Sunday, June 26, 2011

Evil in Fiction

In the nature versus nurture debate, where does evil fit in? In fiction it is difficult to determine.

Too often in fiction, evil comes from a broken home, or a place of unhappiness and abuse. Even more evil characters aren’t given any family history at all, as though evil is somehow produced in a vacuum. It is reassuring to think of evil as independently created, because otherwise we might be forced to confront an uncomfortable truth: sometimes evil comes from normal, everyday families, who live normal, everyday lives. These people have parents, children, brothers and sisters, who might be ordinary people.


And sometimes they might be extraordinary.

Once, in Germany, a man was appalled to see a group of Jewish women being forced to scrub the street. He got down on his knees and joined them. The officer in charge of the women demanded to see the man’s papers. That man was Albert Göring, younger brother of Hermann Göring . The officer, unable to arrest Hermann Göring’s brother and unable to prevent him from causing a spectacle, put a stop to the scrubbing.

Albert Göring

Albert Göring forged his brother’s signature on documents to allow dissidents to travel out of Germany. When he was in charge of the Skoda Works in Czechoslovakia, he engaged in sabotage. He used to send trucks to concentration camps to collect workers -- workers who were then secretly set free. Albert didn’t just oppose the regime his brother lived and breathed -- he actively undermined it.

Hermann Göring killed himself the night before he was due to be hanged at Nuremburg. Albert Göring lived in Germany on a state pension. He was a pariah because of his family name. He died in 1966.

If it wasn’t true, I wouldn’t believe it -- the symmetry is too perfect. Two brothers who must have played together as children, setting themselves on opposing paths in adulthood. There’s a story there. There’s also a moral.

Don’t take the easy way out by giving your villain a bleak past to match his black heart. Don’t assume that a similar upbringing or genetics will send two characters in the same direction. And don’t forget that, for better or for worse, your family will always stay with you.

21 comments:

  1. Great post, I enjoyed it, and th epoints yo make, very much.
    cheers,
    mood

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  2. we can always learn so much from real life. Great example with the Goring brothers here.

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  3. Fantastic post. I dislike stories where a villian's tragic background causes them to be who they are. It's not enough justification for me. Your example proves reality is far more complex than that.

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  4. ...And, apparently, I have lost the ability to spell villain...

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  5. Great story. And yeah, we think we have to explain how someone got the way they are, but character is always a mystery.

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  6. Love this. Great post.

    When writing villains, I think it's also important to remember that they themselves don't necessarily think they're evil. They either think they're right or have been denied something or are just following orders or what have you. Motivation is just as important as origins. (Variation: some villains do think what they're doing is evil, but think they have good reasons for doing it.)

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  7. @ Mood - Thanks! I think it's a shame that nobody remembers Albert, when he is the one worth remembering.

    @ Uva. Thanks for following!

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  8. Thanks Miss Cole! I agree that the unhappy childhood is usually a cop out. People are much more complicated than that. (And villain is one of my favourite words to misspell!)

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  9. Hi Steve! That'a a good point. Sometimes character is just inexplicable.

    @ Cacy. Agreed! If there is one thing history has shown us it's that "Mwa ha ha" evil doesn't actually exist. Evil people are just as likely to dote on their children, or love their partners, or tell funny jokes. And that's what makes evil much scarier, surely: the way it doesn't recognise itself.

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  10. What a great post. I love the story of the scrubbing.

    Very well done. Glad to be following you.

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  11. Thankyou Rebecca! It was just such a fascinating story that I had to share.

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  12. I wonder if Albert was the younger brother. If so, maybe he received all the love his parents had to give, leaving none for poor old Hermann. So maybe his childhood did have something to do with how he turned out after all.

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  13. Wow where did you learn about Albert Göring? I've never even knew that Hermann had a brother.

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  14. Hi JJ! Albert was the younger brother by two years. I wish I knew more about him. Albert's godfather was Jewish, I believe, and a close personal friend of the family.

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  15. Hi Steph, this is why I loe the internet. Random clcking leads to random clicking leads to Fascinating Discovery. There were a few sisters as well, and also an older brother. The older brother emigrated to the US. One of his sons became a bomber pilot in WWII and actually did raids over Germany. Imagine knowing that every Luftwaffe plane coming at you was under the command of your Uncle Hermann! And his co-pilot had orders to shoot him if he ever tried to land there. Another fantastic story waiting to be told!

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  16. Great post! The hardest part in "plotting" for me has been getting in the villains head. I don't believe most of us see ourselves as a villain (at least I don't) so understanding their motives doesn't come so easily. It's simple to stereotype them as vicious monsters and forget to remember they're people. But I think once you remember they're just people, with their own hopes and desires that happen to go against ours, it enables so many "plotting" opportunities you didn't know you had!

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  17. Thanks Barbara. That's an important point you made. Villains don't see themselves as villains, just as heroes don't see themselves as heroes.

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  18. This IS a fascinating story--thanks for sharing. Sure does gives food for thought, not only in digging into a character's motivation, but in the ironies of life. I really enjoyed this...

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  19. Hi Kenda! It is a great story, isn't it? I had to share it as soon as I found it!

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  20. Great Post here. The fact that he had a brother and especially one that worked against him was a total suprise.

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  21. Hi Gyran! It's just such a fascinating story that as soon as I heard it I had to share!

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