We're sliding along the scale of characters and have now entered the realm of Protagonists. For the next few weeks, we'll be looking at a few different types of Protagonists and what they're good for.
This week's Protagonist is the Paragon. But you might be asking "what is a paragon?" and that's not always an easy question to answer. According to Merriam-Webster, a paragon is "a model of excellence or perfection." Google's definition of a paragon (which I believe is more complete) is "a person or thing regarded as a perfect example of a particular quality."
The most common use of the word is in the phrase "a paragon of virtue," and I'm sure you've heard it before. But one could also be a "paragon of strength" or a "paragon of intelligence" or a "paragon of motherhood." Because of its common use, the accepted meaning of "paragon" is overwhelmingly positive and generally tied to the concept of moral excellence.
But if you take that second definition, you get characters like Hercules (paragon of strength), Dr. Frankenstein (paragon of intelligence), and Molly Weasley (paragon of motherhood) who don't necessarily match the idea of being morally upright or even particularly good people.
As a Protagonist, the Paragon is an excellent tool in the author's belt as a contrast against other characters in the story. One must be cautious when using the Paragon, though, because it would be easy to set the Paragon's level of excellence at any particular quality as the standard, and that defeats the point of the Paragon, who is intended to be inherently better at his "thing" than others.
On the other hand, if you had something like a paragon of strength in your protagonist friend group who's later revealed to be from a culture where that level of strength is the accepted norm or even sub-par, you can use that character's Paragon-ness to emphasize that perception and culture are instrumental in determining whether a person is exceptional at something or just average.
On the flip side of that coin, if you have a Paragon as an Antagonist, then your heroes might be facing what I think is the most purely terrifying type of enemy - the one who truly believes what he's doing is the right thing to do. (For an awesome example of that, take a look at The Operative from Serenity, or that one version of Superman that took over the world.)
So now it's your turn. Who's you're favorite Paragon, and why? Is the use of the Paragon too ham-handed, or can it be done well?
I look forward to hearing your opinions. See you again on Friday for a fun little fiction thing.