The Long, Purposeless Tarnishing

I’ve been thinking about stories a lot lately.

No, that’s not normal precisely, because I haven’t been thinking of them as an author — one particular story, yes, having figured out how I’d broken and stopped it, but not all stories in general — but as someone who was raised mostly in stories.

You see, there is something broken there, something …. tarnished, from which I’ve learned to flinch like one does when a tooth hurts a little and almost without noticing, you start chewing on the other side and forget you have a tooth that isn’t normal, until it’s years later, and the other side of your mouth is visibly overdeveloped or the tooth that ached a little explodes in agonizing pain in the middle of the night.

And then there were things that happened recently: I was thinking of fairy tales, and remembered the painful experience of sort-of-watching Maleficent. (Sort of watching, because I was cooking or doing something, and Dan had it on TV) and a friend wrote to me to tell me how he’d read a story in a recent SF mag, and why did they hate humans, make everyone horrible, and then be gleeful about human extinction.

And that kind of hit the button for this post.

Look, Maleficent is a thing that young writers, at least those to whom the character appears as a fully formed, independent being from the beginning, fall prey to. In my very first book, I tried to understand the villain and make him so justified I eventually flipped the other way, and liked him better than the hero.

But the thing is the people who wrote that movie weren’t inexperienced, the characters weren’t theirs, and they were doing it as an exercise in being cool, or in their own language “Stunning brave”. And they couldn’t resist feminist canto interspersed in, and making every male character either despicable or an utter weakling.

Because the point is not to understand the villain. Particularly an ancient villain like that. The point is to make old, old stories, so old that they tell fundamental truths about human beings, fit their deranged present-day head canon.

There is stuff in those old old stories that scares them — it should, because most of what they do or want to do is the stuff the old fairy tales warned about, including unbridled cruelty — and they want to rewrite it.

The culture disagrees with their wishes, and therefore the culture must be ripped out and tarnished and destroyed.

I think it started with trying to be “cool” and “different.”

And here I might add a bit about how because they’re hiring mostly people who agree with them at all levels of the creative professions, and most of them are hiring for explicit leftism, which means believing in a set of dogmas that frankly don’t fit very well together, which means they’re hiring for lack of creativity and being a follower.

And also because it’s dangerous to be outright creative in professions taken over by the left, because if you’re creative you risk saying or doing something unapproved.

And so, the best way to be “creative” and “stunning brave” is to take something old and revered, and prove it was all a sham. The heroes are tarnished, the villains are the good guys, and we now know this because we’re so much smarter than our ancestors.

And they do this to everything, from history, to literature, to… everything. They distort and corrupt everything that they touch.

Which eventually leads them to hate humanity, because humanity itself refuses to fit their deranged ideas. And then they cheer for us to be extinct, because we don’t fit their head canon.

And the worst part? They’re not even rebelling against anything real.

Sure, the fairy tales had stark black and white distinctions, but in a lot of genre literature, the works they’re rebelling against — say, when they claim all of Heinlein are pure and brave male heroes without defect, defending females — is purely not true A lot of his books have admirable, brave females with self-agency, including the juveniles. In fact, the man had a penchant for seeing women in general as way better than we are, and thus most of the time his male heroes were in awe of them.

However, the idiots rebel by making everyone tarnished and equally evil. Which turns the stories into grey goo, which no sane person wants to read. Then, of course they hate us more.

Look, I’ve inheritted enough old silver to know tarnish corrodes.

It’s time to fight back. It’s time to ignore their pathetic attempts to be “cool” by destroying already imperiled thing and then demanding applause.

It’s time to throw up the scaffolds, and write good stories about heroes of all races and sexes. (Appropriation my ass. My race is human.) And it’s time to enforce the good. The good of our unique past history, the good of stories, the good of humanity.

Sure, alien space beavers might be better than humans. Don’t care. I’m human and I want humans to survive. Let the ASB look after their own cause.

On the count of three, let’s build:
1, 2, 3– GO!

*Thank you for the featured photo to Photo by Justus Menke from Pexels*

93 comments

  1. I was thinking the other day that I need to return to the Elect series. They are my challenge to paranormal [antinormal?] romance. Strong, competent men, women with skills or at least with enough sense to get the heck away from the Big Bad and enough guts to come back and support the guys.

  2. I’ve meet those alien space beavers. They’re nice people but aren’t that much better than humans. 😉

    Now those alien space lizards, those are the beings to strongly dislike. 😈

  3. So I read the plot synopsis of Malificent. I think I know where it went wrong too: it is not her ultimate fault that she became a monster.

    You could do the story fairly similar even including the regret at cursing the girl, but she has to become the dragon because she fails to overcome her core character flaw, whichever core flaw ended up driving her to curse the girl in the first place.

    By making it the result of weapons grade stupid it simply degrades the whole thing. But if, instead, the flaw she has been struggling with the entire story finally consumes her, it becomes a tragedy. The hero is still the hero, the villian is still the villian. The only difference is the audience knows the villain did not have to become the villian.

    1. I think that some people think, “That person is like me, I can not be a villain, therefore, that person can not be a villain.”

      1. Yeah, and that robs the villian of their potential horror. Few things can chill one to the bone than to look at someone who has become a monster and think, “how easily that could be me…”

      2. I think the Maleficent arc is bothering me so much because I just went through a similar problem with a thing I was writing. One of the characters sets themselves on the bath to becoming a villian, for the best of intentions, because they are fundamentally wrong about something.

        And I got why the character thought that, and what they wanted was a perfectly good thing, in and of itself. They were just breaking it by the way they were going about it, but because it was a good thing, I wanted so bad to let them have it, at least for a little bit. But you can’t. The world does not work that way. If they are going to screw it all up, they have to screw it all up. No short cuts, no cheating.

        So, right when the thing they wanted was in their grasp, they blew it all up because they were pursuing it in the wrong way. And then doubled down on it to the point they can no longer fix this. They’ve locked themselves into the path towards destruction and they don’t even know not yet.

        The weirdest thing is, it’s all happening in the background of the story right now. The reader’s shouldn’t even recognize what’s just happened, until much later when the wheels actually fly off.

        And it looks like they had the bones for that, but just left them in the dust.

  4. One reason I started the Elect series was because of how bad paranormal [antinormal?] romance has gotten in general. Time to bring back strong, decent men, smart women with enough sense to recognize danger and bad relationships, and monsters that really are monsters, not the [censored] male lead. Ick, ick, ick, some of those things . . . .*shudders so hard half her under-fur falls out*

    1. :Shudders along with:

      I like the “looks like a monster, is a great guy” trope.

      I really don’t like the “is a monster, inside and out, but that’s OK because he’s hot.” Much less the ones were morality is the thing to be overcome.

      1. ‘I really don’t like the “is a monster, inside and out, but that’s OK because he’s hot.”

        I’ve seen much the same with guys, at least in comic book fandom. I.e., There are a disturbingly large number of guys who think that not only is Poison Ivy very sexy (which I agree with) but that her canonical personality of ‘vindictive, manipulative, sadistic sociopath who wants to kill everyone and uses ‘muh Gaia’ as an excuse’ is just some minor little quirk. She’s not the only one either. Though most of these guys also seem convinced that a quick bout in bed will straighten the supervillainess right out — for them, of course. If she wants to murder everyone else on planet Earth? Hey, that’s okay.

        1. Yetch.

          My husband laughs that he finds a gal who can kick his rump to be hot, but there’s a big gap between “can” and “would be delighted to kill you for fun.”

          1. But, see, they know she’d be so much in love or lust with them that Ivy would never harm them. Everyone else, yeah, but not her special sex toy — er, I mean true love.

    2. Yeah, that’s kind of what I was trying to do with the Jaiya series/Ancestors of Jaiya series. Granted, some of the female characters were trying to make good decisions with bad information, and one of them came under the “Bad Powers, Good People” trope. But in general, I try to make my heroes and heroines polite, practical-minded, not-annoying people.

  5. Believers would find purposefulness behind, first, understanding the Devil (“Sympathy for The Devil, q. v.), then seeing good points in the Devil, This followed by noting the potentially beneficial ideas and actions of the Devil (e. g. Black Panther/Hamas founded schools/food banks), and a segue’ into recognizing our flaws are like the Devil’s flaws. Finally, one identifies with the Devil, and emulates it/xim/xer.

    1. I have been reading the Divine Comedy. At the beginning Dante faints when he sees some of the things that happen to sinners. By the time they get to the bottom of Hell Virgil tells him to get over it: these are people who did terrible things and did not repent. No more sympathy. Very interesting moment. Dante kicks the next sinner. This seems terrible but allegorically it is correct. We need to kick our own sins not coddle them.

      1. He has had several reproof from Vergil before they reach the bottom.
        Strongly recommend getting Dorothy Sayers’ translation of the Comedy. She writes an excellent commentary to go with it.
        I am currently at the top of the mountain of Purgatory (probably my favorite boo,)

  6. That’s what I’ve been writing, all this time – brave, strong men, sometimes wily, often stubborn, and stubborn, mostly wise and courageous women. Sometimes these characters even like each other.
    Readers want more than nihilistic grey goo.

    1. Our current “creative” (and I use this phrase loosely) class prefers grey goo because they can make it do anything they want.

      But, at the end of the day, it’s just grey goo. Useless and unusable for anything.

  7. Heard this mentioned by a Youtuber, forget who, but I wonder when they’ll remake The Hunchback of Notre Dame from Frollo’s perspective and show how he was really the good guy all along, and any of his excesses were all the fault of the scheming gypsies, the women who led him on, and the ingrates he took in…

    Somehow I don’t think they’ll be making that kind of movie anytime soon.

    One wonders why.

  8. Maleficent isn’t even just “anti-man” when you look at the awful treatment that movie gave to the good faries. It turned them from silly but ultimately benevolent and competent forces (and the handsome prince was their instrument – albeit a willing, brave and extremely good instrument) to idiotic implied lesbians who nearly kill the girl with their idiocy.

    EVERYONE in that movie is made bad in order to make Malifiecent look good.

    The movie comes off as something written by, for and about narcissistic sociopaths.

    1. To writers: If EVERY OTHER CHARACTER has to be at fault to clean up the main character and make her a hero…maybe you should re-think this and she’s a villain after all.

      Sort of like the old saying: if you wake up one morning and everyone you meet all day is a jerk…maybe you’re the jerk.

      1. It reached new heights of absurdity with Cruella…a woman who literally kills PUPPIES for a fur coat is now the hero…and it’s the Dalmations who are the real bad guys.

  9. It’s rather Satanic….teach children there are no heroes, and the people who want to hurt them or the things they love are admirable.

    1. This guy analyses some recent productions and makes just those very points. Notice the odd combination of pride and victimhood on display in the music vid and in the series he references.

  10. I like a little gray in my stories, to have villains with believable and near-relatable motivations. I also like my heroes to not be just inherently born virtuous, rather that they learn either in the book/story or before how to be virtuous and what that means. I think what I liked least about Maleficent was that the “protagonist’s” character was based on being a victim. They wanted us to sympathize with her because poor Maleficent had a rough life so she was justified in doing bad things. If you take out the guy cutting off her wings, she’s still an evil terrible villain who curses an innocent child, but they have her victimhood as her central character trait and the center of the story. Imo, that makes for terrible story telling. Her being a victim doesn’t negate her being evil, everyone is a victim in one way or another. That’s not a relatable motivator/excuse for attacking children.

    I like a good redemption story, but she was selfish from start to finish and never actually learned anything. She only “changed her ways” because she happened to end up liking the girl. It wasn’t because she saw some error in her ways, rather that suddenly the curse that was meant to make her feel better, was now making her feel worse ’cause it was going to take away her new friend.

    I’ve liked some fairytales done over with a little gray in the lens. However, not when it’s redone so that the villain is just made out to be some poor innocent victim or when the heroes are no longer even relatable. Like, if you need to make the heroes villains to make your villains relatable, then it’s no longer the same story. They didn’t need to make the king a villain for this story to work—he was justified in being against Maleficent—she legit cursed his newborn. No one in this story “learned” anything. Even the girl. She was just born virtuous. She didn’t even have to learn to be forgiving, it was in her nature. The “lesson” here seems to be “don’t take out your vengeance on innocent bystanders, because one day you might accidentally end up liking them and that would really suck for you. Next time you should just directly take out the one person who actually did you wrong, cause that has less a chance of coming back to bite you.”

    1. You’re halfway there: It’s the combination of pride and victimhood that’s common in these “new and improved” stories.

      1. And having a power from birth, through no sacrifice of trying, unless the power exacts a price is a new and extremely annoying thing. Heroes used to have to WORK for it.

        1. There was a time when storytellers knew being The Chosen One…kinda sucked. The sacrifice is also the chosen one.

          Luke Skywalker had to go through a lot of training, and he still screwed up a lot and got kicked around in the first two movies before he got it together.

          And Frodo…well there’s a reason “fate” meant the same as “doom.”

          1. Currently reading a translation of The Cattle-Raid of Cooley, and while Cuchulain is portrayed as an Übermensch from early childhood, he’s a) also fated to die young and b) not only trained as a warrior in a warrior-school, but he stays in practice by doing “sword-feats” every morning, so that he won’t forget how to do them.

            And details like those (at b), even in the most far-fetched stories, show that the storyteller respects his subject and his audience enough to know something of what he’s talking about.

    2. Ironically, there’s a tried and true to have a semi-sympathetic villain who was victimized at some point, and which contributed to his or her villainy, and have the villain still be a villain:

      Show how the villain learned precisely the wrong lesson from what happened, and build a self-justifying philosophy around it.

      A great character isn’t all about what bad thing happened to them, it’s their RESPONSE to the bad thing. Batman could have easily decided the world “owed” him something when his parents died, but he learned a different lesson.

      For an even more interesting and complicated story, the villain could be like Magneto: debatably the lessons he learned about ruthlessness have saved his life on more than one occasion.

      This old cartoon movie with a fairy tale feel demonstrates how you can have something bad happen to a character, but it’s the lesson he learns and what he does in response that makes him a villain, and it’s explained in less than a minute.

      1. Exactly, I like to have a villain that I can understand. I find the “born evil” and “born good” with no rhyme or reason to it a little tedious, but I find the evil-isn’t-evil-cause-they-had-a-hard-time unbearable. One makes everything, including goodness/virtue seem easy and simple, and the other perverts it. And the pride factor is also annoying. Maleficent is never humbled for her wrongs, which contributes to her never growing/learning.

          1. Now I’m thinking about the “Batman: The Killing Joke” story line.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_The_Killing_Joke

            Joker claims that he was a “good person” that had One Bad Day that drove him insane.

            He apparently decides to give Commissioner Gordon “One Bad Day” in order to drive Gordon insane. Joker fails which could be a comment on Joker’s excuse.

            Of course, the writer thought he was making a commentary on the similarities between Joker and Batman.

            IMO while Bruce Wayne had “One Bad Day” and may be considered “not completely sane”, Batman is still a Good Guy while Joker is Evil.

            Oh, Joker may be insane but isn’t “Legally Insane” so could have been executed years ago.

            1. I give Moore credit: he plays fair. He might not agree with the heroes of different political stripes than him, but he still had them be heroes. He might have personally hated Rorschach, but there’s a reason readers found him their favorite. It wasn’t until that lousy series that the writers needed to take him apart too.

              And again, Moore’s Superman stories were some of the best. The Justice League Unlimited cartoon episode For The Man Who Has Everything was based on of his stories.

              1. One interesting thing about Rorschach is that I heard that Moore was surprised by the people who liked Rorschach. 😉

              2. He cheats horribly in Watchmen, and still can’t quite cheat enough to make Rorschach incorrect or unvirtuous.

            2. One other thing is that Batman realizes that there is a point coming-far too soon-that he’s going to have to do kill the Joker. Because there will be no other way to stop him, and that to Batman feels too much like murder. He doesn’t want to be a murderer, a killer.

              You can read the the last lines of The Killing Joke as “Joker pretty much forgives Batman in advance for having to kill him, because he’s too crazy to change, but has just enough self-awareness to know that he’s insane.”

              1. And that, in and of itself is a tragic arc, not so much for Batman, but for Gotham. Batman will have to kill the Joker, and in the process destroy himself, because Gotham can’t do it itself, even though it has a legal and moral obligation to try and punish the Joker for his multiple capital murders.

                But Gotham cannot seem to reform or do what must be done, so it’s caped crusader will have to sacrifice himself to do it for them.

            3. Didn’t Batman respond to the Joker’s excuse in that story with, “Maybe it’s not everyone else’s fault you became what you are. Maybe this is just what you really were from the beginning!”

              1. Not quite. I’d have to look back and see.

                He may have said something like “it was all you,” but I interpreted that as it was all Joker’s choice.

              1. This reminds me of something I read recently about, apparently, a limited series DC once did where several Bat-rogues are being interviewed at Arkham. They all get asked what they think about Batman. Every single one accuses Batman of having the exact same motivations they do. The real motivations, not the ones they tell themselves and others that they have. Only one or two seem to realize for a moment that they’re talking about themselves and not Bats and they are not pleased by the revelation.

            1. A better route would be: I steal because all property is theft (except my property).

              Martin tried to go this route with his Wildlings, where the one member of a lawless tribe argued that it’s more virtuous to steal, because stealing something proves you’re clever enough to take it and strong enough to keep it.

              And everyone else felt the same way. So they could have property they carried around with them, but they couldn’t own land, and they didn’t bother to build anything, since if they did, someone else would drive them off and occupy it.

              Ironically enough, for all the charges of nihilism leveled against Martin, he was honest enough to follow these philosophies to their end result…and his smarter-than-everyone nihilist characters were blatantly parasitizing off the culture of honor they lived in. The worst thing you can say about his westernese is that people don’t follow the ideals, not that the ideals themselves are bad.

              1. “one member of a lawless tribe argued that it’s more virtuous to steal, because stealing something proves you’re clever enough to take it and strong enough to keep it.”

                I actually heard someone give me this reason in real life. When I asked how they’d react to having someone steal from them, they responded that of course they’d reclaim their property and painfully punish the robber — because if you didn’t, you were giving everyone else carte blanche to take whatever they wanted from you. They seemed to think that would be a perfect world to live in. For him and the rest of Piper’s ‘neo-barbarians’, maybe.

              2. > And everyone else felt the same way. So they could have property they carried around with them, but they couldn’t own land, and they didn’t bother to build anything, since if they did, someone else would drive them off and occupy it.
                —-
                That’s how much of the Middle East works outside Westernized areas.

            1. People normally tend to believe others are like them. And it’s hard for people who aren’t evil out of what the heck (which is the majority of people) to believe that “what the heck” villains exist.
              They do. I’ve met some. But it’s hard to believe.

            2. Maybe that’s why they kinda slipped into *EVERYTHING* being abuse?

              If folks do badstuff(tm) because they’re abused, then if someone does badstuff(tm) they must have been abused. If we don’t have it classified already, then it clearly MUST be something we don’t recognize as abuse.

              1. Or they’re not “evil”, they are just Insane.

                I brought up the Joker who is said to be insane thus “explaining his evil”.

                He may be insane, but IMO his insanity just dictates how his evil is expressed.

                Of course, Joker maybe Insane but he’s not “Legally Insane” so could have been executed years ago.

    3. Most decent, professional books, not for toddlers, the hero struggles with flaws. And the villain might or might not have redeeming qualities. But the best ones are human, so they have a weakness, which might be a good point.
      BUT making everyone the same? Hell to the no.

    1. Cruella is one to skip.

      I wonder if Hans Gruber will get an origin story? They’d have to gender swap him first.

  11. I could easily never see Maleficent, because it firmly falls under the Jolie Embargo.

    But, from what little I know of it, the story can be summed up as it’s never her fault for what happened to her, and everybody else is the reason why things were bad.

    …I’m glad that I won’t write a story like that, ever. My evil high bitch queen pretty much was responsible for a number of atrocities. She even admits to it, but it’s because she thinks it was the Right Thing To Do. And, it doesn’t take long for people to realize that she’s missing most of her deck of cards.

    1. One of my first true monstrous villains was made that way- and he wasn’t. It was a fantasy story I’ve never finished. Starts with a sort of fairy tale, a clever rogue makes a bargain with the fae of the wood to keep from being caught by some king or other. The fae never bother him or the city he founds in the cursed forest, but he can never leave. The story isn’t about him, though.

      The villain is a murdering psycho that gets his jollies off by raping and then killing camp followers and prostitutes. He’s captured, tortured, then recruited as an assassin of mages. The kingdom doesn’t quite trust its mages. Got too much power, they do. Especially the most powerful. The siege magicians. Massive spells that can level a city, the WMDs of the magical world, these are the guys and gals that can actually pull it off.

      This guy is the threat over their heads, if they go off the reservation. If they do something that makes the kingdom just the littlest bit worried, they send this guy to off ’em. After a while, he starts to really, really get into it. He loves his job. He really, really likes breaking the powerful. He’ll even let them go and run around for a bit to get stronger so the fight is more exciting. And so he can get more victims from around his target to psychologically torment them when the target cannot save them.

      Of course he blames it all on the kingdom. They made him what he was, he’ll tell you. His greatest pleasure in life is seeing the hope and defiance die in the eyes of the greatest of men and women, brought low by him and only himself.

      There are little to no redeeming qualities to that man. He’s not casually cruel. He can be personally charming, even, when it suits him. But his taste changed from the corruption and abuse of innocence (what little could be found in the camps) to the almost sexual pleasure he gets in tearing down the most powerful people he can find… Bit by bit.

      He’s a monster and he likes it. It doesn’t matter how much you hurt him, it matters only how much he gets to hurt you. He would gladly send himself to the deepest pits of punishment in the afterlife if he could go with his hands wrapped firmly around the ankles of the highest of saints and mage-kings.

      Evil exists. I’ve written villains who were noble and kind to their own, but still bent on horrible ends. I’ve written tortured things that are more antagonists than evil. And a lot of in between. I think that the greater the evil, the greater the triumph when it is defeated. Wishy-washy wickedness and flirting with awfulness has its place in narrative and trope. But I’m not going to pretend- or portray- true evil as merely misunderstood.

      1. I will only employ bounty hunters who work for money. Those who work for the pleasure of the hunt tend to do dumb things like even the odds to give the other guy a sporting chance.

        Just as a reminder, Evil Overlord List #44: “I will only employ bounty hunters who work for money. Those who work for the pleasure of the hunt tend to do dumb things like even the odds to give the other guy a sporting chance.”

        1. To give credit to the kingdom (who deserve no credit. At all.), he was groomed to be their cats-paw because he was controllable. They knew his perversions and were aware of his abilities and strength. He showed no indication of tendencies towards finding pleasure in breaking a strong man. His perversion was corruption of innocence. Especially the weak. This was diametrically opposed to what they intended to use him for.

          In short, they had a strong man that preyed on the weak exclusively. They captured him, tortured him, and basically did their usual chore of breaking a man to saddle, as it were. He was conditioned to be controllable. They rewarded him for following orders with slaves and other inducements that played to his earlier predilections. Other than the fact that he was an amoral monster, there were no indications that he would slip their control quite so badly and go hunting on his own.

          At least, that is what they thought. Villains are not known for their ability to gauge reality clearly, nor to predict the future accurately. And the persons involved in the decision making. Well. Let’s just say if you’ve ever had the misfortune of being the victim of a petty bureaucrat that’s had a bad day, you’ve an inkling of what they are like.

          Isolated from the real world, assuredly. Vain. Filled with empty confidence, arrogance, and a sort of juvenile delight in causing others suffering with little effort expended on their own part. Of course they make mistakes. Some of them even on purpose. They lie, they cheat, they steal. They are possessed of any number of sordid sexual tastes. The monster they caught, his own crimes might pale when set against the greatest of villains sitting behind a desk, suffused with the knowledge, the confidence that he is *essential.* Irreplaceable. And that simple fact must excuse every single vile thing that he does.

          He knows that the people in power above him are just the same. Vile. Corrupted. They would no more cashier him than they would themselves (so he thinks). It only matters to him that the pawn he has chosen is controllable and is able to complete the job they have set for him. They have molded him into the perfect mage killer. And his addictions mean that he will never be able to betray them.

          Well, that, and the incurable poison that runs through his veins. And the unbreakable magical geas that they have placed upon his soul. And the tracking device they surgically implanted next to his heart. But those things are just normal precautions when dealing with potentially dangerous animals and employees (which amount to the same thing, in their eyes).

          The monster they caught, molded, and trained up is no mere hunter of bounties to them. He’s a pawn. A well controlled pawn, unable to break the strictures they placed upon him.

          So they thought.

          What actually happened was nothing like they ever dreamed. It was, in all particulars, a nightmare.

          The monster slipped their grasp. Uncontrolled. Uncontrollable. With knowledge he couldn’t, shouldn’t have.

          They fear him. But they shouldn’t, really. After all. He is what they made of him. And hunting weakened, useless slimes in human form like them has no sport in it. In a way, he’s become an adrenaline junkie. And even more of a sadist than he was.

          That’s what makes his duel with the MC of the story so interesting to me. The main character is just the sort of prey he wants- he needs– to hunt. A powerful siege magician. One of the greatest produced by the kingdom’s mighty war machine. He is clever, strong, adaptable, cunning, ruthless, virtuous, and he has a strong moral code. As the MC tries to protect his friends and the innocents caught in the crossfire, this only excites the monster. He wants MOAR.

          That allows the MC to set a trap for the monster. And the epic showdown with the fate of an entire city’s worth of men, women, and children, guilty and innocent, all unknowing that their fate hangs by a slender thread.

          It is powerfully in the MC’s interest to keep everyone else ignorant of his identity and true power. He’s hiding out in the city, named a war criminal by the kingdom (false), a deserter (true), and a laundry list of vile deeds that should get him tortured to death… if any of them were true. He would even be a valid target for the monster, were he still under the kingdom’s control.

          Balancing the MC’s morals, his secret identity, his moral code, and his desire to survive against the forces working against him (not just the monster) creates constant tension in the plot. His unfamiliarity with using magic in less than massive amounts is a crippling flaw as well. The cat and mouse game set against the ongoing political strife in the city, the war in the underworld, and the influx of war torn refugees and soldiers fleeing the massive wars waged across the world means that there will always be consequences to the MC failing to foil his opponent’s plans.

          Those failures eat at him. His PTSD wracks his dreams with memories and fictions, he doesn’t know which ones are real. He’s also being hunted by the kingdom’s enforcers in addition to the monster. And any actual bounty hunters that grow suspicious that the great siege magician traitor is hiding out in the forest city.

          Then there are the machinations of the fae that seek to bring down the city itself without breaking the rules that they must live under. And the genuine monsters that exist in the fantasy setting: the plots of the undead and the greed of the goblinoids, the mysterious and unknown (possible) threat from the waking ancients, the imperial desires of the giants of the titan race, the curse of lycanthropy, the magic gone wild and strange as a result of large scale mage battles, and the unearthed horrors that slink from the cracks in the world’s aura shield. The pitiable state of the fallen races plays out in the margins and the background (for the most part).

          The darkness in the world is as black as hell. That makes the few sources of light seem all the brighter, fragile though they may seem. Some of the vilest, most wicked stuff I’ve created went into that story, though. It needs heroes to match that evil, and occasionally overcome it.

          Going back to the main thrust of the OP, the monsters there are almost universally irredeemable. There’s not even a place you can grab onto to try for most of them. And yet for all that, there must always be hope. There is hope that the curse of unlife might one day be lifted. There is hope that the legions of monsters (both human and not) might some day be pushed back instead of steadily gaining ground. There is hope that all the forces of evil might one day be crushed.

          That’s where the myths and legends and prophecies come in. Sure, the villains try to hijack the prophecies whenever they can and corrupt what they cannot steal. But the rumors and stories of heroism just will not stop. There’s always the gossip about some damnthing (not a typo- an actual beast. Horrifying one) finally being slain by a wisp of a girl, or a plucky young lad. About the lich that got trapped in his own soul vortex and was granted the final death. Or the tax collector that got eaten by goblins. Though that last story has no heroes, the common people like to tell it a lot.

    2. I’ve got villains who think It’s Never My Fault. And also can’t keep their stories straight. And are continually blaming each other. I hope their narcissistic rewriting of history gives readers a clue.

      1. My current main villain…she doesn’t rewrite her history. She just doesn’t care that it’s all about her, it’s all about what she wants, and she would gladly turn the world into the worst and bloodiest guro yaoi harem visual novel series forever and ever to satisfy her own desires.

        Why? Because, she’s right, she’s always been right, and it’s everybody else that is wrong. She owns her mistakes and and owns her madness. It really is just all about her.

  12. Regarding Maleficent specifically, the idiotic thing is that she doesn’t need a backstory. She was obviously a high end fey, snubbed on an invitation to the social event of the decade while lesser fey were invited.

    She dealt with the insult.

    1. Yep. It’s one of a series, where you have to invite the evil fairy for the wedding/baptism/whatever or else!
      But she’s female, therefore she can’t be bad, etc.

      1. I wonder what happens if you DO invite her, though? I mean, I’ve heard Pratchett’s(?) line about how it doesn’t hurt anything, and maybe she’ll bring a nice present, but I’m honestly not sure if it’s all that much safer to have Maleficent as a guest than to have her crash the party. I’ve seen a number of stories about fairies who demand hospitality, then exploit it for all they’re worth.

        I can’t totally blame Aurora’s parents for trying the “don’t tell Maleficent about the party and hope that she doesn’t find out about it” theory.

        1. I’ve seen a number of stories about fairies who demand hospitality, then exploit it for all they’re worth.

          Exactly. That’s why she is AN EVIL FAIRY. Because she didn’t abide by the Law of Hospitality. She felt snubbed because she wanted others to be bound by Manners, but she wasn’t going to be bound by them herself.

          It’s the female version of That One Uncle who gets drunk and starts fights at parties.

          Which is why she wasn’t invited.

          Which is why I snarled so hard at the originally tweeted insight of “oh Maleficent was wronged, the King and Queen were obligated to invite her to the christening because she was important and in the neighborhood.”
          It was VERY clear that if she’d been invited, she would’ve acted to harm her hosts. Which is a really big no no.

          There is no win with the guy who is willing to violate the Law, but insist you’re bound by it. There’s only dealing with it.
          Part of which is not excusing the violator’s transgressions.

          1. There are a lot of Irish stories about satirists or very nasty people at feasts, although squabbling over the hero’s portion was also an established trope.

            Fled Bricrend, the Feast of Bricriu, is the messiest party, because it was thrown by the nastiest talker in Irish legend. Which takes something. So he used the carrot and the stick to get people to come to his party…. Narcissist, I would say.

            https://emeraldisle.ie/the-feast-of-bricriu

        2. You make it clear in the invitation that by coming, she’s bound by the laws of hospitality and to respect the King’s Peace and everything else.

          Or Else.

          So, she either respects the rules, or she gets a public call-out as an oath-breaker. Because she came, invited, and by the invitation that she had received. And, in most stories about the Fae, they literally live or die by the rules and their oaths.

  13. “The heroes are tarnished, the villains are the good guys, and we now know this because we’re so much smarter than our ancestors.”

    Ahem. [ascends soapbox] “We are so much smarter than our ancestors.” Yes, those fools and racist/sexist/bigot/homophobe/colonizers who created the Modern World from nothing over the course of a thousand years of darkness.

    I watched The Eternals the other day. The first half-hour of the movie is spent on how The Eternals arrived in ancient times and then gave Mankind everything from the wheel and agriculture to James Watt’s steam engine and indoor plumbing. Because Humans are really just cavemen, you know. Too primitive to ever come up with that stuff on their own.

    Now, apart from the travesty against history, this is just plain appalling LAZINESS from the writer’s room. This is a trope so old it has died, been resurrected by necromancy and has now nearly worn away to nothing from straight wear.

    [steps down from soapbox]

    My latest bad guy is a mandarin in the Chinese government. (They still have them, they just call them something else these days.) Our Heroes at Angels Inc. find out about him through dirty tricks used against them, and find his long and wide trail of victims. He’s doing something so bad that even the aliens think he needs to be stopped. He has his reasons of course, but mostly he’s a disgusting human being who thinks he can get away with it.

    Their solution to his atrocities is to go to his house and punch him in the face every time he does something bad. Theory being that corporal punishment focuses the mind. The practicalities of punching that guy’s face involve a HALO jump in company strength by our robot girlfriend forces, and an AC-130 gunship. Because what story is not improved by a GAU-12?

    Good guys win, bad guys lose -hard-.

  14. Possibly related to many of the comments here– there’s a (rather bad logic) study that has a really interesting write-up of the idea that psychopathy is not a disorder at all.

    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/14747049211040447

    By “interesting” I don’t mean “makes a lot of good points,” I mean “interesting” in the Interesting Times sense where it seems to be trying to scientifically justify being a manipulative user.

    1. Fellow dudebro, I think we should write a paper about how hanging everyone who looks funny is totally the one true way to restore the useful qualities of academia, and not at all insane nutjobbery that is at best only appropriate for venting before looking for actual solutions that would be feasible in the real world.

        1. Nah, really. You could win awards! You could call yourself Sokal Cubed (since Squared is taken).

          They might notice, they might not. But you really could win awards! And get published in some of the top academic periodicals!

          1. I’m okay with Sokal, but unhappy with Sokal squared.

            IIRC, and am not confused, Sokal Squared’s efforts have an interesting correlation with various “LoL, look at those crazy academics” stories passed around conservative media, and conservative internet hearsay. Which seriously poisons the ability for conservatives and academics to converse, and have any sort of real discussion about apparent issues in academia.

            You can’t effectively make the point about ‘academic betrayal of trust with obvious bullshit’, when the evidence that you present to the non-conservative academic is obvious bullshit, and betrays the trust that you might bring valid arguments.

            There are actual serious points to be made in that debate. Putting together the arguments properly is worth doing.

            Fundamentally, one of the early steps forward is convincing people outside of academia to be a little bit more discriminate when it comes to automatically trusting academics. Eventually, we do need to persuade /some/ academic type minds that are not politically conservative.

          1. I’d have phrased it as ‘non-right-dominant is associated with trauma, mental disorders are associated with trauma, there’s no higher rate of non-right-dominant so it’s not a mental disorder’.

            Which is a gussied up version of ‘not sinister.’

            1. There is a very sad video on YouTube right now, which folks might benefit from watching, re: psychopaths.

              David Wood is a Christian apologist who went to prison for attempted murder, got diagnosed as a psychopath because he is, and turned his life around through studying philosophy, converting to Christianity, and constantly winning arguments with Muslims. He basically lives a life of good acts by having a wife and friends who correct any ruleset violations, and by taking care of his family.

              His mother died recently because of her nearly lifelong addiction to drugs, he is attempting to plan for his adult brothers being upset about this and possibly returning to drugs under pressure of their grief, and he basically has no feelings about it all.

              He went on camera with his apologist friends to show this, so that people would realize that him being a psychopath wasn’t something he could get over, short of miraculous divine intervention. (And to demonstrate to the jihadi wing of online debaters that he literally cannot be scared or depressed by bad events or horrific threats, which is one of his strategies for winning those online arguments.)

              He is just really puzzled but mostly affectless. He wants to fix the situation and get on top of it. And as much as I sometimes wish to be a Stoic or Spock, it is very sad to see true emotionlessness in real life. I couldn’t watch more than a few minutes.

              Obviously this is not the guy at his best. He is very witty usually, so you get the sense that mental bandwidth is being used up. It just is not emotional distress. It is clear that he benefitted by visiting with his apologist friends, on some level.

              But yeah, this is clearly not how psychopathy always works out.

              1. That is an :awesome: means of coping with a known problem– deliberately choosing the good, to the best of one’s ability.
                /salute

  15. we now know this because we’re so much smarter than our ancestors.

    Theory, we have become Gupta’s super peaceful matriarchal society (and are seeing “peaceful” = “no weapons” is not the same as “peaceful” = “not at each other’s throats”) and are about to learn why they were wiped out by horse nomads.

    And, yes, I know her theories have holes and have taken a beating…this is less about revisiting real history and more about how I think they are close to creating what they thought was real history and are about to learn why, if it did happen before, it didn’t last.

  16. > And so, the best way to be “creative” and “stunning brave” is to take something old and revered, and prove it was all a sham.

    They came for Perry Mason and Hercule Poirot…

    All that is good must be slimed.

        1. I only heard of it second or third hand— bland hijacking and appropriation, as you’d expect. Disappointing, but not “holy crud!” level.

          1. *rolls eyes*

            Of course she was. Because she never married, that clearly must mean that she was attracted to women. Because everyone who didn’t marry in Ye Bade Olde Days before gay marriage was obviously gay. Of all the transgressions of the LGB crowd, their co-opting of every “confirmed batchelor” (as well as the phrase itself) has got to be high on my list.

            Hang on, I think my eyes may have rolled under the couch. Need to go looking for them.

  17. WICKED (which is what Disney was trying to imitate with Maleficent) sort of worked because we knew next to nothing about the Witch of the West. And (at least in the stage version) it was clear it was ad much her fault as anyone else’s that she downward spiraled into becoming the thing she reviled.

    1. I just finished reading what I take to be a “young adult COA” first of three by Ysabeau Wilce which seems a fair riff on the styles of L. Frank Baum, Gregory McGuire, and Jack Vance.

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