The Price of Evil

I watched the first Lord of the Rings this morning. Yes, again. Don’t ask me what got me started on that–though I mostly blame seeing the preview for The Hobbit when we went to see Brave over the weekend. I can’t get it out of my head.

A lot of stories show the price of evil in the smackdown of the bad guy at the end. Yay, we all like a good smackdown.

Lots of stories show a price for fighting evil. Superheroes pay this a lot in dead girlfriends and other loved ones who have to be avenged, loved ones who have to be left behind for their own protection, etc. Heroes pay a price for their decision to fight evil in loneliness, physical injury, and sometimes death.

What I saw in Fellowship of the Ring this morning was a price paid for…consorting with evil. For living with it. Frodo took up the burden of the ring, right? This, like, tangibly evil thing. And we get to see it work on him throughout the trilogy. Even his physical appearance is altered. We see the evil working on everyone, causing them to argue, to let fear and pride get in the way of things. We see it work especially on Boromir, who is supposed to be the weakest link, as far as character goes. By the end of the trilogy, Frodo’s so altered that he can’t do what he most wanted to do–get back to life in the shire. (That was a real bummer, wasn’t it?)

Well, anyway, it just struck me as I watched it and paid particular attention to that thread of the story, that it’s an interesting one. The idea that, even when your intentions are noble, there’s a price for consorting with evil, for carrying it, because it taints you.

The Buffy series seemed to play with these ideas, especially in the later seasons. They find out about how the Slayer line was created. Buffy dies and comes back. There’s a point where she faced, confronted, and consorted with so much darkness that she begins to see herself as one of the dark things.

Basic stuff we know… Interesting characters care about things. They want things. It’s like dukkha, the noble truths, that whole Zen thing where you suffer because you want, and if you’d just let go of the want you’d feel better. Their dissatisfaction creates personalities that make for interesting reading. Their motivations play into interesting dramas.

When I make characters, I do think about what they want and how that affects them. I do think about making things hard for them and their being a price to pay for doing the heroic thing. But this idea of paying a price for associating with evil isn’t something I’ve played with very much in my head.

It’s insidious.

I kinda like it.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “The Price of Evil

  1. You know, I’m not sure I’ve really thought about this. But Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of what happens when you carry the burden of evil, even if you yourself are NOT evil. It takes its toll. I bet you’ve got all kinds of ideas circling in your head now. 🙂

  2. I’m a big fan of this. Of course. It is character arc after all. Funny that you write about this because I’m in the middle of watching Breaking Bad. The creator said that the idea came from wanting to explore a protagonist become the antagonist. It’s really interesting to see what the taste of power and the adrenaline rush of committing crimes does to the MC internally and how it affects his loved ones. The Shield was another good one for price of evil, which they explored with the entire cast throughout it’s run.

  3. Ooh, I like your insights. This requires more thought…

  4. That’s a great analysis, Susan. Gandalf even addresses it at the Council of Elrond when he first speaks the inscription of the ring in the language of Mordor and Elrond says it’s the first time anyone’s ever dared to do that – and Gandalf says they’d better get take it seriously if they don’t want to hear it everywhere all the time.

  5. C. Michael Hubbard

    That’s the reason I’ve always said that Samwise Gamgee is the TRUE hero of the Lord of the Rings. He stayed the true course the entire book, he did what Gandolf asked him to do, protect Frodo. Hell, he carried Frodo half way up Mount Doom. Yes, Frodo fought at the end, he also gave in at the end, it took Golem’s interference to stop Frodo’s powermonging. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And absolute love never gives up.

    • I’m going to have to agree about Samwise. What a good and noble Hobbit.

    • I agree! I could only get through the books once, years ago, so I don’t remember how it was and can only speak to the movies. The first time through, I was so unimpressed by Frodo who seemed like such a whiny little kid and was always getting into trouble and needing rescuing. By now I get that it’s the ring doing its thing to make it seem that way. But yeah, Sam’s very well portrayed as stout-hearted and true from the first time he draws his little sword on Strider. Every time he gives his speech in the Two Towers about the heroes in the old stories I get all teary eyed. Someday I want to write a fan-fiction in which Frodo is less whiny and Sam is Samantha.

  6. Of course, he does marry Rose Cotton…

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