Black, White, and Gray–Blending Good & Evil in Fantasy

Even the Dark Lord loves his mommy…

I can agree with this. We don’t need a mustache-twirling baddie who jumps and shouts, “Look at me, I’m EVIL!”

The danger in creating (or reading) about the all-black villain who only shows us how evil he can be, is that it runs the risk of him becoming a cliche, or worse, a caricature. And if the villain is too dark and sickening, a lot of people will just turn away.

I remember reading Magic Bites, and I really enjoyed it. When I browsed reader reviews, several of them had complained about certain aspects of the story (especially the villain) being too dark and disturbing.

I eat horror movies/books for breakfast–nothing freaks me out. Welp, I was wrong. It was pretty disturbing (kudos to the authors).

I managed to finish and appreciate the story, and I recognized that it did have a gritty edge to it that I liked. However, some readers were clearly turned away, and they are certainly entitled to their opinions. This just demonstrates how a totally evil, disgusting, and disturbing villain can move people–and it can either make a story or break it.

So this recent post over at Mythic Scribes raises the question of whether or not “black and white” fantasy is dead, and if gray fantasy is here to stay. Black and white fantasy is clear cut, where the people serving evil are morally corrupt (and we as the audience get to see and confirm this), and those serving good are noble and pure. The good guys do what’s right, and they make the bad guys pay for doing wrong. Most importantly, the good guys win in the end, and they all go home to kiss their wives and revel in their heroic glory.

Gray fantasy blends or blurs the lines, a la Game of Thrones. The damned bastard that you hate today could be your ride-or-die favorite character tomorrow. And how is it that Tyrion can drink and whore to his heart’s content, but gosh darn it, he’s the star of the show (and we hope for him to be an untouchable). And, the good guys don’t always win the day and get to go home to their wives (no spoilers, but GOT readers, you know of what I speak).

I like black and white fantasy, and I like gray fantasy. I like the characters from both settings. Why can’t we have both? There are noble and pure people in the real world (they usually get canonized as Saints or something), and there are some screwed up spawn of the devil walking the earth. Many of us are in between, where we have the capacity for good or evil, and on some days we kick butt and actually do good–and then on others we stumble and fall.

Perhaps this is why gray fantasy and characters appeal to us on certain levels? We can relate to being hated for something we’ve done, even though we know we could’ve been (and offered) so much more? Or we know what it feels like to make a bad decision and pay for it–but then somehow we’re redeemed and rise from it. The White character is already sainted, and the Black character is damned–but there’s hope for the Gray.


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