Monday, July 29, 2013

Forging Darkness

Continuing in our lecture series about heroes vs. villains, I would like to discuss my efforts at crafting an anti-hero. As I've mentioned before, this is not an easy task for me. My friend, Keith, has a Batphone with a direct line to the portion of his psyche that allows him to write a brilliant villain and I envy him that talent. I suspect that my talents in this area (if it exists at all) lie deeper in my sub-conscious and will require cajoling to wheedle them to the fore. However, I enjoy a challenge and have begun the task of "fleshing out" my main antagonist.

In my genre, one is inevitably compared to Tolkien and the characters that he formed. There have been others since then who have had varying degrees of success, though the trend lately seems to be how often and how much the author can antagonize the reader. Regardless, Tolkien is invariably the standard that we are held to in this end of the pool. His ultimate villain, Sauron, is both masterful and a bit of cheap shot. On the one hand, there is no question of motive. Sauron is a bodiless eye of fire held semi-corporal by shear will and malice. The reader never has reason to doubt that Sauron is evil and that the hero quest against him is right because, you know, he's a disembodied eye of fire. It's not a difficult leap to believe that "The Great Eye" wants to take over the world.

The other side of the coin, in my opinion, is that Sauron is a bit of a cheat on Tolkien's part. No one truly cares about the "person" that Sauron used to be. There are references in the trilogy as to his early history, but the first or second time reader doesn't generally remember those details. Nor, I have discovered, do they care much. Thus, by creating such a definitively evil character, Tolkien never had to concern himself with character flaws or developing the idiosyncrasies of a  "human" nemesis. Apart from the two desires to enslave the world and find The Ring, there's not much to Sauron's character. The genius of Tolkien is that this character does not need depth, but upon reflection, it seems like a shortcut.

Also, the success of his works have made it so that that particular type of villain cannot be used again without cries of foul from the legions of dedicated fans. It has actually been done many times since with varying degrees of success, but I do not wish to be another in that long line. With all deference to those that have come before me, I wish to be different. Thus begins my quest for a better protagonist.

So that leads me to this point. What will work for me and my story? My instincts tell me that just to have a singular person as the villain is not necessarily what I am after. In my ultimate design to write something that breaks away from the traditional "farm boy becomes king" archetype, I seems to me that I will need more. Sauron is right out as it would only be a pale imitation. Yet, just a power hungry narcissist is the stuff of everyday life, which is contrary to what I believe this type of story should be. Something more.


Tune in, true believers, and see where this path takes me.

1 comment:

  1. It's been a while since I've read Lord of the Rings, but I have read them a couple of times. I believe that Sauron had some parallels to the Christian Satan, as a fallen, demonic being that is possessed with dragging down as many others as possible.
    In literature, writing a believable Satan may be difficult, and perhaps many view this as a form of parable, using Christian forms and symbols. Finding the hubris and sympathy in villains seems to be a common trend in fiction, but we still find plenty of examples of the pure-evil villain.
    In the end as writers, we need to chose what sort of antagonist suits us and our stories best. Do we want our antagonist to have a backstory and sympathy like Darth Vader or Magneto? Do you want to write a villain who is truly evil like Sauron? Something in between?