Contemplation: Anti-Villains and Anti-Dark Lords

Yesterday, while talking to Eliza, I got to thinking about the idea of anti-villains and anti-dark lords (in particular we were talking about fantasy and science fiction stories).  While we didn’t flesh out a lot of details in the discussion proper, it did give me something to think about in regards to story creation.

In essence, I conclude, that if there can be anti-hero, then there should also be anti-villains.  An anti-hero, you may know, if a protagonist who lacks traits (and often has traits in complete opposition to) those general deemed as heroic.  As such, they may be immoral, cowardly, dishonest, self-interested, etc.  And while they may exhibit these less than admirable qualities, they still play the role of the protagonist within the narratives in which they exist.  With this in mind then, I would say that an anti-villain is an antagonist, who is not the traditional evil.  In fact, many of their actions may prove to be logically or even morally sound, but they are still in direct confrontation with the protagonist characters. I think anti-villains are actually quite common.  They are the people who cause problems for the main characters, but in the long run, we the audience, still sympathize with them, or, at least, have an understnading of why they act the way they do.

I am having a harder time with what to make of an anti-dark lord.  For those who are not familiar with the trope, a dark lord, in fiction (generally fantasy and sci-fi) is a primary antagonist who typically has vast power, control of many minions or henchmen, and is the creator or causer of the overall conflict within the story (often times there is also an element of world domination and/or destruction involved too).  As such, you get your Sauron, Darth Vader and the Emperor, Lord Voldemort, etc.

So what then would make an anti-dark lord? For starters I don’t think an anti-dark lord is necessarily an anti-villain (though I suppose they could be).  More so I think they are a primary antagonist, that does not have the whole making of a dark lord as above.  Thus, they may often be individuals without any particular network or infrastructure of support (they don’t have minions, or vast armies, or giant castles or what not).  Also, I think, that typically, their powers would be a lost more vague (no commanding the dark side of the force or making or one rings).   I think that, while they would serve as the primary antagonist within their narrative, their actions are less clearly seen in context with the overall conflicts within the story (I can imagine an assassin, whose murders are causing political turmoil within a nation or a lone terrorists, whose indiscriminate bombings have sparked moves towards a police state).  Also, while all the details of a dark lord are not always clearly known, there is at least general knowledge about the individual (character in Lord of the Rings know who Sauron is, likewise, while they avoid his name, and some details are vague, almost every character in Harry Potter is aware of who Voldemort is).  In this regards then, an anti-dark lord, would be essentially a true unknown to the other characters, and possibly even the audience themselves.

While trying to think of an example of an anti-dark lord I was only able to come up with one (and it is one that people may very much disagree with me on).  This one, is The Joker, as acted by Heath Ledger, in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”  Here are my reasons why.  First of all, everybody, including the audience, really doesn’t know anything about him at all.  He is a complete enigma and we’re never given any more insight into who his is or why he does the things he does (besides Alfred suggesting that some people just like to watch the world burn).  While he does some minimal organizing of other criminals, he essentially acts alone.  There is no indication of him having any particularly unique or greater powers than his own intellect and physical prowess.  And finally, while he is the unquestionably a major conflict, a big part of the problem with him is the seeds of corruption he plants (specifically in regard to Harvey Dent, which in turn results in Batman being made into a villain in the end himself).  I am sure there are some other examples of anti-dark lords.  I’d love to hear some thoughts from others on this.

Anyways, there you go, just some thought about character archetypes/tropes.  Makes me wonder, if you can Anti almost any archetype or trope.  Leave a comment, let me know what you all think.

~ by Nathaniel on January 11, 2013.

2 Responses to “Contemplation: Anti-Villains and Anti-Dark Lords”

  1. In terms of anti-dark lords, I wonder if the “anti” should apply to the “dark” and not the “lord.” The first example that came to mind (though not supernatural) was the first Emperor of China in the movie Hero. He was certainly the antagonist, the aggressor, a conqueror of nations and hated by the protagonist and his allies, but he was ultimately judged by the protagonist to be engaged in his campaign for acceptable reasons (if not truly noble reasons). So maybe the anti-dark lord isn’t reduced in stature (that seems to me to describe an anti-villain–it’s a matter of scale, isn’t it?), but an antagonist of lordly stature that seems to have a legitimate claim to the moral high ground.

    • I really like this way of thinking about it. In this way, people with relatively legitimate claims of rulership act as antagonists, even if they are not necessarily intent on particular evil.

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