Good Vs. Evil or The Gray in Between?

Good Vs. Evil or The Gray in Between?

Ni no Kuni
Ni no Kuni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have fallen in love with the PS3 game Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. The story is very reminiscent of the stories the dearly-departed Dianna Wynne Jones would write, and that is what is so wonderful about this game. I have only just begun playing it, but Oliver’s character has already captured my heart, and the entire world of Ni No Kuni is so whimsical it’s hard to resist such a fantasy.

Of course, the story does play upon a few arguable clichés. Oliver is the Pure-Hearted One meant to save the world from the forces of evil. It’s been done a lot of times before, but there is just something so charming about this trope, something that makes it so popular amongst our world of grays. Oliver is by no means a perfect character. He’s a heartbroken boy, only in this adventure in the hopes of resurrecting his mother, who died of a weak heart. But I see so much of myself in him because he is willing to help out those that he is able to aide. I think we get so bogged down in the grays of our world that we forget blacks and whites do exist. Nobody is perfect, but there are people who exist who would give a limb to help out another human being, even a stranger. And then there are people who are just plain evil, people the media loves to humanize–but, really, some people do not deserve humanizing at all. There are no justifications for harming innocent human beings, no matter what your religion or cult or whatever tells you. You have a complex brain for a reason. Use it.

Of course, life is not so simple as that. If there were a train about to hit a track full of kids and you could throw one person in front of the train to save them, would you do it? I think I’d throw myself in front of that train so I wouldn’t have to sacrifice anyone.

My book When Stars Die is a book full of grays. Arguably there is no true villain. I wrote this book in a time when the young adult section was filled with blacks and whites. I wanted to throw a bit of gray in there. Now the YA section is chock-full of grays, but the one thing I love about my current WIP Stolentime is that I bring back the black and white. Gene is good, the villain is evil. The villain only needs a little bit of background information, but the villain’s existence is just pure evil. Gene is not perfect. He struggles with treatment-resistant depression and so his thinking can become dangerous, but his heart is filled with good intentions when it comes to other people. It’s very fairytale-like, much like Ni No Kuni. Stolentime is a basic reflection of depression. Depression can infuse black and white thinking in you, and so I want this WIP to be black and white. And I find absolutely nothing wrong with this. There might be a few grays, but in the book, it’s clear who is in the wrong and who is it in the right.

I think the good vs. evil trope is so popular still because we sometimes get tired of humanizing people who don’t deserve to be humanized. We want to believe they are just plain evil because that is the simplest explanation for their actions. I think we also get tired of good people being torn down because of one mistake. They’re human, but they are still good-hearted people. I like to believe I’m a good-hearted person that exists in the white spectrum of the good vs. evil trope. I don’t like imagining myself in the gray spectrum because to do that suggests that if I do do something to harm another person, I do so with a reason, and I am not about harming another person at all. I believe there is no reason to harm another person, even for some petty vengeance or to get what you want. I can’t imagine tearing down another person so I can better my own life.

What’s your preference? Good vs. evil, or the gray in between?

9 thoughts on “Good Vs. Evil or The Gray in Between?

  1. I really think it depends on the concept trying to be portrayed for me. I think both have a place and I am not sure that I prefer one over the other. It is nice to see more gray in fantasy now though.

    1. It really does depend on the concept being done. Sometimes the villain you create is just too evil to be in the gray spectrum, which is what I create in Stolentime. And so compared to this villain, Gene is a ‘white’ character. His only areas of gray involve his treatment-resistant depression because it makes Gene want to destroy himself, even though he is a very good person at heart, but it is very clear that whatever Gene does to tear down this villain is not in the least bit gray. And it is nice, and I, too, agree there is a place for both contingent on the concept.

  2. A very thought-provoking post: I agree that in reality, we often reduce people to black and white because it is easier to cope with – whereas in literature, characters in the grey spectrum are much more interesting to read (and write) about.

    These drawings might interest you: anime director Hayao Miyazaki talking about “the flawed concept of ‘good vs. evil'”: 🙂

  3. I think there is evil in the world. It’s kind of baked into it, I guess. Or maybe it’s an intrusion from the outside – something supernatural. I’m not really sure. In a lot of my stories I use supernatural imagery to talk about evil because we tend to overlook and make excuses for real evil.

    But on the other hand, I think sometimes broken, hurting people do things we like to call evil and they themselves are not all that evil. They just get caught up in the evil currents of the universe I alluded to above. Used, abused and then thrown away to be judged by all humanity.

    1. It just depends on the story you want to write then! I know with When Stars Die, I wanted to justify all my villain’s actions, because at the end of the day, he has a point. But in Stolentime, my villain was just created out of evil. He is innately evil and doesn’t need a reason for being that way.

      1. Yes, this is true. I tend to focus on the evil of the universe because that’s what I’m interested in exploring right now. But the way good people get broken or pulled off track and do bad things, that’s some wonderfully interesting territory, too.

  4. I’ve always liked good vs. evil more than shades of grey. I think it’s because I like the idea of there being people out there who are genuinely decent people, willing to sacrifice themselves to help others, etc. etc. To live in a world where there are only shades of grey … I don’t want to live in that world. That’s why, as much as I love Game of Thrones, I would NEVER want to actually go there. I’d probably get shanked by some random mercenary in the first five minutes, lol.

    1. I agree. It’s clear who is good and who is bad, and that does exist in our world. I like to think I’m a genuinely decent person who isn’t just in it for herself. I wouldn’t want to live in a shades of gray world either where someone always expects something in return.

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