It’s been a while since I’ve done a character study, and since I’m currently through my fifth read through of Oathbringer, I’ve been thinking about Adolin.
I’ve had the chance to speak with the author, Brandon Sanderson, who is my favorite in the business right now, and people were talking about Kal and Shallan. I couldn’t help but say, “The only thing wrong with Adolin is that he isn’t Kal.”
Fanboy moment: Mr. Sanderson felt that was a good point.
You see, if Stormlight doesn’t have Kaladin, I affirm that Adolin would be the main character. In fact, Adolin would be a fine main character in pretty much any other fantasy story that doesn’t have Kaladin in it. And yet, poor Adolin is stuck behind this generation’s greatest hero. Kaladin is the greatest main character since Rand al’Thor, and Adolin can’t help but get lost in that shadow. (I’ll probably do a character study on Kaladin later, but I’m still a bit perturbed by his character given what happens in Oathbringer.)
Even in writing a blog praising Adolin, I can’t help but acknowledge why he isn’t the main character, but he is possibly one of the greatest secondary characters ever (I’d put him behind Perrin myself, but Adolin is up there).
So why not take a look at Adolin and try to understand why he’s so compelling.
The simple answer is his sympathy aspect. Adolin is loyal. He’s the picture of a good son and a model of a great big brother. He’s charming. He’s earnest. The most fascinating part of all that is how he sees himself: Not good enough.
Like his father, Adolin is his harshest critic. He’s an acclaimed duelist. He’s the planet’s most eligible bachelor, but he sees in himself flaws that don’t even exist. The flaws that do exist in him are mountains that rest on his shoulders. This leads him to do something beautiful: He tries. He tries so hard to be the sort of man he thinks everyone thinks he should be, and he’s unable to see he’s already so much more. This is what makes Adolin stand out.
When I was first reading Oathbringer, I was afraid Adolin would turn against the team. A part of me still is. How long can a man be just short of good enough before that yearning to be recognized becomes bitter? It would make for a great fall-from-grace arc, but I sure hope it doesn’t happen. I still think it might, and that has me rooting for Adolin all the more.
This is why some of the events of The Rhythm of War made me so happy, which brings me to the other point I wanted to make about this character.
Adolin does all the “hero arc” things others do in a completely original way, and when you compare his arc to Kal’s you can see the parallel. To be honest, Adolin does it all the hard way.
The trade off is Adolin’s suffering (the tool most authors use to build sympathy) isn’t as obvious as someone like Kal. This is probably one reason why I don’t hear people talk about him. Honestly, I hear more people talk about Renarin.
I think the fact that Adolin doesn’t suffer physically or by the loss of others is the the key, and that makes me sad. Adolin is sort of a caricature for an average person in today’s world, and we do the same thing to him that real people do to others.
We look at him and think, “Well it’s not like he’s been imprisoned or hurt, betrayed or forced to experience loss. What’s he got to complain about?”
Think about it. He’s wealthy, charming, and handsome. He must be fine right?
Except he’s not. He’s fighting every bit to be seen as his own man, a man a father and brother can be proud of, a man a woman can love, as Kaladin fights to protect those around him, but because he’s never been poor or enslaved, people just don’t appreciate him, and that’s tragic. It’s a depressing view of how people treat each other.
Yet he fights on, not so much with his awesome swordsmanship or his spren, who he’s helping to find herself. Instead, he fights on by being a kind, loyal man who does all he can.
That, dear readers, is a character worth putting on t-shirts. That, dear readers, is a main character trapped in a more-compelling main character’s arc.
So the next time you’re reading a Stormlight book, take a moment to give Adolin a bit of love.
Thanks for reading,