I usually write this blog as a writer, but today I’m going to put my reader hat on and pose a question to all my fellow readers out there.
What do you, as a reader, do when you realize you hate the main character of a book?
I usually like unlikable characters. I’m a fan of Scarlett O’Hara and I always preferred Henry Crawford to that ninny, goody-two-shoes Edmund Bertram. But both Henry and Scarlett have a roguish charm that redeems them—they may not be the nicest people around, but they sure are fun.
Sometimes, though, protagonists end up with no redeeming qualities.
You may know that for the last six months (at least) I’ve been engaged in a slow slog through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. It’s a journey with a lot of ups and downs: sometimes I end up sitting in bed, reading way past the point when I should be asleep, and other times I have to force myself to finish the hundred-page prologue before calling the book a dead loss.
So far, though, I’ve managed not to give up. Jordan’s books follow a pretty clear pattern. They start out at a creeping pace, dragging through a very long prologue that often features characters who won’t star in the rest of the novel, then entering the pace of the book itself, which is somewhere at a fast walk or a trot. Then, at about 70-percent, they hit a run, and lots of things happen. This momentum usually carries me into the next book, where I hit a wall in the form of prologue.
It feels a little masochistic sometimes.
A couple of days ago, I started the aptly-named The Path of Daggers. I was really ready to find and actually use the latest MacGuffin, and the first third of the book finally fulfilled that promise. But then I reached approximately 46% of the Kindle edition, and I quit caring.
A hairy monster of a protagonist, also known as Rand al’Thor.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Rand is our shepherd turned chosen-by-prophecy king of the world. He’s also
sitting dancing on the fence between sanity and madness. He’s very, very angry. But he’s not particularly funny or sweet or caring. (There’s no Whedon-villain whimsy here.)
In short, he has no more redeeming qualities. The farmboy we met in Eye of the World has long since been subsumed by a bitter, wounded man with powers that are destroying him.
To defend Jordan, he’s actually worked this (lightly) into the plot by having a secondary character point it out, point out that if Rand doesn’t lighten up soon, he’ll end up destroying the world in a fit of temper.
I just don’t care, though. I don’t even want to slog through Rand’s chapters to find out what main plot events will happen. I like some of the characters, but unfortunately, the main character is kind of an insurmountable obstacle.
So what’s a reader to do?
I said I would complete this challenge, and I will read all of this series. But how do I survive Rand? My soon-to-be husband’s solution in books like this is just skip the chapters with the hated character, but I’m a little too OCD to actually do that… and since Rand is the epicenter of this epic, I can’t really skip him without missing something vital.
What would you do, reader? How do you read books with unlikable main characters?