We've all seen them. Surly, punky, usually dressed in something artfully ragged and with very strong opinions about authority and who's qualified to hold it. The Rebel is an archetype which has only gotten more popular over the last hundred years, morphing from decade to decade to slowly mean something other than what it did in the centuries before this.

One of the oldest examples of the Rebel can be found in a story penned almost 600 years ago by one Thomas Malory - Le Morte d'Arthur. You may already be able to see what character I'm pointedly looking at.

Mordred, the grumpy, deceitful illegitimate son or sometimes nephew of King Arthur, who not only betrayed but killed his king in several different versions. (He's also sometimes Guinevere's brother??? It's confusing.)

Over time, the Rebel archetype has evolved from pretty much the epitome of evil to... this.

When and how the evil traitor transmorgafied into the sexy bad boy is fascinating, but at the moment it's unimportant. The part we're concerned with is what they have in common.

 

The Rebel can sometimes be an antagonist, but in today's world of subversions and twists, the Rebel is more likely to be a protagonist. The misunderstood, the tough on the outside, chewy on the inside character that has motor oil for blood and a heart of gold. (If someone takes that to a literal extreme for a cyborg/automaton Rebel protagonist, I want to read that story, please and thank you.)

 

One of the Rebel's defining characteristics is a disrespect or distrust of authority and authority figures, and the fun part about that is that the motivation for that disrespect/distrust is left to the author. This is where the traumatic backstory and personality quirks come from, and that's what we do best (or so I like to think).

The Rebel is a good foil to a Paragon, and makes a good Best Friend or Rival to another character that isn't so firmly in that moral grey area. You can also wrangle some good vigilante nonsense out of characters that fill the Rebel role (for a good example, take a look at Raph from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

To the previous Element

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To the next Element

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©2018 by Eleanor Taylor.

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