I mentioned in my post last week that Ned Stark was probably my favorite character in Game of Thrones, but it was neck-and-neck with a character that I was pre-conditioned to dislike: The Imp, Tyrion Lannister. For those of you not familiar with the story, Tyrion is a dwarf, and this is how he was introduced:
"…the youngest of Lord Tywin's breed and by far the ugliest. All that the gods had given Cersei and Jaime, they had denied Tyrion. He was a dwarf, half his brother's height, struggling to keep up on stunted legs. His head was too large for his body, with a brute's squashed-in face beneath a swollen shelf of brow."
Now, at this point, about 50 pages into the Bantam paperback copy, I was already predisposed to disliking the Lannisters in general, and I now expected the worst of Tyrion. When he speaks for the first time, he's perched above a door like a gargoyle, dispensing 'advice' to the bastard, John Snow (I felt obliged to call him a bastard, because there is a major fascination with bastards in GoT). By the end of the scene with Snow, I wasn't sure what to make of Tyrion—he was a Lannister, and ugly,so he must be a bad guy, right? And there was something vaguely threatening and unsettling about his appearance in the scene, even though the words he shared with Jon were wise. As the book unfolded and we got into Tyrion's head, I found him to be one of the most interesting characters in the book. Tyrion was extremely smart and resourceful, witty, even charming, in his own way—a far cry from what I expected. He was also desperate for his father's approval and love, and hardened by the scorn of others.
I hate to admit that I allowed myself to assume Tyrion was bad because of his physical appearance. So many ugly characters in books and movies are also ugly in thought and deed, and I let that influence my expectations. We are preconditioned to dislike ugly characters. Sadly, art is a reflection of life and society, and our society places a high value on physically attractive people—too high a value, in fact. It's that judging a book by its cover thing. Martin did a terrific job in Game of Thrones in turning this trope on its head—Tyrion was not pure as the new-driven snow by any means, but he turned out to be a far more interesting, likeable and sympathetic character than his beautiful sister and brother (though, mild spoiler, his brother redeemed himself later on in the series, to a certain extent).
In her post yesterday, Angela Ackerman warned againstwriting cardboard villains. One of her admonitions was to not fall into the trap of making them ugly. I agree, and would point out we should make sure we carry this into life beyond our writing as well. Have a pleasant weekend, all.