I’ve been thinking a lot about what a reader (Thanks Thomas Weaver for inspiring this article) said yesterday in response to an earlier article where I said “readers rarely forgive authors who try to convince them people who commit an evil act are worthy of any empathy”. I should have qualified that by saying “some readers” or “many readers”. Although what I said still holds true in most instances, it is true that these days both in literature and in film, evil characters are often seen as misunderstood, rather than purely evil. Maleficent is a case in point. Rather than the terrible evil dragon audiences were presented with in the original Sleeping Beauty, we are instead, presented with a flawed character who is betrayed and ultimately misunderstood.
This is by no means the only example. The musical stage production “Wicked” presents us with an alternative view of the witches, painting them as merely flawed and misunderstood. This tendency to portray evil characters as flawed, makes the evil they do seem somehow justified. The problem with this is that in the real world, real people really do commit real evil. It happens on a daily basis. It seems to be a universal trend in education and literature to tone down the evil of characters and instead offer excuses for their evil deeds.
These days, whenever evil is enacted in the world, people ask “Why?” There is an effort to understand. Why did that boy march into a school and open fire? Oh, he was bullied. Justifiable? Why did that man hold those people hostage in a Cafe? Oh, his religion has been persecuted and he doesn’t like it. Justifiable? Why did the evil Queen put that beautiful girl to sleep forever? Oh, she had been betrayed and is misunderstood. Justifiable?
Evil is evil. It always has been and always will be. There may be reasons why people do terrible things, but that hardly makes it justifiable. I’ve been hurt by people, but I don’t go beating others up. Because as a youngster, I was taught through literature and film and by parents and at school that there is no justification for hurting others, no matter what they do to you.
I worry about the school of thought that looks for answers for why evil is done, but fails to see it for what it is. If you look at the old films and old books, there was a purest vision of evil, untainted by modernist movements or PC tendencies. In a world full of terror, now happening on an almost daily basis, what does it tell you about a society which values the life of the perpetrator above the life of the victims, suggesting that we are all in some way responsible for the evil perpetrated by a few. No, this is wrong. Evil is evil, pure and simple. There is never and can never be justification for it. Our books and films need to return to a purist vision of evil, otherwise our children will grow up believing that evil is justified.
As I reflected on all of this, I also reflected on my own writing and I can honestly tell my readers that in my stories, there is no justification. Good characters are clearly defined and evil is always just that, evil. I may at times explore an evil character’s motives, but the deeds are still bad and have a tremendous impact on the victims.
If we constantly look for reasons why a person does bad things, we will forget the people those bad things have been done to.
Copyright©2015 Paul G Day