Six Characters with Great Fall-from-Grace Arcs

June 24, 2018

Aaaaaannnnddd, I’m back, with the sequel to Seven Characters with Great Redemption Arcs! This time I’m talking about something slightly more depressing than redemption. Okay, a lot more depressing. And I’m not sure what the official name of this kind of arc is, but I’m calling it the . . .

Fall-from-grace arc. 

Just like last time, I’ve got six characters that I believe fit this arc, so let’s jump right in!

(Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for Lord of the Rings, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Heartless by Marissa Meyer, Star Wars, and Percy Jackson.)

So what is this fall-from-grace arc thingy anyways?

Well, this is how I define it:
Fall-from-grace arc: is attributed to someone who initially has good intentions, but as events play out, begins losing sight of what’s right and gradually turns evil or against the main character
This kind of arc is usually present in every book and movie, but usually as backstory. Why?
Because almost every good villain has this kind of arc. It shows that they were once normal people, but through difficult circumstances, turned evil. Now, most arcs aren’t the focus of the story - it’s usually only mentioned to garner sympathy for the villain. But there are some stories that make this the focus.

For example . . .
This heroine from Heartless doesn’t seem evil at all when we first meet her. She’s just a girl who wants to open Heart’s best bakery.

Of course, this doesn’t work out quite as well as we would hope. Her parents want her to marry the King, who Cath thinks is a bumbling fool. This is further complicated when she meets Jest, the King’s mysterious new jester, and falls in love with him.

Then, literally everything goes wrong. And I mean everything. Jest is declared a fugitive, her parents tell her that she can’t open her bakery, and her best friend seems to betray her. When Jest tells her that she might be able to have a new life in Chess, she goes with him. Hatta (who becomes the Mad Hatter) and Jest’s raven come with them.

Along the way, they hear a chilling prophecy:

One to be a murderer, the other to be martyred.
One to be a monarch, the other to go mad.

The group is told that if they go through a specific door on the path to Chess, the prophecy will come true. Guess what? Cath goes through the door to help her ex-best friend. Jest, of course, goes after her, and the others follow suit.

Jest is killed by beheading by the person holding Cath’s best friend hostage.

Hatta goes insane (it’s a family curse).

And Cath? Heartbroken and devastated by her loss, she marries the King, and trades her heart for Jest’s killer (who the raven kills). Hence the name: Heartless. Cheery story, right? But at least we somewhat knew what we were getting into when we saw that it was about the backstory of the Queen of Hearts.
Now, Luke was just your typical demigod-on-the-run-from-monsters. He had good, loyal friends: Thalia Grace and Annabeth Chase, who later grew to have a slight crush on him.

But his dad was Hermes, the god of travel. So he wasn’t in Luke’s life very much. Also, his mom was kind of crazy.

As a result, Luke blamed Hermes for his bad family life, and the seeds of hate for the gods were sprouted in his heart. So, he “solved the problem” by running away.

Fast-forward a couple years. Luke’s hatred for his father and for the gods has only gotten worse. Residing at Camp Half-Blood, he also has a quest under his belt, but he also has a scar from the encounter, not to mention bitterness that the quest had already been done before, by Hercules.

That was the time Kronos chose to strike. He appeared in Luke’s dreams and tempted him with revenge. Luke sided with Kronos, and stole Zeus’s lightning bolt.

And from there, Luke only does more dastardly deeds, from capturing Annabeth to making Percy Jackson fight to the death in an arena. (Percy wins, of course.) To top it all off, he decides to make his body a vessel for Kronos to take control of.

But in the last couple chapters of The Last Olympian, something changes in Luke. I’m guessing it happens when Annabeth pleads, “Family, Luke. You promised,” referring to when he promised that they would be together always.

Luke ends up sacrificing himself to stop Kronos, eliciting tears from readers who previously hated Luke. Now, this is redemption, but it’s not really an arc. I like to think of it as a “redemption moment.” And, as you’ll see in some of the later characters, some people have fall-from-grace arcs, but then have redemption moments.

For instance, this next one here…
Ah, Boromir. I really don’t know what to think of him. On the one hand, he’s a good guy. He went to the Council of Elrond because he wanted to find a way to save Gondor. He becomes part of the Fellowship. He loves his brother.

But during the times when we see him in the book/movie, it’s usually because the Ring is affecting him - and not in a good way. He becomes more and more obsessed with it, wanting to use it “for the good of Gondor,” but that probably wouldn’t have happened. More likely, he would have taken the Ring for his own.

This is shown in the famous conversation between Frodo and Boromir, where Boromir virtually attacks Frodo, trying to get the Ring. He fails, and a knock on the head snaps him out of it. But the damage was done.

And now for the redemptive moment. Boromir regrets his actions toward Frodo, and while he is never able to apologize personally to Frodo, he does save the life of two of Frodo’s Hobbit companions, Pippin and Merry. Unfortunately, during this rescue, he is shot by three arrows. As he lays dying, he asks Aragorn for forgiveness for what he did to Frodo.

So it seems like the Ring’s influence can be very strong, even on a strong-willed, normally moral man. Just think about what it might do to Hobbits…
You might be surprised to see this. Frodo’s not a bad guy! you’re probably yelling at the screen right now. And I didn’t say he was. In fact, he’s the only person on this list who’s actually not evil, and never really becomes a bad guy. But not all fall-from-grace arcs end in evilness. Frodo’s fall-from-grace arc is one of the best arcs in literature and movies alike.

The protagonist of The Lord of the Rings (though an argument could be made for Sam as the hero), Frodo is just a run-of-the-mill hobbit from the Shire whose life is thrown into an uproar when his uncle Bilbo leaves a mysterious Ring as his inheritance (well, along with the awesome house). Frodo’s wizard friend Gandalf tells him that it is the Ring, and that the Dark Lord Sauron (no, not Voldemort) is actively looking for it.

Now, the book and movie timelines are different, but regardless of whichever you’re familiar with, Frodo ends up on a journey, seemingly to Rivendell, to deliver the Ring somewhere where it will not be found. Gandalf tells Frodo, “Never put it on.”

But Frodo is tempted by the Ring, and he puts it on twice before reaching Rivendell. Frodo doesn’t know it yet, but the Ring is only just getting started.

As Frodo begins the even longer journey to Mordor, the Ring makes itself an obsession. I think the movie does a really good job of portraying this, as Frodo fingers the Ring more and more often, and gets increasingly impatient whenever Sam mentions it. Even worse, he can see what’s happening to him, but the power of the Ring is just too hard to resist.

And then, it happens. Frodo and Sam have reached Mount Doom, and Frodo must destroy the Ring forever.

He can’t.

He can’t do it.

He claims the Ring for his own, and therefore alerts Sauron to his presence.

Of course, the Ring is quickly destroyed (and now we know why Gollum was spared by Bilbo). But it’s taken its toll on Frodo, who eventually leaves Middle-earth. A sad ending, but a necessary one.

The amazing thing is that throughout all of this, Frodo is able to resist the Ring’s power for most of the way through his journey. Sometimes the shortest people are the most powerful.

Unfortunately, not all the time…
Arguably one of the most famous characters with this type of arc, Anakin starts off as a nine-year-old slave with a gift for piloting. When a Jedi Knight comes to his home planet of Tatooine, Anakin helps him get a necessary part for his ship. He gets more than he bargained for, though, and Anakin ends up leaving the place of his slavery with the Jedi (Qui-Gon) and his very pretty friend, Padmé. After Qui-Gon dies, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi’s apprentice, takes it upon himself to train Anakin.

Almost ten years later, Anakin and Padmé reunite, this time under different circumstances. And, as it’s what usually happens in these types of stories, they fall in love. Unfortunately, neither are allowed to be in relationships. Does that stop them? Noooooooo.

Anakin’s mother ends up dying shortly after Anakin and Padmé get together, taking her last breath in his arms. This is when Anakin begins to go over to the dark side, although it’s not evident. But he does begin to hate.

Then, three years later, when Padmé tells him that she’s pregnant, Anakin begins having frightening dreams of her death. At the same time, Chancellor Palpatine, a Sith Lord in disguise, begins subtly influencing Anakin, urging him to give in to hate. These urgings finally come to fruition, as Anakin kills a Jedi and begins Palpatine’s work to take over the galaxy, under the mask of “protecting his wife.”   

When Padmé finally tells Anakin that what he is doing is wrong, he Force-chokes her, still believing that he is doing good. Anakin proceeds to fight his old master, Obi-Wan, who leaves him for dead amid the fiery rocks of Mustafar.

Palpatine finds him and turns him into a cyborg, telling them that Padmé died. With that, Anakin completes his journey to the dark side.

But wait! Not all hope is lost. Because Anakin has a redemptive moment!

So, skipping like twenty years, Anakin is facing down his son, Luke, for the final showdown. Luke denies the dark side, and the Emperor (Palpatine) goes nuts. He starts electrocuting Luke. Anakin can’t take that. So, he does what any great dad would do, and threw the Emperor down some sort of vent. But, in the process, he gets shocked with some serious Sith lightnight, and ends up dying (surprise!) in Luke’s arms.

So maybe these murderous psychopaths have hope after all.  

Or, maybe not…
Just as Zuko ended the last arc post, his psycho sister Azula will end this one. And when I say “psycho,” I mean it.

We meet Azula in the beginning of Season Two, as she receives orders to track down her brother (Zuko) and uncle (Iroh) for crimes against the Fire Nation. She’s brilliant, ruthless, and a prodigy at firebending. Heck, she can even create lightning, no easy feat.

Oh, and did I mention that she’s fourteen??

On top of that, she conquers an unconquerable city in less than a week and even “kills” the Avatar. (He ends up coming back to life, but he was dead for a couple minutes.)

The main problem with Azula is that she holds her leadership by fear. Even her friends, Mai (who used to be Zuko’s girlfriend) and Ty Lee, are very afraid of her.

This all changes when Zuko and another member of the Avatar’s group, Sokka, attempt a prison break. Azula and her two friends arrive on the scene, ready to capture Zuko and bring him to justice.

However, Mai defends Zuko and allows him and the rest of his friends to escape safely. When Azula tries to attack Mai in retaliation, Ty Lee turns against her as well. The two of them are locked up in prison, and Azula . . . well, she begins to lose her mind. Literally. 

It’s not very evident at first, but during the final four episodes, you can see just how close Azula is to cracking. She’s angry, impatient, and perfectionistic to the extreme. But the most disturbing scene is when she gets so aggravated at her hair, she cuts it jaggedly, and immediately after, she hallucinates and sees her mother.

Now, Azula’s mother always favored Zuko over Azula. This hallucination brings all of Azula’s faults and fears out in the open. She hears her mother tell her that she’s always ruled by fear, and that she loves Azula. That’s Azula’s breaking point, and she hurls her comb at the mirror, breaking it.

After that, Zuko challenges her to a firebending duel (called an Agni Kai), and very nearly wins. But Azula will do anything to win, and she shoots lightning at Zuko’s new friend, Katara. Zuko takes the lightning for himself (an amazing scene) and Katara defeats Azula once and for all. From there, we learn that she is placed in a mental institute.

This is my personal favorite fall-from-grace arc in this entire post. (If you get a chance, watch the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV show. It’s amazing.)


Well, that wraps up the two-part series for examples of character arcs! I hope you guys had fun reading through my rather tedious explanations.

See you around!


Do you like redemptive of fall-from-grace arcs better? Do you know any other characters with fall-from-grace arcs?

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  1. All of these are such good examples!
    The ending of Frodo's story is so sad, as well as the ending to Heartless. :'(

    Fantastic post!

    1. Oh, yes! I cry during both of those endings!

      Thank you so much, Gray! Thanks for reading!

  2. Boromir's arc is definitely my favorite on this list <3 I love him way too much at this point, which always surprises me, because I used to HATE him--and for good reason, too! But now I love him, and always fangirl very hard when he shows up on the scene in Fellowship. <3 His arc is beautiful and /real/.

    Beautiful post! Thanks <3

    1. I used to hate Boromir, too! But now I see that his arc is one of the most realistic of any arcs I’ve seen.

      Thanks for reading, Faith! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Now this is a really neat post! I enjoyed your other one too. When I read your title the first person that came to my mind was Boromir. :D

    1. Aw, thanks so much Emily! And yes, Boromir is a rather popular character with this type of arc. :)

  4. The fall of grace arc reflects the Fall of Man so well - which is probably why it is so common. As much as we don't like them as much, they are so integral to understanding our own nature :)

    Wonderful post, Rachael!


    1. That’s so true, Catherine! I actually never thought of it like that before.


  5. Can I just say YES TO ALL OF THESE. Luke and Azula have some of my favorite arcs, to be honest (because YES I NEED PEOPLE TO FANGIRL OVER WITH BOTH OF THEM). xD

    xoxo Abigail Lennah | Story-Eyed

    1. YES YES YES AZULA AND LUKE ARE AMAZING!!! Especially Azula's, in my opinion.

      Thanks for reading, Abigail!


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