Greetings, bloggerly chums!
So, sometimes success is bad for you. Sometimes it’s a straight-up detriment to your health. If you don’t believe me, just keep reading and I’ll explain.
There is a certain type of character: he is brilliant and gifted; people admire him (or maybe despise him) for his achievements; he knows how to make people like him and he is successful in most anything he does. In short, he is very, very good at winning.
But winning comes at a cost, eh?
More often than not, this type of character ends up having some…Emotional Unhealth. To put it mildly.
They are just GREAT at avoiding their trauma.
And lo, angst abounds.
So. I’ve compiled a list of such Charismatic Disaster Children for your perusal (but mainly for my own enjoyment).
Victor Frankenstein from Frankenstein
Hm. Yes, Victor is full of promise. He has a keen mind and loves learning. He is surrounded by an adoring family and friends. He is perfectly positioned for success, and he DOES succeed- in breathing life into a creature that ends up destroying everything that he loves, so.
Everyone around him is always quick to see the best in him, so it’s all too easy for him to get away with his crimes, despite the fact that he is being eaten up inside by his ever present guilt.
In this case, Victor’s success is quite literally his downfall. He does not know how to deal with his Creature AT ALL. His success is also his failure, and Victor does not know how to handle failure. He doesn’t really understand what it is to own his mistakes, which ultimately blinds him.
A lot less death would happen if he would just, you know, tell people he messed up. Just saying.
Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter
This kid was pegged for success at a young age, and he got carried away with dreams of glory. He sacrifices his family for his ambition, but he doesn’t realize the cost of his success until it’s too late.
After losing his sister, he is rudely awakened and he endeavors to live with more humility, but his brilliance and popularity continue to vie for control of his life.
Because of his innate brilliance and charm, there must be a constant struggle to maintain a grip on his humility. It would be so easy for him to take charge of the wizarding world, but he knows how unwise that would be and refuses that kind of success.
Even so, he is still highly manipulative of certain people and events and probably takes control over more things than he should. He is still too good at keeping secrets. Like I said, it’s a struggle.
Ender Wiggin from Ender’s Game
Ender knows how to win. He needs to win. He has been bred to be a brilliant military tactician, and that’s what he is. he knows how to gain the loyalty and admiration of others, how to understand the way people think, and how to manipulate circumstances to his advantage. But he’s also just a kid who doesn’t want to hurt people.
His successes hurt a lot of people, which kind of breaks him.
Ender doesn’t know how to lose, which ultimately causes him to lose so much. He must win, even when the price is too high to bear.
And he accepts this. His brutality allows him to. But guys, his heart is still breaking.
Dar Beauregard from The Comic Space Opera
Dar is quite a talented thief. And he knows it (he isn’t above bragging about it, either). He also knows that he is handsome and charming- and that everyone else knows it as well. Maybe he has some childhood trauma or something, but why bother thinking about that when you are so very good at pretending to be perfectly happy and confident??
Dar has got Things to Deal With but he has no motivation to do so when he has his dazzling career with which to occupy himself. He’s just too BUSY having FUN to worry about things like HEALTH.
It takes falling rather hard on his face for Dar to finally start seriously rethinking his life choices. And that is a beautiful thing.
Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle
Oh boy. Howl allegedly eats girls’ hearts, but that doesn’t stop basically every girl and her sister from falling madly in love with him. He’s just so CHARMING (maybe he’s actually wearing a charmed suit?? Or maybe not??). He’s a remarkably gifted wizard. He’s handsome. He has a knack with words. He has a superb fashion sense. He even has a guitar (whether or not he can play the thing is another matter entirely, mind you). What’s not to love?
He’s not a terribly truthful person. No, in fact, he has quite a habit of giving false impressions, and he’s certainly not above flat out lying. He’s a horrible complainer. He’s far too obsessed with his personal appearance. Oh, and he’s a bit of a coward.
He has the most infuriating running away problem, which applies on many levels. He is EXCELLENT at AVOIDING UNPLEASANT THINGS. He has some issues (like, MAJOR issues, okay) that he’d probably deny to his grave.
Bhatair Hollingsworth/Velvare Bamidele from The Silver Eye
Bhatair’s alter ego Velvare can do no wrong as far as the people of Gallitan are concerned. He is noble, generous, kind, selfless, wise…and the list of positive adjectives goes on. The idea that Velvare could be capable of doing something shady or questionable is unthinkable. I mean, he’s such a swell guy.
But the thing is, this guy has got SUBSTANTIAL emotional and probably psychological damage going on which has a huge impact on his judgment, not to mention there are definitely a lot of shady and questionable things going on around him that very few people have noticed?? He’s just SO GOOD at hiding it. But…there are Issues.
He hasn’t got the first clue how to raise children (but by golly, he knows how to screw with their heads). His marriage is in shambles. He’s physically incapable of apologizing, I’m pretty sure. Lying is his default speech setting. He kind of does political take-overs as some kind of an outlet for his angst, I guess??
Yeah, it’s pretty messed up. But people haven’t got a CLUE. Because he’s so just SO SWELL..
Paul Atreides from Dune
Paul has been trained in the Bene Gesserit ways, giving him acute control of his body and mind. He has honed the powers of observation, deduction, and manipulation, and he can even glimpse possible futures. He has been bred to be a leader, and that is what he becomes.
Eventually, Paul’s ability to see pieces of the future propels him onto a path from which he sees no escape. He becomes more than human in the eyes of his followers, and he gains the manic devotion of an entire people. He becomes their savior, their messiah.
And, yeah, it destroys him, to put it lightly.
Paul’s powers elevate him to a place of major influence, but ironically that place traps him more securely than anything else ever could.
Norman from The Promised Neverland
Norman is the sweetest kid ever. He’s also the most insanely brilliant kid ever. So naturally everyone loves him. He is kind and nurturing to all the younger kids in the orphanage where he grew up and he cares deeply for his best friends. When it comes to keeping them safe, there are no lengths to which he won’t go.
Even if it means going completely against their expressed wishes.
Since he is so brilliant, he is very good at manipulating people and outmaneuvering them. He will repeatedly lie to his friends if he thinks that is the best way to keep them safe. He will act brutally towards his enemies to ensure that he succeeds. He doesn’t really have…limits, or anything.
Norman knows how to win, and he knows that winning comes at a cost. He is willing to pay that cost, and he won’t allow anyone else to help him do it. He will protect them even if it kills him.
Chill, son. Just. Chill.
Eugenides from the Queen’s Thief series
Gen is clever and charismatic, and he always has plans within plans within plans. He’s always one step ahead of everyone else. He knows how to gain people’s loyalty and how to work complicated political problems, even though he whines about it constantly.
(The whining is usually a distraction, so.)
The thing is, he doesn’t have much regard for personal safety? So if his plans involve some kind of personal sacrifice (which, is not at all unlikely), the people who care about him won’t figure that out until it’s too late.
And he gets away with this. On many occasions. You kind of want to slap him except you know he’s already as miserable as he can get anyway, so that would just be mean.
Andre-Louis from Scaramouche
Andre-Louis is a lawyer from Brittany. He has a striking gift with words, and his speeches stir up many a crowd. He can make people believe strongly in something that he doesn’t even believe himself- which he does, on multiple occasions. He may or may not have had a hand in catalyzing the French revolution…
He finds success in a variety of pursuits, from the theatre to swordsmanship. Andre-Louis is good at everything he does…which includes masking his emotions (messy things, they just get in the way); he’s so good at it that he is often accused of not having a heart, even by the people closest to him.
All the while, he seeks revenge on his enemy (a marquis who murdered Andre-Louis’ friend, not a big deal or anything). Andre-Louis can be cold and calculating, even brutal, in striving to obtain this goal.
But ultimately he’s human. He just has a habit of hiding it.
This quote is all too accurate for many a Charismatic Disaster Child out there:
“Therefore I have laughed. I often do when I am hurt.”–Scaramouche
These characters may differ widely in many aspects (frankly I never thought I would be putting Dar Beauregard and Paul Atreides on the same list), but they all have some key traits in common:
- They are all naturally successful
- They habitually lie and/or keep secrets
- They tend to have “followers” rather than friends
- They are emotional wrecks who avoid sharing their true feelings AT ALL COSTS, either for their own comfort or under some delusion that they are protecting people…or both??
Success can be a curse. Sometimes our successes bring us misery because we don’t learn how to let other people into our lives, and sometimes it is continued success that makes us terrified of failure. You have to fail to learn how to fail well. And you have to fail to realize how much you need other people.
Success can become an excellent way to avoid admitting that you are human.
For many of the characters listed above, there is an issue of trying to carry a burden that should not be carried alone. They think that because they are cleverer than other people that they shouldn’t ask for help.
They love to pretend that they are JUST FINE when actually they are falling to pieces. And unlike a lot of people, they are very good at keeping up the front.
There is also a tendency to try and become the savior. While sacrifice can be noble (and indeed it is in many cases!), it can also be arrogant. No matter how brilliant you are, you are still human. You cannot save everyone. You still need help, and shutting out the people who care about you is just hurting you and them. For the Charismatic Disaster Child, this is a constant struggle.
Or, you know, sometimes he just uses his excessive charm for purely selfish gain. But neither of these options earns many health points, son.
Here are a couple of my favorite Charismatic Disaster Child songs, just for kicks and goggles (yes, that says “goggles”, it’s not a typo).
“Superkid” by Livingston
“Liar” by The Arcadian Wild
So, what do you think of the Charismatic Disaster Child trope? Do you agree or disagree with my reasons for why success isn’t always healthy? Who is your favorite Charismatic Disaster Child?
4 thoughts on “Charismatic Disaster Children~ In Which We Encounter Quite A Lot Of Brilliant Idiots”
So many of these characters are utterly broken inside. And yet, you can’t help, but look up to them. Ender went through so much trauma as a kid. I really wanted to give him a hug. Ender seemed to experience so many emotions at once, while Paul was more distant. I still can’t decide whether I actually liked Dune.
I totally agree with you on Dumbledore. I’ve only just recently started my journey though the Wizarding World, but Order of the Phenix, really messed with both Harry and Dumbledore emotionally.
From what I’ve seen, Dumbledore almost cares too much for individuals that it blinds him to what might be best for that person. There have been multiple instances where he has inkling that a situation could go downhill, and he does nothing about it.
It’s been awhile since I’ve read Frankenstein, but I do remember that he seemed so selfish. He had to accomplish his cruel task at the expense of so many people. I felt pity toward the monster, despite his killing spree.
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I understand what you mean, but some of these characters are harder to look up to than others. They definitely all need hugs, though. Ender certainly expresses more of his emotions than Paul does, though part of that is because he is significantly younger, I think. As Ender got older, I’m sure he grew more distant and closed off, because of his trauma. Paul feels just as deeply, we just don’t get to see it as often because he suppresses entirely too much of his emotion. It’s very much not healthy. Dune is a weird book.
Oh, for sure. Order of the Phoenix is quite the emotional roller coaster. Dumbledore’s ability to have healthy human relationships is…kind of broken?
Yeah, I think I know what you mean about him caring too much. It’s a combination of that and feeling like he’s more responsible for them than he really is.
Yup, Victor is very selfish. That cannot be denied. But he’s still a sympathetic character, at least for me. His selfishness is so rationalized in his own mind and often unsettling in its accuracy to the human condition. He really does care about his family and friends and he really does feel guilty, but he cannot bring himself to confess his crime. He tries to fix everything by himself, which obviously ends up causing more destruction, and the longer he goes on keeping it a secret the harder it becomes to confess. We all behave like this on varying levels. The monster is of course a sympathetic character too. Victor and his Creature are fascinating to compare. They are both ultimately selfish. In many ways they are similar, but in just as many they are complete opposites.
I am FASCINATED by the idea of success being what destroys you, and your strength being your weakness and that sort of thing. (So I ate up this post with a spoon.) I think this is exactly the case for Azula in Avatar, and it’s incredibly sad and interesting and we think of God’s grace being the reason we succeed sometimes but sometimes it’s God’s grace that you failed?? Like for Zuko. Failure could have SAVED so many of these characters.
Also in posts like this I always know one or two of the examples and that’s it, and in this one I knew over half of them and I AM PLEASED.
Also you included Andre-Louis! Such a good one! I frankly love his heartlessness. That exchange where Aline’s like, “Do you know, Andre, I sometimes think that you have no heart,” and he just retorts, “Presumably because I sometimes betray intelligence,” I like to quote. And snicker inside because he’s RIGHT. (Okay, so maybe I’M the unhealthy one, a little.) Especially because he’s NOT AT ALL HEARTLESS. And yeah it isn’t good for him in the least. I really like how over-the-top good at everything his character is, while still being super flawed and the author like…bringing attention to those flaws and the heartache they cause him. I enjoy that. Man, I really like that book. I want to reread it now.
Also the way Eugenides continually sacrifices himself is actually kinda arrogant? That’s fascinating.
ALSO ALSO. Why do so many of these Charismatic Disaster Children not get to get fixed? They just stay disasters, it’s depressing. It is balm to my heart that Dar is in the recovery process. (I think Dar coming face to face with Lydia that first time and then…subsequently not talking about it at all is the saddest thing I’ve ever read.) I really, really hope Bhatair will end up there (there being the Center for Recovering Charismatic Disaster Children) too.
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SAME, though (hence…this post). And YES, EXACTLY. The contrast between Azula and Zuko in Avatar is one of the things that makes that show so GREAT. But yeah, Azula not knowing how to fail is so damaging and Zuko’s failure is ultimately his redemption and it’s such a beautiful thing!! (THIS SHOW. THESE CHARACTERS.) Sometimes it’s God’s grace that you failed, indeed. This idea is so, so important to me.
Andre-Louis is a lovely character. Ha, a good quote. Characters who come across as heartless but are actually NOT AT ALL HEARTLESS are my jam. His character was so well done in that regard, and I approve.
INDEED. Eugenides continually sacrificing himself IS actually kind of arrogant. There are always so many things going on with his character and it’s great fun trying to dissect them all. Shockingly, very little health is discovered in the process.
It is very depressing. Charismatic Disaster Children have a difficult time locating the path to redemption, because they are very good at convincing people (including themselves) that they don’t need it. It’s rather tragic, really. It is encouraging that Dar is in the recovery process. (I KNOW. I LOVED THAT SCENE. SUCH PAIN.) I hope that Bhatair ends up at the Center for Recovering Charismatic Disaster Children as well.
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