A corollary to my recent post about villains who may have had a point after all: I am not advocating for the “sympathetic villain” trope.
In fact, I generally dislike that trope. But I have a theory that a lot of new and new-ish writers can’t help but write villains like this because they forgot how to make heroes actually heroic. This is not because our traditional culture is bad and out if step with the times. It’s because a cadre of nihilistic relativists hijacked the culture with the intent of changing it to suit their own spiritual and psychological hangups. It’s a tale as old as time.
People who are miserable weirdos are going to write miserable, weird stuff about miserable and weird people.
Jon Mollison detailed this pretty nicely in how William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, was a creepy perv who pitted children against each other for, presumably, research:
. . . The goal of post-modernists is to make the world as ugly as themselves. They paint normal people with broad brushes and focus laser-like attention on the exceptions to the rule of mankind as a generous creature. They prop up the lies and the bleakness and tell us they are wise and profound and expect us to fall in line.
You might think I’m being harsh, but I haven’t even rolled up my sleeves yet. Turns out old Golding was exactly the kind of guy you would think it took to write a book like Lord of the Flies.
Typical feminist male and 1960s science-fiction author in his native habitat.
Again from The Guardian:
The Nobel laureate Sir William Golding, whose novel Lord of the Flies turned notions of childhood innocence on their head, admitted in private papers that he had tried to rape a 15-year-old girl during his teenage years, it emerged today.
Golding’s papers also described how he had experimented, while a teacher at a public school, with setting boys against one another…
The author’s psychological experiments with his classes at Bishop Wordsworth’s school, in Salisbury, caused his eyes “to come out like organ stops”, according to his private journal.
He divided pupils into gangs, with one attacking a prehistoric camp and the other defending it.
So yeah, it turns out Lord of the Flies was child-abuse porn written by a drunken lout of a man who, in a better age, would have been given a lot more knuckle sandwiches and a lot fewer laurels. He was just another typical cultural ignoramus who loved tearing down fences when he didn’t know why they were built in the first place. There’s something deeply satisfying about seeing this iconoclast, a pale stale male, getting metooed by the next generation of iconoclasts. His works will soon be forgotten, consigned to the dustbin along with the rest of the Boomer detritus, while the works of giants with more faithful and Faith Full approaches to story survive and are revered.
There are lots of reasons for this, many of them related to the creator in question featuring their hurt and inflicting their own issues on you, and many the result of otherwise would-be normal people brainwashed into thinking these twisted worldviews are the correct ones:
Cynicism: The belief that everybody has a pride, altruism doesn’t exists, and when people are acting in a selfless, decent manner, they’re really just hiding something dark and sinister. This is also conflated with being “realistic.” Psychologists have another word for it though: projection.
Moral Relativism: This warped ideology holds that there is such thing as absolute right and wrong or good and evil, and that it’s all dependent on who is doing the act to whom. Therefore, no one judge anybody for any reason, because who are we to say that something is right or wrong? Mind you, this is completely one-sides, since all cultures and ideologies are equal, except Western (read: white Christians people), who are always evil and wrong. If you don’t think this seeps into the stories being written, you need to open your eyes.
Nihilism: Nihilism is “realistic,” right? Everybody knows there really are no “good guys,” and that life doesn’t have happy endings, so why should stories? Stories where good prevails just set people up for disappointment and give the wrong answer. That’s the conventional wisdom, at least. Rawle Nyanzi takes issue with this, as does Jon Del Arroz, who sums it up perfectly: “All realism does is leave you with cancer.” In light of this, why have heroes?
Disappointing Heroes: This is what these theories lead to: Heroes who aren’t heroic. Because after all, without heroism, who needs heroes? I wrote about this not too long ago, how cynicism, relativism, and nihilism lead to disappointing heroes like the anti-hero, the reluctant hero, and the snarkbuckler. Adam Lane Smith has a really interesting generational theory about this phenomenon–it’s a lengthy post I’m not going to reproduce here, but its worth a read. Needless to say, modern heroes need to feature their hurt because the authors need to feature theirs. No flat-arc heroes here. They have to be conflicted, twisted, and morally ambiguous. Because that’s realistic, and the cycle repeats on and on. Or, heroes will be, as Bradford Walker and Misha Burnett point out, never emerge due to their skill and determination. No, they are top-down supermen gifted with extraordinary powers they did not have to work for. Again, this is not realistic; it is reflective of the authors themselves. It is art imitating a certain type of life.
Escapism is meant to be fun, but also an escape to something better. It is to show the reader what could be, not some twisted version of reality.
This is the mindset we need if we are to create heroes that actually resonate. There is no shame in demonstrating humanity’s better nature. In fact, crafting stories that reflect the True, the Beautiful, and the Good is in large part the purpose of storytelling. What good is there in pumping messages full of despair into people’s heads?
That’s the true mind control, the dangerous propaganda we are warned so much about by the cognoscenti of science-fiction and fantasy.
Reject this. Embrace heroism. Your descendants will thank you.
Garrett and Ghryxa are true heroes who do the right thing not because they are forced to do it, but because it is right. Read about them here.