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Author: You Are Your Villain!
Well…it finally happened to me. The thing that happens to John all the time– a reviewer slams you for putting some opinion or personal belief in your book and they are talking about:
Something your VILLAIN says.
Why do people assume that the villains are the mouthpieces of the author?
It happens to John all the time.
It amuses me when I see people complaining about how the Prospero books would have been better had I had not put so much of my own opinions in them… which opinions would those be, now?
Anti-slavery. Yes. I will take credit for that one. I am an abolitionist.
Religion? Where in the books is my religion? I'm a Christian Sceintist. I think there's one Greek poem I rewrote to sound a tad Christain Sciency. Next?
Politics? Hmm. Nope. Sorry. Lillith the demon going on about the ills of modern life is not the author giving her opinion.
What I did for Lillith was sit there and wrack my brain thinking: the demons must have been up to something. What are things that it would be really creepy or eerie if I claimed that demons were behind them? So I made a list of modern things that were cool, like Hollywood, and chuckled as the demon claimed responsibility for them.
Did I have her claim abortion was the crowning acheivement of the demons to share my politics? No.
Am I in favor of abortion? No. Though I used to be. Nowadays, I am particularly against gendercide abortions, and the devistating effect they are having in the East.
Is that why I had Lillith praise them? No.
Have you ever read history? Seen what they say happens to people who have abortions in the Apocrypha? See what some of the temple prostitute type religions used to stand for?
I picked that because it fit the character.. Lilith, the enemy of Eve.
I would have written it exactly the same way twenty years ago when I was pro-choice—because its eerie. Even back then, I had drawn the conclusion that another culture might view our attitude toward abortion the way we are horrified at ancient infant exposure.
Why did I write it that way? Because I was once in a roleplaying game where Sparrowhawk of Roke pointed out to me some of the ills of modern society that I had thought were virtues. I found that conversation so interesting that even though it took place in 1988, I still think about it.
I wanted to do something like that…turn some modern ideas, things we think of as good, upside down and show them from another side.
Do my heroes believe Lillith? No, not really.
So…why does the reader?
Anyway…just sharing this so that you know. Next time you read a book, maybe you should check to see who is speaking before you believe something is the author’s point of view.
If it is the VILLAIN, the author might have had something else in mind.
Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon
S. M. Stirling gets this even worse than you or John, probably because he created the Draka and Walker from the ISOT universe. How would you like to have people assuming that you want to set up a merciless dictatorship that treats most of its people like walking, talking farm machinery?
Having this reaction to the Draka is understandable, in my opinion. I mean, the authorial thumb is on the scale throughout the original trilogy, and it's not especially clear from internal evidence which side is intended to be villains. :)
I don't remember seeing any such reaction to Walker, though.
The Draka are improbably successful, but then, sometimes aggressive militarists actually are successful like that. However, they are definitely the villains of the series: only a person who really, deeply hated normal human life would seriously want to be a Draka or want to live in a Draka-dominated environment.
The rise of liberal democracy and the defeat of all alternatives has been the main theme of the last quarter-millennium of history. S. M. Stirling was showing that this wasn't inevitable: that an illiberal and incredibly oppressive society could have triumphed instead. The Domination of the Draka was also crafted to appeal to primal fantasies of domination and submission, which is to say to the darker side of human nature (especially taken as far as the Draka did, to mass slavery, rape and murder).
One of the most interesting -- and disturbingly charismatic evil characters, even based on her personality alone (and she also had the advantage of dominance vocal tones and sexual pherenomes) was Gwendolyn Ingolffssen, who is one of the main characters of Drakon. She's a drakensis -- one of the supermen of the Draka Final Society -- and she's about as nice, and as deadly, as the Draka ever get. Which is to say not really all that nice, though she's more willing to cooperate with non-Draka than are most of the Final Society Draka -- and very, very deadly.
People tend to assume that Stirling likes what she stands for because the character is likeable. I think that it's more a matter of showing that evil can be seductive, and perhaps more likeable than good, but that it's still evil. Note that her Alliance counterpart, Kenneth LaFarge, is a driven, somber, not-very-fun sort of guy -- and that in part he's like that because his civilization is fighting for its life and defining itself by its opposition to the Draka, who are hedonists when not actually fighting. Likewise, Henry Carmaggio and Jennifer Feinberg, humans from the imperilled parallel Earth, are quite ordinary people with normal lives and normal flaws: they are also decent human beings, unlike the ruthless, murderous, exploitative Gwen -- who is "nice" by the standards of her species!
The reaction to Walker is less extreme because he's just a competent, slighly-sociopathic human being who uses his advanced technology to exploit the primitive natives of 1250 BCE Earth. But he's also notably charismatic and a heck of a lot of fun -- until he decides to kill you, that is.
For some reason, LJ did not send me your comments, though it send other comments. Weird.
"The rise of liberal democracy and the defeat of all alternatives"
which, unfortunately, appears to be unraveling as we speak. It's not that there are any alternatives. It's that Tocqueville was right: the system works until people start to vote themselves goodies from the public purse.
I could be wrong, but I think it might be a symptom of the moral equivalency trope often used in modern fiction. You know, the part where the ostensible villain chides the heroes on their hypocrisies and transgressions.
Perhaps the stupidest example I've seen was from a late-90s British miniseries called "Ultraviolet," about a secret police unit that hunts vampires, under the auspices of the Church of England. This female vampire is talking to the male protagonist, giving the "you don't who you're really working for" speech, after he's recently been recruited to this secret unit. However the whole thing boiled down to "we're being persecuted by the Church, the same way they persecuted witches, homosexuals, the disabled..." There were a few other victim groups thrown in for good measure and something about the right to exist, but I believe at about that point I quit watching.
Now, these weren't your angsty, morally retrained vampires who have had their souls restored, or happen to glitter in sunlight. These were your classic supernatural living-dead variety, the types that racked up a body count. So, you can imagine the headache-inducing stupidity of hearing this monologue.
So, when you have a classic villain who's a persuasive liar or has some elegantly warped logic to their motivations, a reader punch-drunk with preachy PC cliches might misread and go, "Oh, good Lord, not again..."
I deliberately went out of my way to make it unclear whether she was telling the truth. She may have been, the demons had to be up to something. LOL But it is not clear in the story.
I am also amused at people who think that Gregor...the Pope...is the author's mouthpiece. That this might happen never occurred to me when I wrote it, so I didn't go out of my way to make it clear that his view is not the universe's view.
A lot of writers and fans have lost sight of the fact that sustainable "tolerance" of a behavior requires that the behavior not transgress the rights of others, and are willing to overlook repeated acts of unprovoked theft, rape or even murder if the character committing these crimes is cool and interesting to read about. If witches, gays or the disabled normally racked up body counts equivalent to sociopathic serial killers, and this was a necessary concommittant of their condition or culture, I would have absolutely no problem with killing them en masse. The reason why I instead believe that witches, gays and the disabled should be treated with tolerance is because they do not generally behave in this manner.
What's going on, of course, is that the reader is imagining himself in the role of the "cool" vampire (or whatever monster we are talking about), and does not sympathize with the vampire's victims because they're described in ways that make them seem "uncool" or even evil. The logical test should be: Could I MYSELF, or someone I love, plausibly wind up as a victim of the monster? Would I consider it "fair" that I or my loved one would die in this case?
If the answers are "yes" and "no" respectively, then you wouldn't tolerate the monster in real life.
That's the problem with creating interesting villains. Some can not conceive of a charismatic character who isn't good, which leads to P.T. Barnum's catch phrase about how there's one born every minute.
You're in good company (John Milton) but I'm sure it's still really, really annoying.
Believe it or not, it was a competitor to Barnum who said that, sneering at Barnum and his audience. Barnum was an unapologetic showman, but he also gave a great deal to charity and was quite active in providing work to people with disabilities and deformities in his shows, during a time where such people had trouble finding employment. And to quote from Wikipedia, "Barnum served two terms in the Connecticut legislature in 1865 as a Republican for Fairfield. With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution over slavery and African-American suffrage, Barnum spoke before the legislature and said, "A human soul, ‘that God has created and Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit."
Sorry for the digression.
|Date:||April 7th, 2012 11:20 am (UTC)|| |
Not at all. Thank you for the correction. Fascinating history.
You've likely seen the often banned film, Freaks? I remember watching it as a child. Huge impression. The real "freak" was the callous, murderous beauty.
The director got in a whole lot of hot water for that one. People do like a manicured world.
In my case it is merely annoying, someone didn't like the story because of the 'stealth conservativism' that suddenly popped up.
In John's case, it can be much more annoying, because people take things he REALLY doesn't believe that come from the mouths of his villains and assume it is his world view.
I remember someone reading his first book and thinking it was actually portraying his idea of a utopia.
They probably didn't like your demon's professed responsibilities because it made them uncomfortable. I'm sure in Nazi journey, all the "nice" people never openly wondered what had happened to all the Jews.
That should have been Germany.
Basically, if someone comes to the book looking at the ideas as ideas, they can enjoy it. When they come to the book looking at Gregor's speeches as me trying to force some doctrine on them or Lilith's speeches as me trying to push some Conservative ideas on them, then they don't enjoy it.
Which is kind of a shame, because they are not enjoying it because of something they are bringing to the book...but there isn't any way to control that.
Unless they're conservative. ; )
LOL I had not thought of that...of course there could be readers who will read into the book that I AGREE with their politics or religion.
Ah well...I guess it is in God's hands. ;-)
Oh this happens to everyone--I've heard of an author who cited Voldemort's line from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone about how 'there is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it,' as an example of why the books had a 'dangerous world view,' or something like that.
Um, its the villain
Well, at least I am in good company. Yeah...it's weird. But if it happens to Rowlings, I guess I should not worry too much. ;-)
I wonder if some people just no longer understand the idea of a villain because of all the moral relativizing and archetype dismantling that has taken place in fiction over the last few decades.
|Date:||April 8th, 2012 01:34 am (UTC)|| |
Absolutely! [Relatively speaking]
Last fall I read Lawrence Block's Getting Off which is not for the faint-hearted. The book is about a female serial killer.
After finishing the novel, I happened across a review that -- I paraphrase -- stated that Kitt the killer was not a monster.
Now this is either a testament to the skill of Block as a writer because Kitt is every iota a monster, or it's an indictment to our society who has lost all sense of proportion, justice, and virtue.
The seeming inability for people to separate wrought fiction from reality as you describe, Jagi, -- [are you really certain it's not the slouched hat, red scarf, twin forty-fives, and maniacal laughter that are misleading his readers to John's moral position?] -- goes hand in hand with tendency to ascribe Mary Sue-ism to every author under the sun who boasts any kind of confident, competent, and cheerful protagonist.
|Date:||April 8th, 2012 03:55 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Absolutely! [Relatively speaking]
LOL You are right...this is kind of the other side of the Mary Sue thing.
I wonder when people stopped realizing that fiction books are...fiction.
Not only is Voldemort the villain, but his selfish nihilism directly prevents him from understanding the motivations of any of his enemies, and specifically from grasping either the nature of Harry's link to himself, or Harry's plan. Voldemort, so cowardly that he would rather mutilate his soul than risk death, can't conceive of someone who loves his friends and his world so much that this person would willingly and knowingly give his life for them.
Why limit it to villains?
"There is a technical, literary term for those who mistake the opinions and beliefs of characters in a novel for those of the author. The term is 'idiot.'"
Re: Why limit it to villains?
Though I must concede reflection that villains are particularly dumb to do it about.
|Date:||April 7th, 2012 09:59 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Why limit it to villains?
Expecially if the villain is a demon or, in John's case, someone known to be lying all the time. Sigh. ;-)
|Date:||April 7th, 2012 09:57 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Why limit it to villains?
LOL That is wonderful.