It’s one thing we’ve all learnt. That good triumphs over evil. No matter the struggle, the pain, the loss, no matter the whole procedure, good will always triumph.
It’s an idea that’s been the crux of mythology around the world, it’s been the basis of faith and trust. It is an idea that’s been celebrated by cultures since time itself. In India, we celebrate the festival of Navratri and Dussehra to honour the victory of good over evil. Navratri is a nine-day festival which originates from the legend of Goddess Durga who ended evil in the world by slaying the demon Mahisasura. Dussehra is the tenth day of the festival with its legend in the Ramayana where Lord Ram defeated the demon king Ravana to establish a rule of peace and goodwill.
Works of fiction are one of the main sources of instilling the idea of ‘good over evil’. In order to explain the idea to a child, fairy tales are the first step. Fairy tales where you’ve got a princess that’s the epitome of goodness, against a classic step-mum that’s all things morbid. That’s it, that’s good and evil and the princess will always triumph. Despite the ungodly house-cleaning and the banishment into the forest and the solitary confinement, the princess will win.
And so will Superman.
So what aspects does this dynamic of good over evil bring forth? Let’s turn to stories. All in all, life’s one big story, ain’ it?
Chapter 1: Strong Morals
Remember a guy named Aesop who wrote fables? Those stories with a moral at the end? The ones everyone poured over as kids as though it was the compulsory instruction manual that came with life?
This one’s about them morals.
A strong moral fibre is a must have in every protagonist. And it is also the exact aspect that has to be missing from the antagonist. It’s the definition and the dividing point of what’s good and what’s evil.
However, let’s take human nature into account. No human being is born perfect. We all have our flaws and our shining points. In terms of the dynamic of good and evil, what makes a protagonist or a person truly ‘good’ is not the absence of flaws but what they choose to act on. Or, in some cases, we’ve got a protagonist with flaws for everyone to see and experience in behaviour, but we as readers and watchers tend to turn a blind-eye to them and judge the bloke as a protagonist based purely on his shining points.
Let’s take Sherlock Holmes for instance.
Mr. Holmes is the most brilliant mind around. There’s no denying that. But when it comes to having a heart, let’s be clear, he nearly hasn’t got one. Nearly. Mr. Holmes is described as a character with abysmal respect for fellow human beings and more particularly abysmal respect for women but he also happens to be the world’s favourite detective. Sherlock Holmes is also described to be a rather triggering entity what with him constantly stoking the fire between rival detectives Gregson and Lestrade before subtly proving who the superior one is(*cough, cough* himself). In his own words in Conan Doyle’s ‘A Study In Scarlet’, Holmes mentions to Watson, “No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of crime which I have.”
And yet when we compare him to James Moriarty, we’ve got ourselves a clear hero in Sherlock. Holmes may be an unfeeling prick but he knows crime when he sees one and his strong belief in justice overshadows his many flaws. And Moriarty, though brilliant, is downright evil and his vow to Sherlock Holmes is steadfast enough, “If you are clever enough to bring destruction upon me, rest assured that I shall do as much to you”
In Sherlock and Moriarty, we’ve got an unfeeling protagonist who seeks to avenge an innocent death and a brilliant mastermind who is fuelled by revenge. This proves that the urge to do right overshadows even the worst of all flaws.
Chapter 2: Dealing with grief
Grief comes to us all and in many forms and the saying goes that dealing with grief only makes us stronger. That saying however isn’t true for all. Grief affects us in a way we choose to let it and many a times it makes us spiral into a truly dark spot.
Grief is an element which is synonymous with every story ever written. Grief is the climax without which no happiness can be imagined. In fact the joust between grief and happiness is its own battle of good and evil.
The effect of grief, I find, is very prominent in the Harry Potter saga.
Here we have a series where both the protagonist as well as the antagonist have been dragged through hell itself in order to become who they are.
Harry Potter himself has a story that would move the hardest hearts to tears. In him we’ve got a boy thrown into the dreary realms of war with practically no one to help him on and the loss of almost every single person he could call home, right from his parents to Dumbledore to Remus Lupin to Sirius Black. The poor boy led his life with a tag of ‘The Chosen One’, always singled out every place he went, yet at the end, he rose as a pillar of strength and defended the entire wizarding world, avenging every loss and coming out as invincible.
Voldemort, the villain was no stranger to grief either. Abandoned, bullied, even misunderstood as a child, yet he chose to let the grief take him into darkness. He held a grudge by assuming everyone to be evil and started a war on the basis of revenge taking innocent lives as he raged on. Grief and feeling powerless made him hungry for it and he believed as his quote proves that, “There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.”
Grief is like wet clay and a potter combined(no pun intended:)), it shapes you the way you choose to mould it.
Chapter 3: Forgiveness and Understanding a villain’s motives
As the saying goes, ‘To err is human, to forgive divine.’
In a classic duel between good and evil, we establish that there’s a certain victory. That of the ‘good’ party.
So at the end where evil is defeated, is it proper to forgive or is ultimate defeat the most fitting response?
This can be answered only when the villain’s motives are taken into account. Did the antagonist act out of pure malice or did he have intentions which are justified to an extent?
For example, in ‘The Jungle Book’, is it fair to brand Shere Khan as the villain? Yes he did leave Mowgli orphaned by hunting his parents but we do know that he did it cause he was threatened with fire. His actions weren’t malicious towards humans, he was simply a tiger who acted in defence and natural instinct.
In the Agatha Christie novel, ‘Death on the Nile’, murder is the result of jilted love. Is it fair to call someone a villain when the protagonist or in this case the ‘innocent’ has robbed you of the basic human necessity of love?
We’ve got examples such as the Joker, Loki, anyone in The Suicide Squad, Caleb Prior in the Divergent series, Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter who come across as villains at first glance but when studied, it is evident that their hearts are not all bad.
On the other hand, we’ve got the absolute baddies. The ones with no remorse. The ultimate epitome of evil. The ones who deserve a sticky end.
Commodus from ‘Gladiator’ for instance.
Moriarty and Scar from the Lion King to name a few. Scar was a unique case where his actions turned his supporters aka the hyenas against him.
So here it is, forgiveness is something that depends on the action and the motive and is a quality of one truly strong.
And that is a wrap.
Wishing everyone in India and all over the world a happy Dussehra:) This post is a special one for the festival and one for the good that will overcome evil.
Until next time.