G is for good vs. evil

The classic theme for epic fantasy is good vs. evil. It’s big, it changes the world, nations hang in the balance. The nations of the North unite to fight Sauron. Only the Sword of Shannara can defeat the darkness. The Rebels have to destroy the Empire. Good must be triumphant.

This lack of shades of gray is why some people don’t believe that George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is epic fantasy. It may have all the trappings (although use of magic is low), but all the stakes are personal, individual goals. I’ll come back to this idea when I hit the letter “S.” (Ha! You’ve just had a sneak peek!)

What do you think? Do you like to read or write good vs. evil stories?

This is a post for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. My theme is epic fantasy, and blog posts will cover authors, books, tropes, themes, or anything else I can think of to fill the alphabet. Check out some of the other bloggers participating or follow my blog by e-mail if you like what you’ve read.

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  1. Pretty much what it’s all about.

  2. I like them but they tend to be BIG stories – movies and ten-sequel books. I try not to write in such black & white absoluteness. Most people prefer reading shades of gray I think.

    I’ve never read anything by George R R Martin and am beginning to think I’m the only one who hasn’t. I’ll really be looking forward to S.

    • They can be big, true, although they don’t have to be. When Sword of Shannara came out, it was a standalone book and still works well that way.

      My husband hasn’t read Martin yet, either, although we have two copies of the first book lying around. He has less and less time for fiction, I think.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. I think if you broke down most any story, a basic building block or theme line would be good v evil. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale. The evil could be an irksome personality trait that has to be overcome. So yes, I read good v evil stories, they are everywhere.

    • I don’t think irksome personality traits qualify as evil. Bad or wrong, yes, but that’s not the same thing as evil. Someone who doesn’t pay attention to the feelings of others isn’t in the same category as a man who just doesn’t care because others are beneath him or as a woman who knows exactly what everyone’s feeling and uses those feelings to manipulate others and get what she wants.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. I LOVE the Song of Ice and Fire series. It’s amazing. Great post and happy A-Z blogging.

  5. I like to read about good vs. evil because I like seeing how different people define what makes something “good” or “evil.” (For instance, whether or not an irksome personality trait is a part of evil.) And I love questions of character that come up… What about when good people do bad things? Are they still good people? Or does the end justify the means? Well, maybe that’s a different question, but it can come up in good/evil stories.

  6. I’ve used good vs evil on occasion, but generally my characters have a little bit of both. Too much of one or the other tend to make a flat, boring character/story. I like to see the “good” person fall off the wagon once in a while and the “bad” person show a chink in their armor.

    • I’ve heard that argument, and I agree that cardboard characters aren’t interesting, and most people in real life are a mix — although again, I hesitate to use the term “evil” to describe somebody who jaywalks or takes an extra tax deduction or disagrees with me politically.

      I have to admit, I never found Aragorn boring. He may have been hard, but I don’t think he was bad, per se. It can be easy to make characters who are flat, but the challenge of making characters who are good and not flat is an interesting one.

      Thank you for stopping in and commenting!

  7. I do enjoy a well written GvE (Good versus Evil) story, but oh dear, I get so tired of the same old tropes. The tortured hero, the plucky orphan sidekick, as Li said above, cardboard characters and plot lines, etc.

    I do think too, that GvE is a western Christianised archetype (that has been reduced to a very basic stereotype) , and that we’ve missed out on so many other rich concepts from other cultures. There are stories out there based on these, but they’re well hidden. And, perhaps, western culture in general isn’t ready to embrace their complexities. After all Peter Pan and Luke Skywalker did save the day quite adequately.

    • Yes, there are stories out there that are predicated on other ideas, or that talk about conflicts without assigning good and evil to either side. I know I have friends who got mad at George R. R. Martin for some of the POVs he chose to write from because they didn’t want to sympathize with particular characters.

      Can you recommend specific concepts that you’ve seen done well, or would like to see more attention paid to?

  8. My personal fave take on the GvE theme was the Babylon 5 series. The Vorlons represented good (they looked like angels inside their encounter suits) but they were a tad bit anal. The Shadows, on the other hand, represented evil–but if you remained loyal to them you were in like flint with them…

    • I loved Babylon 5! Still wear my B5 T-shirt occasionally. Yes, I’m a geek.

      Thanks for commenting!

  9. Pingback: S is for scope and stakes | Erin M. Hartshorn

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