May 1 2012 8:23am

Redemption? When the Villain Becomes the Hero

Sometimes, instead of making the hero or heroine of a following series book a sibling, the hero or heroine was the villain in a previous book. For example, Mary Balogh, whose The Proposal is out today, took several of her villains and made them heroic in a significant number of her early traditional Regencies. Lisa Kleypas did it when Nick Gentry became the hero of Worth Any Price, and of course comic books always feature characters crossing over from evil to good to back again.

So the question is—is there any situation where a villain absolutely could not be redeemed in your eyes?

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Valerie Bowman
1. ValerieBowman
I think the villian has to have a basic underlying goodness to him/her to be redeemed. And btw, Nick Gentry is one of the hottest redeemed villian heroes of all time. : )
2. CdnMrs
I agree with Valerie. If there's no spark of good, think of Darth Vader prior to George Lucas' stupid I, II and III movies, it's like there isn't anything there that can be redeemed. Also, anyone who hurts kids, small animals and/or is an unrepentant abuser of women, I would have a hard time suspending my disbelief enough to believe that that character could be redeemed.
Allison Brennan
3. Allison_Brennan
A villain is unredeemable if they hurt innocents for sport or pleasure or because they don't care, IMO. Most villains need to have some redeeming quality, even if they are unredeemable, otherwise they're just a monster. Writing about monsters or the boogeyman is fun, but I like villains to have more behind their motivation and goals than murder.

I've had villains that might be redeemable, or may simply be the lessor of two evils. Complex villains who do the wrong thing for the right reasons are hugely compelling as a writer and a reader.
Allison Brennan
4. Allison_Brennan
Oh, and on the Darth Vader situation -- I totally agree with CdnMrs -- after Episode III where Anakin killed the kids, I wanted to walk out of the theater. That totally went against everything we knew about Darth Vader in the original trilogy. A man who would kill helpless children can't be redeemed in my eyes, and the final scene of Return of the Jedi doesn't work. So I ignore the first three episodes. (I just wish my son didn't like them!)
5. Isabel C.
Yeah, no harming innocents for fun. No rape, or threats of rape. And they also have to be a villain for fairly complicated reasons.

To continue with the Darth Vader example: I could buy his redemption in the...well, the movies that actually exist. ;) I could figure out ways where he was a good guy who got trapped in the Empire as it gradually became evil and then lost any hope of going back and so on.

And then Episode III, and his entire motivation for killing people and blowing up entire planets was that the Jedi didn't stroke his teenage ego enough. Lord.
Marian DeVol
6. ladyengineer
I'm with Allison B. and Isabel C. on this - no hurting innocents for sport or pleasure. Sometimes, however, my definition of innocent and the villain's are vastly different.

An example is Lucien de Malheur in Anne Stuart's Breathless. I consider Lady Miranda Rohan an innocent; de Malheur would disagree.

For a villain to be believable, they (intentionally using neutral pronoun) must be consistent in the reasons or rational for their actions. Even the most irredeemable villain is the hero of their own story (at least in their mind). Whether I believe a villain's redemption depends on if I can understand and believe in their journey of transformation and they are being internally consistent with their motivations. If not, they come across as simply insane – not a good thing in a hero or heroine.
Glass Slipper
7. GlassSlipper
ladyengineer, I was just about to mention Breathless myself, but you beat me to it! :)

In my opinion, Lucien was not redeemed by the end of the book. I thought he was a despicable character throughout the story for the abuse of Miranda that he orchestrated, but I had hope that he would have a renewal of the heart and be redeemed by the end. Sadly, I didn't see it happen. He actually followed through with humiliating and subjecting her to more abuse near the end. Sickening. At one pivotal point after that, I wanted to see Miranda follow through with putting Lucien in his place, physically, and then to leave him there. I was cheering for her, but she backed down, and what I thought was going to be a satisfying conclusion turned into a major letdown.
8. J-me
Politicians??? - I doubt there is much hope for them..

I think the whole point of the 'redeemed' villian is finding their counterpart that has enough forgiveness within them for what that person has done. If the villian learns forgiveness and ergo forgives him/herself of all his sins, well thats just peachy, but only half the journey. He/She must then find a love/counterpart that is willing to utterly forgive them of all their mistakes as well and I think only then do they truely become redeemed.

Nick Gentry is fantastic, cause even though he isn't necessarily evil anymore - as in breaking the law - he is still quite shameless, controlling and still forces her hand to get what he wants, be that arrogance or just his evil side not quite staying buried, its an aspect of himself that Lottie has to love or accept of him which is rooted in his darker side.

There is always a motive behind something that has been done and I think it's what we are trying to assess. Like the example of kicking puppies and hurting children, there is no reason behind that sort of act, its senseless and morally wrong, so I doubt there is a way of coming back from a place that is potentially that dark.

Look at Lothaire by Kesley Cole - lets face it he is a pretty nasty bastard and the bad guy through about 10 books. Then she hits you with another kick ass story and you find yourself swaying heavily to the 'redeemed side.'

Sorry, I kind of rambled there..
huge Lisa Kleypas fan!!
Marian DeVol
9. ladyengineer
Glass Slipper, I understand where you're coming from re: not believing Lucien was redeemed by the end of Breathless. I tend to agree. He is on his way to falling completely in love with Miranda, but is not quite there by the end of the book. At least he doesn't blame her for trying to kill him.

The abuse he experienced as a child and the psychological abuse he later visited upon Miranda as revenge against her brother left them both not entirely sane by the end of their book IMO.

As to whether he is eventually redeemed or not, can best be seen in how he deals with the rest of her family by the end of her brother's book, Shameless. Although he is still a villainous criminal, for her sake he actually helps her brother Benedick, the former focus of his revenge. He still doesn't like his brother-in-law, nor does Benedick like him, but they are to the point of tolerating each other for family harmony.

I feel Lucien is redeemed, at least in part, by the end of Shameless. He still leads his criminal enterprise, and many would still consider him a villain, but I think his love for Miranda has reformed him somewhat. He is certainly an interesting character.
Claire Louise Thompson
10. Nefersitra
Rape, Child Abuse, sadistic torture (non-consential and for the pleasure of hurting someone) and genocide are pretty much beyond the Moral Even Horizon for me and completely irredeemable. Apart from that I think guilt has a big part to play in whether a character can be redeemed - if a character doesn't feel some guilt or recognise that what they did is morally wrong they can't be a good-guy or redeemed. I'm happy to accept that they made the best choice in the circumstances - choosing the lesser of two evils - but they need to know what they did is wrong. I'd also struggle to see redemption for any character over about 25 from any sort of bigotry unless the story shows the first time they encounter whatever they are predjuiced against and all prior information they have is from an unreliable second/third hand source.
Wanda Wolfe
11. wolfewr
Roark from the In Death series was definitely a villain in his younger years. He tortured and killed several men in addition to being a thief and a rogue. By the time he met Eve, he was scaling back the darker side of his life, but still had a number of gray areas in his various businesses. His love for Eve and respect for her morals and her job caused him to divest himself of anything that might cause her trouble in the future. Still, he does enjoy using a little touch of the gray to help her with her worst cases. And if he felt it was necessary to protect her, he would definitely slip all the way into the black.
12. Karen H near Tampa
The only villian who I did not believe was redeemed, nor should have been, was in one of Catherine Coulter's old Medieval series, the Song trilogy. In either the first or second book, a man who was trying to force the heroine to reveal her brother's whereabouts in order to kill him or justify his taking the castle or whatever, rapes one of her friends or servants, in front of her to show how serious he is (the victim later has a child of that rape). Then a book or two later, he is suddenly the hero and gets his HEA! NO, NO, NO! While I did not throw the book across the room, I came very close (and it was only because I liked the heroine in spite of her liking the "hero").

And I don't think Roark was a villain in his younger years because it seems that those he killed deserved it. It's not like he was attacking innocent bystanders. That, in fact, was why I was able to watch and appreciate "The Godfather" (yes, they were bad guys but they largely attacked each other) but had a very difficult time with "A Clockwork Orange" where they were attacking regular, non-criminal, folks.
13. t from Tucson
I totally disagree with 'Karen H near Tampa'. I think these two books set the bar high on how to redeeme a villian. Warriors Song introduced a very reprehensible charcter and then does a phenominal job on the progression of his redemption in Fire Song.
Glass Slipper
14. GlassSlipper
ladyengineer, Thank you for letting me know what happens with Lucien in the next book. I haven't read that one yet, so I'm glad to hear there is hope for him yet!
Marian DeVol
15. ladyengineer
Glass Slipper, I hope I didn't give away too much in the way of spoilers. ;->
Glass Slipper
16. GlassSlipper
Not at all, ladyengineer! You gave me just the right amount of information. :)
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