The topic of “evil” has been on my mind recently, in part because I’m getting ready to teach Europe in the 1920s-30s, which means Stalin, Mussolini, and Co. Part of it is because I got caught off-guard by the ending of a cycle of three symphonic rock albums by Dark Sarah, and in part because of current cultural events.
I have no doubt that evil exists. I grew up in a religious tradition that includes the concept, although it is not as prominent as it once was. My teenaged years just confirmed that people are, ah, not perfect, and are on occasion inclined to give in to the less pleasant aspects of human nature. At least, less pleasant for the recipient. I read military history and saw the photos from WWII that were in Life magazine. The fairy tales I read as a child also pointed out that evil existed, and could do terrible things to people. I also knew that individuals and groups could rise up and defeat evil, although the cost might be high.
The current cultural atmosphere seems to have diluted evil, diminishing it in a way. Part of it is the idea that people need to be sheltered and protected from hurtful things. When you never encounter real malevolence, it is easy to imagine that anything emotionally painful or unwanted is evil. I have a sense that part of the problem is the idea that being the sufferer from vague cultural flaws and patterns is en-nobleing and is something that cannot be put into the past. When the very atmosphere of a culture is blamed for all the ills suffered by an individual, no matter the circumstances, then actual evil seems to be disregarded. It does not fit the categories of thought and so people pay lip-service to true evil, then ignore it.
The idea came up in a conversation about re-making movies and gutting the villains. Not in the sense of “steps taken before taxidermy”, but diminishing them by turning them into poor, misunderstood victims who of course are justified in their actions. The specific example was the evil fairy Maleficent in Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty vs the live-action remake. In the fairy tale and the animated film, Maleficent revels in being evil. She is, she has no qualms about killing and tormenting other people, and that’s that. She enjoys breaking the law and inflicting pain. The revised story seeks to explain that Maleficent is a victim of [men, cultural blindness, what have you]. In doing so, it weakens both Maleficent as a character and the story itself. https://crossoverqueen.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/movie-review-maleficent/
So, the Dark Sarah trilogy turns on a character, Sarah, who decides to get even with someone and turns to evil to get what she wants. She kills and commits evil acts. The three albums are about that, and her eventual (implied) redemption. Now, having been reading a lot of “misunderstood outsider” type stuff and paranormal romances (Byronic heroes all over the place), I expected that Sarah and “the Dragon” would pair off and go do gothy things in his kingdom. Nope! In fact, the ending took me a little aback, because of that expectation. When I re-listened to the third album, the ending made more sense. The Dragon is a form of psychopomp, not a love interest in the usual sense. How refreshing! However, he certainly could be taken as evil, and he was cast out of the upper lands for a reason. Sarah takes responsibility for her actions, and that shifts the story pattern from what I anticipated.
Satan as Prometheus is a common trope in goth rock and black metal. It goes back to the Romantics, where evil isn’t exactly always evil, but perhaps just misunderstood and forced into evil actions by society. It’s a tempting interpretation, because it justifies a lot of things that civilization disapproves of. At least, it is used as justification. The antihero has become a hoary trope for a reason, especially in fringe subcultures. And in the mainstream, based on a lot of pop-culture stuff. However, there’s a difference between shadow and darkness, between “good but not nice” and evil. That bright line is being ignored to society’s peril.
Horror is said to be the most moral genre, because it requires good and evil. Now, that evil might be “cosmic” and Lovecraftian, or intent and deliberate on the individual, but evil is there. Good is there. Defeating evil often requires sacrifices, and the hero is changed by the encounter. Compare that with, oh, Fifty Shades of Turpitude and the like. Or “the bad guy is just misunderstood and a loving woman [or man, or none-of-the-above] will redeem him.” Or worse, “the bad guy is really a victim, and the good guy is the villain for imposing society’s will on the poor, suffering Other.”
Surrounded by that, it’s easy to see why people miss real evil. It is with us, it is present today. Individuals, political philosophies, the anti-human push in certain parts of culture . . . Evil is scary. It should be respected, treated with due care, and repudiated. Not explained away until horror begets horror in a spreading pool of corruption.
I wonder if that’s why the dark fantasy idea, and Wolf of the World, bubbled up? Wolf deals with evil that relishes being evil. The dark fantasy, well, we’ll see. I have three main characters in mind, and a basic story-starter idea, but not much beyond that. We are story-telling creatures. We shape the world and how we understand it through our stories. Evil seems to be oozing out of hiding as the bright line is erased. Is that why my stories are looking that way? I don’t know.
Evil is real. That I do know.