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Marissa Lingen

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“We’ll only create a martyr!” [Aug. 29th, 2014|03:08 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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I really liked some of the things Fred Clark said in this Slacktivist post about politics, martyrdom, and disgrace. I particularly wanted to highlight this part for my fellow fantasy writers:

There’s this mistaken idea in a lot of heroic stories that the oppressive evil villains can’t afford to kill the rebellious hero because they can’t risk turning them into a martyr. But that’s not how oppressive evil villains — or oppressive evil systems — work. They can kill without making martyrs because everyone they kill they also actively disgrace.

We–fantasy writers–are addicted to this trope. “We can’t kill him! We’ll only create a martyr!” says the villain. “Oh noes! Not a martyr! That’s way worse than, like, a live political operative wreaking havoc all over the land, and incidentally having crazy magical powers to boot! And also we are powerless against a martyr!”

Often what we mean when we do this is, “We can’t kill him! Our author would really like to write five more books if this one is successful!” And, y’know, I feel you, characters. I like having my favorite characters still around–both as a writer and as a reader. But we need a better reason to do that–like not walking characters into those traps in the first place. A reason that isn’t stupid. A reason that doesn’t make the real-life people who are killed look worse because they’ve been treated as real people always are: as people who can be disgraced by those in power, whose flaws can be played up or even manufactured, rather than as the mythical all-powerful martyrs.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


From: swan_tower
2014-08-30 01:01 am (UTC)
You know, this is something Robert Jordan actually did pretty well, late in the Wheel of Time. One of the protagonists had set herself up as basically an anti-pope to somebody else's pope, and got captured by the other side. The villain correctly surmised that just straight-up executing her would in fact have a martyr effect, galvanizing the opposition and turning some of her own people against her.

So what did she do?

She humiliated the captured character. Demoted her back to novice and made her do all the most banal tasks around the place, interspersed with physical punishment when the captive refused to bow her head and accept her new status. Which turned the whole thing into a battle of wills, the captive looking for ways to hold onto her dignity while the villain tried to strip it from her. This was both dramatic and much more in line with how stuff goes in reality -- sans, perhaps, it reaching the point where the disgraced person is then killed, but that's in part because other plot came crashing into it.

(It is also possibly the sole intelligent thing that villain did in the entire series . . . but that's a separate matter.)

Now I'm wondering what other books I've read where things have gone the disgrace route, rather than the all-powerful martyrdom shield.
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