Discussion: Redemption Arcs in Books πŸ˜‡ (Let’s Talk Bookish #1)

Hello everyone! Yes! This is the first discussion post on A Bolt out of the Book by yours truly… (it was about time you stopped procrastinating right cherelle?)

Today, I will be participating in Let’s Talk Bookish, a weekly meme where discussion prompts are given for book bloggers to write about. it’s hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. I came to know of this meme thanks to Millay @ Millay’s Musings, a lovely blogger you all should go say hi to!

Anyway, let me stop rambling and plunge headfirst into the discussion that I have been dreading to write (because spoiler alert: cherelle does not know how to write a discussion post).

The topic for today is Redemption Arcs (suggested by Dani, one of the hosts).

Okay first, what is a redemption arc?

A redemption arc is when a villain, morally grey or flawed character who has done grievous wrongs goes through a transformation and sort of “repents” and “atones”… thus becoming a good/better guy.

Why are redemption arcs so popular?

I think that redemption arcs are really popular because readers generally care. We care about the flawed, about the bad guys (well not all of them). We have this innate desire for good to win evil, and empathy which makes us hope that the villain can be given a second chance, which makes us long for an ending where everyone is happy. (This is a generalisation so of course you can beg to differ.) Also, redemption arcs are great for character development and can be used to push plots.

Why do redemption arcs irk me to no end?

I like redemption arcs when done well. But then again I am a fussy hen. And these arcs end up backfiring and making me annoyed.

One common misconception of a redemptive arc is “The villain suddenly sacrifices himself against a great evil. He has changed! He is a hero!”

the unrealistic reaction of other characters towards a character who suddenly turns good and saves the day

Utter nonsense. If the book suddenly has a villain repenting with some grand, magnanimous act in the end, yes it is sort of a redemption but it’s an extremely weak one.

Firstly, it feels cliche. Could it be too good to be true? Why does it always have to be a death? Why must their lives always be sacrificed? Why? Why? And then, it becomes all too predictable.

Secondly, it’s extremely sudden. Even if that happens, fine. Who doesn’t love a dramatic end? But where did it all come from? We have a bad guy murdering 203 guys per hour non- stop and suddenly, as if having encountered some divine force, changed into one who wouldn’t hurt a puppy and would willingly give his life for his enemies? No way.

even the God of the Underworld doesn’t think it’s cool

Cue the rolling of eyes.

Okay, so what makes a good redemption arc?

Thus, for a good redemption arc, I feel that the most important thing would be build-up and many character driven sections. We the readers want to know what events changed the character. We want to see how his mindset slowly evolved over time, instead of suddenly morphing from black to white, we want all that grey, messy parts where the villain is struggling between good and evil. We want to see not only his inner thoughts but his actions, the slowly differing way he holds himself, the changing way he treats others… And we want to see this over a period of time.

At times I feel that a good redemption arc for morally grey characters should also include the fact that they have some goodness but doesn’t choose to embrace it at first. So when he actually goes through the redemption arc, it’s essentially letting the angel win over the devil… and not like the inspiration came from nowhere (this sudden spark inspired by a certain event works at times but has to be done well) They should be like a transformer, the same person (same values etc) but embracing a different mindset afterwards.

Lastly, we want it to be realistic! As mentioned above, WE DO NOT NEED THEIR DEATH TO END EVERY REDEMPTIVE ARC. SUDDEN SACRIFICE LEADING TO DEATH DOES NOT EQUATE TO A REAL CHANGE. IF YOU DIE, IT DOESN’T MEAN YOU ARE AUTOMATICALLY THE HERO. It annoys me when the characters suddenly greatly respect the villain and forget everything he has done wrong. So for goodness sake can we have more realistic kind of redemptions? Not always suddenly jumping to “I’m sacrificing my life for the greater good” yada yada.

Can any character be redeemed or are there some characters that are too far gone?

Honestly, I would love if every character could be redeemed. But then I would be a hypocrite because that is totally unrealistic. There will always be evil. No matter what. (unless you are coexisting in a world where pink fluffy unicorns are dancing on rainbows)

Truly, there are some characters who do horrific things that cannot be forgiven. Yes, even if they die, what they did cannot be forgiven because of the impact that they had on others. If the authors really want to try a sort of redemptive arc on these kind of people (which is like everyone who need to be redeemed lol because books are drama llamas), it should not be a complete pardon. They should NOT automatically become the hero. Others should just be able to see some good in them, but NOT start worshipping them. That would be ridiculous.

Books with good redemptive arcs

(also, spoilers for the books!!)

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: Okay so note here me talking about Les Mis will be based on the musical (as I haven’t read the book in all of its 1000+ page glory). Jean Valjean’s redemptive arc is one of my favourites. Yes, it does end with a death. But his death was not because of some worthy and benevolent sacrifice, he died because he was old. Realistic point check!

Furthermore, I loved how morally grey he was. He had stolen a loaf of bread to feed a hungry child. Good intention but wrong action. Then, he tries to escape to the extent of earning himself even more years in jail. Understandable, but not so good. Afterwards when he is free, he steals from the first person that was kind to him. The Bishop who then covers for him when he was caught and about to be thrown back into a nightmare. That was the base of his quest to become good.

Despite that strong starting point, he did falter a lot during the entire musical such as when he was deciding whether or not to spare Javert’s life, whether or not to won up and many other instances. His internal struggle was portrayed so vividly through all the songs and we could lucidly see him becoming a better person, but not void of dilemmas. A remarkable redemptive arc.

A Court of WIngs and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas : Another one would be Tamlin from the Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy. Firstly, I loved the subversion of expectations in ACOMAF. Like the build up was amazing only to reveal that he was bad, or rather “bad”.

He struck me as a morally ambiguous person. He’s possessive, violent, cruel and yet he loves Feyre so much (though in the wrong way). this unsteady foundation makes him fall into the pit of questionable (aka bad) choices. In the end, his redemption is still somewhat shady. He helps but still stays somewhat broken and cold. That was perhaps the most realistic redemption ever, if you could even call it a redemption.

I don’t want this post to get to long so let me briefly highlight just 2 other books with solid redemption arcs.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia #2) by C.S. Lewis – My dear dear Edmund. Ahhh. perhaps his may be considered cliche, but as a child, I was mesmerised by his transformation… especially when half the time I wasn’t very sure of his character.

The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3) by Marie Lu – Again, you all who have read the book are calling me a hypocrite again because this one does have a big, albeit dramatic death as a sacrifice And for once, I surprised myself because of being okay with it. I think that the main point was the development of the redemptive arc. Adelina fascinates me so so much and her struggle between good and evil thanks to power and the values she lived by was top-notch.

Do you enjoy redemptive arcs? What makes a good redemptive arc for you? What other books have solid redemptive arcs?


56 thoughts on “Discussion: Redemption Arcs in Books πŸ˜‡ (Let’s Talk Bookish #1)

  1. Jean Valjean has one of the most redemption arc.

    This was be a bit of a SPOILER for my upcoming book ((probably not a very strong arc)). Simply put- Sarge starts out as a bully and things only become worse. Well, soon realizes a better way to deal with his anger and eventually gets the father-figure he needed. He is the antagonist of the book- he actually found a craft he loves (make pebble necklaces), and the father-figure he needed. Crazily enough, it took my protagonist to help him

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I loved this discussion post! And the gifs!
    I feel the same. A villain suddenly sacrificing themselves is such a cop-out. I find it sooo cheesy.
    Not a book, but the show Once Upon A Time has a bunch of villains that have redemption arcs over the course of the series.
    But I also don’t like it when villains end up becoming so good, like such moral heroes. I like a bit of bad in a character always. Being so good is a bit boring. The two balance each other out.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ahh thank you so much Kirsten, I had so much fun finding all the GIFs! I’m so glad you agree, cheesy is the exactly how it feels – kind of like a cliche movie! Ooh okay, I will be checking out Once Upon a Time, thank you for the recommendation! And absolutely good point! If we have all good characters, where will all our amazing fantasy/crime…*lists every other genre* stories come from? Thank you for reading my post and leaving such a thoughtful comment! ❀

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Love this post Cherelle! There has to be reasonable build up for a redemption arc. And dying for a cause does not make you a good person if you have been evil for the rest of the book. I think that morally grey characters have some of the best redemption arcs just because their morality is already in question. Fabulous discussion post πŸ’™

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks April! Yeah, unfortunately, death as “the eternal sacrifice” can make people blind to their flaws and what they have done in the past… Ooh that is an interesting point you made there! Indeed, morally grey characters do have more compelling reasons right from the start to go through a redemption arc, much more than a villain who suddenly becomes good after some significant incident… Thank you for reading my post and the thought-provoking comment! 🀩

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  4. Great answers to this discussion, Cherelle!!! Your points you made were SO true!! One thing that I often tend to see with the whole evil-sacrificing-himself-for-good, as it being more of a suicide mission. This only makes it seem not redemptive at all!! Thanks for the shout-out!

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  5. Great discussion post, Cherelle! πŸ™‚

    I like a redemption arc as long as it’s not a sudden and drastic change, as you so eloquently mentioned. A villain needs the time to question the base ideology that drove their devious actions.

    My pet peeve with some redemption arcs is when the author focuses on giving the character a tragic backstory to excuse their actions. Then somewhere off-screen the character changes for the better with no plausible explanation. πŸ€”

    A redemption arc done well, however, is utterly gripping!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much Noelle! Hear hear! Exactly… one’s background, no matter how devastating does not excuse all the damage they have done… Haha, yep, it definitely is irritating at times when that happens… I think that sometimes it’s because the authors write mainly from the protagonist’s POV and thus we don’t have much insight as to the change of the villain, which is such a pity! Thanks for reading the post and leaving such a thoughtful comment, Noelle!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is an amazing discussion that may or may not have started a spark inside of me to continue in on and say that:
    Any book, redemption or no redemption, can be good and some can be really bad. That’s why I think you have ALL THE RIGHT to say you loved the books despite the cliche death redemption ending. Beause some authors just do it perfectly, with its flaws and everything.
    So i just wanna say that you are not a hypocrite to think that but really a genius. So yeah thanks for reading through my little rant there.
    i loved this and can’t wait for more.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I definitely agree with you. It’s so difficult to pull off a good and realistic redemption arc, and it’s definitely not something every story should attempt. I also really enjoyed Tamlin’s. I don’t love him as a character but his redemption was well done.

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  8. You totally blasted it for a first post! 🀯πŸ₯³β€οΈ I totally agree. I think I redemption arc mostly matters when the villain has a good back story and is just not the villain from the beginning… without any reason…I mean ofc there are born sadists…but then again…everyone has a story. I loved reading this. I really loved how the story of tamlin turned out. He wasn’t exactly a villain…it’s just an extreme case of male chauvinism gone bad, which I think…if we can tone it down a little bit…is actually very relevant in our world too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aww, many thanks Ashmita! πŸ’• Good point, we do need to know the motives of the villain to get to understand and even empathise for a good arc! Mmm, I liked how you phrase it – agreed, Tamlin fits right into the morally grey category and for that, his redemption was intriguing… wow and I see the logic in that last bit – thank you for your comment, it gave me quite a bit of food for thought!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Tamlyn was the example I had in my head at the start and I’m glad you mentioned him. He is an example of a morally grey character whose redemption didn’t equal him becoming entirely good. I think it made it more realistic for the reader. I love this idea of discussions!!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I love redemption arcs! Two of my favourite redemption arcs are Murtagh from The Inheritance Cycle and Dustfinger from Inkheart/spell/death. Of course, Edmund’s is another favourite too. I love The Chronicles of Narnia books!

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  11. I loved this discussion post! I have to agree that if a redemption arc is not done well, it can be a little annoying. I want the character to really earn it, you know? and YES les miserables is one of my absolute favorites!! and I think Victor Hugo did such a great job with Valjean’s arc (I mean, he had like 1000 pages to develop it, right? lol) and I love that you mentioned that. Wonderful post!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much Sanah! Having to “earn it” is a good way of putting it – I’m so glad you loved the one in Les Mis – I’m obsessed with the musical but haven’t read the book hehe, mostly because the 1000+ pages have been intimidating me, but it’s encouraging to know that they were used to develop Valjean wonderfully! ❀

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh yeah, I do not like redemtion arcs…they just…meh. I mean yeah, they have to be good. You’re right that Les Mis has a good one (I read the abridged version last year for school and I enjoy the musical as well). But other than that…meh. they’re the bad guy. They’re supposed to be the bad guy. They should continue being the bad guy. I dunno…

    Liked by 1 person

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