Sunday, 13 December 2015

A thin line between hero and villain

Macbeth - a villain who could have been a hero
I’m musing on villainy this week — always the most interesting aspect to work with. Think Holmes’ Moriarty. Think Captain Hook. Think Bill Sykes or Flashman or Voldemort or (Shakespeare’s version of) Richard III. Take your pick. Some of them are truly evil and some are undeniably attractive. Some of them could make a case for being a hero, too and some heroes come very close to stepping over the hero-villain line. 

For the writer there’s nothing like a good villain, and I like to think I’m working with a potential cracker right now. Eden is tall, broad-shouldered and ruggedly handsome. He’s more than a bit of a rebel, yet he’s a leader. He’s all man, yet, when it suits him, he dares to show his feminine side. He’s highly principled and his courage is legendary. Women are drawn to him by his charm and his attentions. So I was (I think) highly flattered when one of my writing buddies, coming across him for the first time, sighed and shook her head. ‘What an utter bastard!’ she said. ‘I can’t understand why Bronte’ (the heroine) ‘could ever fall for him.’

In fairness, Bronte isn’t quite such a wuss as that makes her sound, because at the opening of the book Eden is her ex-boyfriend and she'd got rid of him sharpish as soon as she realised that all of his considerable qualities are completely negated by his inability to stick to one woman at a time or, indeed, to really care about any of the women he dates. But like most villains he won’t go away.

I was struck when writing the book by the fact that the line between a hero and a villain is very fine indeed. Marcus, my hero, has many of Eden’s qualities, though a little less so in some cases. He’s equally handsome and equally courageous, almost as principled, though perhaps he lacks some of our villain’s legendary charm. 

What he has that makes him a hero is what Eden completely lacks. Empathy. Eden is driven entirely by self-interest: his principles are so strong that everyone around him must be subject to them. No-one is important enough to persuade him to change his attitude or to do something that deviates in any way from his plan. And it ends — of course it ends — in tears.

It occurred to Marcus, as he looked at her and saw the desolation in her face, not just of abandonment and betrayal but also of pain and fear, that the secret of Eden’s strength was not, after all, in his bravery but in his inability to care for others. You might not question his commitment but you couldn’t ascribe it to courage. As long as no threat came to himself then he wouldn’t be dissuaded by anything that happened to anyone else.”

Do you prefer a truly villainous villain? Or would you rather have one tormented by light and shade? And out of all literature, who’s your favourite?

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