Friday, March 27, 2009

The Dark Is Rising*

I am going to start making book recommendations through the titles of my blog posts. Each title will be the name of a book and will reflect a topic I wish to address. I will try to always include a small blurb at the end of each entry about the book I’ve included. For this entry, I’ve chosen The Dark Is Rising because it is the perfect lead-in to talk about villains, and a perfect title/theme to counterpoint my blog post “Esperanza Rising.”

There’s an interesting line from the movie The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” One thing I’ve learned from my reading experience is that the line between hero and villain is actually a lot thinner than most readers realize. In fact, I would argue that the best villains are the ones most like their respective heroes.

Take, for instance, the Queen from Snow White. Beauty is the defining characteristic of both the Queen and Snow White and the key to each women’s rise to power. It’s a simple comparison, but we’re talking about a fairy tale with a basic story line, so the comparison works. Think about it: the Queen, perhaps, was a carbon copy of Snow White when she was a young girl. But that’s where the similarities end. In contrast, for the Queen, beauty is a curse that leads to vanity and jealousy, but for Snow White it’s a blessing. She’s so beautiful, in fact, that the woodsman sent to kill her spares her out of mercy. Why is that?

And then there’s Star Wars, and the brilliance of that saga is that the villain is the hero. It is Anakin’s story after all, not Luke’s. Luke just carries the saga forward in the middle of the story, in place of his father, and acts as Darth Vader’s means of redemption. The story is not complete until Anakin’s story is fully told. Furthermore, the Darth Vader/Luke dynamic only proves the hero-villain theory that the best duos are more alike than different: both are powerful, with similar Jedi training. They even share the same genes! But they use the same means to achieve different ends.

Returning to The Dark Knight: What is it that causes a hero to become the villain? And conversely, what prompts a villain to redeem himself, as Darth Vader does? To explain, I’m reminded of another line from another story: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

That, of course, is a line from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I love that book particularly for its hero-villian conflict, as Harry debates whether or not he should have been a Slytherin. The idea of choices is what Chamber of Secrets--and the difference between a hero and a villain--boils down to. The best hero-villain pairs are those who clearly illustrate the choice between good and evil, which is the essence of truth. And they illuminate truth by showing us the same situation with vastly different outcomes.

Yes, Dumbledore is a wise man indeed.

Note: The Dark is Rising is the title of the fantasy series by Susan Cooper. The Dark Is Rising is also the name of the second book in the series.

Update: Looks like Entertainment Weekly stole my topic this week. Check it out here: http://www.ew.com/ew/inside/issue/0,,ewTax:1041,00.html

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