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Screw The Rules Im Doing Whats Right / Literature

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  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Huck's comrade throughout the book, fugitive slave Jim, has been captured and is to be returned whence he fled. Huck elects to break him out. This instance is a special case within the trope, because Huck in fact believes himself to be choosing wrong, and wickedness, because all the moral teaching he has ever been given has been geared to following rules, and disobedience is equated with evil. His innate moral sense triumphs anyway.
    Huckleberry Finn: It was a close place. I took [the letter giving Jim away] up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: "All right, then, I'll go to hell!"—and tore it up.
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  • In The Amy Virus, after Cyan's Gaslighting and financially Abusive Parents (specifically her father) threaten to institutionalize her to cover up the fact that she's still autistic and to crack down on her rebelling from their control, Cyan runs away early the next morning. Cyan's friends, Renate and Erioca, once they learn why she's running away, immediately help her do so, even when they know they'll both get grounded for it, because it's worse than what Cyan's parents have in mind.
  • Animorphs: Ellimist can't really "break" his rules without causing a massive, universe-destroying war with the Eldritch Abomination God of Evil known as Crayak, but he's been shown to twist or bend them in the good guys' favor whenever possible.
  • Subverted with Arsène Lupin. When he is not lying, cheating, and stealing to get what he wants, he is lying, cheating, and stealing to right a wrong or save someone from an unfortunate fate, even when there are multiple, more ethical, ways to do so.
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  • In Artemis Fowl, Captain Holly Short does this all the time. She directly disobeys orders from superior officers to do what she thinks is right in nearly every book (and most of the time, she ends up saving the world). In the penultimate book, Trouble Kelp gives her a direct order which he knows will be disobeyed, because he needs to cover his own butt when Internal Affairs comes knocking afterwards.
  • The Book of the New Sun: Severian is a Journeyman and supposed to torture targets, but he spares a woman of pain by allowing her to commit suicide after seeing what the others in his trade were doing.
  • Brotherband has Hal and his Heron crew lose their ship and their weapons as punishment for the Andomal getting stolen on their watch. They use the time offered to hand over these possessions to jump Hallasholm on said ship to get back the Andomal. Then it turns out to have been a Batman Gambit by Erak, who expected them to do that.
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  • Chance and Choices Adventures: As punishment for their Maligned Mixed Marriage, Ann Williams and Noah Swift Hawk are sentenced to rebuild the ferry at Cadron Creek, plus docks and moorings, all by themselves, with US Army Specialist Jeremiah Pratt sent along with three other soldiers to guard them and make sure nobody offers them any help. Trying to do such a difficult job alone, the two nearly die twice - once when the temporary dam they built so they could work on the creek bed burst and almost drowned them, and once when a giant mooring post fell over and nearly hit them. At this point Specialist Pratt orders all his men away so he and Sheriff Smitty can help the two without anyone knowing.
  • At least Once an Episode in Dale Brown's books, Brad Elliott, Patrick McLanahan, and the Dreamland old-timers will ignore or resist the commands of higher authority in order to save the world, even if most of them wish they could work together with the conventional military rather than fight.
  • This is a major part of Joey Bettany's character in the early Chalet School books. She's more than happy to break rules in order to save people (or dogs, in Jo of the Chalet School).
  • Discworld:
    • In Reaper Man, when The Grim Reaper, currently in enforced retirement as Bill Door, sees a young child in a burning building, but has his own Obstructive Code of Conduct to consider:
      Death knew that to tinker with the fate of one individual could destroy the whole world. He knew this. The knowledge was built into him.
      To Bill Door, he realized, it was so much horse elbows.
      Oh, damn, he said. And walked into the fire.
    • This is not the first or last time Death has done this. See also Ysabell in Mort and the Little Match Girl in Hogfather. Furthermore, he was technically sacked when he saved the girl from a burning building, so there wasn't anything expressly forbidding him from rescuing her. He has a loophole for the match girl; he's acting as the Hogfather, who's allowed to do things like that.
      Albert: You're not allowed to do that...
      Death: The Hogfather can. The Hogfather gives presents. There's no better present than a future.
    • Sir Samuel Vimes is pretty much this 90% of the time. Hell, even when he's in power himself, he's still breaking the rules. Summed up perfectly by Vetinari.
      Vetinari: That's practically zen.
  • In The Dresden Files, this trope is one of Harry Dresden's key character traits.
    • In the third book Grave Peril, the villain of the book mocked him by giving him a grave marker which reads, "He died doing the right thing." True enough, by the end of the book Harry started a war over it, in fact. After breaking Sacred Hospitality to save a Sword of the Cross from being unmade, a situation it was only in because of Harry's earlier mistakes, Harry is given a choice of leaving behind his beloved girlfriend or fighting for her and starting a war between the Wizards and Vampires. Harry chose her and the rest is history.
    • In Dead Beat Harry breaks a serious taboo of using necromancy [[spoiler:to reanimate a tyrannosaurus rex. This is only a taboo as the laws of magic forbid raising humans back from the dead. Still, his fellow wizards see it as an abomination, but Harry needs it as only necromatic magic will protect him in the coming battle to prevent his life force from being drained.
    • In Small Favor he lies to his superior about the situation he is dealing with by implying that when Queen Mab tasked him to save Baron John Marcone, her threat of repercussions went beyond just Harry but hurting the White Council's access to using her lands to move people on for their war. It doesn't, but Harry is willing to risk this treason to help his friends the Knights of the Cross against the Denarians, who kidnapped Marcone in violation of Mab's accords.
  • In Firebird (Tyers), Field General Brennen Caldwell discovers that a small group of rebels are almost certainly holed up in a hitherto unknown fortress creating a Weapon of Mass Destruction capable of rendering an entire planet uninhabitable — and the weapon might very well be almost finished. He reports it to a Council member (the highest power both politically and militarily), offering to investigate himself and stressing that time is of the essence, and is ordered to stay put and told that "they will look into," which translates to "we'll talk to them a lot and wade through a bunch of red tape and then maybe eventually actually send people there." So he has to decide: does he obey orders, risk the deployment of a devastating weapon, and keep his career safe, or does he break explicit orders, potentially save millions of lives, and face possible court martial? He chooses to go — a choice that is justified when he discovers a lab containing a nearly completed warhead within the fortress. The personal consequences? Aside from nearly being killed quite painfully by the rebels, he is forced to resign.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Merchant Princes": Salvor Hardin has the conflict of morals versus ethics down to a philosophy of life, expressed in one of the epigrams attributed to him which has been adopted by the Foundation's merchants:
    "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right." —Salvor Hardin
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry gives a whole speech to this effect prior to the climax of the first book.
      "If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort's coming back! Haven't you heard what it was like when he was trying to take over? There won't be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He'll flatten it, or turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! Losing points doesn't matter anymore, can't you see? D'you think he'll leave you and your families alone if Gryffindor wins the House Cup?"
    • During the whole saga, Harry often breaks the rules to do what's right, to the extreme of robbing a bank, as well as using Unforgiveable Curses, in Deathly Hallows.
    • Part of Hermione's Character Development (who is always a stickler for the rules) is realizing that sometimes breaking the rules is the best thing a person can do.
    • One of Minerva McGonagall's best moments: during Umbridge's rule as Headmistress, she condones what amounts to almost anarchy at the school from both the students and Peeves the Poltergeist in order to drive Umbridge out of Hogwarts in Order of the Phoenix. "It unscrews the other way" will always be one of the best lines EVER in Harry Potter's books. And, in a more serious example, her use of the Imperius Curse on the Death Eaters that had become teachers at the school after Harry infiltrates it. However as with Harry's example above it's implied though that the unforgivable curses are legal under Voldemort's regime.
    • Most of the other teachers as well, including Snape.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • In the short story "A Ship Named Francis", the captain manages to put himself into a coma by colliding with a bulkhead headfirst during a potato sack toboggan race, leaving the borderline psychotic first officer in charge, and he decides to arrest 20% of the crew on capital charges on the first day of assuming command. Since the ship is 5 days from their home port, statistics imply that the acting captain will have executed the entire crew before they made it back. In order to prevent a mutiny and/or mass murder, the medics and bosun decide to switch the lethal injections with tranquilizers and then store the sedated bodies until they can be revived later, ostensibly to return the bodies to their families. When the bosun points out that by deliberately seeking to subvert their captain's actions, they're committing a court martial offense, one of the medics replies that he'll take his chances with a court-martial on Grayson (with a presumably sane judge presiding).
    • Honor Among Enemies features the crew of a Havenite warship sent to commerce raid Manticoran ships in the Silesian Confederacy who discover the remains of a Manticoran ship captured, and crew horrifically abused and killed, by local pirates. Even though the activities of pirates attacking Manticoran ships actually aids the mission they are on, and their job certainly isn't to save Manticoran ships, the crew put their mission on hold and go after the pirates, horrified by the atrocity.
  • In The Machineries of Empire, one of the Kel generals decides to contact Cheris to warn her and Jedao about Kel Command's shady intentions, as she feels they're shooting themselves in the foot. She's not afraid of being punished for it, as she doesn't expect to survive her next battle anyway.
  • In The Maze Runner, Thomas, despite everyone telling him that Rule Number One of the Glade is to never go out at night, runs out while the gates are closing to help Minho and Alby.
  • In Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball's PartnerShip, a character is running a mine with a labour force of native animals. It turns out that they are intelligent, but getting them registered as such is some kind of Catch 22 situation. He therefore breaks the rules in order to get them registered. His punishment is community work with another native species who might turn out to be sapient.
  • In an odd villainous example, Saint Dane of The Pendragon Adventure started out as a good guy, who lived as a spirit in Solara and after a while couldn't stand seeing people make bad decisions over and over. His job was to just show every aspect of a situation, but instead he began to point people in a specific direction, which was technically breaking the rules. (Compare with the story of Lucifer in The Bible to get a better understanding.) Then he went mad with power and decided to become a god who controlled everything and everyone. Even though the original intent fit this trope (that of pointing man in a positive direction with his hand), at the end of the series he's just gotten plain selfish.
  • In The Railway Series, Donald and Douglas have signs of this trope. To start, Douglas was faced with being cut up for scrap. Donald would have none of this, so he smuggled his brother to Sodor to save him. Later on, Douglas meets Oliver, Isabel and Toad who are on the run, and decides to follow in his brother's footsteps by smuggling them to Sodor.
  • Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan:
    • Halt doesn't even choose between Lawful and Good-he'll always do what he believes to be right, no matter what. Since he's a) highly effective and really does work for the kingdom's best interests and b) friends with the King and the Commandant of the Ranger Corps (actually being considered at least twice for the position himself), he can get away with it.
    • Will and Gilan, and to a lesser extent the Rangers as a whole, will sometimes not so much break the rules, as...well, just lean on them a little in order to do what they must, this approach being contrasted with the chivalric behaviour of the knights.
  • Ravenor: Back-Alley Doctor Patrik Belknap lost his medical license for committing fraud—not to benefit himself, but to beef up his practice’s meagre budget so he could afford the treatments his many patients needed. He now works as a rogue medicae to make sure that the people who fall through the cracks get the healthcare they would otherwise be denied by the Administratum.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's The Rolling Stones, Buster, the youngest of the Stones, suffers from severe space sickness early in the family's trip to Mars. Roger makes plans to swing their ship back towards Luna, despite being turned down by traffic control and knowing he'd at minimum be heavily fined, and have his ship master's license revoked.
  • Sherlock Holmes loves this trope. He even keeps a set of tools to break into people's houses and never hesitates in using them, willingly became an accessory after the fact to the murder of a particularly nasty villain, perhaps knowingly became indirectly responsible for the death of a murderer (expressing no remorse whatsoever afterwards), etc. Most impressive is that he seems to not think that the extremes he sometimes goes to solve cases is going too far, shrugging or even smiling with amusement when called out on it. This is at least partly because for Sherlock Holmes, it's more about the thrill of solving a complex mystery than serving the cause of justice; he's more interested in the mystery than the result. And, as he once lampshaded when letting a perpetrator go because he was convinced the perp was not beyond redemption, it's not his job to compensate for the deficiencies of the police.
  • A very controversial example from A Song of Ice and Fire: Jaime Lannister, one of the King's bodyguards, learns that the King is planning to burn down his own capital in order to spite his enemies, thereby killing hundreds of thousands of people, including the King's own grandchildren. Jaime decides to violate his oath to protect the King and kills him as soon as he gives the order. (As well as anyone around who might either know about the order or actually carry it out.) In this case, the character in question clearly believes he's invoking this trope, but the other characters (and the readers) are far more divided. In-Universe, opinions generally range from considering it a case of Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work at best, to, (more likely) a case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder at work.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • During the X-Wing Series, Rogue Squadron is betrayed by one of their own, who then joins the Imperials in taking over a strategically important planet. The New Republic wants to ignore that planet for now, since attacking would be diplomatically unsound. So Commander Antilles resigns his commission and quits the New Republic, rapidly followed by the rest of Rogue Squadron. They form an independent force devoted to destroying the bacta cartel. Much later, since things turned out well, the entire squadron is welcomed back, reinstated, and told that they had the tacit support of the New Republic — the history texts would mark the operation as legitimate. (There were very strong hints of this during the story; for example, they managed to purchase their old starfighters on the cheap because someonenote  in the New Republic had designated them as "broken surplus", as they were missing the parts designated "PL-1s" — the designation for "pilot". Wedge even hangs a lampshade after this particular windfall.)
    • Starfighters of Adumar has a similar but vastly more personal version. Wedge and his pilots have been sent on a diplomatic mission to Adumar, whose hat is pilot-worship and Blood Sport, in order to get them to join the New Republic. The Imperials have also sent some pilots. Both groups fly against native Adumari pilots and win handily, since as Proud Warrior Race Guys the Adumari never get very skilled. The Imperial pilots fly with full-strength lasers and shoot to kill; the New Republic ones do not, and Wedge's diplomatic liaison says that in not following standard native practice they are disrespecting their traditions, which means that the Imperial pilots look better. Wedge tells himself that if it was a matter of flying against some champion, some enemy, he'd do it without a qualm, but the Adumari aren't his enemies. He stalls by telling the liaison that he's waiting for his immediate superior to order him to fly lethally. But he knows that if ordered, he will refuse and end up getting kicked out at the least — which is a big deal for him, since Wedge has been a fighter jock for the Rebellion/New Republic since he was in his teens, and literally all of his friends are involved in the military.
    • There's also Thrawn in Outbound Flight, who really wants to protect the Chiss, but often clashes with his culture's views on preemptive attacks, which is what eventually leads to his exile. It's morally ambiguous, and Thrawn does become a full-fledged villain later on, but it's hard to argue that the Vagaari didn't deserve everything they got.
    • In the novelization of Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan is explicitly told not to tell Anakin about what Mace and Yoda know about Darth Sidious. He tells Anakin anyway, as it's the only way to make him go along with spying on Palpatine. Of course, Palpatine being the Magnificent Bastard master of the Batman Gambit that he is, it backfires, but still.
    • Pick a Jedi Apprentice-era book. Any JA-era book. You can almost guarantee that Qui-Gon Jinn will, at least once, ignore his orders/what would be politically convenient to do what's right.
      • Though it's rarer for Obi-Wan, he does do this as well: Look at the Revenge of the Sith example above, or his temporarily leaving the Jedi Order to help the Young on Melida-Daan, or his unconventional tactics in the Clone Wars Gambit series.
    • Discussed in Fate of the Jedi, when Jaina and Luke point out at different times that the difference between Jedi and soldiers (and cops) is that soldiers and cops are expected to follow their orders, even if it goes against what they believe to be right. Jedi, on the other hand, are expected to do what's right, even if it goes against their orders (since the Jedi have the Force backing them up). Unfortunately, Kenth Hamner doesn't seem to grasp this, with tragic results.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, this is the whole idea behind the Windrunners. They believe they should do what's honourable or right, no matter what it costs. This gets Kaladin into a lot of trouble. His Spren, Sylphrena, makes the Windrunners' position clear in Words of Radiance:
    Syl: Laws don't matter; what's right matters.
  • At the end of the fourth Temeraire book, Laurence commits treason by stealing the cure for the dragons' illness and taking it to France, because the alternative is to let the illness spread across the world killing dragons who aren't even involved in the war. Then he goes back to England and turns himself in, fully expecting to be hanged.
  • Tortall Universe:
    • In Lady Knight, Keladry of Mindelan, a woman who is normally entirely willing to follow the rules even when they are massively unfair, is given charge of a refugee camp. When the refugees are attacked and many abducted while she's out, her superiors refuse to look for them. She disobeys orders and goes AWOL — which is treason — to follow. Later, she turns herself in, fully expecting to be tried and executed. She's not, and neither are her friends who also broke the rules to go with her so she wouldn't be immediately killed in the rescue attempt. Her superiors realized after she went that of course she would do that, and the lord who gave her the order to leave the refugees actually is furious with himself for doing it. They also realize that the enemy could have made two hundred Nigh Invulnerable killing devices if someone hadn't rescued the refugees.
    • In Mastiff, Pounce heals Achoo when she's wounded, despite knowing that the gods will be very angry at him for using his powers in mortal affairs. They bind him to his stars for a century afterwards, which all things considered is a rather light punishment.
  • The feeling of Batman Expy The Revenant in the "Peer Review" story of the Superheroes anthology, and the reason behind the trial he's involved in that forms the plot of the story. Revenant kidnaps and transports a minor across several states, violating several other court orders in the process and fighting the local version of the Justic League, all so said minor can help his elder sister by donating bone marrow to her. The trial is to determine how the superhero community should handle such situations and police its members, especially given that in this instance the laws were being used to protect the wishes of a vindictive mother trying to hurt her ex-husband. Of course Revenant points out that he's only there as a courtesy, the verdict will do nothing to change his methods.
    Revenant: You do law, I do Justice.
  • In Rama II, Michael O'Toole must consider his decision to explode the Rama spacecraft for days. The three officers on board had been given codes to detonate nuclear bombs which Earth sent in case Rama became dangerous. When Rama begins a collision course for Earth, his orders are to detonate them. The third officer having been killed and two of three codes being needed, O'Toole's vote is essential for detonating them. On knowing that this was made by an extraterrestrial being, and ones he interprets might have something to do with god, he decides not to do it. By this time his crewmates have abandoned him with an escape pod and food left behind, and begun the journey home. He sits inside Rama with the other two cosmonauts who had become stranded, and they wait to see what will happen as Earth sends nuclear missiles of its own to complement those they left onboard in case he chose not to detonate them.
  • In Twilight, Carlise Cullen is the leader of a group of vampires in the middle of a centuries-long feud with a group of werewolves living in the same area. The only thing keeping the peace between the two is a treaty, part of which stipulates that the two sides stay off each other's land and have little, if anything, to do with each other. However, when one of the werewolves is wounded, Carlise immediately offers his medical services and helps treat the young man. This helps to begin bridging the gap between the two groups.
  • In Updraft, Kirit decides to expose the villains by winning a Trial by Combat, after which her opponents could no longer deny her permission to speak. Then she realises... why is she bothering to play by the rules of the people she's trying to expose? Why wait for their permission? Instead, she shouts out the truth during the fight, letting the whole audience know it regardless of whether she wins or loses.
  • This is Firestar's way around the warrior code in Warrior Cats. As Sandstorm says, he does follow the warrior code, thinking over how it's supposed to work. And when it doesn't, he challenges it and does something different. Like when he was supposed to obey Bluestar's demands to attack WindClan, he instead arranges for a peaceful conversation without blood.
  • Siuan Sanche from The Wheel of Time does this all the time, although in her case it's more like seeing the rules From a Certain Point of View.
  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer: Diana chooses to save Alia and return with her to the mortal world to save it even though she knows the Amazonian rules and laws she's breaking are banishment level offenses.


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