troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Alternative Character Interpretation: Literature

The following has been moved to a subpage due to length;


  • In the second-last scene of A Canticle for Leibowitz, is Rachel a being born without original sin (as the book portrays her), a bizarre nuclear mutant with no understanding of the world around her, a hallucination caused by Abbot Zerchi's impending death, or some combination of the above?
  • In the original A Christmas Carol, Scrooge may have had a point with a lot of the things people take issue with. For example his admonishment to Cratchit to wear an extra coat rather than waste money on wood for the fire isn't actually an unreasonable demand, and in fact the UK government in 2008 advised people to do the same in order to save on fuel bills. Scrooge can be simply a pragmatic if somewhat hard businessman.
    • Cratchit "boasted no greatcoat", meaning he couldn't afford one overcoat, much less two. It's Scrooge's responsibility as the employer to keep the office at a livable temperature, and he has ample resources to do so, but he doesn't (Dickens makes a point of describing it as very cold, not just less than comfortable).
    • Scrooge's thriftiness was what allowed him to become a philanthropist at the end of the novel. He is deliberately contrasted with his well-meaning but impoverished nephew. As Margaret Thatcher once remarked, nobody would have remembered the Good Samaritan if he had merely had good intentions; it was because he also had the money to back them up that he was effective. (In Real Life, there are numerous examples of ruthless businessmen turned public benefactors: Lord Nuffield, Andrew Carnegie and, some would argue, George Soros and the Koch brothers.)
      • Impoverished nephew? We have only Scrooge's perception to indicate that his nephew is "poor." Scrooge is so insecure about money, apparently, that he has a distorted idea of what "poor" means, since what we see of the nephew's household and lifestyle looks comfortably middle-class. Certainly nothing like the Cratchits' real poverty. And Scrooge's nephew does make a practical effort to help the poor in at least one instance, the incident in the Future segment where he offers to help Bob Cratchit's family.
      • In addition, one thing that often gets overlooked is that Scrooge is old—-the story's set ca. the first half of the 19th century, and he'd easily be old enough to remember, and have suffered in, the economic hard times that came with the Napoleonic Wars and afterwards. Some Great Depression survivors exhibited behaviors not too dissimilar to Scrooge, although not so extreme. If Scrooge remembered those times vividly, he might have been tight with his money because he never lost the fear that they would come back.
    • Additionally, Scrooge's visions may have been the result of a neurological disorder called Lewy Body Dementia, rather than an actual supernatural event.
    • Or Scrooge could have been right and it could have really *been* hallucinations brought on by food poisoning or something. The events (and their story progression and chronology) are confusingly phantasmagoric in a drug-trip-like way and it's difficult to tell exactly * what* may really be going on.
    • And then there's this, which... is probably intended as humor, though with the Von Mises Institute it's often very hard to tell.
  • In Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, Patrick Bateman's lifestyle and social expectations within his yuppie circle has obviously made him unhinged. But how unhinged is debatable: He may have really killed his victims, or imagined all (or maybe some) of his horrible hobbies.
    • The latter interpretation being supported in particular by his full-on police chase, where he escapes simply by running into a different building? A little too far-fetched to be real.
      • Literary critic John Sutherland observed that various references in the novel imply that the events of the novel take place around the stock market crash of 1987, the most traumatic financial event in a generation and one that even so narcissistic a Wall Street executive as Patrick Bateman ought to have noticed. Except that there is no mention of it whatsoever in American Psycho. Sutherland's conclusion was that Patrick Bateman has gone insane from too much stress and/or cocaine and has hallucinated the entire events of the novel.
  • Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal". The most common interpretation is that it's one of the most incisive satires ever written. There are those, however, who take it (and its solution to the problem discussed) completely at face value - some are Ax-Crazy, while others just fail at critical thinking. There is one small camp, though, that just believes that Swift meant it seriously because he was suffering from dementia - while he didn't develop full-blown dementia until later in life, arguments can be made that he showed some symptoms of it earlier.
    • Or it's about eating babies.
    • Clearly they were reading a different essay from me then, presumably one missing those paragraphs at the end where he lists all sorts of alternate solutions and declares that they couldn't possibly be implemented, with a tone so heavy on Sarcasm Mode it's a wonder the page didn't dissolve.
      • The clear interpretation is that he wrote most of it in a fugue, then revised it during a lucid period in which he realised how effective it would be.
  • Animorphs: Almost every character has several of these, partly because the later novels are ghostwritten by multiple authors and characters do vary somewhat depending on who is doing the writing. It's mostly because the books are deliberately ambiguous and are often about exploring a particular moral topic.
    • Rachel has probably the highest number of these, with some feeling she is a raging psychopath, others seeing her as a tragically misguided girl, and still others seeing her as a hero and feminist icon. The Separation deals with this clumsily; it's hard to tell whether it was deliberate Lampshade Hanging, or simply the author (since it's one of the few later books written entirely by K. A. Applegate herself) pointing out that other authors' interpretations of the character had resulted in an inconsistent characterization.
    • Tobias and Rachel are typically considered a canon couple. However, a portion of the Animorphs community hypothesize that Rachel never loved Tobias but merely loved the idea of Tobias, a wimpy sad sack who is easily controlled in order to satisfy her domineering and controlling personality and his "hawk" permanent form making him a completely deviant sexual partner to satisfy her adrenaline junkie ways. Megamorphs #4 shows that when Tobias is merely a slight loser and not full-on depressed and does not offer anything Rachel can't get elsewhere, she has no interest in him and prefers Marco, even going so far as to go on a date with him. Regular #32 shows that once you remove her dominant and thrill-seeking half of her personality, she has no special interest in Tobias and would date Marco if he asked her. Rachel desires to dominate and gain excitement by any means, and Tobias provides a convenient plaything to express those desires on.
      • He was only shown meeting her once in Megamorphs #4, and shortly afterwards he joined The Sharing, with all that comes with that. Before the series started, his only connection to any of the others was Jake having gotten some bullies off his back.
      • Plus, this was in an Alternate Universe, where he never got trapped as a hawk and Took a Level in Badass. So one could also easily interpret it as Rachel doesn't go for wimps, but prefers someone tough like herself. And Tobias post-hawk would definitely fall under that category.
    • Cassie was mostly accepted as a nice "tree hugging" girl, but some her more extreme actions in the last few books caused some to think of her as a Manipulative Bastard.
    • Jake's character isn't debated as much as the others, but his skills as a leader (or a lack thereof) are somewhat of a hot topic amongst fans. Fanfic where the author's favourite character or Mary Sue take over the group are fairly common.
    • Tobias may have referred to as Emohawk, but it's far from a universal opinion: some see him as The Lancer. Just check out this discussion page.
    • Marco was mostly shown to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold throughout the series but some fans insist he's actually very sensitive. Some Marco/Rachel shippers take his sensitivity to Draco in Leather Pants extremes.
    • David is up there with Rachel as far as hotly debated characterization goes, with some feeling he was an irredeemable sociopath who deserves everything he got and more, others seeing him as a not-nice but not-really-evil kid who got caught up in something way over his head and short-circuited under the avalanche of stuff he was weighed down with, and others still seeing him as the most human of the Animorphs and the Animorphs themselves as jerkasses who instigated a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal. It doesn't help that David's characterization veers very suddenly from ordinary kid to treacherous villain in The Threat and that his last appearance in The Return was very sympathetic, leading even Rachel to Cry for the Devil.
    • Some Christian fans insist that Ellimist/Crayak struggle is allegorical to God versus Satan, while others insist anyone who believes in an absolute good or evil battle completely missed the point of the whole series.
    • Similarly, Andalites, while being the "good" aliens in the story, are a xenophobic, militaristic, dictorial society where as the Yeerks, the "bad" aliens have figure head leader who is never revealed to the people, and it's implied that his only power is to be a tie breaker in the voting body. Of the three main characters of this race, they are all three set up against the norm in their culture (Ax and Elfangor both spent a good deal of time among the humans, and Visser Three is portrayed as especially cruel, even by his superior's standards).
    • The Andalites are implied to have a democratic government, but we never actually see this in action. In fact, one could almost argue they had to give more power to the military due to the whole Andalite-Yeerk war. Princes and War-Princes are more akin to Generals and such in the army, and so the royal connotations the name provides aren't exactly present (or are they?). In one book they mention getting the message of what is happening on the war-front to the Andalite people themselves, suggesting that maybe the people don't know what their soldiers did in the war.
      • The Andalites are also incredibly sexist. Apparently females are not allowed to serve in the military or in the important parts of the government. This is despite the fact that the only basis for the military ban is based on their being notably physically weaker, a premise that has lost purpose for centuries in their culture since most combat is done in space and the morphing technology could simply be used to give females a stronger form if physical combat did prove to major issue.
      • One book features a female aristh coming with a team of Andalites to Earth. Ax's narration makes it sound as if this is a recent change, though.
      • Estrid was not actually an aristh, though, just pretending to be one to explain her presence on the mission. Female arisths might not actually exist.
    • Everything we the readers know about the uses of the morphing technology is stuff that was figured out by the human main characters. In one book, it's noted that the Andalites use it as a tool for espionage, and most people who do so will spend their life learning to specialize in one or two morphs. The idea of treating it like an arsenal of weapons didn't occur to the Andalites (or at least, didn't occur to any Andalite important enough to send that idea up the chain to be put to use) until after the Visser Three was observed doing so and they still didn't make use of it.
  • The first Artemis Fowl book deliberately aims for this by making sure that every time Artemis does the right thing, he can explain it away as Pragmatic Villainy. The psychiatrist who narrates the book argues that Artemis is a sociopath (though admittedly not a standard case by any sense of the imagination), and warns of the tendency to view him as more noble than he really is. Later books make him more of a hero, though.
    • Him becoming a hero is explicitly stated to be character development. In the Eternity Code, just before the mind wipe, he says that he might become the monster seen at the start of the series. The next book reveals that he was right.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire's Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish: Power-mad Manipulative Bastard with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, Heartbroken Badass, a Yandere Psychopathic Manchild or tragic Gatsby? Why not all four?
    • Is Stannis Baratheon a complete Jerk Ass who needs to lighten up, a Woobie who can't open up or exactly the king that Westeros needs? Or is he all of the above — a man so emotionally dysfunctional thanks to his unfortunate childhood that he can barely function socially, but also a brave, just, and pragmatic man who would make an excellent king, especially with winter on the way?
    • Sandor "The Hound" Clegane is considered by pretty much everyone in-universe to be a sadistic psychopath who kills for fun. His explanation is that everyone is like that - he just doesn't try to disguise it like they do.
    • What is Varys really doing? Every explanation or justification he has ever given for his various actions is undermined in some way by one of the many schemes he has running in parallel. Does he really just want to serve the realm as a whole (even if it requires a lot of dog shooting to do so) or is he concerned more for his own power and survival and his various contradictory schemes are simply him being Crazy-Prepared to make sure he'll always have Vetinari Job Security with the winning side?
    • Should we actually applaud honour in this world? Getting yourself killed with Honour Before Reason is one thing, but when it's been explained to you that refusing to get your own hands dirty will cause a war in which tens of thousands will be killed, and you still prioritise The Needs of the Many less than your personal honour, can you really be considered a "good" person? Ned Stark, we're looking at you.
      • On the reverse side, is completely setting aside honour but acting for The Needs of the Many going to have a positive effect on your self-esteem and moral character? Jaime Lannister, we're looking at you.
    • The Lannisters are frequently subject to this: Is Jaime sincerely trying to atone for his deeds or simply manipulate his public image? Is he genuinely remorseful over what he has done or simply self-justifying? Is Cersei a tragic case of paranoia? Did Tyrion's murder of his father and his lover take him from a tragically misunderstood character to outright villainy?
    • Tywin Lannister is a big one for the series and the fandom. Is he a megalomaniacal Evil Overlord who will crush any and everyone in his obsessive quest for unrivaled superiority? Or is he a complex Broken Ace doing everything in his power to stay ahead of the other power-hungry Magnificent Bastards and resorting to Pragmatic Villainy in order to secure his family's future? Are his incredibly ruthless actions justified given the cruel and unforgiving nature of the world he lives in? Or is it a horrifying combination of Disproportionate Retribution and Evil Is Petty? Or is it all of the above?
    • Daenerys gets a lot of sympathy points for her Sympathetic P.O.V. chapters, but the fact remains she is still willing to start a war with "her" people to reclaim her "birthright", even though it has been repeatedly explained to her that the common people she believes are her subjects don't care who rules them, just as long as they can get on with their lives in peace. It has also been explained to her that her father really was a lunatic, and that some of the "Usurper's dogs" truly were good people, yet she still plans on obliterating them all for revenge.
      • Actually a lot of the various lords, even the sympathetic ones, get this, because they are still prioritising their personal honour and rights over those of the people they are meant to be ruling and protecting. Possibly excusable by the Deliberate Values Dissonance of the Medieval Stasis Crapsack World, but still jarring for the readers.
    • Viserys gets some of this in fanon, despite being one of the most unsympathetic characters in the series. Is he just a jerkass who uses everyone, especially her sister, as pawns in his quest for his father's throne or has the pressure of having to restore the family name turned him into a tragic figure? Harry Lloyd definitely plays up some of the latter on the TV series. Also, the fifth book reveals that he was planning on taking Dany's virginity before her wedding to Drogo, but Illyrio placed guards in front of her bedroom to prevent him from doing that. In-universe, he views himself as the rightful King of Westeros and the last dragon, but most of the world just sees him as the pitiful Beggar King (along with the various unsavory epithets given to him by the Dothraki).
    • Robert Baratheon, especially in-universe. Is he a Heartbroken Badass still mourning the loss of his Lost Lenore, a fat, drunken lech who drove the kingdom into debt, or just a soldier who never adjusted well to being a king? Definitely some combination of all of the above. Even Ned brings up the valid point that Robert wasn't really in love with Lyanna, and only saw her beauty rather than her willful wolf-blooded personality.
    • Rhaegar Targaryen. Robert sees him as a vile rapist and monster and is the only character who seems to hate him, while the rest of Westeros sees him as a beloved figure. There is a seedier side to him, given that he abandoned his sickly wife Elia Martell in favor of Lyanna Stark. Alternatively, Elia could had willing allowed Rhaegar to be with Lyanna. Elia and Rhaegar were an arranged marriage. Dorne does have a practice of men in political marriages openly taking lovers. She could have realized that Rhaegar wanted another child and unable to survive another pregnancy, she allowed Rhaeger and Lyanna to be together. Ageon or Rhaegar could legitimize the resulting child and Lyanna could be allowed to forgo an arranged marriage she wasn't too happy about or prove that Robert loved her more than the idea of her. Unfortunately, like every other scheme in Westros, it was better in theory.
    • Theon Greyjoy. Most see him as a Jerkass, but this begins to shift after the fifth book. The TV series features him more prominently and plays up his "Well Done, Son" Guy side, especially after reuniting with his family on Pyke.
    • For that matter, is the rap on Ned Stark, that he put Honor Before Reason and foolishly got himself killed and helped bring about a disastrous war, entirely, or at all, fair? What should he have done? Let Joffrey take the throne, as Petyr suggested? Joffrey was a sadistic psychopath, as Eddard well knew. Back Renly, as, well, Renly wanted, in exchange for the support of Renly's followers in taking the Red Keep and seizing the Queen and her children? What on earth makes anyone think that Renly would have been a good king, or even not a terrible one? Both Maester Cressen, who raised Renly, and Renly's grandmother-in-law, described Renly in basically the same way, as someone who looked good, sounded good, and therefore thought he ought to be king, despite having no valid claim and no real qualifications to rule, and they certainly seemed to have his number. Why should Eddard have wanted to put him on the throne? Would that have been for the good of the common people of Westeros? Crowning Joffrey would have meant putting another Aerys on the throne. Crowning Renly might not have been as bad, but it certainly would have meant a huge civil war, since Renly's claim was, frankly, nonexistent. So wasn't Eddard's plan, realistically speaking, the best available option for the good of the realm? Put the rightful king, Stannis, on the throne, and then explain to the whole country just why Stannis was the rightful king, and point out to everyone that, even if they don't particularly like Stannis, the alternative is civil war? Obviously it didn't work out, but what was his better choice? If he wanted to avoid war and disaster, what should have done?
    • Pycelle is not a Lannister bootlicker. He just understands with a clarity no one else seems to have that the Order of Measters, and by extension every other neutral Westerosi institution, cannot just stand by and let the realm ruin itself. They must choose a side.
  • The novel Beetle in the Anthill by Strugatsky Brothers: is Abalkin really an innocent suspected because of bad luck and Sikorsky's paranoia, or has he indeed become Brainwashed and Crazy because of alien programming?
  • The Belgariad: Is Merel a shrewish, spiteful bitch who is making the worst out of a situation that could be a lot worse (which is what the characters believe) or a woman trapped in a marriage with someone she didn't want, who ends up bearing three children through what was certainly not consensual sex and who is treated like a spoilt brat by people who should be more sympathetic (which is what some fans believe)?
    • Is Zakath a tormented person who was cruelly led astray, committed horrible acts and then later repents and becomes a good person, or a tormented person who was cruelly led astray, committed horrible acts, repents and then gets treated like someone who's made up for trying to commit genocide despite the fact that his army murdered thousands of people?
  • In Fred Saberhagen's Book of Swords trilogy, we are led to believe that Mark is the biological offspring of the Emperor, and that the idea presented in the First Book of Swords that Mark might have been the son of Duke Fratkin is just a red herring. If so, however, why did Saberhagen insert the passage about the hand-tooled leather mask, given the exact same description given as the one Mark's father wore the night of his conception, in Fratkin's castle? And why are Mark and Fratkin described physically in similar language: not very tall, of medium build, handsome, but not unusually so? What if the Emperor, needing a champion (or pawn, depending on how you look at it) to deal with the Swords, chose Mark because of his connection to Jord, and, in effect, adopted him? After all, presumably, the Emperor could extend to anyone the power to cast out demons.
  • The Catcher in the Rye: Holden Caulfield is either a tortured intellectual who is driven insane by the general falseness of people and his increasing isolation from them, or a spoiled, racist, misogynistic, prudish, hypocrite, who doesn't know how to act properly in public. Or both? Or just, you know, a teenager?
    • Another interpretation is that he is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to his brother's death of leukemia and his classmate's suicide while wearing his sweater. Holden does mention seeing his classmate's dead face several times, with little emotional reaction.
  • Even though Edmund Pevensie, from The Chronicles of Narnia, is a jerkass Anti-Hero that does a Heel-Face Turn in the first book, his personality is quite ambiguous and hard to define in the rest of the books and especially the movie versions. While he is on the good side in the second and the third parts, many factors like his Deadpan Snarker tendencies and his dark thoughts that seem to be brought to surface in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader several times still reveal traces of his Anti-Hero mode. He's the only character who has a page specially dedicated to his personality.
  • Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!Dirty Coward with gobs and gobs of luck — both good and bad — and a self-interest so enlightened you could illuminate a city with it, or amazing hero with a perverse streak of humility and a reasonable degree of prudence (which is a virtue, after all)?
    • Or, he's a bit of both and the most pious Commissar in the history of the Imperium. Just look at how much he talks about "Emperor-botherers" and how The Emperor has much better things to do than keep an eye on him, and so he should do as much as he can to ensure his survival to allow The Emperor to focus His attention elsewhere, where it's needed.
      • Because of the POV of the novels, actually he could be anywhere on the continuum; it would be impossible to rule out any such reading.
      • Especially since the Shrug of God has occurred. Sandy Mitchell admits he does not know whether Cain is selling himself short.
  • Does Conan the Barbarian get bored of the Girl of the Week and dump her between stories, or does he try to make their relationship work even after he inevitably runs out of money and has to sleep in a ditch, at which point she says enough is enough and finds someone more stable?
  • The Other Mother in Coraline. Some say her only desire to eat children's lives; others say she's a Woobie who truly wants to love and be loved but just can't control her hunger.
    • Alternately, she might not see the difference between loving children and eating their lives. Just like how she doesn't see the difference between loving someone enough to know what's genuinely best for them, or giving them everything they want.
  • Count and Countess presents a fictional relationship between Vlad Tepes and Elizabeth Bathory that transcends the time standing between them. While both characters are accurately portrayed as vicious and amoral, it's a direct result of childhood traumas: Vlad served as a Janissary while held captive by the Ottoman Empire and Elizabeth is an invalid and forced into a loveless, even abusive marriage when she's barely a teenager.
  • Cthulhu Mythos: Nyarlathotep is manipulating humans and seems to be trying to destroy mankind, but why? Is he merely doing his job by fulfilling the whims of the Outer Gods, or is he just a cosmic jerkass who wants to see the world burn because it amuses him? Or perhaps he hates his task of serving the Outer Gods for all eternity, and takes out his frustration by manipulating and destroying mortals? He is never given much charcterisation in Lovecraft's writing, but from what we know, all interpretations seem valid (he is stated to exist to serve the will of the Outer Gods, he is shown to show disdain for them, and at least in Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath he is clearly a dick).
    • Or Dream Quest of the Unknown Kadath is about a Lawful Neutral guardian of order desperately trying to keep the cement-headed hero from screwing up the cosmic balance. Yeah, it's kind of a dick move, but Carter had repeatedly shown he wasn't willing to listen to reason or get stopped by anything else.
  • A novel in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, Deadheads, features a lead character, Patrick Redpath, whose enemies have a tendency to have fatal accidents with seemingly perfectly natural explanations. He's either the luckiest man in the world, or an incredibly skilled psychopath.
  • Dangerous Liaisons:
    • Are Valmont and Mme Merteuil just bored aristocrats who don't know when to stop, consequently ruining their own and other people's lives?
  • Death of a Salesman can be seen as a brutal depiction of an ordinary man's struggle with bipolar disorder, or an Anvilicious attack on the American Dream.
    • Bipolar disorder? Where do we infer that from? Sure, he's deluded and probably going senile, but that seems like an overspecification.
    • It's probably not "against" the American dream. It's more against chasing a dream that doesn't suit you. If Willy was a great salesman, then chasing the American dream would have been the right choice. It's the fact that he rejected his true talents that make it a tragedy.
    • Also, who's the real hero of the story? Willy the eponymous Salesman? Biff, the Ensemble Dark Horse? Willy's wife, who (unlike Biff and Willy) never did anything actually wrong, and gets the most tragedy in the end?
  • There are some fans who believe Carrot Ironfoundersson of the Discworld books is actually the Chessmaster, playing a long (if not unfriendly) game with the Patrician. The fact that, unusually for a Discworld character, we hardly ever hear his thoughts but must rely on the perceptions of others, does make you wonder...
  • In Lord Byron's epic poem Don Juan, the author reinterprets the (in)famous Anti Heroic The Casanova as a Cosmic Plaything who is so handsome, it's a curse and gets screwed over by dozens of women, some with less than admirable motives. (The author could sympathize with his hero on that.)
  • Don Quixote: At part II, chapter XI, Don Quixote found a car carrying several actors dressed as devils, angels, emperors, death, cupid, etc. When they explain that they are mere actors who are dressed to represent the play of 'The Cortes of Death', Don Quixote says: "By the faith of a knight-errant," replied Don Quixote, "when I saw this cart I fancied some great adventure was presenting itself to me; but I declare one must touch with the hand what appears to the eye, if illusions are to be avoided. God speed you, good people; keep your festival, and remember, if you demand of me ought wherein I can render you a service, I will do it gladly and willingly, for from a child I was fond of the play, and in my youth a keen lover of the actor's art." Several critics have toyed with the idea that Don Quixote never lost that passion for theater and behaves like an actor: he does not believe to be a knight, but pretends to be one, as if he's on stage.
  • The Dracula Tape presents the events of Dracula from the eponymous vampire's point of view, suggesting that he was actually a good guy who, due to various misunderstandings and the active maliciousness of some, keeps being hounded by the 'good guys' of the original novel.
  • In Dragaera: Sethra Lavode: Evil Enchantress prone to Chronic Backstabbing Disorder or Fairy Godmother and Guile Hero always looking out for the good of The Empire? Adron e'Kieron - The Evil Prince or a Well-Intentioned Extremist? These two are actually brought up by Paarfi.
    • Just don't mention that first interpretation of Adron to Aliera or Morrolan. Unless you enjoy being dismembered. And Sethra... well, Sethra may well be both, particularly given the fact that we know some aspects of her personality have reversed completely several times over the course of her very, very long life and unlife.
  • Paladine in the Dragonlance novels is ostensibly the god of majesty, law, and nobility, but this can just as easily be seen as a long-running con played by the trickster-god who is really the patron of outsiders, exiles, rebels, and forbidden love. Consider that every single one of his mortal champions have been outsiders, misfits or damaged goods; that his mortal avatar is an apparently-senile pyromaniac wizard who is in fact the past-master of Obfuscating Stupidity; and that his dragon-mount at the end of the War of the Lance is senile, nearly deaf, and nearly blind.
    • This interpretation gets a boost in "Test of the Twins," when one of the characters asks what Paladine was thinking, giving Crysania the power to help Raistlin open the Portal. By the standard interpretation, it's a damn good question and the answer given is weak at best. But if Paladine is the trickster patron of outsiders and rebels, well... Raistlin is the ultimate outsider-rebel, isn't he? And back in the Chronicles, Paladine and Raistlin always did seem to get along amazingly well...
    • His avatar most definitely is a big trickster. So, what he did in Tymora's Luck (Forgotten Realms/Planescape novel) is very, very in character.
  • On the subject of the gods of Dragonlance, are the gods of evil really evil at all? Is Takhisis really the goddess of tyranny, for instance, or is she simply the matron of order, law, community, and self-discipline, in opposition to Paladine, who is clearly the god of freedom, rebellion, and individuality? Likewise, is Sargonnas really the god of vengeance, or of strict justice, in opposition to Mishakal, who is the goddess of mercy and compassion? Chemosh and Morgion are the gods of death and disease, respectively, but aren't those a part of life with their place in the natural order? Hiddukel is the god of greed, which is be destructive and productive, for without it, would people strive to improve their lot in life? Zeboim, as the goddess of the sea, can certainly be tempestuous and destructive, but, again, isn't that the nature of the sea, and necessary in various ways for life? As for Nuitari, as the god of dark magic, is he really the patron of evil wizards, or of wizards who are more willing to pursue knowledge in any form, even that which some would prefer be forbidden? In support of this interpretation is the simple fact that no less an authority than Paladine says that balance between the gods of light and darkness is necessary, and that life could not exist without both sides.
    • Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman (who wrote the original Dragonlance novels, even if they didn't create the original D&D campaign setting) went on to write the Rose of the Prophet trilogy, where the 20 gods were divided into "good", "evil" and "neutral", each embodying 3 different good, evil and neutral attributes which they shared among themselves. It was a very complex system which fits this topic extremely well.
    • There are some fans who believe that Raistlin was a Well-Intentioned Extremist who wanted to make the world a better place by overthrowing all of the gods.
      • The standard depictions are either that he's a spiteful chronic betrayer, incapable of love, interested only in his own power who abandons people to their deaths without a thought once they're no longer useful to him and considered himself high above humanity even before going on a quest to become an actual god - or he's a former bishonen nerd in a world that didn't appreciate that sort of thing, who was bullied all his life, including having people trying to burn him at the stake at least once, who tirelessly worked to aid the poor, downtrodden, and 'unspeakable' members of society without but met with nothing but suspicion and hatred. The Conclave of Wizards then tried to teach him "compassion" by making him even more set apart from humanity so that he was surrounded by death and decay at all times - so eventually, he goes Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds on them.
    • Nuitari shares a home with the other two, at some weird three-realms demiplane — it's not like they can't stand the smell of each other's kitchen or something.
  • In-universe example in The Dresden Files: A pretty good chunk of the White Council isn't sure whether Harry is an insanely Badass superstar slayer of evil with a propensity for doing stupid things or some sort of Magnificent Bastard playing them all for chumps and gathering an absurd amount of power for his eventual rebellion, since he was trained by a warlock, bends the Laws of Magic, defies the Merlin, takes another warlock as an apprentice, started a disastrous war with the vampires, and the like.
    • Or, Harry Dresden, the weapon all too likely to go "bang"? Raised and taught to be a thug, skirts the Laws of Magic, draws his strength from his own terrible anger, tends to leave a wide wake of destruction behind him. Most people are afraid of him, but there are a few - Lara Raith, Mab, the Merlin, Uriel - who are all too willing to point him at their enemies and pull the trigger.
      • As the series went on, Harry's actions and narration began to spawn more out of universe discussion, too; this wasn't helped by his Unreliable Narrator tendencies and eternally pessimistic view of himself and the world. At this point, fans can argue he's good, evil, or any point in between.
      • He's a essentially good, if insecure, Determinator who's struggling against A Fate Worse Than Death ( the Winter Knight mantle), the trauma of almost being murdered by his adoptive father, and the deadly, paranoia-inducing Crapsack World he lives in. This is hinted at through the encouraging words of his True Companions- but they may well be biased- and the actions he takes to help people throughout the novels- though he could simply be lying about his motivations, or doing it to increase his own power over Chicago- and dialogue from a reasonably trustworthy source stating that the Mantle would warp anyone's desires to psychopathic extents, no matter how compassionate they were.
      • He's an arrogant, sadistic Blood Knight who manipulates everyone around him for his own purposes, is only tolerated for the magical protection he gives Chicago, and verges on rape twice in Cold Days. This is supported by Harry's inner narration, in which he is always quick to point out his flaws or possible pragmatic motivations; the conversation he has with Mab in which Harry acknowledges he may be The Svengali to Molly, and the fireball scene in White Night, depending on your opinion.
      • He's a Chaotic Neutral who cares for his friends and daughter and would sacrifice his soul to save them- but doesn't care all that much about other people. Verges on Well-Intentioned Extremist sometimes.
      • He's a male Broken Bird and his actions in Changes were done out of a desire to die and end his pain. Unfortunately, it didn't work.
    • The White Council is itself subject to this, both in universe and out. Are they, as Harry believes, a bunch of reactionary elders who occasionally mean well, but generally do more harm than good; the only thing protecting the world from demons, monsters and dark wizards (as Morgan believes); a group of cowardly weaklings who neglect the world (as Harry's mother thought); or is their purpose simply to preserve the balance by preventing magic-users from intervening openly in everyday society (Luccio's view).
    • Does Lasciel really care about Harry or is she just manipulating him?
      • Lasciel doesn't give a damn about Harry. Lash, OTOH...
  • Kind of a weird example since the more negative interpretation comes from the narration of that character himself, but Brust recently produced a story narrated by the Dzur Telnan, found here that presents a quite different picture of him than the one that was presented in Dzur. Unlike the Telnan in Vlad's narration who was a harmless ditz (with some Blood Knight qualities), in his own narration, Telnan is still kind of quirky, but he's also frankly kind of Ax-Crazy. The story is about how he came across his Great Weapon, which is a being of pure evil that wants nothing but wanton slaughter. Telnan wins it over by convincing it that he's a kindred spirit and that if it sticks with him, it will get plenty of opportunities to kill (the two compromise- the sword wants to kill innocents; Telnan promises it the "less than fully guilty").
  • It's hard to argue that Cathy from East of Eden is despicable, but in many forums the question arises: what was her Start of Darkness? Was she really rotten from the beginning? Or was she Molested for Real in that shed (with boys; she is described as being in genuine shock then) and her later promiscuous (and destructive) behaviour stems from this? Or, as many conclude given modern understanding of psychology, was she a victim of Parental Incest, and her behaviour in the shed was just reenacting the abuse? The latter would make her killing her parents later to run away and become a prostitute much more plausible.
  • Ender of Ender’s Game: misunderstood victim of forces beyond his control, or tiny naked Hitler?
    • The above article makes some interesting points, but largely glosses over the fact that Ender is a pre-pubescent child throughout the original novel. For all his intelligence and maturity, he's still just a kid and, unlike Bean, unaware of the full context of his actions until it's too late. Not only that, he wasn't given enough information to even be able to comprehend the consequences of his actions. He was lied to, and didn't know that he was actually commanding real men in a real war. He was so disgusted with himself that he went into a comatose state for a few days, at least, and spent the next 3000 years trying to repent. He abhorred violence, despite the fact that he was very good at it, and was also devastated after his fight with Bonzo. The later revelation that aliens had been dissecting his dreams and trying to enter his mind for weeks leading up to the big moment, and that the military officers running the show did everything in their power to hide the truth from the kids for the specific reason that they needed the little tactical geniuses to never hesitate over loss of life (Human or Formic) during a battle (the officers claim that key battles were lost during the previous wars when commanders hesitated to order soldiers to their deaths, because the Formics don't). The article also makes it sound like "to be a killer, you must know you are killing" is a bad thing, even though it's what most people would think anyways. The claims that we never get a chance to find out the motives of Bernard, Stilson, Peter, etc. only Ender's, is somewhat moot when you remember that in all of his acts of violence Ender was acting in self-defence, while those bullying him were attacking out of jealousy. The claims that Ender committed genocide is highly suspect when you remember that the buggers are a hive-mind, meaning most of them aren't even sentient, so at worst it was large-scale animal cruelty, at best Ender caused a power outage. So yeah, Ender kinda is a victim.
    • Oddly enough, this debate takes place inside the story's canon. Ender, the poor kid who saved the world, or Ender the Xenocide? It goes both ways depending on where you are in the timeline and how the Formics are perceived—which, itself, is a plot point.
    • The point of the article is that the plot is a series of incredibly contrived circumstances where Ender can commit what, to the reader at least, feel like sublimely satisfying revenge murders, and yet always somehow walk away looking like a plaster saint because he's innocent on a technicality (even if that technicality is just that "he didn't enjoy it," or "he only meant to cripple them," or "he didn't hang around to watch the children he'd beaten to death actually die"). In-story, Ender feels guilty, but we the readers get to simultaneously enjoy a couple of savage murders, and then get the added bonus of feeling indignant that Ender would even blame himself for deaths that are clearly never, ever his fault. It's the ultimate revenge fantasy, getting to beat your persecutors mercilessly to death with your bare hands, and yet be magically blameless for the deed. The article argues that this is not a good fantasy to indulge in.
    • Complicating the matter with Ender's killing of Bonzo and the first bully (who are the only people Ender killed directly), Ender would use excessive force in attacking them and (in the case of the first bully) kept beating them after he'd already won. At the same time, there was no intent to kill either of them, only badly hurt them, which makes the question of Ender's guilt in those issues much blurrier.
  • In K. A. Applegate's twelve-book Everworld series, the witch Senna is often subject to this, helped in no doubt by her mysterious nature and withdrawn personality. Some fans perceive her as an emotionally complex Jerkass Woobie who was never loved, leading to her becoming an antisocial outcast who uses power as a substitute for the love she'd never gotten. Some fans perceive her as an unstable, amoral, murderous psychopath and a sadistic tyrant who savors tormenting and controlling others, incapable of love, trust, or true friendship, driven by an egomaniacal god complex to gain ultimate power at any cost. Others view her as a bold, intelligent, diligent, charismatic, empathetic, Badass anti-heroine, a master of the human psyche, and a realistically portrayed emotional girl who genuinely cares about Everworld and wants to help the people there by removing the corrupt rulers in place, and who's only vice is maybe enjoying what she does a little too much. Whatever the case, she makes for quite an interesting character and a definite Ensemble Darkhorse.
  • In a rare case of an Alternate Character Interpretation relating to physical features, the Balrog in Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring either does or does not have wings. Fans fight over this endlessly. The wording in the original book is somewhat ambiguous, and the wings may or may not be a metaphor.
    • Tolkien's other works like The Silmarillion are invoked in this debate by both sides. That work says Balrogs "flew" to Melkor's aid when he was attacked by Ungoliant. Yet "flew" can be figurative, as in Gandalf telling the Fellowship to fly (run away). The Silmarillion also describes Balrogs marching.
    • This has been parodied with debates over whether the Balrog in the Bakshi animated Lord of the Rings was wearing fuzzy bunny slippers.
    • Was The Balrog simply hiding Underground waiting for its moment to Take Over the World or was it simply trying to live in peace till either the world ends or his master calls him back to service.
    • Some fans see Sam as the real hero of the story. Others think of him as a whiny, negative annoyance who is always complaining, and whose refusal to be nice to Sméagol is what led to the latter's ultimate betrayal.
      • Tolkien himself once called Sam the true hero of the tale (see The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien). He knew that some of his readers considered Sam annoying and acknowledged that this was, to a certain extent, understandable. Alternate Character Interpretation indeed.
      • And on that subject, many fans consider Sméagol to be either far more sympathetic and well-meaning than Tolkien presented (remember, this is the man who let him defeat the Big Bad) or a monstrous shadow of a man fully controlled by his Gollum side. Some see Gollum as a somewhat sympathetic character thanks to how pitiful he is from all the Mind Rape, and Smeagol as a Jerkass who only got worse when they first found the ring.
      • Legolas and Gimli post-books: Heterosexual Life-Partners or Ambiguously Gay? You decide! Not to mention Frodo and Sam.
    • In keeping with the Sam example above, Frodo is widely held as either the savior of Middle-Earth, a weak puppet who needs the assistance of everyone around him to survive, or a little boy who always needs Sam to nurse him and carry him.
    • With its laconic, distant narration, The Silmarillion is rife with Alternative Character Interpretation: see for instance Fëanor, his sons, Thingol.
      • Maedhros is a particularly good example: he's initially portrayed as the most rational and sympathetic of the sons of Fëanor, but by the end of the book that role is taken over by his younger brother Maglor. As a result, fanfic writers writing about the end of his life describe him as either willing to kill children without a second thought, or as a kind, but broken character. To a lesser extent, that is also true of Maglor.
    • Túrin also fits: many see him as the Woobie, others as despicable.
    • How about Eru Ilúvatar Himself? If he had just given Melkor his own slice of Flame Imperishable to create things with (remember that all Melkor wanted in the beginning was to be able to make life himself), perhaps Melkor never would have turned evil and become Morgoth, and all the bad things that happened to Arda would have never happened
  • Frankenstein: There are two ways to see Victor Frankenstein — either he is a tragic and naive scientist who - in his enthusiasm - bit off more than he could chew and paid a horrible price and suffered too much for it and has every right to be emo OR a selfish asshole who tried to keep his PR clean by abandoning the monster and got what was coming to him and he's being whiny about it.
    • There is a third way: he's a self-centered coward who ran from his creation not long after it was finished (the equivalent of a parent abandoning a newborn), and his agonizing over the course of the book is nothing more than an evasion of any and all responsibility for what he's done.
    • And the monster is either a far bigger woobie than Vic could ever hope to be, abandoned by the only person he could possibly consider a parent, or a creature that really shouldn't have ever been created in the first place, and his pleas for sympathy are actually a sign of Manipulative Bastardry.
    • Or the monster is a creature that shouldn't have ever been created in the first place, but it's not like that's the monster's fault, and he really just wants somebody to work with him to resolve what they all know to be a terrible situation instead of shunning him for existing, which is again not his fault. As you might expect, this rational and considerate attitude is met with fear and horror by everybody. The monster may not be a nice guy, but he did nothing wrong. An evil man who has yet to commit a crime is still innocent.
      • Nothing wrong but murder a child (William Frankenstein) and frame an innocent woman for it.
      • The Monster accidentally killed William, although framing the nanny for it was certainly a deliberate choice. In any case, however, both actions were after he had already been abandoned, shunned, and mistreated simply because of his appearance.
    • Possibly equivalent of a deformed child born out of wedlock by an ultra religous woman with a horrible translation of her own religion. When the child is deformed she decides it's Gods way of telling her he never should have existed not realising that whether his creation was a sin or not it's too late now to change the past and the child being a good creature deserves love and it's her responsibility to give him that love, and decides on some flawed logic to abandon him. A combination of being shunned by everybody, never having anybody to teach him right and wrong and being physically stronger than most adult men while mentally in some sort of twilight zone where he is still in many ways a child causes him to do evil things out of anger and immaturity. However he still makes every attempt to reason with the world he can think of blind man can't see I'm ugly maby if I go to him first he can make my case, child shouldn't be prejudiced yet, I might be able to convince my parent that I'm owed some sort of chance. Given he does not go through every rout before doing bad stuff but as far as we know would have become a freaking angel if anybody gave him a chance.
    • Or, yet ANOTHER way to look at it, the monster had the potential to be one of the greatest men to ever live (both a brilliant mind capable of learning to speak by listening to people from another room, and amazing physical abilities), but gradually lost any will to be a part of human society, and then eventually turned outright violent against it. If you interpret it this way, then Walton is there to provide irony: He nearly got his men killed trying to reach a place the monster could have WALKED TO. Imagine if he had become an explorer.
    • Another interpretation is that the Creature never actually existed, and all the things that Victor claims were its actions were, in fact, his. This means that Walton hallucinated or dreamt the section where he meets the Creature, but some argue that this is more probable than the alternative.
      • That seemed to be the interpretation of Thomas Edison's film.
    • Or yet ANOTHER way to look at it, both Victor Frankenstein and his Creature are tragic heroes and both mirror the fall of humanity. Victor Frankenstein starts out as a highly intelligent, well-meaning, and charismatic individual, but with no common sense. He is driven to create life and upon witnessing what he has done heartlessly abandons his creation, thus sealing both his own fate and the Creature's. The Creature starts with a Tabula Rasa that instinctively leans towards good (Rousseau Was Right?) but turns evil when he experiences discrimination at the hands of humanity. Neither is innocent; Frankenstein toyed with the forces of creation and then callously abandoned his creation, while the Creature murdered several innocent individuals, but neither is unsympathetic; after all, both lose everything until all they have left is to torment each other until they die.
  • Gone series:
    • In both the fandom and the series, one of the most controversial questions is whether Astrid is a troubled but well meaning heroine who tried desperately hard to be the good guy or a manipulative, sanctimonious Icequeen who thinks only of herself, as Sinder put it. Like when she pushed her little brother out a window was she trying to save 200 children and bring back 200 more, or was it a selfish act when she should of been there for her defenseless little brother? Or did she genuinely love and care about Sam or was she just using him as protection? Did she think telling the whole town about Mary's bulimia was so she could get her some support and help and keep the littles safe, or did she do it because she saw Mary as a threat and wanted to distract from her own faults? Debatable stuff. Expect things to get nasty whichever side you come down on .
    • Did Caine genuinely love Diana or was he just a manipulative dick who used her for sex? Who knows, as it's constantly being contradicted in Caine's POVS. one minute he's thinking about nothing but how beautiful and smart she is and how he wants to marry her, etc, etc, and the next he's dismissing her as a object or pawn, so to speak, with no interest in her emotions or well-being. Either way, it's riled many heated fan debates, especially after the elusiveness of Plague...
      • Light answers this question quite overtly. It would seem, yes, he sincerely did care for and love Diana. He just doesn't understand the concept of love without abuse. May be a darker take on the Tsundere.
    • Was Howard manipulating Orc to get him money and protection, or did he have genuine concern and understanding for Orc?
    • Fear spoilers; Is Gaia the premature corpse of Caine/Diana's daughter being possessed by the soulless gaiaphage, or is she still human somewhere deep down who is simply a victim?
    • Was Mary Terrafino euthanized or the victim of divine intervention by the gaiaphage?
    • ...Some fans believe that Diana pushed her mother down the stairs, and that it was not by any means a accident.
  • Gone with the Wind: Is Scarlett an amoral, greedy manipulator trying to steal someone else's husband and make herself rich, a pragmatic True Neutral willing to do anything to survive a brutal world, or a repressed, bitter-yet-generous Broken Bird who suffers constantly from trauma/unrequited love/the shock of nearly starving to death? The debate over this is one of the oldest in American literature.
    • Is Melanie really as naïve as Scarlett thinks, or does she know about Ashley's attraction to Scarlett and trust him not to act on it?
    • Why does Scarlett envy Melanie so much? Is it because she's married to Ashley, the man Scarlett loves...or because Melanie embodies the 'perfect Southern lady' archetype that Scarlett was trained to be but could not live up to? (Canon uses the first option.)
    • Rhett: A caring, politically progressive man unafraid to speak his mind, or a greedy, unashamedly manipulative rapist? Canon is clear that he's an Anti-Hero and Trickster Archetype, but that doesn't really confirm anything about his morality.
  • Fandom portrayal of the angel Aziraphale from Good Omens fluctuates between "naive, easily flustered fop" and "good-natured being who's more cunning than he lets on" in fanfic, depending on how much the Fan Fic writers emphasize or downplay his canonically hinted-at devious side ("Just because you were an angel didn't mean you had to be a fool"). This also affects Crowley, who's either depicted as skilled in flustering and/or tempting Aziraphale, or having the tables turned on him by a more subtly manipulative Aziraphale (though for the greater good).
    • Crowley also gets some varying interpretations. The most common interpretation is that he's a Noble Demon who genuinely enjoys doing evil deeds, so long as they aren't too evil, but an alternate one is that he only does evil because it's his job and secretly loathes the creature the Fall forced him into being (it's stated in canon that his Fall was unintentional).
  • With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, some fans (and implied in the eyes of Aberforth) have begun seeing Dumbledore as a Knight Templar and/or a Manipulative Bastard. He was certainly a Chessmaster. The former two are almost certain to show up in "Darker and Edgier" fics. Unlike in canon, however, most have him entirely unrepentant about what he thinks of as necessary measures.
    • And with the revelation of Dumbledore's homosexuality, was Grindelwald straight but unaware of Albus's feelings, straight but aware and unable to figure out how to respond, gay but not in love with Albus, gay and in love and tragically opposed to his "better half's" sense of morality, or simply manipulating Dumbledore's feelings without any intention of reciprocating, regardless of orientation? Even [1] this quote from Jo herself is ambiguous.
      I think [Grindlewald] was a user and a narcissist and I think someone like that would use it, would use the infatuation. I don't think that he would reciprocate in that way, although he would be as dazzled by Dumbledore as Dumbledore was by him, because he would see in Dumbledore, 'My God, I never knew there was someone as brilliant as me, as talented as me, as powerful as me. Together, we are unstoppable!' Maybe he would take anything from Dumbledore to have him on his side.
    • The way Dumbledore is played by Richard Harris and Michael Gambon represent different interpretations of the character. Harris's Dumbledore is a straight-up Obi Wan and Gambon's Dumbledore is more of a Genius Ditz. For his part, Steve Kloves has said he didn't write Dumbledore any differently after Gambon got the part, so the differences are entirely up to the acting.
    • On the DVD of the second film, screenwriter Steve Kloves described his interpretation of Dumbledore:
      "I've always felt that Dumbledore bears such a tremendous dark burden and he knows secrets and I think in many ways he bears the weight of the future of the wizard world, which is being challenged, and the only way that he can keep that at bay, the darkness, is to be whimsical and humorous."
    • Interpretations of Draco Malfoy range from the leather pantsed, to a deeply lonely guy with some significant emotional problems (who might or might not be completely in love with Harry), to an utterly irredeemable monster whose only saving grace is that he's too cowardly to be truly evil, to a two-dimensional brat. The fact that we only see the edges of his development means he's built for this trope.
    • Backward, Dumbledore's kindness to Harry is just a way to excuse himself for plotting Harry's sacrifice.
    • Snape seems to practically be intended for this kind of thing. He's Ambiguously Evil right up until the end of the series, and once we learn his loyalties and motivations, he's still pretty morally ambiguous. He can be viewed as a romantic Byronic Hero, a smug Jerk Ass, or anything in between. J. K. Rowling's stance is that Snape is "a very flawed hero. An Anti-Hero, perhaps. He is not a particularly likable man in many ways. He remains rather cruel, a bully, riddled with bitterness and insecurity - and yet he loved, and showed loyalty to that love and ultimately laid down his life because of it. That's pretty heroic!" Some Snape fans are determined to see him as a straight hero. This viewpoint often requires that everyone else is seen as utterly reprehensible. Most commonly the Marauders (especially James) and Lily.
    • Also, Voldemort. Is he a genuine committed Pureblood supremacist? Or simply an Ax-Crazy lunatic hell-bent on accumulating as much power as possible, who saw hijacking the pureblood movement as the most convenient way to Take Over the World?
    • Did Ginny Weasley become a Broken Bird after her traumatic first year? Perhaps she's more aggressive and bitter in the latter books because she's trying to protect herself from hurt.
      • What exactly Ginny's relationship with Tom Riddle was in her first year is open to much speculation as we're only given a few clues in the book as to what it entailed. How much free will did she have? Was she a mind-controlled slave or a trusting little girl who naively obeyed a seemingly friendly stranger? Why didn't she tell anyone? Because of Riddle's control or because she was afraid she would get in trouble? Or did Riddle, perhaps, convince her to be afraid she would get in trouble? And, since this is fanfiction we're talking about, were one or both in love with the other?
      • Rather dark interpretation: Ginny is The Atoner and possibly a bit of a Death Seeker. She clearly felt guilty at the end of Chamber of Secrets and likely spent much of the year in that state. We're never given any indication of how she overcame this, but the simplest explanation (since There Are No Therapists) is that she just buried her feelings and kept a stiff upper lip. She may not necessarily want to die, but feels that she would "deserve" it and that fighting Voldemort (in a twisted way, the same person she helped in her first year) would be an appropriate way for her to go. Her strong objections to being initially left out of the Department of Mysteries adventure and the Battle of Hogwarts. Her reply to Harry's It's Not You, It's My Enemies speech was "What if I don't care?" and she relented after being asked to imagine how he would feel if she died, thus forcing her to empathize. Clearly she finds the idea of Harry feeling the same kind of guilt as her worse than that of her own death.
      • Ginny's transition from Shrinking Violet to Fiery Redhead is a hot talking point. Did she get over an awkward phase, relax around Harry and let her true colors show through? Or was it a hasty Retcon by Rowling to turn her into Harry's ideal love interest? And does she end up a likeable, strong-willed athletic Determinator, or a clingy, needlessly overly-praised, bitchy Canon Sue?
    • The Gryffindor/Slytherin conflict. Throughout the series, our Gryffindor heroes view Slytherin as a bastion of evil blood purists. Rowling has claimed that not all Slytherins are bad, but we've seen little evidence of this in the books. The most positively portrayed Slytherin in the series is Horace Slughorn, an Anti-Hero who still shows some signs of mild pureblood prejudice. In any case, many fans have felt obliged to reinterpret the houses, some going the full Rooting for the Empire route to view Gryffindor as a bunch of Jerk Jocks With Good Publicity and Slytherin as Not Evil, Just Misunderstood.
    • The Weasley Twins: Good-natured pranksters who target the truly deserving, or cold-hearted tricksters who get away with horrifying acts because they aim them at the "traditional" enemies most of the time?
      • Similarly, and also in-universe, the Marauders. Up until Harry saw Snape's memories, he thought his father was a good and kind man at all times with a hint of mischief, only to see he had a good measure of malice and was a bully. It's largely implied that James grew past most of it, though, what with fighting against Voldemort and eventually sacrificing his life in an attempt to save his family.
    • Does Bellatrix Lestrange truly believe in "the cause", or has all her actions been done in vain to win the unrequited love of the Dark Lord? It could be both.
      • Or is she just Axe Crazy and willing to work with anyone who won't interfere with her body count?
    • Is Cornelius Fudge a Horrible Judge of Character or a Black Shirt? A mix of both? You decide!
    • There are two ways to interpret Dolores Umbridge: (a) a Knight Templar who truly believes in absolute loyalty to the Ministry, and (b) a mindless sycophant who only cares about power and parrots the views of the establishment for her own gain. For her part, Imelda Staunton, who plays Umbridge in the movies, subscribes to the first interpretation.
    • Witness the utterly bizarro view of the characters as interpreted by the more rabid Harry/Hermione shippers: Hermione is a perfect human being who is Always Right and obviously deserves to be paired with The Hero. Ron is an idiot at best, but more likely an evil, abusive monster who would beat Hermione if they got together. Ginny is a gold-digging skank who has been dousing Harry with Love Potion. Harry and Hermione have some kind of a dorky pure love connection which transcends base lust because they're so far above that.
      • Harry gets this too, being turned into a sycophant who can't function without Hermione's guidance because She's Always Right and Has Always Had His Best Interests at Heart, who believes he's completely undeserving of a goddess like Hermione Jane [sic] Granger. Hermione has often been wrong, Harry has frequently disagreed with her, Hermione cleans up nicely but is not a supermodel — oh, and they were never in love, but that goes without saying.
      • Word of God is that there were points where a non-platonic relationship between Harry and Hermione might have happened, such as in the 7th Book when Ron is temporarily out of the picture. The Movie seems to have played up that angle. Depending on how much you want to overanalyse a throwaway line of dialogue, the second part actually seems to imply that something DID happen between them. ("Harry talks in his sleep, have you noticed that?" Awkward pause. "No.") Presumably they both vowed never to mention it again...
      • Or they all shared a tent for almost a year and he figured she had noticed.
      • Much more likely when you think about it - Ron obviously noticed it and I think we're safe to assume nothing like that's happened between Ron and Harry. It's more likely to be an implication that a Ron, a boy, would notice that kind of thing but Hermione, a girl, wouldn't.
      • The issue isn't so much that Ron brings up the subject, but that Hermione seems embarrassed when, on the face of it, she doesn't have any reason to be and there could be an innocent reason for her knowing. Unless she's embarrassed about there being something she doesn't know?
    • What about the morality of the whole Wizarding War? OK, Voldemort himself is a bad guy who wants to take over the world and rule as dictator. But many of the Death Eaters have much less evil motivations. Many of them were very powerful and high-ranking figures already so they seem to be in it for largely ideological reasons - they want to exclude Muggle-borns (and sometimes werewolves, half-giants, etc) from the magical world. While this may seem to be unjust discrimination, is the 'good' side really much better? Rather than using magic to help muggles, they keep them from having any knowledge of it - this is essentially a war between one elitist side and one slightly less elitist side.
      • With regard to the werewolves and half-giants, the 'good' side isn't a lot better either. Dumbledore is implied to be astonishingly progressive to have let Lupin and Hagrid go to Hogwarts and then given them jobs afterwards. Lupin makes it pretty clear that anti-werewolf discrimination is the norm, and Sirius tells us in Book 5 that the Ministry of Magic (this part under Umbridge, admittedly) makes explicitly anti-werewolf laws.
      • Also, the 'good guys' routinely punish their criminals with the horrible, far worse place than a normal prison that is Azkaban, or even a Fate Worse than Death in the Dementor's Kiss.
      • A pretty common fan interpretation that's sprung up recently that Wizarding England (and sometimes Wizarding Europe as a whole) is considered incredibly backwards, insular and prejudiced compared to pretty much every other magical community on the planet. Particular attention will be paid to some of the...weaknesses of the Hogwarts' system.
    • A Fanon theory which is surprisingly plausible and in-character: When she was alive, Myrtle had the hugest crush on Tom Riddle. Riddle used this to his advantage and got her to serve him. He probably told her lies like "I may hate other Muggle-borns, but you're different" to make her feel special. Thus, his eventual murder of her is not just a random killing, but an act of betrayal. Possibly she had Outlived Her Usefulness. Under this interpretation, it's possible Olive Hornby was jealous of Myrtle's relationship with Riddle.
    • There is a theory that Percy remains loyal to Dumbledore and that the letter he sent Ron was meant to warn him about what the Ministry was up to, but he had had to word it in such a way that it sounded like he was loyal to the Ministry in case they intercepted it. That doesn't explain, though, why he had to be so secretive about it with his family, given that all of them are in the Order. It made sense with Snape, given his true nature as a triple agent and talent with Occlumency, but Pecy had no such training or motive.
    • Some people view Percy's actions much more sympathetically. Two of his younger siblings and his girlfriend were put in danger under Dumbledore's watch and he didn't know Harry on a personal level. Maybe he was only being promoted as a way to gain information or somehow weaken The Order. Simularly, those same people view Percy as the black sheep of the family, rather than Ron. Percy is smart and becomes a Prefect, but does not have the charisma his brothers and sister possess. He's always mentioned to be doing something school related, even when it's the summer. He rarely interacts with his younger brothers or sister, and doesn't seem to interact much with his older brothers, either.
      • He also seems a bit out of place in Gryffindor, seeming more suited to a Ravenclaw-type attitude towards studies and rules, which just further reinforces how out of place he probably feels in his own home. You can definitely view Percy as someone who got fed up with being the outsider in his own family, and decided to do his own thing. Percy, being very ambitious (and, incidentally, pure-blood, right?), could also have been at home in Slytherin. It's possible the Sorting Hat put him in Gryffindor to lessen how much he is the black sheep of the family. The Hat reads your thoughts. It could have heard Percy desperately wanting to fit in with his family and put him in Gryffindor as a result of that. It's been stated (though possibly not in Canon) that the Sorting Hat will take someone who has the qualities of more than one House, and stick them in the one that currently has fewer people in it, to keep the Houses even population-wise. Considering that Percy Weasley would been pretty far down on the roll call (if not the last person called), it's possible he was put in Gryffindor because they were one person short.
    • And then there's Luna Lovegood. Everyone agrees that she's a Cloudcuckoolander, and you never meet a fan who dislikes her, but where do her strange beliefs and demeanor come from? Is she a normal girl who just happens to be a bit different? Is she a Dumb Blonde? Is she mentally ill or disabled? You decide! Among those who think she's either mentally ill or disabled, opinions vary when it comes to just what she has. Most common belief seems to be that she has autism and perhaps also ADD, but some have actually made a case for schizophrenia or manic depression. She could even be suffering from the same type of emotional damage as the main character from The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
    • Cho Chang often gets a very bad rap in fandom, often described as a petty whiner who betrayed Harry. However, the explanation given in the book is that she's simply a fifteen year old girl mourning for her boyfriend who feels conflicted about dating another person so soon after his death. Similarly, her behaviour after Dumbledore's Army is exposed could be more seen as loyalty to her best friend rather than a betrayal of Harry, and she is more than willing to fight along side the resistance and in the Battle of Hogwarts in her final year.
    • Hogwarts itself; Academyof Adventure and bastion of higher learning for the magically inclined or Assimilation Academy wherein 11-year-olds are forced into the roles they will be stuck with for the rest of their lives through the decisions of a talking hat?
    • The masquerade. Is it really a shield set up to protect them from things like the Witch hunts of the past and being constantly badgered by Muggle interference or a shield set up to protect the massively corrupt Ministry of Magic that tortures criminals, is horribly racist, is fascist with its ideas on blood purity and how they treat Muggles, has no substantial health and safety laws whatsoever and probably realizes that the technology (and thus the Quality of Life) of the Muggle world has equalled/surpassed magic in almost every area and as such fears the erosion of their power a mass exodus of Wizards trying to seek a better life would cause?
  • Hell's Children by Andrew Boland, gets a lot of this, mostly due to most, if not all, the characters including the book itself, suffering from a mental illness, of sum sort.
  • How about The Hobbit, particularly the climax of the story? Thorin is frequently described as a 'jerk' given his actions there, but isn't he justified in refusing to negotiate under duress with Bard and Thranduil's armies camped outside? Likewise is Bilbo really whiter than white in this? He finds and pockets the Arkenstone without a word to Thorin, even admitting guilt to himself (ok, so the terms of their contract said he could choose his fourteenth share, but Bilbo admits he doesn't think it was meant to extend to the Arkenstone), then as soon as the going gets tough and he's feeling the loss of home comforts he betrays Thorin in delivering the Arkenstone to his enemies so they can blackmail the gold out of him. Likewise Bard who is otherwise the sole reasonable party in all this somewhat spoils it by suggesting a pre-emptive strike on the forces of the newly arrived Dain. You have to hand it to Tolkien that he gives a glorious ambiguity to all those involved in that debacle.
  • An inter-medium example appears in The Host, in that the invading race of Puppeteer Parasite think of themselves as a race whose particular hat is being a Messiah, but the humans beg to differ, for obvious reasons.
  • The Hunger Games has quite a few of these.
    • Was the anguish Cato expressed over Clove's death a Pet the Dog moment or was he just furious that he lost his last ally?
      • Can it be both? It's likely both
    • Katniss: Determinator or Sociopathic Hero Villain Protagonist?
      • In the last book, was Katniss's approval for the Capitol Games a Batman Gambit to catch President Coin off guard or was she geniunely vengeful after Prim's death?
    • The Career Tributes in general: were they human sacrifices raised to die and thus the most tragic of casualties?
    • Foxface's death. Many people suspect it was no accident but a deliberate suicide. Since she knew she was no match for the remaining four tributes, they opt for the quickest, most painless way to go and did it in a way that their family at home wouldn't get in any trouble.
    • Peeta Mallark: Devoted star-crossed lover or obsessive Stalker?
    • President Coin: Evil or a revolutionary leader doing what she felt she had to in order to keep a new prospective country stable?
      • The book itself seems to stress the Not So Different nature of Snow and Coin, showing that they're both equally evil but Snow is worse than Coin in certain areas while Coin is worse than Snow in other areas. And the Capitol Games proposition seems to reinforce that if Coin got her way, nothing would really change. It would be the exact same world but with the Capitol and Districts' positions reversed. Coin, while possibly having a good excuse for it, was ultimate very power-hungry.
    • During the talk at the beginning of Catching Fire President Snow seems for a moment genuinely concerned about the implications of a new war for the (relatively) few remaining humans, and he did promise not to lie. Of course his concern could always be more about his own hold over said humans than their lives themselves, and Snow has been known to lie: just not when he makes a promise, in which he is always bound to his word.
    • Johanna: Flavours of Jerk with a Heart of Gold or Alpha Bitch? A good chunk of the narrative displays her negatively (in Catching Fire anyway), but many of her words and deeds suggest otherwise. At most, she's intentionally portrayed as a Broken Bird.
    • Gale: Tragic Unlucky Childhood Friend whose long friendship with Katniss entitled him to believe a romance was possible, or manipulative Dogged Nice Guy who had no right to be pissed about Katniss "only" being his best friend?
    • Madge: Was she in love with Gale or not?
  • In The Iliad, Odysseus' character floats on the Manipulative Bastard line; sometimes it's good (with Thersites) and sometimes it's bad (with Achilles). Later Greeks (and Romans) were much less kind to the character. The Athenian tragedians tended to portray Odysseus as an amoral sneak. Euripides even blames him for throwing Hector's young son Astyanax off the walls of Troy, an atrocity more traditionally attributed to Achilles' son Neoptolemus. Both Sophocles (and Ovid later in poetry) rake him over the coals for destroying Ajax, though it's possible that Homer would have as well.
    • Whether you consider what Odysseus did re. Achilles in the Iliad bad or good depends on whether you think the latter's egotism (wanting his allies to be hurt because of a perceived insult to his pride) is admirable. In the Iliad Odysseus is generally presented as one of the few Greek leaders who puts the common interest before the quest for personal glory, which is why Greek and Roman philosophers, quite unlike the Athenian tragedians, saw him as a positive role model. The Stoics in particular saw Odysseus as the symbol of a wise man who could not be worn down by misfortune. In later times, William Shakespeare presented Odysseus/Ulysses as The Only Sane Man in the Greek camp in Troilus and Cressida (which also presents a brutal Alternative Character Interpretation of Achilles as a coward.
    • The Odyssey is a story about a man's fantastical journey, facing down creatures of myth, all on a quest to get back home, right? Maybe. Odysseus is established as the sneaky trickster of Team Greek. While there's a lot of low-key fantasy (Athena shows up and gives someone advice, Calypso's ever-youth), all the over the top stuff happens only in flashback, specifically, as Odysseus is trying to entertain the court of the noble he's just washed up in, telling the story of how he got there. After that, the poem shifts back to old-fashioned mayhem. So, Odysseus: great adventurer or Unreliable Narrator?
      • Actually, the salient points of Odysseus' account had already been confirmed by Homer's narration and the testimony of Athena, Calypso and Zeus himself in the early books of the Odyssey, so there isn't that much leeway for alternative stories without outright saying that Homer was lying. And seeing Odysseus as a Trickster Archetype may already be an alternate character interpretation.
      • Alcinous, king of the Phaeacians, responds to Odysseus with [paraphrase], "Some might accuse you of lying. I say you tell the truth as a poet might." ... Which is tactful ancient Greek for "Dude, you're a DAMN good liar". The Greeks liked a good story, and never bothered believing it. Inverting that, when (at a dinner hosted by Menelaus for Telemachos and his friend, a son of Nestor) Helen tells a story how, while in Troy, she really, REALLY missed her home, Menelaus responded with another story of Troy, in which Helen told stories of home while walking around the Trojan horse (making Achaian soldiers weep with homesickness and almost cry out) with Daiphibus (your second Trojan husband, that handsome man). In short, she told a lie and Menelaus called her on it. The Greeks love their extended metaphors. Or similes. Fuck it, they love the subtext.
    • One interpretation is that it took so long more because he simply didn't want to return. After all, given who he is and what he was through, what sort of a trade is ruling some sleepy town and a bunch of villages?.. Could the great trickster hero, after a chat with a goddess and the song of Sirens, be eager to settle on pigs' voices and drunk mumbling to the rest of his days?... He has no choice but to evade his return as long as possible. Otherwise he would suspect he's a special guest of Hades already. (Alfred, Lord Tennyson was a fan of this interpretation and wrote a poem on it.)
  • Anti-fans of The Inheritance Cycle love to find new interpretations that subvert the good/evil conflict. So far, sites such as anti-shurtugal.com have concluded that Eragon is a sociopath, the Varden are terrorists and the original Dragonriders were a racist military junta.
  • Jane Eyre:
    • In Jean Rhys's prequel ''Wide Sargasso Sea' which is told from Bertha's POV, it is implied that Bertha didn't go insane until Rochester locked her up. Rochester became suspicious that his wife wasn't completely white and then played mind games with her until she cracked.
    • Can Jane Eyre Be Happy?: More Puzzles in Classic Fiction by Sutherland discusses many literary details like this. The relevant chapter paints a very black picture of Rochester. Here Mr Rochester really thought that nobody knew about his wife and really thought that he could marry Blanche. After his brother-in-law scotched that (simply by threatening public exposure which would make the marriage impossible) he picked someone handy who was beneath the brother in law's radar, i.e. Jane. The brother-in-law found this out by coincidence. Then when we consider his treatment of his first wife (locking someone up in the care of an alcoholic is not going to help them recover) and the fact that after the war his injuries may be more heroic than disfiguring, we are meant to fear for Jane's future.
      • If she really was crazy and violent, perhaps keeping her in a clean, comfortable room with regular food and someone to watch her (most of the time), only physically restraining her when she became physically violent, was a better alternative than keeping her tied up all the time and feeding her scraps, as they may have done in some of the mental institutions of the day. It wasn't as if they really had effective treatments.
    • Also, there is some speculation that Jane's unusual interactions with people are signs of her having an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (most likely Asperger's because of her skill at art).
  • "'Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" from the Jungle Books is either a furry little hero who saves an innocent family from a trio of evil snakes or he's a thinly veiled metaphor for colonial forces taking over land that isn't theirs and killing any natives who resist. After all, the cobras were there first and were only trying to protect their eggs. Reptiles Are Abhorrent and What Measure Is a Non-Cute? at their best.
    • Depending on how you read "The White Man's Burden", it's possible that he was intended to be a furry little hero by virtue of killing the natives who resist British.
    • The "native" snakes were perfectly willing to kill the family to get rid of them and Rikki and ensure the safety of their own young, as well as be "king and queen of the garden", which is often left out of the "just trying to protect their family" bit. After Nag the cobra is killed, his wife attacks the family purely for revenge, instead of trying to move her eggs somewhere safer. Appeal to Inherent Nature doesn't work, because even Nag considers Rikki his natural enemy, who will eventually kill him and his family. Casting the cobras as the heroes of the piece requires a lot of...selective reading.
      • But even then, there comes the issue of What Measure Is a Non-Human?. In the universe that the story takes place, animals are at the same level of sapience as humans are, and yet "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" still places human beings at the highest level of worth. Considering that cobras lay several dozen eggs per brood, you could argue that the need of several dozen intelligent, sapient cobras outweighs the need of three intelligent, sapient humans. Nagaina was definitely the more twisted cobra of the pair, but what can you say about Rikki, who crushes dozens and dozens of the reptilian equivalent of a third-trimester human baby?
  • In-universe example in The Land of Stories. Conner’s presentation on The Boy Who Cried Wolf has this, with Conner stating that the boy was just a little kid who didn’t know any better and should have been supervised by his parents in the first place.
  • In the Legacy of the Force series, the authors RetConned all that "Dark Is Not Evil" stuff Vergere and later Jacen were preaching in New Jedi Order (beginning with Matthew Stover's Traitor) as Sith brainwashing. Fan opinion is heavily divided between those who claim this interpretation — and by association, Jacen's Face-Heel Turn in the intervening trilogy — was consistent with Stover's ideas and with Jacen's post-Traitor characterization, and those who believe the Legacy of the Force people Completely Missed the Point.
    • It's possible to rationalize both at once by saying that it was Jacen who completely missed Vergere's point.
    • Wordof God makes a blanket declaration that covers the Vergere issue - George Lucas has said that the Force has a good Light Side and an evil Dark Side - it's one of the key points of his saga. Thus, Vergere can only be at best, seriously deluded into thinking there the Force is only "Grey", and at worst, the currently canonical Sith-spy-temptress. The concept of Light good, Dark bad is a critical element that binds 'Star Wars'' together, even with "Grey" types like Jolee Bindo from KOTOR: he reveals his True Colors as light-leaning if the player chooses the dark path at the end. Sure the depths and debatabilities presented in Traitor are engaging, but ultimately, the triumph of pure light by the end of LOTF, led by Luke Skywalker and Jaina Solo, proves to be the most epic and fulfilling.
  • In The Legends of Ethshar series, is Tabaea in Spell of the Black Dagger the villainess of the story, or the heroine? Is she a sociopathic serial killer with a megalomaniacal need to dominate others, or a basically decent person who genuinely wanted a more just, egalitarian government that would uplift the poor and downtrodden of Ethshar? On one side of the ledger, she did cold-bloodedly murder a whole bunch of innocent people just to gain power. Then when she took power, she badly injured a harmless, senile old woman who just wanted to sit in the "pretty chair" that Tabaea had just claimed in the name of the poor and downtrodden. On the other hand, she also abolished slavery, and really did try to save the city from the Seething Death. There's also the fact that, before she killed any people, she killed several animals first. On the one hand, that's exactly the typical of a sadistic serial killer: they start by torturing and killing animals before moving to people. On the other hand, Tabaea had never even thought about killing a person until she killed some animals, and she herself speculated that she might have absorbed the predatory instincts of the animals she had killed along with their superior senses and reflexes. Was she wrong? And why did she become bored with ruling Ethshar? Was it because she's a narcissist, and narcissists are generally prone to boredom, or was it because she never really wanted power in the first place? Maybe she just wanted to be loved and cared for. This is a woman who was neglected and effectively abandoned by her family at a quite young age, who never had any friends, and who never really found a place in the world. Was she just a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds? Or a Complete Monster who showed her true colors the moment she had any power?
    • For that matter, what about Sarai in the same story? Heroine who liberates her city from a madwoman, or privileged child of an oppressive dictatorship who defeats a liberalizing revolution and restores the regime? Good detective or ruthless inquisitor? Consider that it comes as a complete surprise to her that an invitation by the Minister of Investigation and Acting Minister of Justice delivered by armed soldiers might come across more as a command than a request. Is she oblivious to how others see her because she is so privileged and powerful, or just because she's young and inexperienced?
  • Les Misérables: Fans argue endlessly about whether Eponine lured Marius to the baricades and then took a bullet for him for selfish or noble reasons. The musical has the Thenardiérs, the villains of the book, being the comic relief, with Eponine as the tragic heroine. The 1998 movie version deems Eponine so unimportant to the story that she barely features at all. Furthermore, is Marius heroic or just a wuss? Is Javert good or bad? And opinions differ wildly about Cosette (usually depending on how people view Eponine).
  • Like Water for Chocolate: Many different characters
    • Mama Elena. Is she really a cruel Evil Matriarch? Or is she just scarred and having trouble loving because of the death of the girls' father, and has hardened herself only because it's the only way she can protect the family and its land from the roving troops of federales and revolutionaries?
    • Rosaura. Is she a brat who deserves everything that comes to her, or is she a Woobie who suffers a lot of misfortune (and neglect from her husband) so that Tita (who, granted, has many sympathetic moments) can be happy?
    • Pedro. Is he a victim of society who married the eldest sister to be close to his love as a last resort? Or is he a weak, weak man who just want to obtain wealth and the woman he wants (he never even tries to elope with Tita)? Laura Esquivel may aim for both interpretations.
  • Little Women: Jo - or Joe - March as a transman. This comic makes a pretty good case for it. This does add a Fridge Downer Ending to the series, though; it's quite depressing to think of Jo(e) being trapped in a female identity for the rest of his life.
  • Lolita may be the preeminent example of this. While the general consensus is that Humbert is an emotionally manipulative man who words his abuse of Lolita in such a way to try to make the audience treat him with sympathy rather than as a sick pedophile, some interpretations posit that his narration is actually accurate, and that Lolita is an Enfant Terrible who takes advantage of the poor, weak Humbert.
    • It couldn't possibly be that Lolita is an Enfant Terrible manipulating an emotionally manipulative pedophile?
      • "[Lolita is] not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child." — Robertson Davies, in support of the author's preferred interpretation.
    • Given how Humbert manipulates everyone in Lolita's town, and how Lolita plays with him, the subtitle could be "What happens when an emotionally manipulative pedophile falls in love for a preteen who is even more manipulative?"
    • When Humbert describes his "nymphets", it's pretty clear he's mostly attracted to young girls who have already been abused, quite possibly including Lo herself. This point of view can add a multitude of interpretations to her actions.
  • Miss Marple uses Obfuscating Stupidity — it's widely recognized by those who know her within her stories that she has a sharp mind under her innocent old-lady looks. But that's only if you don't include Nemesis. Nemesis is the only novel Agatha Christie wrote that depicted Miss Marple through Marple's own POV, and she comes across as a Genius Ditz there, at best.
    • Nemesis is, however, written with Miss Marple as a very frail, very elderly woman, so she is aware that she's no longer as sharp as she once was.
    • The Mirror Crack'd is also largely written from Miss Marple's POV, and she's as sharp as a pin.
  • The Mortal Instruments:
  • No Country for Old Men's Anton Chigurh: Ax-Crazy nihilistic psychopath who randomly kills for no reason... or a divine instrument who does what has to be done in order to serve God's will, be it bringing divine justice to people involved with drug money, or sacrificing seemingly innocent people in accordance with a higher purpose. Check out an argument for the latter here.
  • Many people read Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost as a Badass Byronic Hero railing against an unjust God. Many readers decide that Strawman Has a Point when they notice that Satan is fighting against a totalitarian autocracy in the name of such evil ideas as democracy, freedom of speech, egalitarianism, and free will.
    • "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it." (William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which is itself a massive Alternate Character Interpretation of God, Satan, and Christianity).
    • On the other hand, one could easily argue that Satan isn't truly fighting for "democracy", "freedom of speech" and "egalitarianism", he's fighting so that HE can be equal to God - perhaps even above Him.
    • Consider The Book of Revelations, even though its most current form was written in the 1800s, the anti-Christ is an instrument of Satan/Lucifer's will, the anti-Christ insists humanity worships him and puts everyone to death who doesn't, Satan lunges out to attack God when the world has been devastated. You could say the same thing about the other side of the conflict, considering what they knowingly started by opening the seven seals.
  • Anne Elliot of Persuasion — absolutely perfect heroine, or a self-righteous hypocrite who supposedly regrets her decision 8 years ago but later declares I Regret Nothing and whose idea of an apology amounts to "I would have suffered more if I was engaged to you"? Why would anyone take her back after such a speech?
  • Quite a few people who think the title character in Peter Pan is evil have no idea that early drafts of the novel have him as the villain, taking children away from their parents.
    • This was the basis for the comicbook series Fables' main villain, The Adversary. Captain Hook would have actually been a hero trying to get the children back from Pan AKA The Adversary, but the copyrights on him from the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London keep him from public domain.
      • Numerous fan fiction novels have been published in the last few years, without official approval; Karen Wallace's Wendy and Peter David's Tigerheart. Maybe they can find a way to do The Adversary too.
    • Peter Pan is a surprisingly complex character, and he definitely has quite a few issues, mainly because of Parental Abandonment. The kid does absolutely act like a sociopath, making very selfish decisions, kidnapping children, killing people on simple whims, and having an extremely high opinion of himself. But since Peter ran away from his parents (and all conventional authority figures), it's not so much due to any kind of malice or evil on his part, but simply because he's a little boy who never has anyone around to tell him these things are wrong.
    • It's also interesting to question how unfounded is his arrogance? The book makes it quite clear that he possess quite a lot of power of Neverland, his return at the beginning causes life to return to the island and the sun to rise, and later it's shown he can create things simply by thinking them up. Likewise he's managed to continually defeat his opponents with apparent ease. So does a young boy who can continually outthink and outfight adults, with godlike powers, really have so little right to be arrogant?
      • On that note, could this really be considered arrogance or would it be more appropriate to refer to it as justified extreme confidence mixed with egotism?
    • One theory says that The Lost Children is a metaphor of dead children.
      • Peter could be seen as a ghost. After-all, his "origin" is that he simply flew out of his window one night, and when he returned, he hovered outside and saw that his parents had a new child and seemed to have forgotten about him.
  • Is Christine attracted to The Phantom of the Opera, or is she motivated by pity and a desperate need to keep her Stalker with a Crush from going even more Ax-Crazy than he already is? The original novel (while somewhat ambiguous) skews towards the latter, fanfic overwhelmingly prefers the former, and in the musical it depends on which actress you see. And that doesn't even get into the various interpretations of Erik himself...several decades of adaptations does that to a guy.
    • There is also an interpretation of Christine as borderline Idiot Savant in her childish naivety, and extreme, but uneven talent, who is hopelessly lost without her father, and latches immediately to the first person who reminds her of him, the mysterious "Angel of Music". Some go even further, and see her as a subject of sexual abuse from her father, which she failed to recognise as such, and fed to her confusion about relationships, mixing ideas about romantic and paternal love in her relationship with the Phantom before The Reveal.
    • There is also some speculation that Andrew Lloyd Weber imagined himself as the Phantom and wrote the part of Christine specifically for Sarah Brightman because he was in love with her.
      • Somewhat Hilarious in Hindsight is the fact that the 1989 slasher film reimagining of the novel, with Robert Englund in the title role, is actually one of the closest adaptational portrayals to Leroux's Erik, retaining the sadistic nature which most adaptations tend to downplay. Some consider the Phantom's malicious deeds and stalker-esque actions as those of an agonized man trying to find love, but even Christine saw otherwise.
  • In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley can be read as the most sympathetic character - she's clearly in love with Darcy, and then Deadpan Snarker Lizzie strolls in and steals him from her. Most people see her differently as a sort of Regency Alpha Bitch, but maybe she was just meant to be the kind of clingy flirty girl that Darcy wasn't into just to contrast with Elizabeth.
  • In the Queen's Thief series, there are a few different views of Eugenides running around the fandom after he is revealed to be in love with Irene and marries her in book two. Is it an egregious case of Stockholm Syndrome, a pitiful and obstinate remnant of a childhood crush (“calf love”), a difficult but necessary move in his ongoing game of Xanatos Speed Chess, or a shining example of unconditional true love that deserves the fans’ wholehearted Squee? Characters are even confused about it in-universe—Attolia’s Queen’s Guard debates whether Eugenides is a pitiable sap who’s just doing his duty to his queen, or a power-hungry Manipulative Bastard.
    • This technically applies to Attolia Irene too; is she a cruel and sadistic bitch who enjoyed torturing Gen to hurt him and Helen, or was she just pushed to the edge, forcing her hand?
  • Rebecca. There are many debates on the true nature of Maxim and his late wife, their relationship, how much of the backstory is the truth and whether the protagonist and her husband should be viewed as heroes or villains or something in between.
  • The critic R. W. Stallman pointed to supposed Christian imagery in The Red Badge of Courage, particularly the death of Jim Conklin, and argued that by the end of the novel Henry has gone from a Dirty Coward to a true hero. Over the course of four rewritings of his initial work on the subject, he changed his mind and declared the whole thing ironic, with Henry convincing himself of his own redemption but really being just as much of a coward as before. (The last paragraph, cut in some versions, supports Henry's redemption, whereas the sequel no one ever reads supports the latter interpretation. Word of God just calls it a psychological examination of fear.)
  • The whole point of the book The Red Tent, which retells the story from The Bible about Jacob and his daughter Dinah from Dinah's point of view. In this story, Dinah's affair with Shechem is a consensual relationship and not a rape, but her brothers see it as a rape because they aren't married at the time.
  • By the end of the first trilogy of Second Apocalypse different people see Kellhus as:
    • a scheming Villain Protagonist out for himself alone, or
    • an over-the-top obnoxious Canon Sue warping the plot around him, or
    • a Sociopathic Hero doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, or
    • a cool badass hero deserving of our admiration.
    • In addition, it is controversial if Kellhus is becoming more emotional by the end and also if he supports or opposes the No-God. There are also some diverging opinions on whether he is the top manipulator or being manipulated himself.
  • Sherlock Holmes gets a number of differing interpretations for the titular character, and The Watson.
    • Sherlock Holmes has Attention Deficit Disorder.
    • Holmes is bipolar, alternating frenetic activity and overwhelming ego with near-catatonic lassitude that even heavy stimulants cannot rouse him from.
    • Holmes has Asperger's Syndrome. This one is interesting as Arthur Conan Doyle is speculated by some to have had Asperger's himself.
    • Holmes has some degree of sociopathic tendencies.
    • One professional novel has Holmes as Jack the Ripper. Watson discovers his identity when he finds the preserved fetus of Mary Kelly in a bottle in Holmes's dresser drawers.
    • Either Holmes or Watson are women, disguising the fact to not outrage the Victorian public.
      • Why would that outrage the Victorian public? Female private detectives were not uncommon in Victorian England.
    • The men are in a homosexual relationship, and Watson's wife or wives (Doyle wasn't too consistent with the details) are either Watson's attempts at denial, paid actresses, or wholly fictional (and mentioned in stories to put people off the scent, since homosexuality was illegal).
    • Holmes is homosexual, but Watson is not. This theory is bolstered by the fact that Watson repeatedly refers to Holmes as "bohemian", which in the 1890s was a well-known euphemism for "homosexual".
    • The real reason Holmes retired from sleuthing to become a beekeeper is because either 1) Holmes got tired of Watson constantly refusing his advances or 2) Holmes was tired of Watson's constant advances.
    • The two men are in a very destructive co-dependent relationship, with Holmes as the abuser.
    • It's Watson who's the detective, and Holmes, being the natural actor he is, more than willing to play the charade (used in the film Without A Clue).
    • Holmes practices a bit of obsfuscation on his part and deliberately creates the Bunny-Ears Lawyer persona in a combination of luring potential enemies into underestimating him and being able to get away with some pretty scandalous behavior - because "He's Holmes, sure he's daffy, but he's brilliant."
    • Holmes's arrogance and tendency to get short with others is because he genuinely has no idea that not everyone has his amazing intelligence and observational skills.
    • Is Heathcliff a Murderer?: Great Puzzles in Nineteenth-century Fiction reinterprets "The Speckled Band" suggesting that the sisters were also sexually abused by their stepfather. For example Holmes calls the sister Miss Roylott (her real name is Stoner) and when we see that the stepfather has beaten her she gives the standard excuse given by wives of abusive husbands. The idea is that Holmes sees this but Watson is too innocent to notice.
    • There is a theory in the book Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles by Pierre Bayard that Sherlock Holmes didn't catch the real murderer in that adventure. It would not be Jack Stapleton but his wife Beryl in revenge to be cheated with Laura Lyons. According to Bayard, Charles Baskerville's death was an accident. Beryl use this accident to create fear and lure - the easily impressionable - Holmes and Watson to suspect her husband and then kill him without anyone caring. Also, Holmes acts like a Jerkass in that story toward his only friend Watson.
    • Interpretations of Holmes's drug use vary widely, from "he only takes cocaine in mild doses that probably weren't even very harmful" (or even "he never took cocaine at all, he was just messing with Watson's head") all the way to "he's a raging addict who spends all of his time when not on a case (and some while on a case) in a drug-addled haze."
    • His feelings toward Irene Adler have also been the subject of much debate, with opinions ranging from "he admired her intellectually and absolutely nothing else" to "they had a passionate affair during the Hiatus and she later gave birth to his child."
    • Holmes is straight and perfectly capable of being in a romantic relationship — he simply chooses not to be, sacrificing romance for career. And regrets the decision at least somewhat, later in life when he's alone in retirement.
  • Sir Apropos of Nothing - filthy undeserving hijacker of someone else's destiny, or The Chosen One the whole friggin' time?
  • The reasons for Kai's abduction by the title character in "The Snow Queen" were never stated, making this very very easy to pull off. Depending on the adaptation, the Snow Queen is a heartless villain and is defeated by the power of love. Or, she is an Anti-Villain trying to save Kai from himself or wanted someone to rule with her, or in an elaborate plan, was under a curse and being unable to die or break it herself, set up Gerda's quest because she could have broken the curse.
  • The title character of The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries: Is she a Broken Bird who's been "Crazy Ol' Sookie" for so long she's only now learning that she can be something else, an unmotivated lump who drifts through life with as little effort as possible, only standing up for herself when backed into a corner, or a Professional Victim who enjoys being "Poor Crazy Ol' Sookie" and actively rejects any efforts to improve herself and her station above her guaranteed victimhood?
    • All of these interpretations are generally seem to be inspired by Misaimed Fandom that likes to portray and interpret her as a Distressed Damsel despite the fact that there's not a single book where Sookie doesn't rescue herself, almost always others, and she's never once failed to stand up for herself under duress or otherwise. A lot of the Distressed Damsel Alternative Character Interpretation seems to come from Die for Our Ship fans who are more focused on her love interests than her Snark and mystery solving and complain that she isn't choosing one or the other fast enough, never mind that she has very good reasons for not wanting to hook up with most of them, often involving her own survival. She's actually more like an Action Girl — how badass is killing someone with a garden tool or breaking somebody's knee with a baseball bat just to get them to back off. The death and violence freaks her out at times, but when it comes down to it she always fights back.
    • The (relative) ease with which Sookie recovers from her torture and rape. Is Sookie a badass with a good support network? Was the author too lazy to show her having a more common reaction, skipping ahead to the interesting parts regardless of consequences? Or has Sookie's experience with being raped by her pedophile uncle and being mocked and harassed by the townsfolk taught her how to suppress and deny unpleasantry, making her a Stepford Smiler trying to Become The Mask?
      • Is Sookie a girl who wants to really get around? She will flirt with almost any guy as quickly as possible in the first few books to get Bill jealous. At several times, she seems rather addicted to vampire sex and when he disappears on her, she quickly latches on to the next handsome male and starts actively lusting after him because she hadn't gotten laid in a week. While the guy is handsome and her boyfriend is neglecting (and possibly cheating on) her, it's still a quick whiplash when only the book before she was madly in love with Bill. (Never mind his rapid change from 'wonderful if reasonably flawed boyfriend' to neglectful jerk...)
  • In Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, modern readers tend to interpret Werther's unrequited love interest Lotte as either a vain airhead who leads Werther on needlessly and then accidentally helps him kill himself by lending him a pair of pistols, or else as an intelligent woman who tries to strike a balance between being kind to her Stalker with a Crush and getting rid of him.
  • Some Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, largely ones written by Timothy Zahn, like taking Imperial Stormtroopers and making them more sympathetic - soldiers working for what they believe is the greater good. Considering that other, contemporary novels still have them slaughtered with thoughtless ease, there's a bit of Values Dissonance.
    • The novel Death Star takes the gunner who fired the superlaser at Alderaan - previously characterized, if at all, as utterly heartless - and makes him very human and hugely guilt-ridden by his duty. Without the novel confirming this decades after the original film, one could take his hesitation to fire on the Rebel Base as evidence of this guilt.
  • Master Yoda. Nearly all media, from the prequel trilogy to the EU novels, takes his initial characterization in The Empire Strikes Back as entirely a facade. Yoda: Dark Rendezvous, on the other hand, has him act as the Grand Master of the Jedi Order... who doesn't take himself that seriously and can be extremely silly at times. The serious side is still there, in spades when it has to be, but he also fights with serving droids, makes fun of himself and others, and once reacts to a flabbergasted apprentice asking how he'd know she'd cry at good news before becoming happy by leaning in as if to whisper in her ear and then loudly saying "Grand Master of the Jedi Order am I! Won this job in a raffle I did, think you? 'How did you know, how did you know, Master Yoda?' Master Yoda knows these things. His job it is."
    • He was 900 years old by the time the original trilogy rolled around. You'd have to be at minimum a Deadpan Snarker to deal with the fact that you've survived roughly 7-9 generation of friends.
    • From Return of the Jedi, Yoda cracks a joke about how he looks as he is preparing to die. Unlike his initial appearance which was probably mostly obfuscation, in this case, he has no reason to be anything but himself. By the point in the story Luke first meets him, Yoda has seen the universe crumble around him, is banished to a planet just pulsing with the dark side, and whom probably knows that he is going to die soon. One might interpret from this that Yoda was a bit more jovial before The Empire, but that all the crap he's gone through has left him with little more than some gallows humor.
    • The Prequel trilogy seem to indicate that Yoda was always a stern leader. The prequel trilogy also implies that Anakin was never a good person past childhood, and that he fought with Obi-Wan all but from the get-go.
      • There's equal hints that Anakin argued with authority figure to compensate for spending almost a decade of his life as property and disliked being reminded of it.
  • The Noble Demon interpretation of Darth Vader being the kind of guy that fights alongside his men is less Darth Vader being willing to throw down alongside his troops and more Darth Vader has nothing really to live for beyond the Empire and doesn't care if he gets killed.
  • Meursault, the narrator of Camus' Existentialist novel The Stranger, is supposed to be an example of someone who's come to understand the absurdity and meaninglessness of human existence; to some people, he just comes off as a sociopath.
  • The wolf from the "Three Little Pigs": an evil carnivore who wants to leave three little cute pigs homeless, kill them, and eat them or a hungry guy who just wanted dinner and had his pants set on fire because of eating meat. What Measure Is a Non-Cute? at it's worst.
  • Tim (Tiger in the English version) of TKKG can either be seen as tad bit overprotective but essentially a good guy or as a budding psycho who resorts to violence at earliest possibility.
  • The way Louis depicts Lestat in Interview with the Vampire is a lot different from the way Lestat depicts Lestat in the other Vampire Chronicles books.
    • Is Louis so tortured because, deep down, he still believes in human morality but is forced by his vampire nature to live at odds with it, or is he so self-centered that all he can see is his own pain?
    • Does Louis actually have no choice or way of stopping the events that lead to disaster or does he claim passivity to manipulate others or because he's afraid to take responsibility for the fact that he could have done something and didn't?
  • Warrior Cats has Ashfur. Were his actions in Sunset and Long Shadows driven by mental illness and a cruel rejection by Squirrelflight, or nothing but wangst and pettiness? The Broken Base can't decide!
  • The Wheel of Time: given that the entire world is locked in an endless cycle where the same mistakes get repeated again and again, and civilization rises just to fall so it can rise again the next cycle, the Dark Ones desire to unmake the Wheel and thus break the cycle could make him a Well-Intentioned Extremist. After all, unmaking and remaking history would release everyone from the cycle of rebirth to a (very) flawed world, allow the flaws to be corrected before resuming, and is quite in line with most other characters being knight templars quite willing to do anything for their goals. Also, the only time we actually see the Dark One in person he's angry for being unable to rescue/resurrect a servant who was killed with balefire, as he has been doing for others. That's not exactly in line with being the Ultimate Evil...
    • The fact that the Dark One explicitly goes for sociopaths, nihilists, the Ax-Crazy, and the generally monstrous in his/its handpicked minions makes arguing that case a bit harder...
    • A Memory of Light, the Grand Finale of the series, makes the case essentially untenable. Rand sees three visions of what the Dark One might do to the world- two are horrifying dystopias, the last is an empty void. Though the Dark One's continued existence is proven necessary for existence as a whole to function as we know it, the entity itself is plainly evil. Oh, and Word of God confirms it doesn't care one whit for its followers- it just gets ticked off when someone else kills them.
    • Aviendha. Prickly, "strong-willed" tsundere who is genuinely in love with Rand, or an Armoured Closet Gay who is going through an identity crisis? The Maidens of the Spear are a rather butch, feminist group, who swear they're married to their spears and generally avoid men. Most of the members form very close bonds with each other. Aviendha was very at home there, and protested vehemently when she was supposed to become a traditionally feminine Wise One. She latched on to being a Maiden because it allowed her to remain a normal, accepted member of Aiel society without having to marry, or face who she really was. When she was forced to become a Wise One, her sense of self was turned upside-down, showing her insecurity and the fact that she didn't have much she identified with beyond being a Maiden. Later, she gloms onto Elayne immediately, and seems to view her as the paradigm of what a woman should be: feminine, strong, beautiful, etc. She stays by Elayne's side at all times, and constantly gushes about how wonderful she is, and bonds her as her "sister." She "fell in love" with Rand, but acts like she hates him, and refuses to see him, using ji'e'toh as an excuse but never explaining why exactly she has toh to him. So, she dislikes men, acts butch, is insecure about her identity, and likes to hang around another woman who she views as an angel descended from heaven. Armoured Closet Gay?
  • It is generally assumed that in L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Boq and the Good Witch of the North are mistaken when they initially assume that Dorothy Gale is a witch, but Dorothy summons the vortex that brought her to Oz in the first place, she gives life, or the semblance thereof, to a scarecrow and an empty suit of armor, she converses with and commands wild animals, and she takes control of the winged monkeys, before finally using the power of the silver slippers to transport herself back to Kansas. There's also the book/play Wicked, which is about the backstory of the Witch herself. In the book at least, both Dorothy and the witch are sympathetic. Though by the time Dorothy arrives, the Witch is... not so sympathetic. Although Wicked expressly contradicts information about the witch of the west's backstory given in Baum's original novel. When you are actually rewriting the plot and origins of a character, you've gone beyond just alternate interpretation.
    • Likewise, the character of Oscar Diggs, the titular "Wizard," is all over this. He's set up as a con artist and humbug who is, nonetheless, a Gadgeteer Genius (the fifth book had him inventing a crude, but functional cellular phone). And while he often seems harmless (especially in later books), his actions point to Magnificent Bastard. He lands in Oz just as King Pastorius dies, and using a cross of bluff and parlor tricks, all but forces the four most powerful magic users in Nonestica into a stalemate. He then takes the true heir to the Oz throne, the infant Ozma, and sends her to be enslaved by a two-bit sorceress up in Gillikin Country, bespelled as the wrong gender, so he can rule unchallenged. When Dorothy (an American midwesterner like he is) shows up and screws up the balance of power by killing the East Witch, he assigns her an impossible task, taking out the other threat to his power. If she gave up, then he was still unchallenged. If she got herself killed or permanantly imprisoned, she wouldn't be a challenge, either. If she managed to do it? Well, that was one less threat on the table. It was only by pure, dumb luck he got exposed and had to flee, putting an alleged dimwit on the throne to take the fall. The question here boils down to motive; was he just a flim-flam artist who stumbled into the con of his life and never meant any real harm (and maybe didn't even know what a nasty person Mombi was when he sent away Ozma)? Was he a malicious schemer who later became the mask to an extent? (Oz: The Great and Powerful runs with the Becoming the Mask idea, though Diggs was more foolish instead of malicious in that interpetation). Was he trying to do what he had to to prevent four mages from wreaking world-destroying havoc? Or was he, as Greg Maguire proposed, a power-thirsty, greedy bastard who sought power for power's sake and used the existing divisions within Oz to keep everyone fighting with each other so they did not challenge his quest for utter domination?
  • R.L. Stine's work frequently delves into this. A full list of murderers in his work whose victims were emotionally and/or physically abusive would be too long to list here, but the end result is a fandom that adores the people they're meant to hate. One of the worst/best examples of this is Snowman, the killer of a wife-beating, child-starving verbally abusive fat old man who was so vicious his own family constantly wished he was dead. We're supposed to hate him (just like we're supposed to hate every other R.L. Stine killer) but instead people love him. The fact his own father was incredibly abusive and he sees himself as helping people when he kills someone has cemented his position as a battered and broken Anti-Hero in fandom.
  • For Alternative Character Interpretation of the works of William Shakespeare, please see Theater.

FilmAlternative Character InterpretationTwilight

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
225765
4