The Modern Byronic Hero
Popularized by Lord Byron, the Byronic hero is a fiction character type that has been around for centuries and its wake can be felt in today’s popular culture. Although it first appeared in Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812, his metaphysical drama, Manfred, proves to be a better example of the characteristics that make up the Byronic hero.
Lord Byron was bored with the traditional romantic hero character. He wanted to create something new, something that was more appealing to readers and something that was more realistic to the human condition. So what is the Byronic hero? There are so many descriptions of what it is and it can be hard to discern what the most important characteristics are. However, there are some traits that cannot be ignored. The Byronic hero is a character that readers and audiences might not like, but they’re definitely fascinated by them because of their strong and visceral personalities. They are commonly characterized as intelligent, charismatic, extremely egocentric, arrogant, problems with authority, sardonic humor, tortured in some way or haunted by their past, spiritually absent and many times there are supernatural elements involved. There are many descendants of Byron’s character creation in popular culture, but the film, The Crow has proved to be the ultimate modern Byronic hero.
In the summer of 1994, a little independent film called, The Crow took audiences by surprise. Gothic, in the fashion sense, was becoming a popular appeal to teens, but this film blew the top off the whole thing. The film contains violence, dirty language and nudity, but the the film resonated so well with audiences because of the charisma and allure of the film’s main character, Eric Draven, played by Brandon Lee. Sure, he’s the protagonist, but because he’s so deeply flawed and distraught, he’s more interesting than your traditional hero. I think Byron felt that way about creating the character of Manfred. The entire story is dependent on his character and the allure is definitely present with readers.
Just like Manfred is filled with grief over his sister and her possible suicide, so is Eric Draven in The Crow. His soon to be wife, Shelly is raped and murdered, along with himself as well. Supernatural forces bring Eric back to life to avenge he and his wife’s death, but he is overcome with grief and guilt because he could not stop the murder and rape from happening. Eric’s guilt transforms into anger, and he uses it to kill each and every gang member. Manfred very similarly experiences this same transformation, as he summons seven spirits in a fit of guilt and anger.
Most Byronic heroes have a sardonic sense of humor, amidst the backdrop of loss and grief. In Manfred,
Lord Byron plays up the rumors of his incestuous involvement with his sister by making it part of the story. While Eric Draven is more theatrical with his sardonic humor, the staple of this Byronic trait is relevant. On many occasions, Eric makes jokes before he kills each gang member. For example, one of his first victims is a character called Fun Boy. Before killing him, he tells a joke involving Jesus Christ going to a hotel and handing the innkeeper three nails so he can be put up for the night. This joke spits in the eye of religion which is a common characteristic of the Byronic hero. While Eric’s jokes may be cruel in nature, it’s letting the audience know that we shouldn’t take the character too seriously. I think Lord Byron felt this way about Manfred, because one of the purposes of creating his new character type was to not take the “romantic posturing” too seriously (Stein 62).
Problems with authority present themselves in both Manfred and The Crow. Late in the novel, Manfred comes into contact with the Witch of the Alps. She’s a beautiful spirit and says she will help him if he swears obedience and adherence to her wishes. In Byronic hero fashion, Manfred refuses her conditions because he doesn’t want to be her slave. Also, once Manfred returns to his castle, he rejects the religious comforts brought on by Abbot of St. Maurice. In The Crow, Eric has problems with the Detroit Police because time and time again they have failed to protect the city from the numerous gangs, drug dealers, and murderers. Most importantly, the police failed to protect he and shelly. Even when he approached by a well-to-do cop, he rejects the police force altogether and takes the situation in his own hands. The cop wants to help, but his conditions imply that Eric would have to stop killing. Eric lives by his own rules and code when he comes back for revenge. At one point, Eric even starts to reject his own powers, which can be seen as a form of authority. His powers grant him the ability to leap great distances, soak up bullets and unleash considerable force. However, he begins to resent his powers because he is still ultimately alone and left with his grief.
The Byronic hero is an archetype that has lived on and is becoming even more active. While the term, “Byronic hero”, might not be popular, the contents of what it means are extremely popular. So many films, TV shows, and books contain this type of hero and it’s because Lord Byron created something truly unique. It will continue to be imitated as long as fans of fiction crave interesting protagonists.
Image from Collider.com
Byron, Lord. “Manfred.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th ed. 2012. 708-753. Print.
Proyas, Alex, dir. The Crow. Miramax Films, 1994. Film. 21 Mar 2014.
Stein, Atara. The Byronic Hero in Film, Fiction, and Television. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. eBook.