An anti-hero is a hero who lacks the qualities that are normally found in heroic individuals.

Anti-heroes normally share characteristics such as being "incompetent, unlucky, tactless, clumsy, cock-handed, stupid, buffoonish" (Cuddon 42-43). Even though the anti-hero normally has one or more of these characteristics, the reader is still drawn into feeling sympathetic for the anti-hero.

In the early days of literature, the anti-hero was rarely seen, yet now the anti-hero is seen more and more frequently. Some of the earliest examples include "the endearing figure of the eponymous knight of Don Quixote (1605, 1615)" (Cuddon 42-43) and in "Hylas, in d'Urfe's very successful Astrée (1627) who is a contrast to the conventional hero Céladan" (Cuddon 42-43).

"A non-hero, or the antithesis of a hero of the old-fashioned kind who was capable of heroic deeds, who was dashing, strong, brave and resourceful. It is a little doubtful whether such heroes have ever existed in any quantity in fiction except in some romances and in the cheaper kind of romantic novelette. However there have been many instances of fictional heroes who have displayed noble qualities and virtuous attributes. The anti-hero is the man who is given the vocation of failure" (Cuddon 42-43).

"A protagonist who lacks traditional heroic virtues and noble qualities and is sometimes inept, cowardly, stupid, or dishonest, yet sensitive. The type is best represented in modern fiction and drama, although it appears as early as 1605, in DON QUIXOTE. James Joyce's Leopold BLOOM in ULYSSES, Kingsley Amis' Jim DIXON in LUCKY JIM, and Joseph HELLER's Yossarian in CATCH-22 are antiheores" (Murphy 40).


"Anti - a prefix meaning against, opposed to, or opposite of, as in 'anti-aircraft' or 'anti-social'. Borrowed through Old French, or directly from Latin anti-, representing Greek anti-, from anti- against, instead. Anti- is cognate with Latin ante, in front of, Gothic and, anda- against, along, Old High German ant- against, and Old English and- against. Related in function to Old English and-, the prefix was generally confined to words such as antichrist (Antecrist), antipope (Antepope), antidot, antidotum. The formation was not popularized until the period of modern English" (Barnhart 29).

"Hero - men of superhuman strength, courage, or ability; borrowed from Latin hērōēs, plural of hērōs, from Greek hểrōs (hểrōes). The sense of the chief male character in a play, motion picture, story, etc., is first recorded in 1697.

The earliest English forms were the plural heroes and the singular heros, corresponding to the Latin. A variant singular heroe was replaced by hero in the 1600's. --heroic adj. 1549, shortening of earlier heroycus, adj. (1410), borrowing of Latin hērōicus; and of earlier heroical, adj. (probably before 1425), borrowed from Latin hērōicus, from Greek hērōïkós, from hērōs hero; for suffix see -IC. --heroine n. Before 1659 heroina demi-goddess; borrowed through French héroïne, and directly from Latin hērōïna, hērōïne, from Greek hērōīnē, feminine of hểrōs hero. --heroism n. 1717, borrowed from French héroïsme, from héros hero (from Latin hērōs); for suffix see -ISM" (Barnhart 351).


Talia, from Mercedes Lackey's Arrows of the Queen. Talia started out as a daughter in a holding who was expected to be married off at a very young age. She was something like a bookworm even though she owned few books. She was also very thin and small. One day, she is Chosen by the Companion Rolan, and as she goes through the years of training to become a Herald. In the third book, Arrow's Fall, she actually goes from being the anti-hero to being an actual hero.

Vanyel, from Mercedes Lackey's The Last Herald Mage. Vanyel Ashkevron was a spoiled little brat during most of the first book, Magic's Pawn, but like Talia, by the third book Magic's Price, he becomes a true hero who will be talked about for hundreds of years to come.

Darian, from Mercedes Lackey's Owlflight.

Works Cited

Bruce Murphy. Benét's Readers Encyclopedia. Harper Collins, 1996.

Robert K. Barnhart. The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology. Harper Collins, 1995.

J. A. Cuddon. Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Penguin Reference, 2000.