he's not brooding, just reserved. 🙂
I have been encouraged to discuss why so many of my heroes belong to the “Chief” archetype, and how I think it ties in with the frequently heard plaint that fantasy seems to be awash in main characters who are princes, lords, etc.
Personally, I find it mildly amusing how horrified some American writers seem to be with their own tendency to write stories featuring royalty and nobility. I consider it perfectly natural. If we are talking fantasy, that means we are talking about stories that are quite deliberately NOT recreating the real life as it is experienced by the readers. If we wanted to do slice of life, if we wanted to do domestic, if we wanted to delight the reader with insight into the familiar and everyday — why would we tell stories with settings that are deliberately imaginary?
One of the ways in which I like my stories to not be like my life is that I like them to have a wider scope. I find it intriguing to deal with situations where there is more at risk than the happiness of a handful of people. That means the characters need to be in a position to influence or control the fate of a great many more people than I myself can. Making them rulers or leaders is a simple and obvious way to do this.
Of course, it is not the only way. Nor is inheriting a title the only way to become a ruler or leader. But is a very flexible way of placing your character in a position of power, because it puts no constraints on the personality or skills of that character. Inheriting is all about who you are related to, not who you are — anyone can become a prince, all they have to do is be born to the right parents. Princes are a more varied character pool to draw from than generals or politicians, and thus have an appeal to writers that I don't think is ever going to go away.
In addition to the scope provided their position of power, such characters are very useful for providing contrast. Throughout much of our history various forms of nobility have enjoyed a lifestyle that was more comfortable, colorful and elegant than that of their fellow men. A character who has a lot, has a whole lot more to lose than a character who has nothing. The dramatic impact of a poor farmer's son threatened with the having to spend a week in the woods living off off land, is a great deal less than that of a pampered duke's son in the same situation. Likewise, having a man who was raised a farmer suddenly find himself a noble is a much more inherently fraught situation than having a farmer suddenly become a innkeeper.
There are at least two other benefits to choosing characters from the extreme upper classes. The first is that they are much less likely to need to work, thus freeing the writer from the potentially impossible challenge of making earning one's living seem exciting to the reader. Secondly, the look and feel of luxury and splendor is, well, luxurious and splendid. It's got a great deal more appeal to most people than grime and poverty. Cross all that with the fact that historically the inheritance of rank and social position has been extremely common, so most historically based fantasy settings are going to have nobility/royalty there anyway, readily to hand to use as characters, and there you are. 🙂
I believe that many of my heroes end up falling into the 'chief' archetype because of my yen for scope. When I have romantic squabbles amoung space pirates I have them between the ship captains, that way their ships and crews are drawn into the conflict. When I saddle some poor fool with a prophecy and send off to find a magic weapon, I make him a prince, so there will be political repercussions to deal with as well as physical hardship.
There are a couple exceptions.
Ikhsior is a lord, but lords don't have to be rulers/leaders. In fact, the point of Ikhsior's story that he is a chief, and his fellow lords aren't.
Harchung's story, on the other hand, happens to be fairly intimate. However, it revolves around the fact that as a ruling prince one of his prime duties is to provide himself with an heir. Perhaps this is one of the factors influencing the frequency of princes as characters that I missed in my discussion above? With greater power comes more responsibility, and with it a whole bunch of potential plot hooks?