I have questions because, increasingly, I think we live and write in a world where absolutes have less and less ground on which to stand. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, but there are times when I grow nostalgic for a cleaner equation. It seems these days that everything is a qualified success or failure. One man’s good guy is another man’s terrorist; one man’s god is another’s devil. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if globalization hasn’t brought out more polarization rather than unification even as it knits together the various world markets and political systems.
And yet I also think the effect of the above on the realm of fantasy has been positive. In a way, I think our current evolving socio-political environment has sparked some interesting hybridizations of some of the old time genre absolutes. Giving the good guys some flaws is in and rightly so, flaws are interesting, humanizing and approachable. Who wants a genre filled with Percivals and Aragorns only? Why do you think Arthur has never gone out of vogue?
I’ll take the flies in the ointment for two hundred, Alex.
But even more intriguing to me is the notion of giving flaws to our anti-heroes, with flaws meaning human qualities. It used to be that bad guys were bad. Castle uglies were truly ugly, evil, twisted creatures with no redeeming qualities. True, we are told Morgoth and Sauron were fallen deities, but all we get in their stories are the unmitigated evil intentions. How much better would Morgoth’s character have been if Tolkien could have injected some of the stuff
gave Lucifer in Paradise Lost? (And if a gifted director and actor could
pull that off, think how cool a film that might make! Del Toro, are you paying
attention?) Yes, I think the intriguing bad guy has been around a long, long
time. I think old uncle Milty was on to something the guys who put the Bible
together missed out on, and up until the current era, most genre writers missed
out on as well. I am thinking of the host of Tolkienesque clones that flooded
bookshelves in the late 60’s and 70’s. Some of Brooks’ early Shanarra stuff
comes to mind (and more recently, sadly, Paolini’s tripe). Incarnations of Sauron abounded, and I have
always considered them cardboard targets against which writers threw their
heroes, pinning the absolute bad with victorious, absolute good. Milton
And this brings me to my point, such as it is. We have begun to see some great stories introducing us to the conflicted hero, the edgy good guy with flaws, some dark smolder and skeletons in the cliché closet. Batman, anyone? That’s all good stuff but…
How about Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker? I refuse to give
all the credit for giving us shades of interpretation. Is there room in genre fiction for the
conflicted bad guy? The evil that is not quite as absolute as tradition might
have expected but that presents more intriguing possibilities? Mordred, Gollum,
half of Peakes’ cast in the Gormenghast books…come on folks add to the list. Hollywood
Frankly, I think the rise of the flawed anti-hero reflects more precisely the world in which we live and write. And as troubling as that is for some (cue responses to our most recent election season), I believe the end result will be the continued evolution of the craft into something better and approachable to folks in the market place. But even more importantly, I think it will result in a great new list of wonderful, redefining characters.
I’ll take absolutes with a dash of irreverence for a thousand, Alex.