It’s spooky season folks! October is here! Autumn is here! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Now, I love a good villain, a nice juicy complex villain who has depth and emotion. Yeah, that’s quality content. I love being cast as villains, I love writing villains, love them. But sometimes the villain isn’t villainous at all. Quite often, both in fiction and the real world, the narrative is twisted to misrepresent certain groups of people. To paint them as evil, untrustworthy, or less than human. We see it (or decide not to see it) in fictional stories that reaffirm bigoted and/or racist narratives by casting minorities and/or people of color in exclusively villainous and often stereotypical roles. We see it in narratives spun in the real world to further political agendas. We see it in what characters are remembered for, or what is conveniently forgotten.
One of my passions is the study folklore, mythology, and religion. These, like all stories, are full of antagonists that range from mostly benevolent tricksters to serious villains. Though, sometimes my opinion about who the villain is might be a little different than the story intends. A common thread in a lot of the myths and literature that I’ve read is the unfair vilification of women. Not having lived at the time these stories were created, I can’t say whether or not this was the intention, but the way we interpret these stories today can be very telling.
Some of it is quite clearly built into the stories as a way to justify the “fact” that women are inferior or even outright malevolent. Look at the Greek Pandora, two of the original women. Created as a trick, she sets the precedent of a woman as an untrustworthy sort of trickster. There is a lot that’s problematic about the Pandora story, which I won’t actually go into, but she is remembered mostly for bringing horrors to the world when that is literally what she was made by the gods to do. I would argue though, that while it had a negative outcome Pandora’s opening of her box(jar, actually) was an early act of curiosity.
Perhaps sometimes it’s because it’s more convenient to ignore the nuance when it gives you someone to blame. Hera is literally the Queen of the Olympian gods, but she’s reduced to mean, jealous wife in most people’s minds. Most people don’t know how Zeus tricked her into marrying him (very on brand, not even going to get into how terrible Zeus is), how when she rebelled against him, he “hung [her] from the sky with golden chains.” That’s why she doesn’t fight back against him. That’s why she displaces her anger on the people he abuses. Hera does terrible things in those myths but she’s not this shallow, vengeful woman many people see her as.
Then, of course, there’s fear. Good old fear. So many so called “dark goddesses” or really any beings associated with death have become villains and monsters. Think of banshees. There is so much lore about the banshee from different places, different theories on exactly who she is. The common thread is that a banshee appears before someone is going to die, she screams and wails, but she does not cause death. She warns of death, perhaps even mourns for the person who will die. Maybe she’s a little eerie, but she’s no monster. Morgan Le Fay(this one’s tricky, but now isn’t the time), the Irish Morrigan and the Norse Hel have all played villainous roles in modern fiction pieces (Thor Ragnarok anybody?). I actually enjoy both these stories as a whole, but they still bother me. I can be super annoyed with a story and still like the rest of it. It’s possible. That’s how I watch most Marvel movies.
It’s a month of costumes and disguises, my friends. It’s been a year of masks. Remember that sometimes your villains are wearing masks too. Superhero suits aren’t all that hard to craft, villains hide in plain sight. There is so much that hides in the space between hero and villain, appreciate complexities.