Monday, March 19, 2012

Good and Evil

One of my friends told me that I didn't explain myself very clearly when I spoke last time on my view of Good in books, and he was right. It was something passing through my head and still fairly unpolished, but I wrote it anyway. I apologize for the confusion. This time, I want to elaborate on what I said last time and write about my views of Good and Evil in literature.

Let's start with Evil. It's easier. In one of my classes this semester I learned that there are 2 classic views of evil. One: evil is the absence of good. Two: evil is a real force, active, and fighting against good. I read and write a lot of speculative fiction, so to me evil is the second more often than not. I've noted that evil takes form in different ways. There are the henchmen that are more of the first kind of evil - they follow a bad guy and don't do good. Some are actively evil, but that designation I think is more for the villain.

Villains themselves come in different flavors. Some are brutes, unpleasant, who know they are evil and like it. This kind of evil is completely repugnant and the reader has no doubt the good guys are in the right and that they are going to win. Then there are the smart villains who believe they are doing good. These are difficult for the heroes because there's no guarantee they can defeat a villain who is smarter than they are, and if the villain is right and the cause is good, why would they want to? That brings me to my favorite kind: the smart, self-aware villain. This is the manipulator who knows his cause is unjust but will do everything he or she can to bring down the hero. Think Iago from Othello. These are scary because they can turn the hero into a puppet and make evil look attractive to the hero and to the reader. Of course, this is the kind of villain I would prefer to write as it has the most depth, but the other kinds can be more appropriate to the story.

Now I get to Good. What I meant last week when I said there were 2 kinds of depictions of good was that you can differentiate them like you can evil: good is the absence of evil, and good is an active force fighting against evil. I wholeheartedly believe in the second. I have read books where good characters are simply characters who do no harm, and I dislike them. These good characters don't do anything, they are ineffectual, and I find myself rooting for the bad guy (especially if he is smart).

My favorite heroes are the ones that carry a Goodness that is active, that burns like white fire against the darkness of evil. While evil is almost always bent on power, good looks to promote peace and unity. The heroes that do this act - they strengthen, they heal, they protect, and at times they fight. It is almost always a sacrifice for them to do this, but they do it because they serve what is good. They carry a power superior to that of evil because they willingly do what servants of evil cannot. These are the heroes that, to me, are worth writing about.

Hope that explains things better. It's not easy to sum up Good and Evil in a short blog post, not when they're so loaded and abstract. If nothing else, gain from this that I favor active Good rather than passive Good in my literature.

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