Redemption Stories

Since I devoted an entire post to storytelling tropes I’m sick of, let’s talk about one of my favorites: the redemption story.

It’s a trope that can fairly be called as played out as some of the others I previously called out, but the redemption story doesn’t get old to me because there’s something about the power of goodness winning out that feels good every time we see it.

Every time we see it done well, I should say.

I wouldn’t call it an “American” thing, as some lazy writers do, because modern American culture loves nothing more than tearing good people down and cutting off the avenue for any second-chances. Redemption might have been an American thing two or three generations ago, but those days are lost–another casualty of postmodernism and intersectionality (i.e., satanism).

Anyway, a good redemption story hits all the right notes:

  • The power of good over evil.
  • The power of human beings to change.
  • The power of second chances.
  • The power of hope.

What makes a good redemption story? I’ve discovered the big key to redemption stories that can prevent them from appearing like unbelievable Deus ex machina:

The character who turns from evil to good has some kind of history of being good or noble.

I understand that this is not iron clad, but here me out.

Maybe they were duped into being bad, maybe they gave in to a temptation and didn’t know how to back out, or maybe they remembered something they had forgotten. Either way, the turn doesn’t come from out of nowhere.

Notable examples: Darth Vader is an obvious one, turning against Emperor Palpatine in order to save his son Luke Skywalker’s life. It works because Vader, aka Anakin, was corrupted by Palpatine into believing the dark side could save his wife from her prophesied death. Seeing his own child being killed by the Emperor helped ignite the tiny spark of good in Vader’s soul.

I think Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring is another good example. Boromir, good, decent, and noble warrior, though hot-headed, desperately wants to save his kingdom of Gondor from the forces of evil. And then the One Ring plops into his lap. The Ring’s malevolence twists him into attempting to seize it from Frodo, only for Boromir to realize what he almost did. Boromir later sacrifices his life holding off a swarm of orcs to let Frodo and Sam escape. It’s a powerful scene and a glorious, though sad, end for a tragic character.

Boromir, as portrayed by Sean Bean

And because Ninjago is fresh in my mind, I did enjoy the when Lord Garmadon was purged of evil by his son Lloyd at the end of season 3, and acted as another Sensei to the ninja alongside his brother Wu in season 4.

Other redemption stories don’t have this template, or at least it isn’t shown in the stories. Sometimes criminals come out of jail appropriately chastened and ready for a fresh start. Other times, the hand of divine providence plays a part. For Christians, St. Paul is perhaps the greatest example of this: to go from violently persecuting Christians to becoming one of Christ’s most prolific and fervent preachers can only be the result of the hand of God. And for a guy to be so public about his turn, knowing he would eventually die because of it–and write so copiously about it–only makes St. Paul’s story all the more credible.

There are many redemption stories writers can use to add some richness and hopefulness to their stories. Redemption stories, sometimes coupled with personal sacrifice, are incredibly powerful tropes that never get old to me.

What are some of your favorite redemption stories?


For a redemption arc you might not see coming, check out my novel A Traitor to Dreams and let me know if you think it worked.

8 comments

  1. One Redemption story that comes into my mind is Sandor “The Hound” Clegane from Game of Thrones.

    In the beginning he displayed a hateful and cruel personality just like many of the other characters, yet, there were brief instances of mercy that he shows for Sansa that surprised me, and foreshadowed that there was more to him than just a mean old dog. Throughout the show he undergoes some pretty dramatic character development, culminating in a redemption scene in Season 7(which I won’t spoil in case you haven’t watched) where he rights a wrong that he did in the past. It was my favorite scene in an otherwise bad season.

    Unexpected in a show as nihilistic as Game of Thrones.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for sharing Constantin! That’s VERY unexpected from A Game of Thrones. I’ve read all the books but have only seen one episode of the show. I don’t mind if you spoil it for me, but Amatopia readers, consider this your official spoiler warning.

      The Hound was always an interesting character. And speaking of A Song of Ice and Fire, Jaime Lannister seemed ALMOST on the cusp of becoming a good guy . . . but Martin never pulled the trigger that I can remember.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry for taking so long to respond, for some reason I wasn’t notified of your comment even though I should be.

        I agree that Martin didn’t go far enough with Jaime. While I am still a bit reluctant to like him because even though he changes his ways dramatically he still has no guilty conscience over his incest with his sister, which is a big no for me. I see Jaime more as a tragic character than anything.

        Regarding the Hound, his redemption begins with the friendship he developed with Arya. He clearly cared for her well being even though he kept insisting that he only wanted to help her for the reward. After Arya had nowhere else to go, he decided to take care of her even though she brought him no benefit. After having an encounter with and then getting his ass handed to him by Brienne of Tarth(so much for the show’s supposed “realism”), he is found by woodcutters that nurse him back to health. He stays and helps them because he has nowhere else to go, and observes that these are simple but genuinely nice people. They are aware that his past is filled with bad deeds but never inquire further nor do they condemn him for what he did, which was something unexpected for him.

        Unfortunately, this is Game of Thrones, where goodness is not allowed to remain, so they are massacred by rogue members of the Brotherhood Without Banners. Clegane feels genuine sadness and sets off on a revenge quest and after he accomplishes it, he is convinced to join The Brotherhood Without Banners to “fight the real fight”.

        Now we get to Season 7. During a snowstorm he and the Brotherhood shelter into an abandoned house. Turns out, however, that it’s not abandoned, and the previous owners were still in the house, frozen to death. In the previous seasons, Clegane and Arya encountered a peasant man and his family who kindly invited and hosted them in his house. Clegane repaid then by knocking him off and stealing from them, then taking an enraged Arya with him and leaving them to fend for themselves. His justification was that they weren’t going to survive the coming Winter so might as well put their resources to use.

        Now, in the present, as he stares at the frozen corpses of the father and children huddled together, he realizes that these are the very same people he wronged in the past and is wrecked with guilt( the actor did a phenomenal job with his face expression in this scene). He confesses his sin and laments about the lack of justice in the world. Afterwards, he buries the corpses and performs a prayer in his own clumsy way for their spirits to rest in piece. And even though he doesn’t voice it, it’s quite clear from the scene that he swears to himself to try as best he can to make up for his injustices.

        Clegane never wanted to be like his monstrous brother, and that is one of the moving factors to why he turned out differently. If game of thrones had more sympathetic characters like Clegane it would be a genuinely great story. As such, I find myself not caring one bit if the World is conquered by The Others or not.

        I didn’t wanted to spoil this initially because (beyond the fact that it’s a long text as you’ve noticed) people have reacted really negatively when I spoiled other stories in the past. Not just on the internet but in real life too. It’s like I killed their dog or something. Part of the reason why I despise many nerds and nerd culture in general.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow that’s quite the arc. I wonder if Martin would have taken it the same way.

        Agreed on the lack of interest regarding who wins in Game of Thrones. Everyone is so miserable and unlikeable, I too find myself rooting for anyone to put Westeros out of its misery.

        Like

    • You need to tell.

      I don’t believe in spoilers (they’re a sign of a weak imagination and a shallow heart) and I’m not motivated enough to pirate the TV show, but The Hound was one of the the last living characters I didn’t hate when I quit reading the books, and I’d like to know what happens to him.

      Liked by 1 person

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