(Written by Martha S.)
I almost assigned homework for this episode that was very much not heroic in nature – ultimately, I did not, because I liked that our discussion was learning towards those moments in media that make you want to stand up and cheer, not that make the bottom drop out of your stomach. I am, however, fascinated by this kind of face-heel turn, particularly when I as the audience get to realize that a narrator or protagonist I’ve been following is not the person I have been lead to believe (in short: I love a well-written unreliable narrator).
The homework I almost assigned is a novel by Laure Eve title The Graces, with a narrator you come to realize is incredibly unreliable. We don’t even get to know her real name – the first person narrator chooses the name River, and not only refers to herself as such through the whole novel, but only relates when others call her that as well. Her name remains a mystery to us even when her past is revealed, which is perhaps the point: River’s chosen name, and the narrative she chooses to tell about herself, is more revealing than any name given to her by a parent.
In The Graces, River is a new student at a high school dominated by the Grace siblings, three high schoolers that occupy the upper social echelon that we’re all familiar with via teen dramas. The Graces are beautiful, popular, witchy, and a little bit other – people are just a bit afraid of them. Through the course of the book, River desperately tries to work her way into their inner circle, becoming a friend, confidante, and eventual parasite to their familiar dynamic. River, you see, has a secret: for all their talk of magic and ritual, the Grace siblings are mere pretenders to the magical throne. River has real powers, in that she can make things happen just by wishing them.
She wishes a girl would shut up. That girl gets laryngitis. She wishes a boy, competing for the affections of her crush, would go away. That boy is swept out to sea.
The reveal of River’s power, and her awareness of this power, is a remarkable moment in the book, because of how unassuming and meek she has made herself seem to the reader. I think there is a manipulative way of pulling off this reveal, that feels cheap and like the author has been hiding information from the reader; there is also the reveal that makes you go back through the book to look for all the clues that lead to this place, and realize it’s not so out of the blue after all.
The other example that I want to bring up is Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which manages the character crystallization moment for both its hero and antagonist characters, in a way that neatly swaps your expectations of both of them. Doctor Horrible is an essentially good guy who aspires to villainy; when he finally has his determining moment, it is hollow and riddled with despair. Likewise, the “heroic” Captain Hammer, who has been a vainglorious scoundrel through the whole story, finally achieves his crystallizing moment for us all to realize: he’s a coward.
One of the things that a crystallizing moment can do for a character is not only show you who a character truly is, but cause you to reflect on your expectations for a story. It’s always satisfying for a story to fulfill what you want from it; I would like to posit that it can be just as satisfying for a story to fulfill a desire you didn’t even know you had.