When I think of influential characters, a long list of amazingly written fictional men and women comes to mind. However, when it comes down to it, the character of Alec Lightwood from Cassandra Clare’s award-winning The Mortal Instruments has had the most profound an effect on me. If you’re familiar with the series, you will hopefully understand what I mean. If you’re not, well all I hope is that I can do an extremely complex and beautifully written character the justice he warrants.
I think Alec is particularly relatable to the primarily teenage audience of the books because he, more than any other of the book’s characters, is still figuring out who he is. This self-discovery is a journey young people are continually travelling and it is refreshing to find a character who is not so ‘finished’ or self-assured in himself and who he is. The vast majority of YA protagonists today are fearless, confident, reckless risk-takers. What authors are overlooking is the great appeal of the exact opposite. Alec is hesitant and fearful and careful, but he’s a hero because of those things rather than in spite of them. He rewrote my definition of what a hero is, and as someone who associated heroism with fearlessness, this new brand of warrior is extremely empowering.
Alec causes readers to challenge their own morals on the lengths we go to for those we love. I won’t give any spoilers, however I will say that Alec ultimately ends up doing something drastic in an attempt to remain with his immortal boyfriend, which he ends up paying heavily for. If there’s anything that’s intriguing, it’s a character that provokes moral questioning in the reader. How far do we go for love? And what happens when we go too far?
In the opening book, Alec is not the protagonist’s number one fan and Clare avoids the stereotypical trend in teen fiction of vilifying any character who happens not to be the main character’s best friend. It is easy for YA authors to believe that they need to oversimplify and ‘water down’ the complexity of alliances for their audience into the main characters side and the bad side. Clare’s avoidance of this is refreshing and has gained her much respect from her readership.
Ultimately, Alec stands for some extremely powerful ideas; loyalty to family, the extent we go to for love and the importance of standing up for yourself and your beliefs in a society that doesn’t always agree with them. And that, more than anything, is what makes Alec a character I would proudly declare an admirable literary role model.
Words by Lauryn Green