Later this week (beginning Friday, May 3rd), I will be taking part in a blog hop with multiple fantasy, sci fi, and historical fiction authors relating to the topic of Heroes & Villains. There will be contests and/or prizes for readers at every stop, as well as articles relating to the topic of Heroes and Villains, from different perspectives.
For myself, I’m going to go ahead and post said article today – just to keep the actual “hop” post for the weekend a bit more “tidy.” Ergo, without further ado, here are some of my thoughts on “villainy,” and a bit about how they play out in my own work. Particularly in terms of a guy named John.
The Norothian Cycle is my foray into Epic Fantasy of the kind that made me fall in love with the genre as a young reader, but at the same time I did not want to make it “YA.” Not that it is “Adult” in the sense that term is typically used. To be totally honest, the “Dark” movement so prevalent in a lot of Epic Fantasy today is not quite my cup of tea. I do agree that the simplistic, “Black & White, Good vs. Evil” motif that rules a lot of the foundational works of the genre is a bit tired. However, it seems to me that the reaction in a lot of instances has been to make *everybody* in a fantasy book into a “bad guy,” only of varying degrees.
Not that moral relativism and characters being forced to compromise whatever values they hold can’t make for fascinating reading – some of the best writing in any genre is about precisely that. But just in my own opinion, I find a lot of contemporary “Dark Fantasy” tends to lose my interest at the point where everyone on every side of any given struggle is so morally compromised that it hardly seems to matter who “wins” in the end. In the hands of a great author, that can still be an engaging circumstance to read about, but I mean a really great author. Most of the time, if there is little to separate the heroes from the villains, I check out of the story. A world full of people acting purely out of self-interest reads more like the national or local news to me than it does fiction.
I began writing my own epic series with the intention of fiddling with some of the traditional fantasy tropes, mostly in a fond and friendly way as I do still love the genre. When it comes to Villains (mustache twirl), I intentionally went a little farther afield. Yes, there are still some baddies of the traditional Epic type – there are dragons bent on accruing wealth and power, devils intent on harvesting souls, and plenty of people looking out for number one, no matter the cost to anyone else. But there is also a guy named John.
I won’t try to summarize the character as he has developed throughout the course of what are presently five books, from John Deskata to John the Red (title of the forthcoming Book VI). But I will say that while I always had him in mind as a sort of foil for the MC’s, to me his “villainy” results from him operating at cross-purposes to most of the characters. There is a large-scale struggle going on throughout the books, and John finds himself on the opposite side of it as are most of the cast. But apart from that, most of his traits would probably lead him to be seen as a “good guy.” He is a soldier and an officer – concerned for the welfare of his men and unwilling to commit them to any service he will not do himself. John leads from the front. He’s brave, determined, and loyal to the cause he serves, though that cause does tend to shift under his feet. All in all, he would be a good guy to have on your side, and not the sort of person you’d want to see set against you.
Of course, John does have some…foibles, let’s say. Some issues he is working through. And at one point at the end of Book III (The Wind from Miilark), he does one particular thing that might be classified as unforgivable. But to be honest, I’ve been a bit surprised that one action has not received more reader backlash than it has. For a lot of readers, it seems to have made John the “Villain” a bit more interesting. And really, maybe that is the point. Being or doing bad can be forgiven. Being uninteresting, not so much.
Thanks for reading, be sure to come back for the Heroes and Villains blog hop over the weekend. As always, if you’d like to read The Norothian Cycle and get to know John, Tilda Lanai, and the rest at first hand, volume one (The Sable City) remains FREE on all major venues. (The Amazon US link is under the button over there –>, all other links can be found hither.)