Going to the Dark Side ~ villains in the writer’s psyche
Having touched briefly on where heroes come from yesterday, my dark side felt neglected and asked me to look at the other side of the coin.
I like to think of myself as a good person. I might actually BE a good person, but that doesn’t make me the woman without a dark side. A couple of years ago, I got into a rather harrowing battle with someone I’d thought of as a friend; it knocked me rather badly at the time and when the issue was resolved (though the friendship was never restored) I found that though in my own head I was the hero, in the mind of at least one other person, I was the villain. That gave me a pause for thought. Every villain of fiction, film or history is the hero of their own internal story.
When it comes to villains on screen and in books, the more complex the nature of the villain, the more convincing that baddie is for me. One of my favourite villains of the screen is Scorpius from the TV series Farscape, because while initially he seems simply evil, as the story develops, it becomes clear that his evil is mixed with a fairly massive dose of good. He’s far from black and white, and his motivations in doing the terrible things he does are confusing. He’s possessed of some measure of pure altruism, of humanity. In fact, were the story told from his perspective(as indeed it is in one episode) he would be the hero.
For me one of the least convincing villains of book and screen is Lord Voldemort. I am aware that the books were originally written for children and the depth of all the characters increased as the series went on, but that said, even the mitigating factors for Voldemort’s nature were for me unsatisfying. I believe pure evil exists, but it’s incredibly rare, and Voldie’s descent to the dark side is too fast and too complete for me to accept it. At least Darth Vader’s evolution into the Dark Lord took some pretty awful things to bring it about; Voldie’s is unconvincing if you are an adult with some understanding of what makes people tick. You are expected to accept that he was born with a strong tendency to evil and little motivation to resist it.
So, the big question now. Where do villains emerge from? Well, in my experience, they come from my darker side. I feel a shiver of shame in even admitting it; I’ve had my baddies do things that I’d never do, but the fact that I can think of them is proof that perhaps I do have it in me to do terrible things. In one novel I crucified my main character, and I do mean, literally. He had no idea why he was being tortured, and for a guy like him, not knowing why it happened was a huge part of the torment afterwards. But for the villain who did this to him, the motivation was clear and almost pure; in his story, the hero deserved it. In another novel, the roles of hero and villain are deliberately confused for much of the narrative and it’s only in the second half that the real villain starts to emerge, brought to evil by thwarted love and a strange twisted sense of righteousness. Not one of my villains would see themselves in that way; they would always see themselves as the hero of the story.
For me, this fits with my world view that pure evil is a truly rare thing, and that much of it consists of ordinary people getting things wrong. Venial sins of selfishness, minor cruelty, omission of duty, weakness, addiction to power and others wrongs are usually what aggregate to be what we see as evil. Evil is not something that emerges fully formed and ready to roll; it’s something that grows. It was Edmund Burke who said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
Perhaps then this is what fiction is all about; the struggle between good and evil, the hero’s journey and everything else you find in fiction may be the writer’s attempt to understand the darker side within their own psyche and to integrate it in a creative way. I am told that Stephen King, who writes some of the most spine-chilling mainstream horror fiction is one of the nicest men you could ever meet. Many murder and horror writers are described as being lovely people, contrary to the content of their books.
I’d like to think that my own writing has been a journey into understanding and integrating my shadows, but I also hope that the tales I have created on the way with their heroes and heroines, villains and human monsters may help others understand their own psyches, as well as providing a good read or two on the way.