Five Characters You Love That Are Just Terrible

Don't watch Home Alone as an adult, or you'll discover that nothing the hero does would actually work.

You’ve liked countless stories, but only a few had that special spark: a character you believed in. One you cried with and rejoiced with – someone that, real or not, would stay with you long after their tale ended.

Now you’ve wandered too deep in the swampy wilds of the cyber web, and the dark side approaches. Dread rises as you hear the approaching footsteps of a viscous theory. Someone wants to take your favorite characters away from you. You fight back, you try to resist, but you can no longer deny what you know to be true: the characters you love are actually terrible.

In particular, these characters.

1. The Character That Inspired You as a Child

Artax sinking into the swamp from the Neverending Story The Nevending Story: Artax the horse gives in to despair. I’m trying not to laugh. Trying.

Your memories of childhood have grown fuzzy over the years, but one spot remains bright and clear: the moments curled up with your favorite story. The story filled your imagination with countless wonders as you witnessed your hero defeat evil and struggle to stay true to themselves, all while being super cool. This hero filled you with excitement for weeks at a time, as you played game after game of pretend. You wanted to be them; you wanted to live in their world. Your parents were very patient.

But did you know this precious experience was the overblown result of a overwrought piece of hack literature? The storyteller took every overused plot device and stuffed them together with comic ineptitude. And you thought that whole “chosen one” thing was special.

In the story, your chosen one is tossed from one event to another like a rag doll, with each solution served to them on a platter. An entire town pretends to be unaware of the obvious solution to their problems, just so the hero can waltz in and take care of it for them. Even then, the hero is given strong hints so they can slowly piece the answer together. Once they declare the solution, everyone praises their wisdom. One guy even pledges his life to the hero, just because the hero stated the obvious.

And don’t take this the wrong way, but those moments you cried over as a kid? The ones where the hero was devastated by a tragic loss? They’re actually quite funny. Your parents always took a break during that part because they didn’t want you to see them laughing.

2. Your Fictional Crush

Han Solo with his blaster. Han Solo: So handsome, so suave, so dismissive of consent.

In all your years dreaming of romance, one character made a deep impression on you, defining what you knew as true love. Gorgeous from head to toe, their soft locks of hair, sparkling eyes, and heartfelt voice captivated you. They were spirited, brilliant, and totally badass. You wondered if a real person could ever be so amazing. After watching your crush kiss and court in the story, you spent years looking for someone like them.

It’s a good thing you failed, because didn’t you know? Your fictional crush is an invasive, consent-violating creep. Did you block out that scene where they got all touchy without permission? Or the one where they didn’t take no for an answer? You didn’t think that was a sign of love and devotion, did you? You did? That’s okay, there are many resources that can teach you what healthy relationships are.

While you’re doing that, you’ll get to interact with all the other people who admire this hottie. The ones who think your fictional crush is a great role model for their own behavior. If you inform them that your hottie isn’t perfect, they’ll probably get angry and accuse you of being a fake fan. Get ready for cyber mobs in the name of that fictional crush.

3. The Complex Character You Admire

Cover art from the Mists of Avalon The Mists of Avalon: Loved this? Don’t look too closely at the author’s life. DON’T LOOK.

As you got older, you sought stories that were more sophisticated. After looking high and low, you found the perfect elixir of insightful commentary and emotional resonance: a witty story about a character that would forever fascinate you. Each scene showed a different facet of their personality, yet the character somehow felt consistent. During moments of tragedy, their facade would crack, providing a tantalizing peek into the emotions that waged inside them. You watched, captivated, as they fought with their flaws and struggled to find their own personal truth. After you finished their story, you felt reassured that you knew what great storytelling was.

You should keep that to yourself though, because the storyteller who created this favorite character is arrogant, abusive, and an all-around terrible human being. Transcripts from conventions illustrate how they are incapable of answering a question without first demeaning the person who asked it. When speaking in a panel, they talk over any other panelist who has sold less than they have.

In an interview, they insisted their work is the only thing in the library that is both intelligent and entertaining. They think every other genre is cheap compared to theirs. They criticize women authors for writing about women’s topics, and they look down on authors of color for writing about other cultures. You thought their work was enlightened, but this storyteller insists that including anyone who isn’t white in their stories is somehow “political.” And that all pales in comparison to the scary stories about how they abuse their children.

Yeah, you want to read their next book. The most cynical critics call it fantastic, and you’ll finally learn what happened to that complex and fascinating character. But are you okay with supporting child abuse?

4. The Character You Identify With

Buffy Season 6: You thought this was about vengeance, but actually magic is drugs.

You’ve been through some hard times, but one story was a balm for your ills. That’s because the central character was you. You knew they weren’t really you, but it felt like they were. Their lot in life was so much like yours and they approached it in the same way you did. The challenges they faced reminded you so much, sometimes too much, of your own troubles. As you went through the tale with them, you faced your own demons as they faced theirs. In watching them come to terms with their life and come out ahead, you pulled ahead too. Their story will forever be a symbol of something deeply personal for you.

And that’s nice, it really is, but you completely misinterpreted that story. Sure, stories are subjective, but didn’t you really miss all those obvious metaphors for drugs? The storyteller really liked talking about drugs.

The moment of incredible, cathartic realization your favorite character had was intended as the moment when they cast the basic rights of everyone else aside. All the conflicts with the other characters was just preachy commentary about how bad the common folk are at governing and how everyone would be better off under a monarch. At the end, the protagonist rises above it all because the storyteller was sure that using more than 10% of your brain could elevate anyone to a higher state of being. And by “higher state of being” they meant superpowers. The superpowers in the story weren’t a metaphor or analogy; the storyteller literally thought people could get superpowers by thinking hard enough.

You can keep that character close to your heart… if you want. Just know that if you tell anyone about this deeply personal symbol, they’ll wonder why your personal symbol is a metaphor for drugs and serfdom.

5. The Quirky Character You Found Endearing

Wesley Crusher from TNG Wesley from Star Trek: The Next Generation: Don’t worry, I’m sure all your friends think he was a great addition to the show.

Just when you thought you were tired of everything, one character proved you wrong. They stood out as the one bit of fun in a droll landscape, something you could enjoy without reservation. You cheered every time they made jokes and pouted whenever they weren’t in a scene. You even bought merchandise with them on it, even though you thought your days of doing that were long past.

It’s too bad that character is ruining the story for everyone else. You’re getting tired of answering the same questions: “In all those scenes, you never thought that character was sort of annoying? Not even in the scene where they snored through that super tragic funeral? Or the scene where they insisted they knew the answer to the big mystery, but couldn’t tell the hero because the time wasn’t right?”

More than a few people have pointed out that your favorite quirky character doesn’t belong in this story. The character has no effect on the plot at all. In fact, some fans have made an edit taking your favorite character out of it altogether. Everyone agrees this version is superior to the original.

Some stories have come out about what happened behind the scenes. As it turns out, your favorite character was inserted into the story after the rest was written. It was a cheap ploy to get your generation to buy merchandise. Everyone agrees it didn’t work.

Pour your rage and heartbreak into the comments, dear reader. Tell me how the character you loved as a child was written with heart. Describe how I don’t understand the nuances of your crush’s relationship. Go ahead, make fun of my name if it makes you feel better. It changes nothing. Sooner or later, we all have to accept that the things we love are flawed.

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  1. Dave L

    >a viscous theory.
    Should that be “vicious”?

    Number three: The title and first paragraph are unrelated to the main point. You talk about interesting and complex characters, then switch over to talking about authors who were secretly horrible people. The two points are unrelated. Perhaps the title should have been: The Author You Admired.

    >Go ahead, make fun of my name if it makes you feel better.

    Ha Ha! Your name is funny. Yeah, that does make me feel better.

    • Cay Reet

      Actually, there is a connection between both in #3: The problem is that as a child or teenager, you only look at the cool characters, as an adult, you also look at the author who may not hold up to par.

  2. R. H. Rush

    Yeah, Han did not age well as a character. The sexist comments in Star Wars, the negging in Empire Strikes Back alternating with dismissiveness…I was actually happy that he and Leia were estranged by the time The Force Awakens begins, or I’d have to dial down my respect for her. In retrospect, it’s amazing, the characters who were presented to us as romantic heroes.

    See also: Lloyd Dobler, his stalker tendencies, and the movie’s whole attitude that if a man “deserves” a woman, he should have her. Her thoughts on the matter? Irrelevant. And yet, when I was growing up, he was a romantic icon.

    • Cay Reet

      Unfortunately, that topic comes up way too often. A hero deserves to get a woman (usually the female lead) at the end, no matter what kind of asshole or creep he is. Because it’s like that since the time of the fairy tales.

      I really love it, when a movie or other story (novel, comic, game, whatever) breaks this up and shows that at the end the hero doesn’t get the woman but stays alone.

      • Leon

        How is it misogynistic that a man has to prove himself to be worthy of a woman’s favor?
        If two men are competing for a woman’s attention, the power is with the woman.
        I’m not saying its sexist against men. I just can not see how men spending their time, their resources, and putting their hearts on the line for the affection of a woman, who is obviously awesome enough that she gets to choose, is sexist in any way.

        • Cay Reet

          Because more often than not, his work is ‘wearing down’ the woman’s resistance – which is a bad thing to even try, because it shows you’re not respecting the woman’s wishes. It’s what pickup artists do to get another notch in their bedpost. Respecting a ‘no’ is the right way to do it. The woman makes her opinion clear at the very beginning, but the movies show it’s okay to ignore that opinion and just go for it, because she’ll eventually change her mind. That is sexist, because it plays into the good old ‘if a woman says no, she means yes’ predjudice. And in those stories, it’s not two men competing, it’s one man disrespecting a woman’s wish to be left alone. Not to mention it also comes up in all those ‘damsels in distress’ who are nothing more than a trophy for the hero and often never show any interest in him before the end of the story (like sleeping beauty, for instance, in the original fairy tale never met the prince in question before – she slept for 100 years, which means he wasn’t even born when she was put to sleep, yet he gets her).

          Those characters make the men in the audience believe that if you just keep up harrassing (for nothing else is it) a woman long enough, she’ll fall for you. And if the men in reality then get a cease and desist order, they get pissed or even violent, because they feel cheated out of what should have happened instead (aka get the girl, because they worked so hard on it). And the movies try to normalize that behaviour, because they make young women think ‘if it’s okay here, it must be okay in reality as well.’ That makes those women easy bait for the pickup artists, which is not a good thing.

          • A.R.

            Is it still sexist if the woman says “no, thanks” and the guy says “if you change your mind let me know” and completely drops it (and does that change depending on whether or not they end up together)? Because I was planning on having that in one of my stories– she does like him, but doesn’t want a relationship until she’s achieved her goal– but ‘persistence gets the girl’ is NOT what I want readers to see.

          • Jeppsson

            A.R: I’m not the ultimate arbiter of what’s sexist or not, but personally, if that happened to me, I MIGHT feel weird about it. It depends a lot on the details, but it might feel very awkward to work with or be in the same circle of friends as a guy who I feel hang around “waiting” for me to come around and start dating him, even if he waits in silence and doesn’t keep asking me over and over again. So I’d probably much prefer for the guy not to make that last comment, but once again, it depends a lot on the details of the situation.

            However, if the woman first explicitly said “I can’t date anyone right now, but I’d like to give it a shot once this whole quest is over” (or something to that effect), then I think it’s absolutely fine for him to say “ok let me know”.

          • A.R.

            Thanks, Jeppsson! I will keep that in mind, probably add her saying, “can’t think about that now; ask again in a month” or something to that effect. Partly depends on what exactly ends up happening in that story.

        • SunlessNick

          If two men are competing for a woman’s attention, the power is with the woman.

          It’s just as likely that the woman is a sexy lamp hung on whatever other issue the two men have going on (because there usually is one), and the prize to demonstrate which of them is right.

    • Janet

      To be fair to Han, he does get an arc. He joins the Rebellion because he learns to look beyond himself and Chewie. That includes gaining respect for Leia. The EU (mostly) fleshes out their relationship better than the movies for obvious reasons. Unlike Anakin, he doesn’t get possessive. That being said, I find it interesting that on forums, everyone who was outraged at Anakin being creepy didn’t bat an eye at Han. Guess you can get away with anything when you’re smooth. Some even said the prequel romance should have been more like Han and Leia’s (NO, every couple should be unique). Believe it or not, a feminist blog put them in the top 10 canon romances.

  3. Cip

    I always adored Ayla in the Earths Children series when I was younger (probably a little too young, given some of the content of the later books). In my mind she was amazing! All this clever ideas, inventions, and was so beautiful but humble. There was no end to her talent, beauty, luck or supernatural abilities….
    I reread the stories as an adult and saw my favourite character devolve into the worst Mary-Sue ever written. Worse still, her love interest who I always saw as the perfect man was, through adult eyes, a childish, immature and at times dangerous individual bordering on abusive. I have many other issues now with the plots of these books, but lets just stick to characters

    • SunlessNick

      Also, Jondalar – said love interest’s name – sounds way too much like the male analogue to vajayjay.

  4. Tohshi

    Is this sarcasm?

    Part of it is really spot on then it sort of delves into weird territory. This confusion on my part is likely due to 2 hrs of sleep. So yeah.

    • Jacky

      I’m really confused as well if this is a joke or not, so it’s not just you haha

      • Techno

        Yeah add me as another one thinking that this is satire. I mean sure it could be Poe’s law in action, but really at the end of the day all art is about the person who experiences the art. The artist making it may impact how you feel if you dislike them, but in a vacuum, maybe it’s just what you needed to feel okay and not alone in the world. At the end of the day isn’t our entertainment about making us feel, think, and experience something?

  5. Julia

    Oh, how I loved the Heralds of Valdemar series when I was 13. Oh, the MarySue-ness of it all when I look back at it now. Still, I’m grateful for the enjoyment I got from those books back when I was a nerdy, introverted teen.

  6. Andrea

    Knowing Marion Bradley’s story finally explained to me why I never liked her books. She just seemed obsessed with sex and its dark sides. And having babies. At least, that’s what I remember. I loved the premise of telling the King Arthur legend from the women’s point of view, and I saw great potential in Viviane, but in the end I didn’t care for any of the characters. I can’t recall a single character who wasn’t manipulative and/or abusive at some point.

    • Cay Reet

      I think I fought my way through Avalon once, but I couldn’t do it again (and that comes from someone who can’t count the number of times she’s read Dracula, despite the diary-type style). I only realized later on that the story didn’t keep the promises it seemed to make to me. Seeing Arthur’s life from the points of view of the women involved with it was a cool idea, but not the way she wrote it.

      • Andrea

        Yes, that was more or less my problem too. I think it was Lady of Avalon where I was expecting all these female characters with agency, but in the end they were nothing more than puppets who had to have babies. Human incubators, basically. At least that’s what stayed with me from that book.

        • Cay Reet

          Reminds me of her Thievesworld character who essentially only got to have adventures as a woman, because she had to undergo some kind of ritual or something (it has been a while) to get magic which made it impossible for her to have children.

  7. Vazak

    Good article.

  8. Green

    Ouch. I… may have to reread this in a few years.

  9. Janet

    This podcast has an interesting interpretation of Han/Leia. It discusses how “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is actually about a woman who decides to stay the night with a man, damn what others think (not date rape, contrary to popular belief). Back then, the idea that girl girls didn’t have sexual desires was stronger than it is now. So the hosts say, what if that applies to Leia? Star Wars was written in the style of 40’s/50’s romances.

    • Cay Reet

      Body language and behaviour make it rather clear that she’s not fond of the way Han hits on her constantly.

      • Janet

        Did you listen to the podcast?

        • Cay Reet

          Did you watch the scene in question? The body language of Leia in that scene is not ‘I would love to be close to you, if it weren’t for those people watching us.’ The body language of Leia in that scene is ‘stay away from me, I have no interest and better things to do.’ The signals would be different if she just masked her interest or desire.

    • Bear

      I did a bit about Baby It’s Cold Outside on my radio show.

      The history of that song is very interesting as it was written by a man performed by him and his wife at parties, originally. A year or two before it became a Christmas hit or was even in a film.

      And at the time the song was a feminist anthem of sort specifically for the reasons stated in the show. “What will the neighbors think?” was a HUGE issue back in those days. And for all the victim hood bandied about when attacking the song. At the end of the song it appears the woman through her own personal agency and free will not to mention sexual desire decides to stay. This was revolutionary for the period.

  10. SunlessNick

    The moment of incredible, cathartic realization your favorite character had was intended as the moment when they cast the basic rights of everyone else aside.

    Is this about a specific character?

  11. StW

    Why all the vitriol? Who have hurt you?
    It’s great to remind everyone that stories are exactly THAT subjective, and defending some story because you remember it being great may not be wise, but how about not shaming people for being human?
    At some time in our life, usually puberty, most need some book to catalyze internal changes, and we remember this book as absolutely brilliant. It usually really isn’t, but it was what we needed most st the moment. Do you have all this criticism for books for toddlers?
    Also, number 3 is a thing that should be purged from human global subconscious. If author is a horrible human being don’t by their books – but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read them or learn from them. You’ll figure out how, we all have the Internet access here. Information is precious, regardless of author.

    • Cay Reet

      About #3 and people who say ‘separate the art from the artist.’

      That’s all good and fine when the artist is dead. If you separate Lovecraft’s stories from his character, for instance, you have interesting mythology and a very visceral type of horror. Lovecraft is dead and has been for a while, so if you buy his stories and read them (you don’t even have to buy them, they’re public domain and easily found online), you’re not supporting his racism (which was far above par even when he lived).

      If the author is still alive and has a large platform, like J.K. Rowling, to use a recent example, then every time you buy some HP merchandise or put in money to read her books or watch the movies she gets a good cut off, you support her and you support her actions against trans people. That is where ‘separating art from the artist’ hurts people. If nothing else, you should be aware of that. If it doesn’t keep you from consuming the media in question, that’s your decision.

      ‘Death of the Autor’ works for interpreting a work on the work’s terms, without looking at how the author’s life might have influenced the writing, but it doesn’t work when you’re supporting someone who hurts others. It also was never meant to work that way.

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