Confusion of Good and Evil

Especially when writing about fairy tales or with a derivative setting, it’s difficult to get Good and Evil quite right. By that, I mean that most writers seem to have trouble when those abstract concepts are meant to be absolutes. If they’re merely pushing for good, they usually just make evil cartoonish and arguably stupid. Making evil a literal opposite of good, as in good bathing regularly and evil valuing stink. Twisting expressions so that evil says, “Bad morning” to greet people before noon, or making evil look forward to stomachaches or prefer poverty to luxury.

Stupid, but hardly new or really worth discussing.

It’s when Good is not much better than Evil that it gets confusing or eyebrow-raising for readers. Too often, Good is like Long Ben Avery and the aptly named Lady Vanity–on the side of justice, but self-righteous, shallow, vain, self-obssessed, and snobby. These are not the traits of a fairy tale hero who represents Good.

I know that having so-called Good or heroic characters with these kinds of flaws are for the purpose of parody or satire. That’s the sort of work which Avery and Vanity inhabit. But some books use this ploy for the sake of momentary comedy. It’s not really a parody to make one or two jokes and still insist that Good means an appearance-obssessed girl who thinks that using cruelty-free makeup is a good deed.

What really differentiates Good and Evil in cases like that? Good is selfish, so is Evil. They just want different things for themselves. Usually, this is used to make Evil the “real” good guys, and only nominally evil. Often it’s Good that puts the label on them.

It might have been an interesting story once, but now it just looks like the same bad guys and good guys–especially when bullying is involved–just switching the names around. The Harry Potter series is not drastically reimagined if you just swap Harry’s name with Draco’s. It’s the same as changing Harry’s name to Kevin.

To make things even more confusing, there are often also mentions of good characters who are genuinely good. In the same universe. I don’t know if that’s inconsistent or just stupid.

Something I was thinking about today.


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