Dating Rand Al’Thor: the Crappy Boyfriends of Epic Fantasy

*** My wife, Johanna, wrote the following post so I could keep cranking away on Book Two of Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. I thought she might write something nice about me. Oops. ***

I am so happy to be married to my husband.

But, man, was he bad at dating.

Brian, in case you don’t know, has a degree in poetry. He has seen Love, Actually dozens of times. He cries at weddings. Clearly, he’s the kind of guy who knows all about romance. Except, he doesn’t know anything about romance. It’s like some supernatural force replaced the romance center of his brain with a yawning void of infinite nothingness. “Wait,” he’ll protest after smacking my butt in public or letting me pick what movie to rent. “That wasn’t romantic?” It’s not hard to guess how many candle-lit dinners he planned during our years of courtship…

The staggering thing, though, and my central point here, is that Brian actually looks good at romance compared to some of the central heroes of epic fantasy.

Rand al’Thor: I should admit before we go too far, that I could not make myself read past Book One of the Wheel of Time series. I think in most fantasy circles, that makes me a heretic. But even with my tainted history, I can still be fairly certain that it would suck to go on a first date with Rand al’Thor – always talking about himself, never picking up on hints, alternating between needy and surly. He doesn’t know how to make Egwene feel pretty, even though it’s clear that she really cares about her hair and all he’d have to say would be something like, “Hey, Egwene, I really like your your new ‘do.” Nope. Nada. Instead he “stares at that braid as if it were a viper.” By the end of Eye of the World, he doesn’t even recognize her face. Okay, fine, he’s just been through some epic stuff with one of the Forsaken, but still… Epic hero? Check. Terrible boyfriend? Check.

(I just read that last paragraph to Brian and he tells me that by the end of the series Rand has three girlfriends! I knew he was a goon, and I didn’t even get past the first book.)

Aragorn: Tromping around the known world like a dirty hobo, constantly brooding on his inferiority complex, and the ring he’s focused on isn’t even for his lady love? She’s giving up immortality for this guy, and he can’t even buy her a proper dinner? Good thing Arwen can see into the future and finds out that even though he’s terrible as a boyfriend, he does pretty well at being a husband. Without that little bit of knowledge, would she have put up with him at all?

FitzChivalry Farseer (spoiler in this paragraph): By the end of Assassin’s Quest, one wonders what Molly ever saw in him in the first place. The amazing thing is that he knows he’s a bad boyfriend, admitting that he is “the man who had lied to her, who had left her with child and never returned, and then caused that child to be stolen from her as well…” Yes, he fulfills some prophecies and saves the world, but why, considering this excellent resume, can’t he muster anything more impressive than a few late-night booty calls and some serious dead-beat dad jackassery? Because he’s an epic fantasy hero, that’s why!

To be fair, there are a few fantasy heroes that I would consider good boyfriend material. Nijiri’s dedication to Ehiru in N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon made me cry. Ingrey’s bond with Ijada in Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Hallowed Hunt was sweet and passionate and contained a minimum of bad boyfriend behavior (once he managed to stop trying to kill her in his sleep). But these guys, despite being heroes, aren’t really epic. They don’t save the whole world from all-encompassing evil, exactly, even though they do their part.

Most epic fantasy heroes would have a hard time getting past the first date with a sane partner. Why? Is the lack of viable romance in fantasy something that writers should be thinking about? Do the epic heroes of past masterpieces have a bad influence on the heroes (and writers) of today’s fantasy, or do they teach valuable lessons in how to juggle effective wooing and saving the world? I’m inventing a new genre: epic fantasy couples counseling. You’re welcome.

7 thoughts on “Dating Rand Al’Thor: the Crappy Boyfriends of Epic Fantasy

  1. Pingback: Human relationships in epic fantasy: Give me some quiet moments | A Readers Feast

  2. Haha! Writerly considerations aside, I’m trying to figure out how tolerant I would be of bad behavior if my boyfriend were an epic hero… It’s a good thing this is not a real-life problem.

    Great post!

    • Yeah, Jo never believes me when I tell her I failed to effectively parent the child or purchase the correct groceries because I was fighting tooth and nail against absolute evil.

  3. I really like this concept and subsequently see a glaring lack of character development in most fictional characters. It reminded me a great Ted Talk by Colin Stokes called “The Hidden Meaning in Kids’ Movies” ( which revolves around the idea that all our movie heroes defeat the bad guy in order to “get the girl” but never presents the girl as anything other than a vapid, two-dimensional walking curvy thing.

    Now I wondered, how does this post apply to my new favorite heroes Kaden and Valyn? Both were wonderfully dropped into their own crucible of culture that stamped out almost any ability to connect in a meaningful way with the fairer sex. Valyn almost got there… Over two books now I’ve hopefully drawn a few conclusions as to who hooks up with who, but I’m wondering if they are motivated more from the mindset of “oh shit I’m about to die let’s do this real quick” instead of “wow you are such a wonderful person who understands my flaws and doesn’t hold them against me, let’s fall deeply in love!” I’m not sure where Adare falls into all this. She is squarely in my “Hopefully gets an arrow or starshatter to the face soon” category after the end of Providence.

    • I don’t want to offer any spoilers, but I can say that those readers frustrated by the lack of sex and romance in the first two books, there is sex and romance in THE LAST MORTAL BOND. I’ll wager at least one of the pairings will come as a surprise to most readers…

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