Villains: Do We Need Them?

I recently received feedback from a reviewer at my publisher on the sequel to eHuman Dawn. The reviewer's job was to take the story and analyze it from a reader's perspective. Each of the main characters was assessed, especially the antagonist. It turns out that this character is the most essential to any story line. Without him or her, there's no plot. The hero has nothing to prove in a world of saints, so to speak. When I first started writing, my villain, Edgar Prince, was weak. It was hard to believe he posed any real threat. To remedy this I began to research psychopaths, and dove into the world of the bad guy for months in order to create an antagonist worthy of the story. I'm now happy to hear that after spending the time, Edgar has evolved to become, "an enjoyable trickster, appearing and disappearing to wreak havoc within and without his world."
I was pleased that someone other than myself enjoys this evil man. He just might be my favorite character. Yet this admittance gives me pause. What happens when you fall for the villain? Why are some bad guys so good to have around? I've long been enamored with the trickster: Loki is the most dear to me, and I will admit that Tom Hiddleston does a great job bringing him to life in the recent movie series. I also adore the Coyote figure in most Native American myths. Dark wizards, witches and dragons top my favorite villain list as well. I recently watched "Thor: The Dark World,” and when I thought that Loki was dead, I actually felt like crying. Yes, I know he's a bastard, but there's no story in Asgard without him. Which makes me wonder, while we bemoan the evil ones in the world, could we ever really know joy without them? Can there be a Savior without the Judas? Even more curious—does the story have to end with the bad guy dying? Can the evil one ever be forgiven?
As I explore these themes I’ve come to realize that the villain rests within each one of us, as does the hero. Our subconscious mind lives in the realms of light and shadow ceaselessly, without pause. Our rational mind processes that which it sees around us, and makes decisions.  Our actions then depend on both processes, our rational thinking and the more mysterious psyche. Those who know their shadow are more likely to be aware of their choices in the present. This is an age-old teaching across many philosophies. The role of stories then is to help us see what’s living beneath the surface as well as the archetypes that govern our reality. The more stories we hear, watch and read, the more aware we become of our own humanity. Thus, the villain is just as important as the hero, not merely because he or she causes the plot to thicken and makes the action possible for the hero, but also because of what the villain teaches us about being human. As the old Native American fable goes, two wolves live within you—you become the wolf you’re willing to feed.
I love Edgar Prince, and as I edit the sequel in order to publish it, I begin to turn to the final book in the trilogy. What will be his end? Must he be vanquished? Must he die? Or can he be redeemed? Many people believe that authors know every detail of their story before they begin. This hasn’t been true for me. All of my characters are still revealing themselves and have more to say. With each scene, I get to know them better. Living in the eHuman world has been a chance like no other to see the wolves within myself, and get to know both my shadow and my light. It has also awakened me to the choices being made within the political and technological realms in our own world.
Indeed, stories truly are a pathway to understanding the human condition.

No comments: