There was a time when it was practically requisite for the hero of any Fantasy tale to be a gallant character who lived by a code usually reminiscent of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. These heroes were often unrealistically perfect and virtuous, embodying good to the point of being laughable. They rode around in spotless armor, rescuing damsels as a matter of course and slaying monsters to liberate their lady loves.
Then people started writing heroes with flaws—dark knights, black sheep, bad boys—whatever you would call them—and female characters stopped being the archetypical damsel in distress in need of salvation every other chapter. Female characters started being able to take care of themselves, whenever they need rescuing now it’s generally frowned upon, and the man protecting the woman simply because she’s a woman is all too often misinterpreted as misogyny. Somewhere in there, people started thinking it was always because the men thought the women too incapable to fend for themselves. In part because of this, chivalry gradually died out in stories (and society too, but that’s for a whole other discussion).
I’m not saying the whole Arthurian paradigm should be reenacted in literature, but I miss the tales with men who viewed disrespecting a woman as an act of dishonor—regardless of her status, etc. Being a gentleman is entirely underrated and it’s possible for a character to be one while still being a bad@$$, just as it’s possible for a character to wield a sword and still be a lady.
Lately, Fantasy has undergone a shift where the lines between good and evil are becoming increasingly blurred or erased altogether. I think this sucks and that people need to remember when we forget the difference between good and evil is when the world goes wrong. If there’s no longer room for chivalry in Fantasy, I say we make room.
I’m not saying they should start having all the men be perfect saints, but I think having a set of ideals—protect the weak, shield the innocent, keep your word, etc.—helps guide one on the straight and narrow. (Plus, you have to admit characters with a code of honor are just set up to be awesome.) If chivalry is dead, I think it’s time for a resurrection. Seriously, what is the matter with it?