More from World Fantasy 2008.

Real Life Villains – panel David Morrell, Anita Siraki, Mark Van Name, Janine Young.

The panel discussion ranged widely, and in my memory, perhaps covered more horror than fantasy.

I don’t recall any specific references to modern fantasy villains in the panel, beyond the usual suspects of Monsters, Vampires, etc. However, even they have been modified by the current fashion of the romance-erotic crossovers who are obsessed with vampire lovers. This is getting closer to psychology than fantasy.

Someone made the point that in the genre classic, Frankenstein, the monster is far less a villain than the good doctor who created him. This led to another main point. Most of the panel stressed that believable villains do not believe themselves to be acting villainously. Many examples of real life villainy followed.

The case of CEOs of business enterprises who callously destroy lives and careers whenever the business model says “cut overhead”. The overhead is almost always taken to be fixed costs –  wages and salaries of staff. I had to agree with Mark Van Name who quoted the example of the head of a company he had worked for who complied with convention and slashed several thousand from the payroll – not without some angst – but with the justification that he had no alternative. I also have had a conversation with a manager who had to ‘weed out’ unproductive workers from an enterprise that had been taken over. He was given the job of turning the operation around or else presiding over its closure, so he had the added incentive of saving his career from the black mark. Here again, the focus was on saving the welfare of those who might remain if the surplus bodies were sacrificed. Not sure if this would fly in a dungeons and dragons story.

While this seemed to be drifting away from fantasy, it definitely addressed the mistake of writing even fantasy antagonists as stereotypical nasties. Even monsters, and the portrayal of Grendel as the latest example in the movie Beowulf, have cogent reasons, to them, for their actions.

The discussion continued into the modern horror of the holocaust with two examples from the death camps. Dr Mengele, doctor death who performed horrible experiments on helpless inmates, was reckoned among his contemporaries as a compassionate and humane man. The key to his actions was that he had closed his mind to the humanity of his victims – to him, they were not people (perhaps for irony I might use the word mensch). He focused on the lives his experiments might save in the future. He loved his family and actually saved the life of one Jew – his secretary in the camp.

In this vein came the second example from Dachau. The efficiency of the “Final Solution” was such that the numbers of inmates brought in invariably outstripped the speed of their disposal and the solution was to farm the extra out as domestic servants until such time as their turns came up. During the war, some 30,000 of these domestic slaves were placed among 3000 German families in the area. It’s recorded that the only complaint about the process concerned  the inconvenience of losing the servants soon after their training had been perfected – and not one of the families ever attempted to assist the prisoner servants to escape their fate. Perhaps pointing toward real life horror.

The final villain I’ll mention who was given as an example – again from the experiences of a panel member – resided in detention for the criminally insane. While asking for the reason of the inmates’ acts was generally avoided, the situation with one young man, who had murdered his parents, made the question, why, relevant. The young man thought for a moment and then said, “Because they were home.”

I’ll leave that with you. Fantasy and horror sometimes have strange roots in the psyche.


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One Response to “More from World Fantasy 2008.”

  1. joylene Says:

    I so agree. The bad guy must believe in what he’s doing or he’s not believable. I hope I’ve succeeded in showing that in Dead Witness. Miquel DeOlmos believes family means everything. And if you have to kill to protect the family, then that’s what you do.

    But what’s really interesting in fiction is when the antagonist isn’t a person. It’s a thing, as in hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. Or a menacing illness or virus. I also think the deterioration of a relationship can serve as the antagonist. Emotions like competitiveness, or distrust, or even jealousy can drive a good story.

    Great article, Chris.

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