I feel like this rant is half-baked, but I’m going to go off on it anyway and I suppose we’ll all see where we end up.
There’s a sort of conventional wisdom for writers that originated apparently in 1992 that villain is the hero of their own story, an idea that has become corrupt over time.
It seems as though people think this means there is a kind of moral relativism in every story where the villain thinks they are doing a “good thing,” the only problem is that the villain’s morals just don’t happen to coincide with the protagonist’s sense of morality. You know, if we were reading the other book where the villain was switched to the protagonist, we would find they were perfectly reasonable and would read a fun and enjoyable story.
Nope. Wrong. Total BS.
Maleficent cursed a baby out of spite. There’s nothing heroic about that. There’s no world where that is a good and honorable choice. That’s why she’s a bad guy. In order to make a live-action Maleficent work, in order to make her a protagonist, Disney completely rewrote the story to justify the villain’s actions. She’s not the Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, she’s a brand new character who just happens to share the name.
Sauron wanted to commit genocide and rule over Middle-Earth. What did the hobbits ever do to him? Nothing. Literally, hobbits have been living in the Shire completely detached from the larger world until Gandalf started sticking his nose into things. And, when they came back after Sauron is defeated (in the books), nothing has changed. The Shire is untouched by the greater conflict.
Even if you think Thanos is making a moral decision to wipe out half of all life in the universe in order to promote sustainability, his brutal tactics are enough to show you that he’s not a hero at all. (Double the number of habitable planets? Dramatically increase the output of resources? You have the Infinity Gauntlet. You are basically God.)
I’m going to steer this rant in a more positive direction, though, and talk about how rare it is to have a character that does the right thing for seemingly no gain.
SPOILERS AHEAD PROBABLY
In Netflix’s The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia comes across a farmer who is in the woods trying to either bury or burn the bodies of a camp of Cintra refugees who were butchered by Nilfgaardians. The Witcher takes place in such a brutal setting that Geralt’s first assumption is that the farmer is grave-robbing.
Nope. He’s just trying to give the bodies a final resting place. Some kind of monster attacks, Geralt, who is designed to face such a creature, warns off the farmer and attacks. He’s bitten by one of the creatures and, even though the show is named after him and we’re *pretty* sure he’s going to make it, he’s left for dead in the woods. Cliffhanger. Binge that next episode, baby.
Of course, he isn’t dead and he wakes up in the back of…
Can you guess it? Come on, give it a shot.
Right. The farmer’s cart. Why?
Because the farmer is a good man.
I was watching 1998 Godzilla, you know. The one with Matthew Broderick. This point might come up again in a future episode of Anything Nice to Say, so shh…don’t tell anyone.
Broderick’s Dr. Nick Tatopoulos informs the military he thinks the creature laid eggs. Through a series of events, Nick is kicked out of the command center and is able to convince a ragtag group of highly trained French commandos…? Am I reading this right? Anyway, the French guys go off with him to find the eggs. I’m not really concerned about that for a moment.
The military keeps doing their thing, they kill Godzilla (at least, they think they do) and everyone who was evacuated from New York thinks they get to go home, but Dr. Elsie Chapman, played by Vicki Lewis, steps up to Colonel Hicks, played by Kevin Dunn, and says, even if Nick was thrown out in disgrace, they should still take his word for it and look for a nest.
Despite threats from the mayor, Hicks does not allow people back into the city and instead orders the coordination of search parties.
Two characters doing the right thing. Chapman has no authority here, but steps up anyway, and, despite pressure from higher authorities, Hicks listens to her and organizes a search.
The reason I talk about these characters is that the moral relativism read of “the villain is the hero of their own story” doesn’t take into account that almost all characters don’t do the right thing. I’ve heard one translation that no character sets out to be evil. There are plenty of evil people who exist in the real world. Why would fictional worlds be any different? And, we’re ignoring the fact that doing good is often times harder than just not doing anything. What’s the problem with grave robbing? They’re already dead.
It seems like there are fewer and fewer characters these days that do the right thing for its own sake. If we’re following the hero’s journey, he must stumble, fall, fail, make mistakes, have a dark night of the soul, do the wrong thing before figuring out what the right thing is. The hero doesn’t have the opportunity to be the good one all the time. He needs the good ones to remind him what it is to be good.
This isn’t the villain’s journey. Sure, you can write the villain however you aren’t, but was Hannibal Lector really hemming and hawing over whether or not helping Clarice is the right thing to do? Does he have moral qualms about wearing someone’s face? I guess you could say Buffalo Bill is the real villain, but…eh.
Many villains are not that complex.
And, they don’t need to be. Professor Moriarty is supposedly a complex criminal mastermind who can match wits with Sherlock Holmes. But, he’s not in every story. And, he’s not behind every crime.
Let’s be honest, most villains in most stories are just trying to accumulate power for some as yet unknown reason. They don’t follow a hero’s journey path to get there. Villains don’t meet the mentor, or cross a threshold. They create the thresholds and kill the mentors.
Here’s the thing: “every villain is the hero of his or her story” is poorly worded and doesn’t mean what it’s been twisted to mean. What it really means is that the villain has his or her own motivations and is as devoted to the outcome as the hero is. The villain deserves thought and consideration. You should think about why your villain does what he does.
You may think that’s no different, you make think that’s a subtle difference, or that may have completely changed your mind about writing villains.
Write the villain that fits. It can be a horrible unnamed evil that lurks in an unknown region on the cosmos. Or a dark entity that exists only as a flaming eye at the top of a tower. Or it can be a faceless clone in a white helmet that can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Or a interdimensional spider that feasts on the fears of children while he’s dressed up like a clown.
Let the people with the literary degrees decide what you meant by that.
Sequels, ah, er, uh…find a way. This episode of Anything Nice to Say travels to Isla Sorna to find out if The Lost World Jurassic Park has any redeeming qualities.
It’s here. The very first Star Wars episode of Anything Nice to Say. There will probably be more because…prequels.
Let me start by saying that it’s not that I’m not a fan of crowds. Crowds can be okay. For the most part, San Diego Comic Con is a well-behaved crowd until Saturday afternoon.
Nay, the thing that I’m not a fan of is uncivilized mob behavior. Which seemed to be the way people were acting on the Los Angeles Free-for-All Museum day.
Come on, people.
We can do better.
Anyway, my first stop was the Natural History Museum.
It seems to me that a typical Natural History Museum consists mainly of stuffed and mounted animals and I wasn’t wrong. Some of the cooler stuff were the things focused on local wildlife. For instance, this display of the butterflies of Griffith Park.
In trying to fight my way through the mob, I found it difficult to take time on the things I wanted to see, but here, of course, is one of the big attractions, the T-Rex.
The Los Angeles Natural History Museum has a Dino lab upstairs where you can watch some of the paleontologists working on their craft. Of course, you are reminded not to tap on the glass, as it will startle the scientists.
I don’t think I have the patience to be a paleontologist. I’m not exactly sure how they are able to tell the difference between a fossil and a regular rock. Then again, the extent of my paleontological knowledge comes from that scene in Jurassic Park where the pulse an ultra sound through the ground and find a fully formed velociraptor in the dirt. The dinosaur they were working on just needed a few brushes to be revealed. I can’t imagine it is actually that easy.
I spent the rest of the time walking through the animals of North America exhibit. The thing that struck me was that I’ve killed almost all of those animals in Red Dead Redemption 2. Anyone for some caribou?
Also, I’m not really sure why the curators of the museum decided to make it look like this wolf was popping a squat, but I guess they want to show real life, warts and all.
Finally, we find the most terrifying exhibit in the ornithology wing.
Why, Los Angeles? WHY?
Free museum day comes up every so often in Los Angeles. The thing is, though, even when it’s not free, the cost is reasonable. If you are a Los Angeles resident and you have an LA County library card, there’s a way to get more free museum access.
Los Angeles has sort of been bumming me out lately. Saying that it bums me out doesn’t really do justice to the problems. People are getting attacked within spitting distance of my apartment, the police don’t respond to calls anymore, the homeless seem to think if they can’t have it, they must destroy it.
It’s hard to live in a place that doesn’t enforce its laws. It’s hard to live in a place where you get a fine if your dog shits on the street, but it’s okay if a human does it. For awhile in the summer, the new homeless trick was to poop in a disposable cup and leave it under the tire of a parked car so that when the car pulled away, it would smear and track the human feces down the road.
This is bad. This is disgusting. I don’t have much sympathy for people who do this sort of thing.
I’m trying to find the good things about Los Angeles, the cultural offerings, the things that make is unique and desirable because I’ve started looking for a way out.