In a fantasy setting, there are two types of evil: Evil of the individual and evil of the group. The first applies to singular characters of your novel, while the second can apply to entire races or cultures. In the first case, the evil, as noted in the prior post, comes from the individual’s character which is in turn formed by the individual’s personal ideological beliefs and such. In the second case, the evil comes strictly from the ideology of the group. It is the latter case which allows for things like racial alignment in D&D or in a world like Middle-Earth where all the orcs are evil.
It is worth noting, that neither individual alignment (we’ll just call it alignment for us gamers) is necessarily dependent upon group alignment, or vice versa. Just because the group alignment of orcs is evil, doesn’t mean this particular orc is evil (although it may be a good bet). Likewise, just because this particular pixie is evil, it doesn’t mean all pixies are evil (that’s not even a good bet). I never read the “Forgotten Realms” novels, but I believe there was a good drow elf named Drizzt Do’Urden running around (I just looked it up on the Net—there was). And that is a case in point.
Group alignment provides a simple way of setting up cultural conflicts in your book. The goblins are at war with humans because the humans are good and the goblins are evil. Pretty black and white. The benefit here is that the sides are well-defined as is the preferred victor. Although war in the real world may not always be so morally stark (although sometimes it is—think of WWII), in the fantasy setting there is nothing wrong with embracing such simplicity. Making it more complex (and perhaps realistic) by say dealing with wars between two good races makes it a little more difficult to determine who to root for. For myself, when I read of, say, human on human war, I get annoyed because it just strikes me as unnecessary carnage.
Individual evil is a whole other animal. One has to be careful when crafting evil characters for your story. Their purposes should be detailed and specific. They should be ruthless and cruel, but their goals and motivations should be complex and intriguing. One of my favorite evil characters (though I read the series when I was much younger) was Raistlin Majere from the Dragonlance series, the dark mage who kinda-sorta-if he’d wanted to-became a god. He was deliciously evil. And, of course (perhaps I should have listed this first), I’m a big fan of my own Lucian val Drasmyr, the master vampire from my book Drasmyr.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject.
The question of good and evil is a largely philosophical question. Entire books on the subject have been written by scholars and philosophers through the ages. Nowadays, there seems to be some question as to whether or not good and evil actually exist. On one side are the relativists who claim that everything is relative, that good and evil are only figments of perception. On the other side are the absolutists who claim that morality is measured by absolute moral precepts that cannot be violated. Of course, that distinction may be something of a simplification. I’m sure there may be other flavors of nihilism besides relativism, and there may be other flavors of … what’s the right word here? … ethicism? … besides absolutism. Personally, I lean far more toward absolutism than I do relativism. However, I don’t think morality is limited to just absolutes. There are definitely some: rape is wrong, murder is wrong, etc… but not everything is so clear cut. There are some shades of grey and even some things which are entirely relative (arguing which is more sacred, Hannukah or Christmas, seems silly to me). That said, I do want to be clear: I believe evil to be very real. The question I wish to address here is: How do you represent evil in Literature?
What must be present for there to be evil? A few things come to mind: sentience (a rock cannot be evil), free will (a magically enslaved creature is not evil, insofar as its actions while enslaved are concerned), and ill intent. I’m sure I’m probably missing one or two. It’s been a while since I studied philosophy. Anyway, if you look at these characteristics the first two appear to be prerequisites of evil but not causes of evil. But the third is such a cause. Ill intent is almost a circular definition for evil. Hmmm. Perhaps I was too quick there. Although it is most certainly a cause, it may not be the only cause. I can imagine an evil being that holds no ill will toward someone while traveling with said someone for a short period of time. It is like the evil is repressed for a while. This makes me think that the evil is more permanent than simple ill intent. It is a property of the creature’s soul, if you will, or their character.
In the comments of an earlier discussion we mentioned ideology as the source of evil. Upon reflection, that seems accurate. If an individual’s ideology causes that person to kill and maim others without cause, it is safe to assume they are evil at heart. But that is an extreme case. Evil can occur in degrees with murder and death on edge of the spectrum, and simple selfishness on the other.
More can be said, of course, but I’ll leave it there for today.
Continuing on the theme of race in fantasy literature, I, once more, feel inclined to buck the trend. This is actually a completely different topic than what I discussed in part I, but it does belong under the same general heading.
A few weeks ago, I was reading a blog about race, racism, and fantasy literature (it actually, to a certain extent, inspired this series of posts, but unfortunately, I have lost the link). The whole point of the blog post was that fantasy literature featuring “inferior” or “monstrous” races implied that the writer was differentiating and “creating difference” or “recognizing differences” and was therefore racist. Basically, the upshot was that you can’t use orcs and goblins (or even dragons) anymore, because if you do, you are being racist. Seriously? Seriously? This is why people do not like political correctness. Holier-than-thou loons who pick at trivialities as if they are profound problems.
In my book, Drasmyr, the action takes place on the world of Athron. It is a fantasy world. With fantasy creatures. Although they have not appeared yet, I intend to use a race of creatures called goblins in later books. And they are evil. Ergo, there is conflict between the humans and the goblins. Not because the goblins have blood-red skin and bald, knotted skulls, and therefor look different from the humans, but because the goblins raid and destroy human villages for sport. I suppose, theoretically, the conflict between humans and goblins on my fantasy world could be paralleled with actual real historical conflicts between Race A and Race B on good old Earth which were eventually resolved when Race A and Race B began to talk to each other and trust each other, finding a way forward to peace, and so, such thinking would imply that the goblins and humans on my world could do likewise, but I can tell you, as the AUTHOR, that is not the case. The goblins are evil. They respect only strength; they kill amongst themselves; they think nothing of rape and murder; and they worship demons. They will never progress beyond that. Because I’m the AUTHOR, and I say so. And I want an evil race of creatures for the humans to fight and be in conflict with.
I mean, seriously? Was Smaug just a misunderstood capitalist? Oh, no, it’s capitalism that is the true evil, so Smaug couldn’t be that. But whatever he was, he was surely misunderstood. Never mind the city of dwarves he roasted, or the village of men he plagued. We just aren’t looking at things through his perspective. If only the dwarves had been willing to talk to him. They could have worked things out. Oh, that’s right. They did talk to him. They said, “Aaaaaahhhh!” a lot. And then they got eaten.
This seems to be a common theme on a number of web sites I’ve stumbled across. I got nothing else to write about today, so I might as well address it. There are people who, in all seriousness, are asking whether vampires really exist. Take this article, for example. The writer suggests that there is evidence for the existence of real vampires (specifically the similarity in certain vampire-like legends across multiple cultures) and then goes on to argue that since it has not been proven one way or the other, he/she chooses to remain open to the possibility to the extent that he/she takes precautions.
It may be worthwhile to analyze this question objectively. I studied analytical philosophy in college, so I have a better grasp of epistemological concerns than most people. And though the “existence” of a vampire is a metaphysical concern, our knowledge or lack thereof is an epistemological one.
Is it possible that vampires exist? Yes. It is possible. Just… not… bloody… likely! One of the first tenets of rational thinking I learned in philosophy is that you can’t prove a negative. You can’t prove that vampires DON’T exist because the universe is just two vast and varied. Proving they don’t exist would entail somehow being aware of everything happening in all of reality all at once. Human minds are finite. Even when grouped together. There will always be some corner of reality that remains unexplored where the vampire might be hiding. Let me correct myself, though. Some things you can prove don’t exist because they aren’t even thinkable; specifically, contradictions. Contradictions are objects which possess at least two characteristics which effectively negate each other. For example, round squares do not exist. There is no object that is both round and square in the same way at the same time; and no, octagons do not count as a counter-example. Then there is the realm of the silly. Such things might exist if there are no natural bounds on reality and all our scientific “knowledge” is either false or just far too-limited to encompass reality. Traditional vampires, nosferatu, undead, werewolves, fairies, unicorns, and other monsters–they all fall in here. To make it mathematical (although in a somewhat subjective way), we can rank a creatures possibility to exist on a scale where a 0 means the object is known to not exist (a contradiction), and 10 denotes that it most certainly does (your self-awareness), I would put vampires and their like in the region of 1.
So, as I said, vampires may exist, but they just aren’t very likely. You can, of course, play with the definition of the creature. Traditional vampires, also known as nosferatu, are undead. That means they are basically a corpse that has been imbued with a certain echo of life. They were formerly human, transformed into an evil monster by another such creature, and filled with an insatiable lust for human blood. If you stop there, you might be able to find something sort of like that in nature (although I would nix the undead aspect). There are humans who drink blood, some who even think they are vampires, but this is most probably a psychological disorder not a state of being that grants super-cosmic powers. The more powers you add from the traditional myth, the less probable you make finding that creature a reality. Are there creatures who, through innate ability, can control the weather? Probably not. Can transform into mist? Probably not. Can change into a wolf or bat? Probably not. Etc… If there is a common origin to the vampire myth in nature it is unlikely that it resembles our notions of the traditional vampire, except in the most vague, round-a-bout way. With that in mind, I don’t intend to take any precautions against vampires, nosferatu, undead, werewolves, dragons, or any other monster from myth for that matter. Dracula was based on a real man, Vlad Tepes. And though Vlad Tepes was certainly evil, he was just a man, not undead, just a cruel tyrant. Dracula, as vampire, is myth.
Ever since Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula” (although he did have predecessors) the vampire has been a potent force in Western myth. The novel, itself, has decidedly Christian overtones, as that was the dominant religion in Europe at the time of its writing. As such, the vampire inherited a number of demonic-type powers from the forces of darkness and was seen as an agent of the Christian devil. Although it has been romanticized in recent times, the original vampire was seen strictly as evil.
In the original myth, Dracula could walk around during the day, although his power was greatly reduced. Later vampire tales embellished and made the exposure of sunlight lethal to him. I have seen a number of movies in which, after many struggles and battles, Dracula is destroyed by being caught outside with the rising of the sun. Oh, if it were only so easy!
Typically, Dracula and other undead of his kind, are presented as exceptionally strong and cunning, with power over some of the meaner forces of nature. They can control rats, bats, wolves and even the weather. They can also assume the form of a wolf, or a large bat, or even a creeping mist. But this is changing, at least as far as bats are concerned. I rarely read a modern novel or see a modern movie in which the vampire assumes the form of a solitary bat. This may be the result of the difference of the approximate masses involved. We no longer seem willing to suspend disbelief to the point where we can accept that something roughly the same size as a man can be crammed into something as small as a bat. Of course, this may be a result of another change that has occurred in the vampire. When Bram Stoker wrote, Dracula was seen as a quasi-spiritual being, almost like a ghost. He could slip through cracks and walk through the edge of a closed door. Today, vampires tend to be regarded as solid physical beings. And, where it might make sense that a ghostly undead could assume a smaller form, it is a little harder to imagine a physical one doing so.
Vampires also had a number of odd attributes, a potpourri of strange powers and weaknesses. They were repelled by garlic and their own reflection in a mirror. A rose, if placed on the cover of its coffin, could restrain it within as long as the rose remained in place. Nowadays, although garlic and mirrors are still associated with the vampire, it is a rare thing to see the rose employed as it was originally intended.
Another weakness was running water; it was said to have the ability to destroy the vampire if he or she was immersed within its currents. Again, this is another power or weakness that seems to be fading away in the literature. I rarely see a movie where running water is used as a weapon against the undead.
Finally, there is the matter of religion. In the beginning, Dracula was repelled by holy objects: be it a cross, holy water, a eucharist, or what have you. As the cultural influence of Christianity wanes, this aspect of the vampire is losing its appeal. I believe it was Anne Rice in her Vampire Chronicles where the impotence of the sacred was first introduced. That may or may not be a sad commentary on our society, but it is certainly a very specific change in the power of the undead.
There were other powers in the original myth, as well, such as being able to cross running water with the moon, or the tides, but I will not delve into any more.
To sum up, the original vampire had a whole slew of special powers, both strengths and weaknesses, that made it a very unique creature that was seen as a quasi-demonic force of evil. Today, we seem to be in the process of humanizing them, stripping them of their supernatural power and transforming them into merely immortal humans whose only fault is that they drink blood to survive. Personally, I don’t really like that development. I recently wrote a fantasy novel involving a vampire called Drasmyr (see the side bar if you are interested–Publications). I did embellish on the powers of the vampire a little bit, but I tried to keep to the original spirit of Dracula and the original myth at least as far as the vampire was concerned.