Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Learns Better

Robert A Heinlein provocatively claimed that all Story plots fall into just three categories: Boy Meets Girl, the Brave Little Tailor, and the Man (or Person) Who Learns Better. Typically this person is an obnoxious, deluded or evilly misled character (see Antihero), like C S Lewis's Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), who is shamed into mending his ways, or like Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), who has his nose rubbed in logical extremes of selfishness and greed by Transformation into a Dragon. Pippin in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) is driven by foolish curiosity to steal and use a Scrying-stone, and duly learns better; here the initial folly proves fortunate, since it misleads the Dark Lord. A subtler LB example is Cat in Diana Wynne Jones's Charmed Life (1977), whose sister borrows and misuses his Magic power with his unconscious support – withdrawn only after his belated Recognition of what is happening. Many fantasies deal with the LB process in terms of Wishes which, once granted, prove less than welcome (see Answered Prayers): E Nesbit uses this theme repeatedly and effectively. Sometimes the author's definition of "better" may be idiosyncratic: in Charles Williams's The Place of the Lion (1931), the heroine's LB insight is that her harassment by a vile pterodactyl Archetype is deserved, because she has studied ancient texts on (e.g.) Angels academically rather than with willingness to believe (and, subtextually, has thus trespassed on male intellectual territory). Time Fantasies may allow a second chance in which a now wiser protagonist can, like Florian in James Branch Cabell's The High Place (1923), choose a different path – though here moral didacticism is entirely absent, and Florian repeats all his life's crimes with perfect confidence of success, up to the turning point at age 36; he then pragmatically reforms. [DRL]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.