N.D. Wilson on Villains

I love DRTV's interview with juvenile fiction writer N.D. Wilson. (You can watch it below.) He has so many stellar observations and insights into what ought to characterize children's literature that you'll want to watch it multiple times. This isn't just food for thought. It is Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking for thought.

So that brings me to some things he said about heroes and villains and how he hates the stock characters in the genre today. 

1. He hates it when villains are "jokes," or easily defeated. 

2. The evilness of the evil is what highlights the degree of goodness, righteousness, and justice.

3. Evil should not be a shallow moralism, but instead be an act of wrestling authority from its proper place and disfiguring the image of God.

4. Heroes should not stand and fight because they have a chance of winning. They should stand and fight because this is the right time and place to stand, come what may.

This all has it exactly correct. The only problem is his chosen example.

Harry Potter.

I admit to being more than a little baffled. When I interview guests I generally try to make it about the guest, not me. (That's why you won't often find me arguing with a guest. I'm there to draw out what they think about things.) So I'll just have to respectfully submit my rejoinder in a blog post.

1. Voldemort, the guy who establishes a fascist regime of power, murder, and fear, and casts the whole world (Magical and Muggle alike) into darkness and chaos, is not a joke. If anyone thinks The Deathly Hallows portrays a villain easily defeated, he hasn't read it. Throughout most of the book the reader is made to... well, despair. And, it should be noted, Harry doesn't defeat Voldemort by himself. It takes the entire cadre of faithful, steadfast friends who likewise have little hope of winning.

2. Voldemort's thirst for immortality comes by destroying others by way of murder; the contrast presented explicitly throughout the series is self-seeking hatred of others/self-sacrificing love for others. If there is a contrast any greater, it is not suggesting itself to me. Dark magic isn't "dark" because it's a different degree from "good" magic; it is fundamentally a different kind, a kind not animated by love.

3. In his quest for immortality, Voldemort disfigures his own person almost beyond recognition, and murders others in order to do it. I fail to see this as anything but point (3) above.

4. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought Wilson was talking about Harry Potter. Harry does not walk into the Forbidden Forest to meet his enemy because he has delusions of "winning." If that chapter doesn't fit Wilson's description of heroism, there is nothing in the history of children's fiction that does.

Again, I LOVE his insights and his points. I'd just modestly suggest he take the time to read the Harry Potter series all the way through. I have a suspicion it might just be the first time.

The Time is 1938

Ordinarily a visiting head of state speaking to a joint session of Congress is not a huge event. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done so on two prior occasions, with not a great deal of fanfare.

Yesterday was different. Very different. This time the White House rather publicly spurned the Prime Minister, questioned his motives, and, if reports are to be believed, didn't bother to even watch his speech, much less attend (along with dozens of Democrat members of Congress). The Prime Minister was not even welcomed at the White House. Why? Because Netanyahu came to America to share his grave concerns about the potential consequences of President Obama's impending "deal" with Iran over its nuclear program. These concerns are borne out of understandably heightened Jewish sensibilities. As Mr. Netanyahu has said on many occasions: "Jews have learned that when somebody threatens to annihilate you, you should believe them." On the long list of those who want the exterminate the Jewish people, Iran is at the top. And on the very short list of those who have the desire and potential capability of exterminating the Jewish people, Iran is essentially alone on the list. Their nuclear ambitions are a danger of incredible magnitude to our closest ally, and so, naturally, we have shut them out of the discussion. 

Now, President Obama has the thinnest skin of anyone to ever hold the office; true to this form, he is personally affronted by the leader of our closest ally publicly disagreeing with him on a major foreign policy issue. Because, as we should all know by now, it's all about him. Everything is about him. Not the survival of the Jewish people or stability in the Middle East or anything else (Count how many times Netanyahu says the word "I" or "me" and note the contrast. It's pretty close to zero.). Everything is about Obama's reputation and legacy. The President accordingly attempted to marginalize Netanyahu and his speech, and in this he made clear he does not want Israel's voice to even be so much as heard, much less heeded. It backfired. In a major way. The squabble only raised both public interest in the speech and its stakes.

And what a speech it was. If the Prime Minister was hoping to deliver something for the ages, he delivered it. This speech will be remembered. It will be remembered the same way many of Winston Churchill's speeches are remembered. I fear, like Churchill's speeches of the 1930s, it will be recalled with profound regret, along the lines of "Remember when we were warned about this?"

It had a clarity, sobriety, gravitas, and substance almost never heard in the halls of the United States Government. The writing was impeccable. The delivery powerful. It was so full of clarity and insight there was hardly a single sentence that is even debatable. It is no wonder the White House wanted this speech ignored. 

We ignore it at our peril. Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly clarifies the stakes as heretofore nobody has. This speech is a warning. The kind of warning we've heard before, from the lips of Winston Churchill. When he urges world leaders "not to make the mistakes of the past," his meaning is not hard to discern. It is not 2015. It is 1938 all over again. Only with the stakes far higher, for we are not just talking about conventional attempts at regional and global hegemony such as attempted by the Third Reich; we are talking about religious fanatics doing so with nuclear capabilities. From all appearances our President and his administration accept these capabilities as inevitable. Netanyahu finds this unacceptable, and so should we.

From the poetic perfection of his opening recitation of the Book of Esther to his closing exhortation from Moses, Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a warning of historic significance. I hope and pray the history books don't look back on it with regret.