On Satisfying Villain Disposal

This morning, I finally finished reading Throne of Jade. I agree with most people, that it drags and the best part is completely rushed. They spend nearly two-thirds of the book at sea, more than that bickering or focusing on dull or interesting but pointless events, and then when they arrive in China: BAM everything happens at once and it’s over.

I read a two-star review on Goodreads that was rather irritated, if not angry, wherein the reviewer made some good points, but seemed oddly to have missed some things. Probably due to being bored, as well as the fact that the bits in China are too quickly over.

One, this person thought that the title was only there to be cool. Seemingly unaware of the fact that the title is probably just a reference to China as an empire in that time period (never mind the AU dragon setting). There didn’t have to be a literal jade throne. Two, there is a reason for the positive diplomatic solution at the end. Spoiler in white text: Laurence saves the life of the crown prince, thus earning the favour of the emperor. They had also established the views of adoption in this AU China earlier on. It’s a little contrived, and I saw it coming miles away, but the xenophobia of the culture would hardly preclude such an option.

But I have digressed nearly to giving an actual review. Oops. Anyway, it is the ending that put me on the track I meant to blog about. I can’t white text the whole thing, so if you want to read Throne of Jade, and you haven’t yet, never mind its publication date, then go read it first. I’ll put in some bare lines to help avoid the spoiler.

 

 

Even though it’s really not that big a deal.

 

Oh duh, use a more tag.

Okay. So in the endgame, one Prince Yongxing is killed by debris from a falling building. I could elaborate on the scene, but there’s little purpose. The important thing is, not long before his death, he was confirmed to have been guilty of subterfuge and murder attempts using underlings. So, villain.

His bullet list of evil deeds all have understandable motivation, especially if one even tries to understand the cultural view of China for China, no outsiders mucking things up. More importantly, his crimes are crimes, which are more or less corroborated by the change in attitude of the influential people once he is dead.

So from a writing standpoint, I was really disappointed when he was killed before anyone could even point at him and shout, “You liar.”

Seriously, it’s a question posed to anyone who ever has a villain. Death or Justice, as I put it. And yes, in some cases, death is justice, at least in the readers’ eyes, which is what we’re talking about here. But when I use the capital letter J, I mean the villain lives through punishment.

This would have been much more interesting if they prince had lived to face the consequences. There would have been a lot of happier faces at the end, too. His dragon, for one. There would have been no readers complaining that sensitive Temeraire, after his empathy in the last book for other dragons losing a companion, just shrugging this one off as “he deserved it and she should just accept that.”

In the case of a work like, say, Dexter, Death is pretty much what’s going to happen to the villains. It’s the point. As far as I’ve seen (first three seasons), it’s been the way to go–storywise. But Disney makes a lot of missteps in this area, oddly enough.

For example, Scar in The Lion King is a murderer, liar, and usurper, as well as responsible for the criminal neglect of his people after stealing the throne (so to speak). His death is both poetic visually, and necessary for the story. …the story was technically already written, but that’s besides the point. (also i am kidding a little)

But in Beauty and the Beast, Gaston has really done very little wrong when he falls to his death. It’s treated like the removal of a terrifying threat, but if you watch the movie with an adult detachment, you might see it differently. He’s an arrogant guy who isn’t used to hearing no and uses threats to get what he wants. When he riles up the townspeople, there’s not much reason to think he believes the beast to be kind and gentle. He never listened to Belle before, so you can’t say that her telling him should make a difference.

So a guy is killed for being obnoxious and menacing. Bullies beware. He could have just been fought off to running away so that his fellow villagers or whatever decide he’s a coward and he loses all standing and respect. Nope, gotta kill him. Kids are bloodthirsty. You have to kill threats or they’ll be scared or dissatisfied. Heh, but Prince John (Robin Hood) just goes to gaol.

Killing a villain can be the right choice, but it’s often just the lazy one. You don’t have to write out the consequences, he’s really truly gone, so you don’t have to worry about readers expecting to see him again… But flip-side, you don’t get to use him again.

E.g., Darth Maul. A total waste of a villain that could have been written to have a character and impact. Such sentiments are expressed herein:

(if you don’t like cursing, i think there’s a link to a censored version in the video’s annotations)

One look at Harry Potter will show you the value of a longtime antagonist, but you don’t have to have the ongoing conflict between Mickey Mouse and the Phantom Blot to justify not killing someone. Speaking of comics, look at any superhero’s “rogues gallery.”

In a series like Temeraire, even short-term, Prince Yongxing living to be gaoled or exiled would be more interesting than, oops!dead. He wouldn’t have to show up again, but his death was very Disney. A “bad guy” removed because he was consistently unpleasant to the main character, and as soon as he’s dead, everything is wine and roses for everyone.

I really think that writers need to honestly consider every option when the time comes for the villains to be vanquished. Especially if you have a series, and it doesn’t end after one HEA riding into the sunset.

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