Sympathy for the Devil: Treating Your Evil Villain with Compassion By Matt Mikalatos
The dark lords of fantasy wrestle with difficult questions: Rule the world or destroy it? Enslave the peasants or murder them? Lock dissenters away forever or turn them into amphibians?
In many fantasy novels, the battle is between righteousness and evil, light and darkness, right and wrong. There’s no question that the hero is fighting to save the world and that the villain is working to keep it under his or her thumb.
As I started writing my own fantasy novel, I wanted an enemy who was unabashedly, unapologetically evil. My fantasy world is a series of interlocking magical lands, and the main action takes place in a world of talking animals, where the main villain, Silverback, is attempting to release an ancient evil into his world. Silverback knows that this evil will destroy his world. He has enslaved some of his fellow citizens to make this happen. He has no illusions that these are evil actions, but they are to his advantage, so he acts without remorse.
Enter the hero, a young girl from Earth named Validus Smith, who has inherited a magic sword that is meant to protect the Six Worlds from evil of all kinds. As Validus moved toward the climactic scene, I couldn’t find a way for her to destroy Silverback without losing her own innocence. To kill him would make her a vigilante. Vigilante justice would be better than no justice at all, but I feared a piece of Validus would die. She would cease to be the heroic young woman and become the jaded woman who did what no one else would do.
I decided Validus could not use her sword in anger, even righteous anger. I discovered that the sword’s magic had a built-in fail safe: it could only be used on a villain for whom Validus felt compassion. Which meant that she had to get to know him, to feel truly sorry for him before she could stop him.
But that brought its own trouble. How could she feel compassion for someone like Silverback? So, I started to look at Silverback’s own story. How had he become this twisted creature? What had happened to him to make him this way? As I explored his story I found he was the victim of evil himself, and he gathered power as a way to protect himself. Even now, his actions came out of a deep desire to prove himself, to show he was someone exceptional and worthy of respect or even love. Of course, his destructive acts push him farther and farther from any true relationship.
As Validus learns more about Silverback she is able to be simultaneously furious at his actions and saddened by his life. She attempts to remove him from power with legitimate regret and compassion. She steps in to protect the Six Worlds, but also to save Silverback from himself.
By the end of the book I learned a lesson from Validus: even the most evil among us are worthy of compassion. We must still bring them to justice, we must still protect the innocent, but we can do it with sorrow for the harm that the evil bring upon themselves.
Matt Mikalatos lives in the Portland, Oregon area with his wife and three daughters. His most recent book is the aforementioned fantasy novel, The Sword of Six Worlds. You can learn more about Matt and his books here, or come visit his blog at http://www.mikalatos.com.