Today’s topic: The Heroic Idiot
I LOVE this trope. I love this trope so much that I made my main character Maxine based off of this trope.
The Heroic Idiot is the person that you probably don’t want to ever come save you, but somehow they are probably the first ones who will. The intelligence level is low but they often have some sort of belief that they want to aggressively hold onto.
Most of the time their saving grace comes in those final moments when all of their friends’ efforts have failed – they find the answer! Or, sometimes they are the ones who have created the problem in the first place and have thus triggered the story (nice job breaking it, hero).
I give you my favorite examples of this trope: Percy Jackson from Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Harry Potter from J.K.Rowlings’ Harry Potter was this too. There’s also my favorite Althalus from David Edding’s Redemption of Althalus (yes, he is an intelligent thief, but let’s be honest: in everything else he is just dumb).
Video games are rife with this trope, too. Sora from Kingdom Hearts would be my favorite. And just about every main character in the Tales of series.
It is the classic trope used in Middle Grade and Young Adult as well because, let’s face it, kids are idiots (unless you are Hermione Granger, in which case you are in a class of your own).
The pros of the trope, though, are also its cons. It’s an easy trope for a writer. We get to create a character who is “dumb to the world” which gives us writers a chance to explain things to him as a stand-in proxy for our readers. We do not have to get too terribly creative with how we present our information to our readers. We can avoid that awkward situation “but my character should know this” and thereby forced to be more creative.
Because our character is an idiot we get to make all sorts of creative (or rather, non creative) solutions for their problems. Writer’s dilemma: I need my main character to press the button but he has no reason to! -Insert Idiot Hero- Writer: Oh great, my character will just press the button because he has ADHD and he thinks “oooh what does this button do?”
It is also the easiest way to create character development. As the story progresses our main character is usually expected to have graduated from an Idiot and the writer gets to build that intelligence scene-by-scene.
But let’s be honest: our readers will only take so much of the Idiot before they start to expect a certain level of maturity and honesty. If in the final finale, unless it is for comedic purposes, it is best to not resolve the final conflict with a stupid blunder. The readers will just feel cheated. (I feel much of the final book of The Maze Runner, Death Cure, was full of this.)
So, while I love this trope, there are a few cons so writers please – PLEASE – use responsibly.
I chose this trope not because it was easy but because I am using an anti-hero. My character is a delinquent who might just destroy the world herself. Her idiocy plays into that. She is also the reincarnation of a deity and is expected to have a certain level of morality.
Plus I want to prove that book-smarts are not everything. That even the most worthless seeming person has worth. Just because they do not make good grades in school has no reflection on their true intelligence. By being dumb my character is actually – uhh, well, I’m starting to give away some subplot points so how about I stop here.