I ran into an interesting post the other day that asks whether or not the Nazi’s are forgivable.
The post is up and over too quickly to really chew on the question but it raises some thoughts to mind about how a story portrays good and evil. It sure seems to me that growing up and going to school was a long walk with anti-heros and deeply flawed protagonists in more or less every medium I encountered. Whether it was Frank Miller’s deeply broken Dark Knight, Lestat or Angelus – it just seems in my memory like everybody has been actively deconstructing the lines between good and evil for a long time.
The ethical questions that surround the practice aside for a moment, it presents some real issues for story-telling as well. If The Race seeks to be a kind of High Fantasy story, I think one of the most characteristic aspects of that genre is the way most everybody wears a plainly colored hat. Of course that still allows for surprises like Sauruman and characters changing sides and such, but by and large the whole structure rests on a basic premise that the lines are pretty clear. The villains tend to be genuinely evil as opposed to simply misunderstood and the heroes tend to be (gasp!) actually heroic.
I’m currently reading a very old Arthurian poem about Sir Gawain and The Green Knight and the clarity of the tale is both simplistic and wonderfully refreshing. Gawain is a good guy, the most virtuous of Arthur’s knights, and while we see him tempted to vice there is no sense of excuse if he falls. If Gawain succumbs to temptation he would then be seen as plainly human, which is to say imperfect and flawed, and that’s just fine – but he would cease to be a hero at that point. He would no longer be something special or somebody worth telling a big story about. It is his ability to rise above his ‘humanity’ so to speak that makes him an inspirational figure. In a word, Gawain is held up as an image of Good and the reader is expected to find something uplifting in his/her own very human struggles.
OK, let me get back to the Nazis…kinda. The same kind of concept applies to the villains as well as the heroes. A fantasy villain should be plainly evil and probably beyond any offer of redemption. And the infinite wisdom of Wikipedia seems to agree with my understanding of high fantasy and how it works. The problem here is to create a story that can untangle some of the complexity of real-life without creating something so flat and monochromatic that it plot gets stunted.
For a good while now, Nazis have been the only real world group that we feel safe to call villainous. They stand out to me as a kind of caricature that storytellers of all cuts can use in a kind of ‘insert antagonist here’ sot of way. Ok…I am so rambling now…time to sign off.