Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter! Now let's talk about villains...

via Pinterest

Happy Easter everyone! Easter has always been one of my favorite days of the year! I like Good Friday because it's indescribable and amazing the sacrifice Jesus made to save everyone, but I've always been a fan of happy endings. I'm so glad He's alive and undefeated and that I'll be able to meet Him face-to-face someday.

Oddly enough, while reflecting on Easter and the joy sprouting from the holiday, I found myself considering villains. I'm not quite sure how the bizarre workings of the thing I call my brain lead me to the subject, but I'll try to track it for you.

Jesus is the ultimate hero. He's the perfect hero. He was literally perfect, and yet, he gave up His life to save the people who hated him, his enemies. He was gone for three days and then he rose again, defeating death and victorious forever. During those three days, I often wonder if the devil thought he had won. Satan obviously knows the scriptures, but he's also (and I'm pretty sure I can say this with confidence) the most prideful being in the universe. I mean, the guy thought he could defeat God. That's prideful. So did Satan's pride cause him to think that he had, indeed, defeated God? Or did he actually understand that Jesus was sacrificing his life to save everyone who would accept his free gift? I personally think it was the former.

I suppose it doesn't matter. Either way, Satan knew he was defeated when Jesus defeated the grave on Easter. But Satan, being a villain, isn't going to admit defeat or give in to God. Now, he's just trying to bring as many people as he can with him to destruction.

Screencaps- Once Upon a Time S3

So that's the first thing I thought. I was also thinking of a line from ABC's 'Once Upon a Time'. In the scene, Rumpelstiltskin, someone who has acted as a villain for much of the show, decides to do something extremely sacrificial to save his friends and family. The sacrifice will destroy a powerful enemy they are facing, but it will also kill Rumple. The enemy tries to dissuade Rumple, saying that he could go and have a happy ending. Rumple simply replies, "But I'm a villain. And villains don't get happy endings."

That line has been a theme throughout the show, and many of the more villainous characters like Captain Hook and the Evil Queen have reacted by changing, morphing into heroes. I believe the theme is true, but I find it interesting that writers who are ultimately secular would believe it. When you look at the world as it is, it certainly doesn't seem like heroes get happy endings. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Jim Elliot had a spear thrust through his chest. And all the while, bad people seem to be prospering and ruling entire nations.

As a Christian, I know the theme is true because a truly happy ending is not how your life on earth ends, but it is where and how you spend eternity. I know that God is just and merciful and I know that Jesus is a hero and He saved me. I'm going to get a happy ending. But the question still stands, why do writers who are secular believe the same? Is it because they simply tend to look at the happy ending stories and ignore the tragic ones? Or is is something deeper? Do people who are not Christians have a deep-down knowledge that justice will win out, that evil will fail? Or is simply a hope that if you are good enough you'll get a happy ending?

I don't have any answers. Maybe it's because the original authors of fairy tales were mostly Christian and the 'Once Upon a Time' writers are simply trying to stay true to their stories. But I don't think that's it. The ending of 'The Little Mermaid' by Hans Christian Anderson is incredibly tragic. Disney changed it to make it a happy ending.

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So this has been incredibly long-winded, but here is what I'm trying to decide. Should villains ever get a happy ending in a story? Obviously a happy ending for the antagonist would be tragic for the protagonist, since by definition they should be at odds. In some cases, it might be more realistic to have the villain succeed and the hero fail. But for some reason, that just doesn't feel right to me.

But on the other hand, as a Christian, I know that my own 'goodness' could get me nowhere. The Bible says that God considers my greatest righteousness as filthy rags. Without Him, I can't do anything. So is it right to have the hero succeed based on his deeds and the villain fail based on his deeds? That's not exactly realistic either, but I cringe at the thought of writing a Deus Ex Machina story (Deus Ex Machina means 'God out of the machine'. It originated in Greek plays where the ending often involved a god entering the story and fixing everything. Now, it simply means something random and unrelated fixes everything- like a random cop showing up in the climax and solving the issues between the hero and the villain).

For me, the answer was surprisingly simple. I'll simply include God into my story from the beginning and have the protagonist struggle to follow His will. I do this in the Leverage Series. Elethor (God) is an integral yet separate part of the story. The more heroic characters struggle to follow what He has for them. They make mistakes and turn away from him because they are reflection of me, but ultimately, they try to do what He wants. I never have God appear and make things suddenly right, especially at the climax.  I make sure my villain characters are not followers of Elethor.

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Christian writers don't have to do this. My favorite novels ever, 'Lord of the Rings' don't do this. Tolkien was a strong Christian, but he did not include Eru (God) in his famous novels. The good characters act the way they do based on morality and principal, which could possibly stem from a belief in Eru, but that is never stated in the novels. The bad characters are clearly working out of selfish ambition and desires. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this way of writing. In fact, Lord of the Rings is one of the novels that caused me to actively pursue a relationship with Christ. I wanted to be like Aragorn and Sam and Eowyn and I knew that that was impossible apart from a power much higher than myself.

I know I'm not a skillful enough writer to use Tolkien's method effectively. Maybe someday I will be, but for now, it's better for me personally to keep it perfectly clear what and who caused my heroes to succeed. I give my heroes happy endings because I want to reflect the fact that Jesus gave us a happy ending, and all we have to do is accept it.

I don't want to imply that everyone who is not a Christian is a 'villain'. That's not what I mean. However, there is a right and there is a wrong. There are only two options when it comes to Jesus. You either love him or you hate him. Many people would protest and say they 'like' him but they just don't think He is God. Well, then, you must think He was a liar because he said he was the way, the truth, and the light and nobody can get to the Father except through him. Shouldn't you hate lying? Others would insist that Jesus and God don't exist. That's insulting. That's like walking up to your own mother and telling her she doesn't exist to you. Even though you might truly be so blind as to believe she doesn't exist, she will be extremely insulted and will come to the conclusion that you hate her. There is no gray area when it comes to Jesus. Therefore, if you are not for Him then you are against Him. An antagonist is someone who is against the protagonist. Jesus most certainly is the protagonist in the analogy.

I'm sorry for the long post. Oftentimes my blog posts are reflections of my own scrambled thoughts, trying to make sense of themselves through words. I guess what I'm trying to say is based on all these different concepts, I've finally decided how I want to treat villains in my stories- at least for now. They are people who are antagonistic or ambivalent (which is the equivalent of being antagonistic) towards the God in my story. They are people who are pursuing something very wrong that forces the hero to follow God and try to stop him or her. They are people who do not get happy endings in their earthly life to represent what will happen to all antagonists in reality.

Of course, there is always grace. Hail was a villain for most of his life until he finally decided to follow Elethor. I think it's a bit Deus Ex Machina to change the villain with no precedent to the good side at the end of the story, but reality and fantasy are very different. As Christians, we don't need to look at those who do not know Christ as villains or antagonists. They are people who are lost just as we were before meeting Jesus. We need to show compassion and love to them, not pride and hatred. If we show the latter ideals, who's the real villain? In my stories, if at all possible, I like to emphasize that God does love the villain and wants to save him or her. I don't think I did good a job of making that point in 'Ember Flame'. I can't think of a single instance where Sicreet is offered a chance for redemption. Other 'not-as-bad' characters get the chance to change, but not Sicreet. I'm going to fix that in 'Hail Frost'. I won't turn the villains good, but I do want to give them the chance, just like Jesus gave me the chance.

Again, sorry for all the rambling. My mind is a bit frazzled right now. The ACT is done (I felt like Frodo walking out of the entrance to Mount Doom), but I still have to go to the Shire and defeat Saruman (er...the AP English and SAT). Editing for Hail Frost is starting to come easier now, which is definitely a good thing. I'm still on the first edit, but for some reason, it seems to be flowing easier than it was a few weeks ago.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by! I hope you all have a Happy Easter! :)


  1. Giving villains a chance, not always having them turn but at least giving them a chance....I like that idea.

    He is Risen!

  2. “There’s no gray area when it comes to Jesus.” Excellent point. :) We need to hear more of that in the Christian world today.

    Ruth Newton