“There is a widespread refusal to let children know the source of much that goes wrong in life is due to our very own natures—the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety. Instead, we want our children to believe that, inherently, all men are good. But children know that they are not always good; and often, even when they are, they would prefer not to be. This contradicts what they are told by their parents, and therefore makes the child a monster in his own eyes.” (p. 7)
“The wolf’s badness is something the young child recognizes within himself: his wish to devour, and its consequence—the anxiety about possibly suffering such a fate himself. So the wolf is an externalization, a projection of the child’s badness—and the story tells how this can be dealt with constructively.” (p.44)So if the wolf represents the desire to be bad, I can’t help but ask why it is that we humans want to be bad, even when we are choosing good. You know what I mean, right? The longing to be beholden to no one, to make one’s own rules, to give free reign to every want regardless of the effect on others. Perhaps it all boils down to an issue of control. The universal attempt to find all the answers to life’s questions—justice, peace, love—within one’s self. Except that when taken to its furthest end and acted upon, we turn into megalomaniacs.
Take, for example, Sgt. Robert Bales, the solider accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians. An op-ed in the NY Times recently, "When the Good Do Bad," generated an interesting array of comments from readers. In summary, the author, David Brooks asserts that Sgt. Bales is “like all of us, a mixture of virtue and depravity.” Some of people who commented on the piece seemed offended that Brooks should attempt something close to empathy for a man who appears to have killed women and children in cold-blood. Others preferred instead to think Sgt. Bales mentally ill and/or a victim of too many tours of duty. Some were willing to accept Brooks’ point that good and evil resides in all of us, but emphasized that Sgt. Bale made a choice, a choice that was fundamentally wrong. Few were willing to say, as one commenter pointed out via Pogo’s quote, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Or “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” *
Personally, I don’t like books with one dimensional villains, or bad guys who are all huff and no puff. I want books where the main character is truly in danger, and where the threat is really present. Bunce’s villain, Lord Daul, in STARCROSSED is slippery and almost continually on the scene, while Kristine Cashore’s Leck, in GRACELING or Susan Cooper’s “The Dark” and its minions in THE DARK IS RISING is mostly an off-stage, rumored or suspected threat.
Arvin Slone from ALIAS is much more my cup of tea—a protagonist and villain all in one. At the shows beginning, he seemed to be such a nice guy, almost a father-figure, and at times even sacrificial in his concern for Sydney’s well-being and safety, when in fact he was manipulating her and her circumstances for his own obsessive ends. And then there was the charmingly unflappable and coolly attractive Julian Sark, a villain of a different stripe.
Evil that looks evil is far easier to categorize than evil that looks good. The wicked step-mother is easy to hate because she seethes so much hatred and greed that her physical appearance is one of ugliness. The sexy bad boy across the street however, is harder to pin down. Subversion mixed with a bit of mischief seems to bring out a darker side we are more willing to embrace. A not-good but not-that-bad mentality.
So what’s your opinion? Why do some fictional villains ring true for you? Why do the ones that don’t, fall flat?