Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Heroes and Villains

Part V: Stories of Gut-Wrenching Endurance

Antagonists don’t have to be alive, or even a machine. Many good stories have been written where the protagonist is challenged by a place. In Last of the Breed, Louis L'Amour pits his protagonist against the Siberia wasteland. Although humans made appearances, Daniel Defoe primarily challenged Robinson Caruso with a deserted island. There are many stories of a single person fighting against the elements, but the antagonist as a place does not need to threaten only individuals. The true antagonist in Clive Cussler’s Raise the Titanic is the depths of the frigid Atlantic. Sebastian Junger in The Perfect Storm pits weather against the fishing crew of the Andrea Gail. Although nonfiction, in Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, Piers Paul Read tells the story of how a rugby team won a battle against a mountain.
Place can also take on a secondary antagonist role. To a great extent, Dorothy is attempting to escape Kansas and Tara is Scarlett O'Hara’s nemesis.

When the antagonist is a place, then the story is often one of gut-wrenching endurance. The narrative almost always starts with a set-up that shows the protagonist as completely unprepared for a test of stamina and courage. These are stressful stories that examine human limits. 

Most of the time, the protagonist wins, but sometimes not, as in The Perfect Storm.

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