Prince Arthur Paradigm YKTTW Discussion

Prince Arthur Paradigm
The hero is heroic because he is the hero and everything he does is heroic because he is the hero
(permanent link) added: 2012-01-14 14:54:07 sponsor: audienceofone (last reply: 2012-01-15 17:07:57)

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"And then Jack chopped down what was the world's last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, and all the giant's children didn't have a daddy any more. But he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you're a hero, because no-one asks inconvenient questions."
Susan, Hogfather

Indexes: Hero Tropes

Narratively, this dates back to Geoffrey of Monmouth's writings on Prince Arthur in the Middle Ages. Has similarities with Protagonist-Centered Morality in that the interpretation of the hero's actions is dependent on his role in the text as the hero. But whereas Protagonist-Centered Morality has the moral universe determined by the protagonist, the Prince Arthur Paradigm occurs where the moral universe is unchanged but the hero's actions are not subject to it. Rather than the hero being a hero because he behaves heroically, the hero's actions become heroic because he is the hero, regardless of what those actions are.

Prince Arthur used to rape, pillage, and murder but he was the hero of the tales so these are considered to be 'heroic' rapes and murders. Naturally everyone who opposed him was the villian even if their objections to his violence were justified. The trope is seen particularly in action films where the 'hero' uses the same tactics as the villian but is somehow excused them. So if the villian kneecaps ten guys with a submachine gun and hacks into the Federal Reserve he's a criminal. But if the 'hero' does it then it's suddenly justified.

Terry Pratchett references this trope often in his Discworld novels.

A Byronic Hero, such as Angel may operate within this paradigm, although their philosophical musings on their Darkand Troubled Past and their determination to live outside of society's rules are not characteristic. A hero operating in the Prince Arthur Paradigm believes sincerely that his actions are morally right because they're undertaken by him. In this, it also has similarities with the Designated Hero.


  • Rambo - In fighting the oppressive and violent Burmese military regime to save a group of missionaries, Rambo kills 236 people. In the finale he uses a jeep-mounted .50-caliber machine gun to mow down his enemies.

  • Taken - To rescue his daughter from sex traffickers, Bryan Mills murders and tortures his way across Europe; blatantly ignoring the plight of dozens of girls who are in the same situation as his kidnapped daughter. In this in particular - his lack of empathy and his use of violence - he behaves almost exactly the same as the movie's villians.

Live Action TV
  • Merlin - as a modern day retelling of the Arthurian legend, it's unsurprising that it falls into this trope. Camelot is constantly attacked by magical beings trying to protect themselves from a regime that marginalises and oppresses them yet that oppression, seen as evil under Uther's reign, is not seen as evil once it's Arthur doing it.

  • Person of Interest - vigilantes use illegal surveillance, hacking and violence to stop murders; justifying their behaviour by dividing their moral world into those who are 'good' and therefore deserving of protection and those who are 'bad'.
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