Dark or light?

But today there is no day or night
Today there is no dark or light.
Today there is no black or white,
Only shades of gray.

(Not talking about THAT Shades of Grey, honest!  Really annoyed that phrase is being hijacked so I couldn’t use it as my title)

Life’s not fair.  There’s nothing more obvious to me than that.  Anyone who looks for the fairness in life is wasting their time.  And so we turn to books instead – at least there we can tell right from wrong – or can we?

I remember the Harry Potter series (anyone heard of it?!) – Snape was always painted as so nasty, but I was convinced there had to more to him than that.  On the other hand, Dumbledore was set up as good, but there were times when I found myself questioning whether maybe he wasn’t quite as good as he appeared.  The idea was scary and unsettling – if you can’t rely on fictional characters to be clear what side they’re on, what can you rely on?

I still remember reading Pride and Prejudice at school, at the age of around 14, and coming across a scene where Mrs Bennett is joking with someone.  It shocked me, because up until then my childish brain had always assumed that characters were either good or bad, and I’d cast Mrs Bennett into the bad role, so how could she be friendly and joking?  I honestly think that was the moment I first realised that fictional characters could have a real depth to them (I grew up on Enid Blyton, remember? 😉  )

This raises its head again because of a book I’m reading – I’m currently on book three of Elle Casey’s War of the Fae series.  In it we meet the Dark Fae and the Light Fae, and there’s arguments between them that lead me to wonder if the Dark Fae are as bad as they’re portrayed or if it’s just propaganda, and I find myself desperately searching for clues to know who’s right.  It’s exciting and challenging to read a story where the sides aren’t clearly defined, but I also find it unsettling.

How do you tell the good from the bad anyway?  My usual rule is to look at their methods.  If they use nasty methods, they’re unlikely to be good.  Trouble is, once you get down to it, both sides often seem equally capable of behaving badly.  In Stargate Atlantis, for example, there are times where the good guys are prepared to resort to torture and other unethical treatments in order to ensure their own survival. Is that, when you get down to it, what we are all doing?  Doing what we need to in order to survive?  I believe there is a line to which we are prepared to go, beyond which we feel we are unable to push without losing ourselves in the process.  For each of us that line is probably in a different place, but each person has things they’re prepared to do and things that push them beyond their limits.  I’ve a nasty feeling that the line can often be far further than we would like to admit.

So do we need to know who’s on which side in order to enjoy a story?  Is it better to have shades of grey instead?  Can we identify with the bad guys instead of the good guys? I might just have to put that to the test in a story some day…

PS the link at the top goes to the full lyrics of the song – check it out, great lyrics and a great song as well.

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1 Comment

  1. We’re told aren’t we, that no character is all good or all bad. Hero’s have to have flaws. It’s like Dexter…..very clever that we end up being on the side of the serial killer lol 😉

    In answer to your question, I’m not too sure lol, but I love characters that surprise you 😉



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