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.

Brian Mattson