Thursday, 12 October 2017

Q&A part 3

This is the 3rd part (of four) articles from the Q&A I had with AndyK much earlier in the year. The topic this time: which character is most evil?

Spoiler alert!

Once again, because we discussed books 1 & 2, this contains spoilers if you haven't read them: i.e., it's only intended for people who've read Wild Thing and Harsh Lessons.

Which Character is Most Evil?

L: Harmon sees himself as logical, clinical, dispassionate, and sees those all as good things. He tells himself that shaping Leeth to develop magical powers is a great gift to her. (From what I've read, there are some psychologists in the real world who are equally blind to the human side of their science.)

A: Until the point where he put his dispassionate thingie into her panties. And generates stress by putting her in gags and schoolgirl uniforms.

It should have been obvious even to himself that he lost it there. And that their relationship is steering towards a big disaster.

L: Well, yes.  And he does know he lost it there.  Though he avoids thinking about that, and blames her for goading him to that point, and then avoids further thought on the subject.

And he also sees Leeth as resisting and obstructing and heading them towards disaster.  In his mind, if she just was a little more ‘sensible", it would all work out.

But Harmon is also consciously trying not to value their relationship, since that would make it harder to carry out his experiment.

But, wow, worse than Stalin — that's saying something!

A: Stalin loved his children. He adored his daughter. :}

L: Erk!

But it's an interesting question, I think: is everyone redeemable, or are some people beyond redemption?  My feeling is there are some people who are irredeemable, but they're a tiny minority.

I think much of what Harmon has done is inexcusable, and to the meagre extent he thinks about it, he irrationally blames Leeth for pushing him so far.

A: Yeah.. redirection and deflection. Again as a shrink he should be able to see the signs in himself.

L: He should be able to.  But I have read of psychologists who fail in exactly that way, in the real world. Which I think is classic rationalisation.

A: And that, yes.

L: I mean it's what set him on the slippery slope. And he completely misunderstood himself (thinking he could remain detached), and refused to see how much Leeth was in fact breaking down his detachment.

A: Lust and control... I don't see any emotional attachment there?

L: I'm offering that merely to explain my thinking, that I think what he did was plausible: not to defend his actions!

A: Of course. I know. I try to put myself in his head and I have trouble understanding his decisions. I don't have this problem with any other of your characters. To the extent I got introduced to them.

L: That probably means you're a lot more emotionally intelligent than Harmon.  I think a lot of people would have trouble getting inside his head.  And probably most people would be reluctant to even try.

Come to think of it, that may be the root of the horror from some readers: they may have hated being presented with the possibility of getting inside such a head.  Perhaps they felt it might pollute them. (For which I'm sorry.)

Leeth is incredibly stubborn, strong willed and self certain. She copes with stress to an astonishing degree. So to get her to a point where ‘something must give' requires torment way beyond what any non-psychopath would allow. Harmon knows he would never ever get permission to do what he's doing if he asked, or if anyone found out.

A: But this torture also means he is producing someone who hates and despises him. A mortal enemy.

He should know that and look for a better way if he isn't doing it because he enjoys it.

L: Not while she believed he was doing it for some good reason.  ‘For her own good.'  After that, yeah, it becomes close to impossible for him.

But I don't see how I could have followed the other approach: pretending to care for her while continually putting her under stress. Sooner rather than later she'd complain; and yet he would keep doing it, and so the pretence would break down.

The justification Harmon gives himself for doing what he did, apart from the ‘need' to prevent her acting against the Dept, was the knowledge that it will start generating pressure, and force her to ‘the next level'. It's probably lucky for Harmon that she escaped at the end of book 2 — too much pressure tends to end in a catastrophic explosion.

In my view, after magic returned, extra options appeared for some people when they are placed under unbearable stress. Disten (with Godsson's magical change) is exploiting one of these.  What he does seems to me far crueller than what Harmon does to Leeth.  Even I think it's utterly horrible.

A: You think so? I would STRONGLY disagree there.
This alien spirit or whatever it is, tries to better humans. By taking away their emotions. Okay, he kills without much hesitation but... In a twisted way it seems as if he actually wants to help. He is just.... alien. I don't know all that much about his motivations yet. I truly can't bring myself to see him as the main antagonist of the story. Even if he is some form of toxic/insect spirit who took over in a moment of extreme distress he still is not THAT irredeemable to me.

Harmon on the other hand, causes pain. Deliberately. And to someone who is dependent on him. Who is helpless. Who he should nurture and protect. He causes her suffering and uses her to satiate his sexual urges. So... I am neither particularly religious (nor particularly moral for that matter) but he is about the most irredeemable character I can remember reading about. And yes, I read ‘Mein Kampf' and a biography about Stalin.

L: The ‘choices' Disten offers his paired victims is literally the worst thing I can imagine anyone suffering through. He consciously does it to put them in a situation where the possible responses are madness or complete abandonment of the ability to experience emotion. With the result that most of them (are so decent and human) that they prefer a third option, and choose death rather than co-operation.

A: Hmm... vs. putting a compulsion on a young girl that forces her to do exactly what she does not want to do. Robbing her free will. Torturing her, abusing her, raping her. Well... I have a clear winner here.:}

L: To me, trying to force someone else to do even worse things than that, to someone they love, feels far, far worse.

For the human and emotional threads, Harmon and Leeth's awful relationship is at the heart of the first several books.  But a big theme is the importance of emotions.  The more I think about that, the more I suspect that emotions will be the key to the survival of our species in real life, in the long term. [Later note: We will need to create AI which has empathy and experiences emotions.]

A: Hmm… maybe this explains why we have such a different view of who the main villain is in your story.

Because it's hate and greed that drives us to do all the awful things humans do. Wars, environmental destruction... the list is endless.

And yes, I know, for all the dark emotions there are light ones. The question everyone has to answer for themselves is if the tradeoff is worth it.

L: See what you think of Harmon at the end of book 3.  I think Harmon is ‘blinded by science' — and he and Leeth are in many ways ideally unsuited: each provokes the other.  But he's shocked by much of what Leeth does, despite much of it being his responsibility.

A: ‘blinded by science' doesn't fly.... nonono  :-}
The Scopolamine I could understand. But he also used a rape drug on her to pretty much steal her virginity. He can't book that under science. And what he did to her in book two is just about dominance and control. About his own ego, his own lusts and not about science. Add these ‘games' he plays with her… if all this is science why did he go to such great lengths to prevent her from talking about it? If he could explain it as a scientific method then why hide?

I would seriously say if you wanted Harmon to be in any way a redeemable character you made him far too extreme.

It would be interesting to see a poll from all your readers how they see the antagonists in the story. Maybe I'm alone in my judgement. But I seriously doubt it.

#Harmon_must_die :-}

L: I'm sure you would be in good company! The aphrodisiac drug and sex are a total failure of ethics and morality: he fell to temptation; a temptation which he himself (subconsciously) engineered. There is no excuse for that. But his motivations were more complex than that.

Harmon would say Leeth's personality and her development is important, and he does not want to stunt it, just ‘direct' it. He wants her to grow, even though the decisions she typically makes are often enormously frustrating to him. But he admires her enormously, too. He wishes she would be more compliant, even while recognising that a compliant personality would be completely unsuitable for his scientific needs.

A: Well, of course she doesn't listen to him. As a shrink he should know that raising her in an emotional vacuum will also waste any possibility to ‘bond' with him. He wouldn't need to love her to hold her and comfort her. And this would build trust and a means to direct and control her. I don't quite understood why he wasted that.

By the time of his great betrayal in book two of course all those options were gone. By then he made himself into her enemy. Again something that seems short sighted to me.

I do understand Leeth's character and her decisions pretty well. They are plausible.

But Harmon's character... his decisions puzzle me still. Is he on the line of ‘intelligent people make dumb decisions too' or more ‘things get bad quick if you succumb to lust and animalistic desires"?

L: Partly it's a mixture of both. But more importantly, controlling her is only a means to an end for Harmon. His main purpose is to stress her enough to make her magic Unfold, as his theory predicts will happen.

Affectionate touching makes Harmon acutely uncomfortable. 

A: That is actually an important information. Leeth mentions it once if I remember correctly. But it didn't really register with me.

But it hints that something is pretty ‘off' with him...

L: Yes. And tied in with that is his belief, as you say, that ‘things get bad quick if you succumb to lust and animalistic desires'.  I see him as not at all emotionally wise — perhaps what drew him to studying the subject of psychology: to try to make sense of people.

A: That is an interesting tidbit of information. Might not be a bad idea to weave that into the story. That Harmon is ‘damaged goods' himself.

Maybe that would make readers a little bit sympathetic for this character.

L: Deep down, he feels it's obvious that he knows what's best for Leeth, and she should just do as she's told by him.  So that's what drives the ‘intelligent person making dumb decisions' aspect.

A: Okay, I can get behind that. But the very essence of ‘intelligent' or ‘rational' is that he reflects on his decisions. That should result in the realization that his approach simply doesn't work and only alienates her further.

But I get it, he is the type of guy that doesn't use a chisel if he can use a mallet. And that's what steers him (them) into this disaster.

L: Perhaps the thing that most gets under his skin is having his advice (instructions) ignored or rejected.

A: Okay, this, again, makes sense for the character. But with all his education in this field he should understand the mechanics why someone (especially a child) accepts guidance. And under which circumstances it does not.

L: I agree that Harmon is quite extreme. Whether he's too extreme is something each reader of course judges for themselves. But in my view, even so, Leeth is more than Harmon can handle.

A: I am very curious to see that. Her breakout and rescue is a nice first glimpse…

And I think that will do for now. The final topic we covered, that I plan to share, was the darkness of the story. I'll leave that until next time.

1 comment:

Barbara Strickland said...

I don't think most authors would have the understanding of your characters, that you do. A very interesting blog post.