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Iron Woobie / Literature

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  • While Miles Vorkosigan in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga already takes this to extreme levels (born with abnormally brittle bones and needing multiple surgeries and painful physical therapy just to walk, and that was just the first six years of his life; it got worse), his brother Mark has it even worse. Created in a laboratory by absurdly insane and delusional terrorists to kill and impersonate his brother long enough to murder their father, raised by clone traders who sell their services to rich old people willing to murder their own cloned children and transplant their brains into the young bodies, every one of his childhood friends is dead by the time he starts trying to stop the clone trade. But after being physically, sexually, and psychologically tortured by someone vile by everyone else's standards (Mark makes millions from the assassination and ends up rescuing dozens of innocent lives), a beautiful female soldier touches his wrist and offers her pity for what he'd suffered. Mark's response: grab her wrist in a death grip and snarl viciously, "don't you DARE feel pity for me. I WON!"
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  • Danny Saunders from The Chosen. He was a Hassidic Rebbe's son and an incredibly gifted young scholar. His father actually shunned him as a form of Training from Hell (his father did not like doing it, which gives him as well some qualifications as a Well-Intentioned Extremist Iron Woobie once one gets past Values Dissonance).
  • Harry Dresden. The entire universe hates him, but he still keeps saving it, usually making bad jokes at the same time. Listing why would result in a Wall of Text, so just go to the Dresden Files Woobie page to save space.
  • In Wen Spencer's Endless Blue, Mikhail suffers, and long has, from depression. He nevertheless plays The Stoic until those rare conditions that manage to break him. When his foster brother Turk apparently dies, he conscientiously locks away his gun and gives away his vodkha, to prevent Drowning My Sorrows and Driven to Suicide — at least until he gets his crew to safety.
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  • Huck from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He is utterly penniless, gets kidnapped by his abusive and alcoholic father, is nearly stabbed by said father, almost gets shot during a feud, has a run in with a homicidal gang of robbers and falls into the company of con men, among other things. Throughout all of this, he's infectiously cheerful, playful and heartbreakingly unaware of the Crapsack World surrounding him.
  • Edmond Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo. Starts out an all-around nice guy, is imprisoned after being falsely accused and having his life and fiancee ripped away from him, escapes, plans an elaborate vengeance against his accusers spanning several years and then, despite those years of planning, spares the life of one of his enemies because he would have to take the life of his innocent and honorable son in addition.
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  • X-Wing Series: Tycho Celchu is a Woobie in universe. He was an Alderaanian flying for the Empire who had been placing a call to his family there on his birthday when Alderaan was destroyed. He fought for the Rebel Alliance and was kidnapped and tortured by Isard, but never broke. When he was released the Alliance was suspicious of him, thinking that he'd turned into one of Isard's Manchurian Agents, and he was put under all kinds of restrictions. His old CO Wedge Antilles still trusted him absolutely and relied on him, even giving him roles in secret plans. Then someone who was suspicious of him died in suspicious circumstances, and he was put on trial with a mountain of evidence set against him. Everyone but Wedge, or nearly everyone, thought he was a traitor, wittingly or not, and Wedge had a moment of doubt. So how did Tycho bear up with this? Stoically, and with an endless reserve of patience. Before Isard got him he was a hothead and impulsive - after that, he was subdued, haunted, and his nobility was laid bare.
    "I put up with it because I must. Enduring it is the only way I can be allowed to fight back against the Empire. If I were to walk away from the Rebellion, if I were to sit the war out, I would have surrendered to the fear of what Ysanne Isard might, might, have done to me. Without firing a shot she would have made me as dead as Alderaan, and I won't allow that. There's nothing in what I have to live with on a daily basis that isn't a thousand times easier than what I survived at the hands of the Empire. Until the Empire is dead, I can never truly be free because I'll always be under suspicion. Living with minor restrictions now means someday no one has to fear me."
  • The title character of The Windrose Chronicles, by Barbara Hambly, winds up going through fifteen kinds of hell at the hands of the good guys as well as the bad guys. He's been traumatized enough to go completely insane - and his insanity gives him the ability to sustain hope even when such is unrealistic - leading to such Awesome Moments as gaining secret control of the prison where he is being tortured, not that that makes the torture hurt any less, and dealing with everyone throughout courteously and cheerfully...
  • Niall from Wicked Lovely, oh so much so. He gave himself to the Dark Court, and we all know what that meant, to save a few mortals (who died anyway.) He managed to escape from them, becoming one of the Summer Court's most trusted advisors. Oh, but then, well, Shit happened. He would have every reason in the world to be all angsty and depressed, but he very rarely does, or at least not visibly. He's a "survivor", as Leslie put it.
  • Marshal-General Atkins, from John C. Wright's The Golden Oecumene is the only warrior in a society that has forgotten the meaning of war or violence. He is regarded as an anachronism at best, a needless expense at worst. The only inkling the reader gets of his woobie nature is a brief Not So Stoic outburst after a dose of Amnesiac Dissonance.
  • Realm of the Elderlings: FitzChivalry Farseer. A bastard whose unveiling causes his heir-to-the-throne father to go into seclusion, mercilessly trained as an assassin, executed for possessing forbidden magic (he got better), sent on a mission to save a kingdom that hates him, forced to give up his youth and vitality, leaving him broken for many years, only to return to find out his lover and his foster father have gone off to raise his child together and no one wants him around anymore. Then, umpteen years later when his kingdom needs him, he still goes off to save the day.
  • My Happy Life is made of this. The nameless narrator describes being a beaten, neglected, friendless woman, with a mental deficiency who was abandoned, raised in a Dickinsonian orphanage, left homeless, kidnapped, abused, and eventually locked in an abandoned insane asylum to die in relentlessly cheerful terms. The reader may assume part of her insanity was an inability to feel unhappiness, but that's not explicitly stated.
  • Georgie in The Fledgling. She seems like your ordinary introverted, outcast child, until a Canada goose befriends her and teaches her to fly, and it seems all the other characters are bent on stopping her. In the end, the goose, the only true friend she's had not only dies, but dies because Georgie calls him to her. And despite that, Georgie still never complains.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry's Parents were murdered trying to save him, betrayed by their best friend. His only living relatives hate him because he was born with magic and physically and emotionally abuse him, starving him and until the age of 12 make him live in a cupboard under the stairs. His life and those of everyone he cares about is constantly being threatened by the most dangerous and evil wizard in history all because of prophecy made before he was born, to the point that every year he is put in mortal danger far beyond the abilities of the normal wizard let alone a child. He has a teacher that makes it his life's mission to make Harry unhappy and his mentor keeps him in the dark about nearly everything. The media spends half the time villifying him for telling the truth and powerful politicians either coddle him or try to discredit him. All of his protectors and father figures are horribly murdered and to cap it all he is forced to walk slowly to his death and isn't allowed to defend himself or run away (the fact that he doesn't actually end up dead isn't even that helpful because coming back he still has to fight the Big Bad again)
    • "Loony" Luna Lovegood has some of this as well. The first years of her life were... okay, one can presume. Okay, though friendless. She had loving parents and her mother, in particular, was rumored to have been an extraordinary witch. Keywords: Have been. When Luna was 9 years old she became an eye witness when one of her mother's experimental spells backfired. Her father, Xenophilius, is implied to have had a Sanity Slippage by the gruesome circumstances of her death and, all in all, life got tough for Luna. Things didn't get better when she went to Hogwarts. No, due to being the victim of a serious deconstruction of the Cloud Cuckoolander trope, she was teased and ostracized by the other students due to her easy-to-spot quirkiness, with Ginny Weasley being the only one to approach her. It's not until her 4th year in Hogwarts that she finally finds some true company together with the Main Trio, Ginny and Neville Longbottom, and she only says one year later that she liked being together with them because it "was like having friends."
  • Lissla Lissar from Robin McKinley's Deerskin. Just follow the link to that page. Lissar is the embodiment of the tragic backstory. The poor girl goes through utter hell, in one form or another, for seventeen years. And yet she survives it all—with the help of a being called the Moonwoman, who changes Lissar's appearance and conceals her memories until she might be ready to deal with them—becoming the most compassionate and courageous person imaginable.
  • Marsh from Mistborn: He led a peasant rebellion for years, before giving it up as a lost cause, only to have his estranged Gentleman Thief younger brother Kelsier (who married the girl Marsh loved) take over. Marsh then goes undercover in the Religion of Evil as part of his brother's scheme. He's so good at his job, however, that the monstrous Steel Inquisitors decide to forcefully recruit him. The ensuing ceremony involves multiple human sacrifices, and large metal spikes being permanently impaled into his body. Kelsier soon dies believing that he got Marsh killed. Marsh is able to kill several of the other Inquisitors, and help depose the Lord Ruler, only to realize they had released a God of Evil in the process. The god controls Marsh's body for the next two books, all while his mind is trapped inside. He ends up being forced to kill an untold amount of people while bringing about the apocalypse, but still manages to break free for the second it takes to trigger his niece's 11th-Hour Superpower. By the Bittersweet Ending of the original trilogy, he's lost everyone he ever cared about, is still the immortal pawn of an (albeit much more benevolent) god, and as for the new society he did all of this to create? They view him as the theological personification of Death itself.
  • Ruth Mallory of Someone Else's War: A fourteen-year-old comfort slave, mother to two dead children, lost her home, her innocence, her peace of mind, she has no friends, she's specifically antagonized by the men because she's ugly—but she never bemoans her fate. She never pities herself, instead doing what she can to save others from a similar life.
  • Alinadar from The Red Vixen Adventures started her woobiness by having her family murdered by Space Pirates, being made their slave and forced to be a Child Soldier hunting down other children hiding on ships the pirates attacked. Escaping that and settling down to be a noblewoman's bodyguard, she's finally found by her long lost brother a Stellar Patroller after he searched for her for twenty years, only to be arrested by him the day he finds her when she admits to being a former pirate. And all the while she complains people are being too sympathetic to her compared to her victims.
  • The Bible:
    • A lot of God's big speeches in the Old Testament boil down to "Everyone keeps ignoring me and doing evil stuff that I told you not to do, and I feel really hurt by that, but I guess I'm not gonna give up you anyway" - it kinda reads like they want you to feel sorry for the Big Guy. Jesus certainly counts in the New Testament, though - He has one Rage Against the Heavens moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, but He pretty quickly comes to the conclusion that He's going to go through with the whole crucifixion thing because He's convinced there's no better way. He remains pretty impressively composed throughout the actual process of dying, too.
    • Possibly the Ur-Example would be Job. Here's a guy who's incredibly wealthy, and one day while he's sitting down to dinner finds out that all of his livestock, servants, and children have just been killed or captured. When that's not enough to break him, he then loses even his health, with painful sores all over his body. His friends turn on him, assuming that he must have done something incredibly awful to deserve such a punishment. His wife, who should be comforting him in this crisis, instead tells him to just curse God and die. But through it all, he never loses his faith, at one point even calling God out to explain why he's had to suffer so. It pays off in the end; God is so impressed with his perseverance that everything he had lost was restored to him doubly.
  • Jane Eyre most DEFINITELY qualifies for this trope! Suffering through an abusive childhood, an abusive adolescence, and on top of all this, to have the man she comes to love keep critical secrets from her would drive anyone to despair. But not Jane. She, despite the occasional moments of "Why me?" keeps soldiering on through life, and making the best of whatever comes along.
  • The Spirit Thief:
    • Nico is a demonseed, meaning that every day of her life, a demon by the name of Master is trying to possess her, which would turn her into an unstoppable engine of destruction. To this end, he torments her with voices, pushes her deeper into Heroic Self-Deprecation and takes away her powers before mocking her when she can't help her friends. Despite that, not only does she resist him, she's one of the most skilled, selfless and helpful people in the story. When she finally confronts the Master and tells him to shove it, you can't help but cheer for her.
    • From what little we see of the Hunter, he's a ridiculously badass version of this trope. He's had to fight hundreds upon hundreds of demons, all alone, for over five thousand years, only getting an hour's rest every century. He fights for a world he doesn't even get to live in, for spirits and humans he never sees, slowly realizing his enemies will never die and his Creator is not coming back to save them. And then his beloved sister, the one who comforts him during his brief rest and one of only two beings who fully understands what he goes through... betrays him and literally stabs him In the Back.
  • Wicked: The book version of Elphaba suffered even worse - her mother doesn't die after Nessarose is born (and she's born without arms ) but dies after giving birth to a completely normal (Jerkass) of a son, Shell. After going through a childhood of being used as a pointer in her fathers' missionary work - 'Look what the Unnamed God did to *me*, a priest!' - she goes to Shiz, finally away from her needy sister and holier-than-thou father, and has her eyes opened to the systematic dismantling of Animal rights. She's one of the only people in the book to realize Doctor Dillamond was *murdered*. And all of *that's* just when she's at Shiz! Though she keeps on trucking, things just get worse...

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