Tuesday, January 24, 2006

You like me because I'm a scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in your life.

For no reason that I can figure out I spent the other day thinking a lot about the Lovable Rogue figure in stories. Also for no reason that I can figure out, all the examples I came up with were from films or television. To clarify what I'm talking about, here's a list of folks I think fit the profile, or nearly so:

Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
Malcolm Reynolds in "Firefly" and Serenity
Xena in "Xena, Warrior Princess"
Madmartigan in Willow
Jack T. Colton in Romancing the Stone
Dominar Rygel XVI in "Farscape"
Spike in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (Seasons 4-7 or so) and "Angel"
Han Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy

I'm guessing that my unconscious brain wants to write about a rogue of this sort at some point, and so I did something that I've never tried doing before; I started analyzing the type. I almost said archetype, because I think that in some ways the Lovable Rogue (LR) is a trickster figure, depowered and given human problems. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Of the folks on that list above, I'd imagine that the one that would cause the most raised eyebrows would be Rygel of "Farscape." Mainly, I'd guess, this is because of the "Lovable" tag. Partly I'm including him in order to test the limits of the type, but the truth is that despite his mercenary nature I find him fascinating and endlessly amusing, and to me those are some of the most basic characteristics of an LR: mercenary, complex, and entertaining. I've got a theory as to why Rygel may not quite fit the bill for most folks, though, and I'll expound on that in a bit.

As far as I can figure, to work as an LR a character must possess many but not necessarily all of the following twenty traits. I don't claim that the list is exhaustive, but it's pretty damn long.

1. The LR does not trust easy; conversely, he is often untrustworthy. (Romancing the Stone makes hay of this. At one point, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) lists "trustworthy" as one of the most important characteristics of a man; later, when she asks Jack what the "T" of his middle name stands for, he answers "Trustworthy.") The LR doesn't trust because, well, he's been screwed over before. He expects it, so he tries to do it to them first, before they do it to him. In other words, he does it because . . .

2. The LR lives in a mercenary and violent world. Money and survival are the values by which she lives, and the one is often exchanged for the other. The LR tries to keep her head down, but she keeps a sword or a blaster at her side, because she has to. And she keeps on the lookout for the big score, because she's always just barely scraping by.

3. The LR shoots first. Sorry, Greedo.

4. The LR is on the run. Think Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, Rygel from Durka/Crais/Scorpius, Mal from everybody. The LR doesn't have a home per se, unless it's a vehicle (most likely a ship). He's a nomad.

5. The LR is charismatic and/or sexy. This is one area in which Rygel falls short; the rest of the list above, though, probably fits the bill.

6. The LR lives in the Briar Patch. She is almost always in over her head, fighting against impossible odds. She works on the borders and frontiers; think Uncharted Territories (or seas). It's dangerous, but it's also far enough from the authorities for the work of profit and survival to get done.

7. The LR is stubborn. He does things his own way, and doesn't care to hear anyone else's counsel. If you're going to help, do what he tells you; otherwise, get out of the way and he'll do it himself.

8. The LR is reckless. To her, they're calculated risks, but to an observer they look suicidal. The thing is, she's got to work with what she has. Her resources are limited, and she's constantly stretching them to her limits in order to stay alive. Signing on with her is not for the faint of heart.

9. The LR has one trusted companion/sidekick. Think Chewie, Gabrielle, Zoe. In some of the cases above, the LR actually is the sidekick; Madmartigan, Spike, maybe Rygel. Note that the adjective "trusted" becomes less apt when the LR serves in this capacity.

10. The LR despises authority, or at least the dominant authority. Rygel hates the Peacekeepers, Solo hates the Empire, Mal hates the Alliance. LRs tend to be anarchists in practice; they work against law enforcement, through either criminal or vigilante action or both. Their focus tends to be on people rather than causes, although sometimes the two bleed together; in the case of Malcolm Reynolds in Serenity, it's the intersection of his hate for the Alliance and the victimization of regular people that catapults him into action.

11. The LR has accepted mortality. She's resigned herself to dying young, and not in her bed. If you roll with her, you're going to be in the line of fire. She'll be run through, or shot out of the sky. The last thing she wants, though, is to be captured and executed, or to die in prison. Confinement is worse than death.

12. The LR enjoys a good fight. He isn't necessarily looking for a fight--OK, Madmartigan is looking for a fight, and Spike, and maybe Xena--but once it's on, he's in his element. It's one of the only times he's able to really cut loose.

13. The LR is an accomplished confidence artist. She can bilk, bluff, or blush her way out of--or into--just about anything. She'll tell you she's got four cannons trained on you, and you won't really believe her--except that she's so smug about it, and we are getting these odd readings, and what if she's telling the truth? Again, the LR doesn't have a lot to work with. Sometimes she needs to make it seem like she's got more. Of course, it's also true that--

14. The LR has many skills. For Xena it's practically a motto, but she's not the only one. Self-reliance means just that; you've got to be a Jack- or Jill-of-all-trades, as comfortable taking apart an engine as you are making dinner, as adept at shoeing a horse as you are darning a tunic. And if you don't already know, you have to be able to learn.

15. The LR is a skeptic, and disdains mysticism, magic, and religion. "Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side." Religion doesn't keep you fed and it doesn't keep you alive, either. The LR believes in what he can touch, and even that's only true about 70% of the time.

16. The LR is not wealthy. At least, most of the time, he's not. He's made a few big scores, but more often than not it's easy come, easy go. Maybe he was wealthy once, but that was a long time ago. Right now, he needs to get paid. Maybe, just maybe, he dreams of one big job that'll make his fortune and allow him to retire comfortably. But even if that happens, he's not sure he'll be able to sit still.

17. The LR is impatient, sarcastic, flippant, disrespectful, informal, and crude. She sneers at proprieties and most other things that carry class connotations. Whatever class she was born to, she tends to identify with the lower, working classes, although she's not above sneering at them either. This ambivalence may have its roots in her background, but she's probably not going to talk about that.

18. The LR has vices, but they tend to be relatively harmless ones. Gambling, booze, and sex in varying degrees are common, but hard drugs or anything else that might mean a total loss of control are not. The LR likes to be in control of his indiscretions. That's why he tends to be more comfortable patronizing prostitutes than women with whom serious entanglements might ensue. It's also why he drinks. In his business it's expected, and he keeps in practice so as to keep his tolerance up, so he'll be sharp if things go bad. It's not likely you can outdrink him in a fair contest, or beat him in a card game. He cheats.

19. If--and it's a big if--you manage to get the LR to trust you and care whether you live or die, you'll have earned an unswervingly loyal friend. She may berate you, call you stupid, give you dirty jobs, condescend to you, tell you to get lost and generally treat you badly for no discernible reason, but if you get into trouble, she'll be there to bail you out. If for no other reason than to tell you what an idiot you were for getting into trouble in the first place.

20. That's all I've got. Let me know if you think of any others.

I'm curious as to what other characters--particularly from books--others might think fit this profile. I'm sure if I thought about it I could come up with a few from comics, but hey, I've got homework to do. You people need to pick up the slack. One thing I'm also wondering is if characters from non-adventure genres can fit the LR profile--for no reason other than I just rewatched the movie, I wonder if Royal Tenenbaum might be an LR, for instance.

OK, enough blagging from me for now.


Blogger Ted said...

In sitcom television, I think the analogue to the Lovable Rogue is the wacky friend. This is a good friend of the main character who is of the same sex, but drinks more and is more sexually promiscuous, and gets to deliver the more outrageous lines.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Interesting point, Ted. Particularly because when the LR serves in the "sidekick" capacity, as Madmartigan, Rygel, and Spike do, they tend to function as comic relief. And I can definitely see a bit of anarchy in the characters of, say, Rhoda on "Mary Tyler Moore," or Flo on "Alice," or even Jackie on "Roseanne."

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is James Bond a Lovable Rogue?
Is James T. Kirk?

Seregil in Lynn Flewelling's book Luck in the Shadows and that series qualifies. as does Maskelle in The Wheel of the Infinite or Khat in City of Bones.
(hint. you should read these.)
also every main character in Robin Hobb's books.

Hmm. interesting thought.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I don't think Kirk or Bond really qualify, mainly because they have enough respect for authority to work for one. They aren't free agents, in that sense. But feel free to try to convince me :-)

I haven't read any of those books. I'll have to check them out!

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the man-with-no-name characters in those Clint Eastwoods spaghetti westerns?

4:58 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I don't know, Trey; do you think the MWNN qualifies as Lovable? I guess he's borderline, but I think for me he's a little too cold, and too reliant on his gun.

5:06 PM  
Blogger TansyRR said...

I immediately thought of Sabalom Glitz from 1980's Doctor Who. :) And, more recently, Captain Jack Harkness.

Classically: Robin Hood, Shakespeare's clowns such as Autolycus in As You Like it, and Odysseus.

And speaking of Autolycus, Bruce Campbell's Xena character fits the profile more clearly than Xena herself.

And... maybe the new Starbuck?

Main characteristic that comes to mind: scruffy. They can be the best dressed person in the room, but they never look as if they made the effort to do so.

Also: wit. As in "lives on their wit," but also they tend to be a smartmouth, with the best comebacks and dialogue. Writers in tv & film usually have the most fun with them, and it shows.

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The LR is charismatic and/or sexy. This is one area in which Rygel falls short;"

He's charismatic and sexy in the eyes of his own species. Just not ours.

I was going to say Robin Hood, too. How about , Zaphod Beeblebrox, Spider from Anansi Boys, and Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat, Slippery Jim DiGriz.

And hi!

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does it for me is the very very general trait that I think covers allllll these more specific traits:

The Lovable Rogue is intensely and unapologetically _himself._

(Or herself. But usually himself, huh?)

(That is, I would pick Jayne rather than Mal as the Firefly example. I can't quite put my finger on why, but I think it's that Mal? has regrets. Which doesn't seem to fit--but that may be my own skew on the type rather than the type itself.)

- H

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly from Neuromancer? Quint from Jaws? Maybe.

9:29 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Tansy, I know very little Doctor Who, but I'll take your word for it. Odysseus is a good one. Robin Hood I have reservations about, but OK; I think the problem I have with him is that at bottom he's trying to restore the status quo, which strikes me as a very un-LR-like goal. I did think about Autolycus from Xena; he's a good fit.

Scruffy is good, too. And wit.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Hi, DX! That's a good point about Rygel; I had meant to say something about how there's a fine line between a dashing rogue and a sleazy crook, but then, that's in the eye of the beholder. Zaphod is a good example; I'm sadly less than informed on the other examples you mention.

Thanks for stopping by! What is it, 25 days until pitchers and catchers report? :-)

11:11 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Hannah, I did think about Jayne, but I get hung up on the question of brains. Which our boy lacks, in the main. But he does have a lot of those characteristics.

Good point, though, about the self-possessiveness. There's a swagger about an LR, a cockiness. And yeah, it's interesting that most of them are male . . .

11:14 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

RNB, it's been so long since I read Neuromancer . . . YT in Snowcrash probably works, though. Quint, I'm guessing, was an LR in his younger days. I think that by the time we meet him, he's outlived it; in some ways his signing on to hunt the shark seems to be his method of suicide.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

John Constantine in Hellblazer... the comic, that is, not the movie; Canoe Reaves in the movie manages to strip the character entirely of both lovability and rogueishness, a staggering feat of woodenness.

Bond is maverick rather than a rogue, working for The Man but constantly pushing the boundaries. James Garner's Maverick, on the other hand, funnily enough, is a rogue, I'd say.

6:27 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Oh, Constantine is a great example, and something of a marvel; despite the fact that he manages to get just about everyone he knows killed, we still end up rooting for the guys.

Maverick's a good one, too. And thanks for the "maverick" tag, Hal; I'd say James West and Artemus Gordon qualify as that as well?

7:50 AM  
Blogger haddayr said...

What a terrific post!

I have nothing to add, except to say that I wish I were Xena.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Trent said...

According to your criteria, would Wolverine be a LR? I mean, we all love him but in a different way than the Han Solo type. Does that make him Loveable, or just loved?

Or is this my combination of PBR and cold medicine talking?

10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you don't think the loveable rogue can be within the system at all? both kirk and bond worked within the system, yes, but both insisted on their own independence, and often did things their own way, rules be damned.

Hmm. Maverick vs. Rogue.

i'm also curious why so many people can come up with tv and movie examples, but that there are fewer book characters coming up. particularly given the constituancy.

that's another discussion, isn't it.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Trent, good question about Wolverine, and I'm honestly not sure. I think he might be too quick on the draw to really fit the type, since with him the claws usually come out rather quickly. (I mean, yeah, he's ninja and all, but mostly he's slice-and-dice.)

Shana, I don't think Kirk or Bond satisfy several of the criteria: 2 (money and survival as the prime values: while both have to fight for their lives, money is not a consideration), 4 (being on the run: both have a very definite home base, even if Kirk is a long ways from it), 10 (despising authority: both work to maintain or bolster the status quo), and 16 (the question of wealth: as with 2 above, money is not a motivator). For me they don't really work, though I do like Hal's tag of Maverick.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Tim Akers said...

Recently started going through the complete Firefly, and last night my wife and both commented on how similiar the relationship between the Captain and the Whore (not conversant with names yet. Bad at names) is to the relationship between Han and Leia. So. Yeah.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Barb said...

I'd nominate Bill Murray's Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, although many of his other roles have shades of LR as well. I don't think he can help it.

11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My all-time favorite LR is F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack, who fits your description almost perfectly. I would add that nearly all LRs have a very relativistic moral system. Generally something like "If given a choice, hurt those most who can absorb it best. Spare the little guy when you can, help him if you must (and you know he usually must!) AND ABOVE ALL ELSE: Try very hard not to be like those UNlovable rogues."

As and aside, I think I've developed an alergic reaction to the archetype in fantasy, I'm afraid. But in other genres it still feels far from played out to me.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Trent said...

I watched the first half of "The Road Warrior" last night and this post came to mind. I never had Mad Max Rockatansky pegged as an LR but he fits nearly all the criteria.

Other kissing cousins to the LR and Maverick might be the Loose Cannon and Vigilante.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin Hood counts for me because he's trying to break down an unjust system and replace it with one he thinks is/was just. It's not just the fact that Richard Lionheart is the "rightful king"; it's that in the tropes of that universe, "rightful king" also means "rules justly and fairly". By the rules of reality, of course, he was working to replace an unjust system with one slightly less unjust - but Lionheart in the story stands as a symbol for Right Rule, and therefore Robin is bucking injustice and counts.

However, he definitely doesn't live up to the personally mercenary attitude that one expects from the LR. But he does cheat, trick, and tweak the nose of his foes.

Also, no prostitutes, that we know of.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Barb, I think you're right about Murray, and what caps it for me is his sneering contempt for all authority; to me that seems like the quintessential LR trait. Which is probably why I'm resistant to some of the military and government-sponsored examples being put forward; to my mind, the LR takes orders from no one.

Lon, I've not read any of the Repairman Jack stories, though I've heard some about them. What would you recommend as a starter?

Trent, thanks for bringing up Mad Max. I thought of him the other day, and I think he does fit the type well. Likely the reason that he doesn't spring to mind is that he's alone so much of the time, and so laconic when he is with others, so he doesn't display a lot of that trademark sardonic wit.

I'm surrendering on the Robin Hood thing, because you've all made good points, and also because I've been thinking that in some ways he's the source material for many of the more contemporary examples. So, yeah. Y'all were right and I was wrong.

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Any of the first 4 (THE TOMB aka RAKOSHI, LEGACIES, CONSPIRACIES, ALL THE RAGE) would be fair game as a jumping off point, to be honest. The backstory is fairly easy to catch up on while reading these. Starting with #5 HOSTS and #6 THE HAUNTED AIR, an arc for Jack that ends with his role in the already published novel NIGHTWORLD really starts to develop, and the stakes begin to rise quite a bit. So from HOSTS on, I'd say read them in order.

Though this doesn't mean you wouldn't enjoy any of the later ones if it was the only one you read, or if you read them out of order. FPW has shown in these that he has a strong (and admirable) commitment to making sure each book is totally enjoyable as a standalone.

My favorite to date is THE HAUNTED AIR (the latest in PB) but CONSPIRACIES is a close second. ALL THE RAGE, though, has a section in the middle which took my breath away with its craftsmanship.

The PBs have been irregularly published, but this year they are putting 3 into PB, so that the last one comes into print a year after the HB was released. Since I mostly read in paperback or at least soft cover, it's going to be a good year for me, getting three more Repairman Jack fixes in!

::blushes:: So, um, yeah. I'm kind of a fan. Be careful when you ask me questions like that!

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Typically, I come to these convos after the fire has died down....

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Indiana Jones.

Also, what's the salient difference, between the LR and a garden-variety trickster?

There's certainly cross-over...

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that was me, failing to sign my name on blogger as usual...


6:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

It has to be mortality, hasn't it? Puck and Coyote and Loki and Anansi--well, maybe less so Anansi--are immortal, so they usually don't have a pressing need to fuck with the rest of us. They do it because they find it entertaining.

That's my short answer, as I'm headed out the door. Does it make any sense?

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, I see that - being mortal as pre-requisite for the LR.

Ever hear Joseph Campbell talk about Han Solo? I'm not a Campbell fan, and don't go in for the monomyth, but he makes a lot of the same points you make about Han's archeypal nature. Ties him into westerns, of course, and every Errol Flynn role ever.


7:54 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Yeah, I caught Campbell on one of the Moyers specials -- probably "The Power of Myth" -- talking about Star Wars. Han is very much a cowboy, but I think he's part samurai (or ronin) as well.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely, especially filtered through Lucas the Kirasawa buff. In the early days, the samurai film genre had lots of cross-pollination with the Hollywood western (blame Tom Mix flicks), so I think your theory holds up.


PS. Here's another character tyype for you to think about: The Mad Scholar.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Yeah, I was thinking about the Kurosawa thing. I once heard it claimed that "Star Wars" was based on "The Hidden Fortress" -- although having subsequently seen the latter, the similarities are there but not "City on Fire"/"Reservoir Dogs" there. But even looking at "Seven Samurai," there are parallels between some of those characters and Lucas'.

I want to see some Tom Mix flicks. Ever since the Riverworld books I've been curious. Must check Netflix.

And thanks for the "Mad Scholar" idea! I was thinking of doing some more of these, but nothing had grabbed me yet.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The device of the two slaves/peons "telling" the story of "Hidden Fortress" (a la Threepio and Artoo - complete with the "It's our lot in life to suffer" stuff) is about all I could see in the way of a direct influence. Before the second trilogy started, I fully expected the Padme character to be a force of nature, like the Queen in "Fortress". Joke's on me!

Let me know if you want to bat ideas around re Mad Scholars, or others. This was fun reading, David!


6:02 PM  

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