"Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating."
I actually discovered this quote on Facebook last week, from one of those pages like “I Heart Libraries” or “I’m Too Literate for You” or something. At first, I was intrigued by the notion, but not keen on the adjectives used for real evil. Monotonous, barren, or boring is not how I would consider evil. It’s more like, well, evil. Horrible, devastating and definitely not romantic.
Then Newtown, Connecticut made the news and I understood. Everyday evil is the same. No one steals the moon or covers the earth in melted cheese or points a laser beam at Los Angeles to demand One-BILLION-Dollars. They kill. They kill one person or twenty-six, but it is all death, just death. Monotonous in real life. Barren of ideas. Boring in its sameness as we try to take in the tragedy and fight the numbness that comes with sensory overload.
But when we write about evil, it must be romantic and devious in the most horribly delicious way. Our villains are fun to write. The character studies of their brutish actions and evil schemes are often more fascinating than our heroes. We feel the thrill of getting into their skin and learning what makes them tick.
By contrast, our heroes cannot be Goody-Goodies. (Jesus need not apply.) They must have a weakness, a fatal flaw. They must be damaged and must rise above their situation to vanquish the evil we have invented. Those early good guys — the ones in the white hats — are laughable these days. Clayton Moore and Armie Hammer may have both played the Lone Ranger, but only one of them would even try to walk on water.
In real life, we don’t want our heroes broken. We want Clayton Moore. In real life, we don’t want to know that the pilot who saved everyone’s life by landing the plane safely was too drunk to know his own name at the time. We want Mr. Rogers, who is eternally good and true. He will lead us safely home.
Of course, if we were writing this story, our damaged hero would have fought his demons long enough to thwart the madman before an elementary school was attacked. The children would live. All would be well. It’s one of our basic instincts in storytelling, from the campfire to the paperback, to vanquish evil, to chase away the darkness. We defeat the boogeyman and let in the light, because mankind must survive.
Unless we’re writing horror, which is what December 14th turned out to be.
I cannot rewrite this story to make it end correctly. I can only try to give words of peace and songs of healing, which is why I’m going to end on this song. Yes, Marvin Gaye was the original and the master. However, I love this guy’s voice and I love the fact that every time he opens his mouth, I am happily surprised. Be honest, he looks like he should be following the Grateful Dead around.
And we could all use a happy surprise right about now.