Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Psychology Of a Villain II

James Bond's villains are all one-volume men, except Blofeld. I suppose that, when we enumerate and compare fictional villains, we contemplate the kind of characters that come on-stage to perform overtly evil acts whereas:

Sauron remains off-stage;

Tachwyr the Dark is Flandry's Merseian opposite number but does not himself do anything that we might really call "evil";

CS Lewis' Wither and Frost are thoroughly corrupt individuals, systematically destroying their own humanity in order knowingly to serve demons, but they are not generally known about;

Lewis' White Witch is a more familiar villainous figure.

SM Stirling surpasses Poul Anderson, I think, both in his elaboration of the alternative histories idea and in his creation of unequivocally evil villains. When Benoni Strang is dying, we feel some sympathy for him whereas we cannot possibly sympathize either with Ignatieff, a ritualistic cannibal who confidently expects that, after death, he will go to Hell as one of the torturers, or with Walker, a moral imbecile for whom there is no difference between external reality and virtual reality.

Can someone like Walker be made to understand the suffering that he has caused to others? If he did come to understand it, would he be incapacitated by guilt? If he claimed to have been morally reformed, then it would remain impossible to trust him in any position of power or responsibility. But usually such characters are simply killed - or are defeated but live to return in a sequel.

9 comments:

  1. There's a difference between empathy and sympathy. Walker understands what he's doing perfectly; he just doesn't -care-.

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    1. Mr Stirling,
      Yes. An important distinction. I should use the word "understand" only in its intellectual sense and not invest it with any emotional or moral overtones.
      Paul.

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    2. Kaor, Paul and Mr. Stirling!

      Yes, I agree with Mr. Stirling, William Walker understands all too well the moral evil of the means he uses to gain and keep power, he simply doesn't care about the harm it does to his victims.

      Count Ignatieff interests me. I keep remembering how in THE PESHAWAR LANCERS Yasmini calls him a man of deep faith and piety. Unfortunately, the god the Count worshiped was the Peacock Angel, Satan. I can't help but wonder how much BETTER a man Ignatieff might have been if he had been raised as a Christian or somehow came to believe in Christ, not as the Traitor, but as Lord and Savior.

      I think the closest Poul Anderson came to creating truly nasty and evil villains was Aycharaych in his Terran Empire stories and Dahut in THE KING OF YS.

      Sean

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    3. Sean,
      Dahut is pretty nasty. I have not thought of her as a villain but I should.
      Paul.

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    4. Kaor, Paul!

      Yes, I would argue that Dahut was a truly evil villain. And even Poul Anderson was inclined to agree with that idea, when I put it to him in one of my letters to him. He did add that Dahut was influenced by the religious dissensions between a Mithraist king balking at the demands of the Ysan gods and those Ysans pressuring Gratillonius to yield to those demands. And, yes, Dahut was also hostile to the Christians.

      Sean

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  2. Paul and Sean:
    You don't consider Gunnhild at all a villain?

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    1. Paul:
      She incited and encouraged murders and other treachery. I recall particularly how horrified you were that she'd raised her daughter, even at a very young age, to value power above all: "We shall be great," or something like that.

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    2. Kaor, DAVID!

      Oops! I forgot about Queen Gunnhild! Yes, I have to agree she was PLENTY villainous. But, I remembered how Poul Anderson, fair minded as he strove to be, wrote in his introduction to MOTHER OF KINGS that he did not think Gunnhild was any more ruthless and amoral than was the norm of her times in Norway.

      Sean

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