John C. Wright’s wife L. Jagi Lamplighter – who is also an author, particularly of the really good Prospero’s Daughter Trilogy – has an interesting essay on redeeming villains up on her blog.
I’ve not yet decided whether to see Maleficent in theaters or wait for Blu-Ray through Netflix – I’ll probably read some more reviews of it first. But what caught my attention about this topic is a TV series I’ve been enjoying – Once Upon A Time. Throughout several seasons, there have been quite a few villains! It seems to me that there’s about a 50/50 ratio of Redemption vs Death for the bad guys. And the “theme” of Once Upon A Time might be fairly accurately summed up as “family can really screw you up!”
On the one side, there’s the Heroes, who use things like faith, hope, and love to conquer evil. And then there’s the villain side, where two notable Redeemed Villains have tearjerker backstories – they’re basically raised by sociopaths. But the show seems to be doing things mostly right – the villains are shown to have chosen their evil paths through their own decisions. They aren’t redeemed because they were merely “misunderstood.” They have to deliberately turn aside from evil – and they struggle with the temptation to backslide into taking the easy, habitual way out of their problems.
Of course, there’s the annoying flip side of this, which fairly consistently manifests itself as “evil will always triumph because good is stupid” – aka, unwilling to destroy evil. “Heroes don’t kill,” as one character put it in the last episode I watched.
Which is dumb, because heroes DO kill. They just do it cleanly and to protect themselves or others.