I know that I am not the first to notice this, nor the first to comment on it, but it has been bugging me lately so I am going to take a few moments to rant and let it all out.
As of late, I have been running across invincible characters with increasingly frustrating frequency. If you are unfamiliar with the term, picture Superman without kryptonite. Sure he may get tossed around a bit or take a grenade to the chest or whatnot, but at the end of the day he is walking out without too much difficulty.
This makes for an incredibly boring story. I don’t want to read about an innocent princess who happens to be a hand to hand expert that never gets nervous but is afraid of thunderstorms and can defeat an “unbeatable” monster with minimal effort (whew that was a mouthful). I want to read the story of a troubled hero who gets wiped across the floor by the antagonist before managing to out-smart (or out-luck) his nemesis and crawl away with the victory (personal preference? Perhaps, but one that is commonly shared).
On some level this probably has a lot to do with the amount of amateur fiction I have started reading over the past couple of years or so but, to my disappointment, I am beginning to notice it in “professional,” published fiction as well. Observe…
When Eragon (Christopher Paolini) first came out in 2002, I absolutely loved it. Sure it was a LotR rip off, but it was well written with a fairly interesting plot and engaging characters (it should be noted that I was only twelve when Eragon first came out and that may have had something to do with my enjoyment of it as well).
Paolini’s second book, Eldest, I also enjoyed to some extent. However, I would find myself at times skipping through sections with the main character, Eragon, in order to get to the chapters which followed his cousin, Roran. Why did I do this? Why did I start caring about supporting characters more than the protagonist? It is because during Eldest, Eragon becomes an invincible protagonist (and because he is a winey bitch but we won’t go there). Eragon’s powers grew exponentially to the point that he alone (with Saphira of course) could take on an entire army virtually unaided.
This only became worse in the two concluding novels of the series, Brisinger and Inheritance. I only forced myself to finish Brisinger because I had already read the first two and I haven’t even been able to fully stomach Inheritance yet. The series was ruined for me because Eragon simply becomes too powerful. Sure there are enemies who are still more powerful than him (Murtagh, Galbatorix, etc) but everything else was at a level so far below Eragon that I simply lost interest. The struggle was no longer there.
Another example of this can be found in fantasy author Brent Weeks’s Night Angel trilogy. The trilogy’s first book, Way of the Shadows, had everything I could possibly want in a good fantasy novel. It was dark, gritty, brutal, and realistic (at least as realistic as you could expect from a fantasy novel). It had complex, interesting, and multifaceted characters who were believable and never wholly good or evil (excluding Roth Ursuul who at least changed enough to remain interesting).
Unfortunately, that was where the series should have ended. I half heartedly finished the second book and only made it through the third because I had already read the first two. What happened? Did the writing suddenly decline in quality? No. Did Brent Week’s stop putting interesting twists in his writing? No. So what did happen?
Answer? The exact same thing as happened in the Eragon series. The story’s protagonist, Kylar Stern, becomes too powerful. By the beginning of the second book, Kylar is literally immortal. This completely kills any sense of surprise that the story might imply because we always know that no matter how much turbulence and pain he suffers he will, eventually, become triumphant. We lose our sense of worry for the character.
I am sure that there are many other examples in contemporary fantasy/sci-fi literature, these are just the two that immediately jumped to the forefront of my mind. As with most things in literature, this is entirely a matter of opinion, but for me personally, an omnipotent character kills my desire to finish a story.
That’s all for now; call it food for thought!