David Gemmell's character range?

Brian G Turner

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I've only read a few Gemmell books so far, and I do plan to read a lot more - I love his fast-paced yet rich narrative, and a lot of his character building.

And yet - his protagonists seem to be starting to fall within the same range: Druss, Connavar, Bane, Parmenion, Waylander. All hardened and cynical men, violently capable, and rarely conflicted with what might be termed "weakness of character".

They are great characters, and they are different, responding according to their different situations - but I can't help but feel they are often the same interpretation of the "warrior" archetype.

Juxtapose this with a character like Rek, the lead in Legend, who was full of green doubts.

However, when I pick up a Gemmell book, I'm beginning to expect to see the former than latter characterised in the lead role.

Is this a habit David Gemmell fell into, or is it simply that I've not read enough of his work?

Or is it that I'm simply mistaken, and making too broad generalisations and missing important nuances?
 

Menion

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You're right. A lot of his earlier novels have the same type of character, especially the Drenai. Druss, Beltzer, Angel, Bison, Ananais, Waylander all being the he big (Man to walk the mountains with) warriors. And Rek, Gelan, Sentar, Sieben the cocky young swordsman. Decado, Skillganon, Chareos, Nogusha the shadowy master swordsmen.
And others like the young warrior women, the doubtfull monks, serious but kind archers, matriarch, evil shamans, less then noble nobles.

It seems he stuck to what he knew, but I don't think it's a bad thing. People love them, so it makes sense to stick with it.
 

Brian G Turner

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It seems he stuck to what he knew, but I don't think it's a bad thing.
Oh, I wasn't suggesting that it was - but I am looking forward to seeing more the cocky and shadowy swordsmen. :)

I'll be reading the Troy books next, so I'll presume I'll see more of those after that trilogy. :)
 

Menion

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What I enjoyed about the Troy trilogy was that the writing has improved a lot, and the characters still have that hint of a familiar feel but with a depth that some of his earlier most beloved characters lack. They are abit one sided aren't they.

His Odysseus is awesome.
 

Bugg

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His Odysseus is awesome.
Oh yes, indeed! I loved the Troy trilogy :)

Brian, I do agree with you. I think he had a formula, one that worked, and he stuck to it. Much as I love his books - which I do - I find I can't read them too close together because it does become more noticeable.
 

Ashaman

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Hey Brian.
Check out his individual titles like Morningstar and Knights of Dark Reknown or specially the Dark Moon and the Echoes of the Great Song. The main leads in those books deviate a little from Druss or Connavar etc...
 

Narkalui

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It is quite correct to assume that the same character archetypes gravitate from book to book, but I feel that as Lord G matured as a writer so did those archetypes become more and more blurred and thusly the later the book you are reading the stronger the individual characters become as they are less reliant on an archetype to give them character.

I do think it interesting the way in his earlier work Gemmell has his themes impacting through the plot and then he has his familiar cast of characters reacting to the plot. As he matured as a writer he began to alter his character archetypes and began moulding them as individual characters to reflect the more subtle themes of his narratives.

E.G. Waylander (1985) features a very recognisable cast, with a few adjustments, working in a terrific narrative of excellently woven-in themes. Hero In The Shadows (2001 I think) is Waylander's third outing, and while the themes are similar, the story is more plot driven than character driven as in Waylander; most importantly though, the archetypes are all but gone, replaced by colourful and believably drawn individuals who don't seem to adhere to any of Gemmell's old archetypes.

Now I think about it, I think Winter Warriors was the last outing for the classic Lord Gemmell archetypes. Correct me if I am wrong.
 

Ashaman

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This. Viruk was an amazing character. I was actually a little disappointed by the epilogue, because the end of his charge scene was so powerful.
Indeed he was an exceptional character but I'd say the end was not so disappointing, for me at least. I liked it!
 

Idealect

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What is it about Rek that made him an interesting variation on the theme? I find David Gemmell has an amazing variety -within the very broad theme of fighters (there is a leaning towards gruffness but otherwise I find he depicts a really wide, almost wild variety)- when one considers how well he renders them (they're not just archetypes, but rich and for lack of a shorter word, verisimilitudinous, characters). I don't understand how Rek falls outside of this pattern rather than into it. All I see that's different to the usual range of difference is that he's a darker (and deader) shade of grey, and that's primarily in terms of his past. Certainly e.g. Connavar in Rigante book-1 is a green, developing and even confused character.


To expand on the point about his level of renderings: I find he brings fighters to life not just as characters, but as fighters, at a level no one, or almost no one else does. (as e.g. (imo ofc) Orson scott card does for a machiavellian iron man ("genius") character in Ender's shadow (particularly the early parts)). I wouldn't expect any range at all from Gemmell at such a level- I would expect him to be reaching up high to one very particular peak, based on personal experience and obsession, but was absolutely shocked to find he could create very different types and styles of such beautifully realised characters -qua characters and qua (super) fighters (-or combatants or whatever). Honestly I found it -to be melodramatic, mind expanding: It's something I didn't understand not only how it was done, nor even what a very general and vague shape of what it might take, might take, no, I had no conception whatsoever that it was possible at all. (And the last of those is the only one that's meaningfully changed).
 

Steve Wilson

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It is quite correct to assume that the same character archetypes gravitate from book to book, but I feel that as Lord G matured as a writer so did those archetypes become more and more blurred and thusly the later the book you are reading the stronger the individual characters become as they are less reliant on an archetype to give them character.

I do think it interesting the way in his earlier work Gemmell has his themes impacting through the plot and then he has his familiar cast of characters reacting to the plot. As he matured as a writer he began to alter his character archetypes and began moulding them as individual characters to reflect the more subtle themes of his narratives.

E.G. Waylander (1985) features a very recognisable cast, with a few adjustments, working in a terrific narrative of excellently woven-in themes. Hero In The Shadows (2001 I think) is Waylander's third outing, and while the themes are similar, the story is more plot driven than character driven as in Waylander; most importantly though, the archetypes are all but gone, replaced by colourful and believably drawn individuals who don't seem to adhere to any of Gemmell's old archetypes.

Now I think about it, I think Winter Warriors was the last outing for the classic Lord Gemmell archetypes. Correct me if I am wrong.
I do quite agree with that. :)
 

Steve Wilson

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What is it about Rek that made him an interesting variation on the theme? I find David Gemmell has an amazing variety -within the very broad theme of fighters (there is a leaning towards gruffness but otherwise I find he depicts a really wide, almost wild variety)- when one considers how well he renders them (they're not just archetypes, but rich and for lack of a shorter word, verisimilitudinous, characters). I don't understand how Rek falls outside of this pattern rather than into it. All I see that's different to the usual range of difference is that he's a darker (and deader) shade of grey, and that's primarily in terms of his past. Certainly e.g. Connavar in Rigante book-1 is a green, developing and even confused character.


To expand on the point about his level of renderings: I find he brings fighters to life not just as characters, but as fighters, at a level no one, or almost no one else does. (as e.g. (imo ofc) Orson scott card does for a machiavellian iron man ("genius") character in Ender's shadow (particularly the early parts)). I wouldn't expect any range at all from Gemmell at such a level- I would expect him to be reaching up high to one very particular peak, based on personal experience and obsession, but was absolutely shocked to find he could create very different types and styles of such beautifully realised characters -qua characters and qua (super) fighters (-or combatants or whatever). Honestly I found it -to be melodramatic, mind expanding: It's something I didn't understand not only how it was done, nor even what a very general and vague shape of what it might take, might take, no, I had no conception whatsoever that it was possible at all. (And the last of those is the only one that's meaningfully changed).
I do feel Rek, as Druss and his blood line to some extent, are slighty different from the rest of the main characters because they (I think) inpersonnate specific people.

For Rek for example, I think Gemmell might have somewhat pictured himself, or at least some parts of himself, or of his personnality.

If I recall right, Druss is based on David's father.

It does all start with Legend anyway, and with both those characters that underline Gemmell's spirit and thoughts at the time of writing (check out the Legend interview).

But don't all authors do that? Get inspired from real life people and events to write their books and make up their characters? ;)
I think that's why the archetypes and not havnig to overly complex characters isn't an issue at all: they still feel all very individual.

Gemmell did obviously imagine an entire life for each of his characters (and for the entire Drenai world, in a Tolkien kind of way one could say). He didn't just make them up just to serve the book he was writing at any given time, like some authors will...

That's why it doesn't bother me at all that those archetypes are so obvious, it only makes it easier to understand what Gemmell was probably thinking when writing.

Bottom line: I just think Gemell's characters are great, I love them and never grow bored of them (even after reading most books 2 or 3 times).
 

The Big Peat

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Very late to the party... but yes, Gemmell tended to select from the same stereotypes and themes again and again, from the beginning to the end. There's some definite similarities between Rek in Legend and Niallad in Hero in the Shadows; a man having to overcome their fears. Mulgrave's struggles with the ethics of killing are similar to Dardalion's. Tenaka Khan and Heliakon are very similar as outsiders who've turned their traumatic experiences into formidable competence but are still hurt by their experiences. Etc.etc. His palette is definitely influenced by his beliefs.

Rek is somewhat unusual and of himself though. Most of his main characters are either very callow youths growing up (Conn, Kaelin, Bane, Arthur, Kiall) or they're pretty much established bad to the bone mofos (Druss, Skilgannon, Nogusta, Waylander, Talaban). Rek occupies a middle ground. He has experienced life, but he is still a relatively normal person. We get to see him go through the abnormal circs that force him to become a badass. There's some good examples of his arc in Gemmell's books, but its not usual for a MC.

But then, what authors don't do this? I actually surfed to this thread from an old thread that said Eddings made Garion and Sparhawk basically the same. How many books has Bernard Cornwell written that don't feature a maverick but brilliant warrior with a hot temper and complicated relationship with Christianity, their father (if they've even met them) and women as the MC? Might be an interesting topic for the main fiction forum that.
 

The Big Peat

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Thinking about this further...

These are what I'd call the 5 major characters of each of Gemmell's first five books (excluding Jerusalem Man because I don't know it well)

Legend - Rek, Druss, Serbitar, Gilad, Virae
The King Beyond The Gate - Tenaka, Renya, Ananais, Decado, Ravyan
Waylander - Waylander, Danyal, Gellan, Dardalion, Karnak
Knights of Dark Renown - Lamfada, Manannan, Llaw Gyfes, Morrigan, Ollathair
Quest for Lost Heroes - Kiall, Chareos, Taniki, Chien Tsu, Ravenna

That's not a perfect listing, but whatevs.

I'd say there's a wider array of character archetypes than we might expect there. There's only one paternal figure there in Druss. Lamfada and Ollathair are a different story of mystic to Serbitar's and Dardalion's holiness. The women run the gamut from valkyries like Taniki and Virae (although they have very different images of their own feminity) to women in the wrong place at the wrong time like Ravyan, Danyal and Ravenna. I guess the only really repetitive type there is the wise warrior.
 

Narkalui

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I consider Ananais in TKBTG, and I think he was called Bison in QFLH, and then in Waylander there was the man who accompanied Waylander and Danyal to collect the Armour of Bronze whose name I can't remember at all. For me, they all conform, very loosely to the Druss archetype. In Winter Warriors there's also the older chap with the 'tache who delivers the baby...
 

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