Yes, Jackson has discovered the Great Outdoors. And it is Good.
We watched an interesting movie last night, Tanner Hall. It’s a mediocre movie from 2009 with nobody particularly compelling in it. The ending however, is very nearly incandescent. And yes – you really have to watch the whole movie to get the ending. It truly arises out of the story in a way I didn’t expect.
It explored a theme I don’t see treated directly in stories very often. About forgiveness and likability. It’s about knowing someone has behaved badly and… letting it go.
There’s this old saw that we dislike in other people those things that we dislike in ourselves. I don’t know how true this is – or if there are any psychological studies to support it. I’ve experienced bosses who suspected me of cheating on things like time-reporting in the ways that I *knew* they did. I also know that I dislike in other people qualities that I’ve worked hard to eradicate in myself, such as narrow-mindedness, intolerance, lack of compassion.
I suspect that, in real life, our reasons for not liking some people are usually not well-examined and probably don’t have good foundations. A lot of the time jealousy plays in. Or that the person doesn’t do things the way we want them to. Or just plain irritation. The cases where we don’t like a person because they’ve actually done us an injury are probably in the minority.
But this is not true in fiction, right?
In the world of fiction, we feel very free not to like characters. In fact, we’re encouraged to outright hate the “villains” in a way that we’re simply not socially allowed to in real life. We also get to dislike the heroes and heroines of the stories.
This is something that comes up in romance All The Time. Whether or not the heroine is “likable” can be the key to whether or not the reader enjoys the whole story. I see debates all the time about whether heroines are likable for this or that reason. Now, typically the readers are female and the heroine functions as an avatar of sorts for them in the story. So, if the heroine behaves in a way that they judge to be wrong, it annoys them.
One romance writer who gets this reaction a lot is Victoria Dahl. I enjoy her books because her heroines feel so real – like a contemporary woman who might be my friend. And, like real women, they have flaws. They annoy their families. They have sexual histories. In one of my favorites, Talk Me Down (you might have to scroll down the page to find it – I have SPOKEN to Ms. Dahl about this), the heroine acted out sexually when she was younger.
And, boy, how the readers judged her for that.
It’s a funny thing about romance – somehow we all still see ourselves as these virtuous virgin feminine ideals. Even though, in real life, we’d never agree to that ideal.
Watching that movie last night made me think of my grandfather. He was an admirable man in many ways – raised himself up out of nothing, educated himself, became a wealthy man, then lost it all again. Alcoholism played a role in that. And hubris. He was unfaithful to my grandmother – a woman who’d first been his mistress – and ultimately left her for another long-time mistress. My mother and my aunts carry a lot of bitterness and anger for how he affected their lives. I remember him for giving me my copy of Omar Khayyam, teaching me to draw and for long walks after dinner when we talked about Interesting Things.
Is he likable? Probably not. In some ways, maybe, but if we reduced his life to a scorecard, he’d probably end up in the negative column. At the end of his story, though, I find that none of that matters to me.
I love and forgive him, anyway.
Maybe that’s what we mean, when we talk about redeeming a character. Good characters, like real people, have flaws. There’s no story if they don’t have something to overcome.
I suppose that’s true for us all.