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GOOD and Evil / Simultaneous Reading

I finished Joe Abercrombie's 'The Blade Itself' yesterday and thought I'd recommend it here. I'm also reading Harry Potter for my daughter--a series I'd like to recommend as well, although that praise will likely drown in the rave.

The two stories are very different. Abercrombie's book is definitely for grownups, whereas HP I and II are childrens' books.  They do have things in common, though: The humanity and the humor. The characters can be asses and heroes both, and at the same time, depending on the viewpoint.  Abercrombie is able to explore this dichotomy more deeply than Rowling, since he switches viewpoint characters. Still, Rowling also lets us catch a glimpse of Harry through the eyes of Snape and Draco Malfoy.

Anyway, reading these stories simultaneously reminded me of something that's admirable about them both: They tell stories of good and evil.

You might object that all fantasy (and genre fiction in general) does that. The battle of good and evil, the eternal struggle... That's in all the books. But not quite, I say. The battle is there, almost without fail, but some stories dwell only on the evil parts.

It's one of the basic rules for writers that we must put our main characters into trouble from the very beginning. That often involves dragging them through personal trouble, deadly danger, monstrous caverns, hard choices, and evil incantations. As a result, the poor, orphaned, maimed main characters may laugh in the face of danger... but it seems to me that we better make sure there's something for the reader to laugh about.

The Harry Potter series--and Lord of the Rings, for that matter--takes the time to dwell on the good times too. Friendship, Quidditch, feasts, and the shoulder-to-shoulder teamwork against evil are an inseparable part of the HP stories.

Less so in 'The Blade Itself', but still. Some friendships are more reluctant than others, but the characters are still friends and they still work together. Cards are played and drinks are drunk and there's friendly quibbling, and a love story weaves its way into the book. The Union (the country in danger) isn't portrayed as perfect, but there's a core of goodness here that's expressed in the lives of the characters and makes us hope for a happy ending.  

When I look over my reading list for this year, I see very few books that focus on these qualities--and only one that lacks them entirely. Sure enough, one of the best is Scott Lynch's 'The Lies of Locke Lamorra', which has a lot of humor and banter (and words, alas). The one I'd be least likely to bring with me on a desert island is a military SF story that lacks character and charm (though not action). Even the darker stories on the list (such as Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker and Charles Stross's Rule 34) include friendships that matter to the characters and the readers.

So I suppose that fighting evil matters. But let's not forget about friendships while we drag our characters through the mud.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 23rd, 2012 11:21 am (UTC)
Yes, you definitely need that balance in a story. All bad-bad-bad just gets exhausting. I read a book last year (Someone Knows My Name) dealing with slavery, and while I do understand that there IS NO up, no good times, and that was the purpose of the book, it was exhausting to read.
Oct. 23rd, 2012 03:25 pm (UTC)
I can even understand why there are no good times when it's slavery we're dealing with. (And also why it could be a long read). It's when authors set their world in a future society with starships and people still have no fun that my skepticism rears its ugly head :-)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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