Saturday, March 29, 2008

Evil and Violence

I've been pondering the difference between evil and violence, as they occur in real life and as they are depicted in fantasy. Crime fiction, horror and thrillers etc. depict evil things and violent acts - is this a bad thing?

Looking at the qualities of the evil/violence in each mode:

Evil in Fantasy
Purposeful (eg the 'evil genius')
Clever (Sauron has a plan)
Meaningful, eg personifying existential forces, mortality

Evil in Real Life
Often random
Large forces and drives rather than individuals

Violence in Fantasy
Purposeful, eg accomplishing justice
Skillful, eg Batman can knock thousands of people unconscious
Effective (the Shire is saved)
Aesthetically pleasing

Violence in real life
Mostly is its own end
Uncontrollable (massive collateral damage the norm)
Accomplishes little/nothing

Now, I lack the skills of a critic but I do remember my O-level maths. Put these elements into equations and the common elements cancel out, ie the violence and evil themselves disappear. What's left are the qualities - so

Fantasy = purpose, meaning, the possibility of skillful acts, the effectiveness of action in the world, beauty

So perhaps we enjoy Hannibal Lecter and Dracula, not because we admire killers, but because we wish malign forces were embodied in characters of wit and charm.

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