Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I've been working lately on an adventure story, and I'd like to spend a moment talking about mooks, henchmen, and storm troopers.

As I get older, I'm less and less able to watch or read violence directed at undifferentiated hordes of evil people, often monstrous or anonymous, made up of some genetically evil stock or just wearing face masks that render them human shaped but not quite human. Or rather, I'm able to read it, but I'm far less able to accept that the people doing the killing are heroes.

As a side note, I find I'm less able to watch horrific violence in general- bones snapping, people's heads being turned around backwards, even just punches to the face that, when I was a child, were just so much expected material in action movies and action fiction for me- except with the caveat that it's presented as horrific. I love reading horror and watching flesh get peeled back, slow deliberate cuts, whatever, so long as the feeling that all of this is terribly wrong is what it feels like the author is trying to convey (I feel like there's a distinct difference between violence as horror and the kind of gross out torture-porn...I don't want to call it a subgenre. Let's call it a tradition).

A friend of mine has written a novel that starts with a person hypnotizing an old man in order to steal a sacred artifact. In her mind, this character is obviously a villain, but her first readers were taking him as the hero- probably in part because of his position in the narrative, but I think it's not negligible that this is adventure fiction, and we're not at all surprised when the "good" people have murdered five unnamed people in the first ten pages.

I'm not trying to make any grand statement about it really, it's a personal preference thing for me and it flies in the face of genre convention, but I can't help thinking that all these palace guards, policemen, members of the army, tribes of foreigners- to the extent that this world the book is building for me is believable and real, they are also real people. They have mothers and husbands and a favorite icecream, even if I don't know what it is. There's a chance they petted a kitten on the way to work today, where they're trying to save up money to buy that dream house for the person they love. They're not even going to get described. They don't merit a line of dialogue. They're just going to die a largely unnecessary death to show that the hero is a badass before some more narratively important villain comes to face them.

I dunno. Maybe that's defaulting too much to giving people the benefit of the doubt, but if you're working on the assumption that most people probably deserve to die for something... well then what's the point of saving the village, or for that matter saving the hero?

So, yeah. Mooks. 


  1. This - the thought that every individual is worthy of remembrance - is kind of a western notion, to be honest. Ask yourself how many of the Persians in Xerxes hordes' who died in ancient Greece are remembered today. Those that are, are mostly known from Western sources. Not saying you're incorrect, just stylishly Occidental. Not like you at all.

    In a less jabbing tone, I will say that I get what you're saying but I think the nature of the heroic genre makes characterization of every soldier falling in the mud quite a bit more complex. But it might be worth it for the main characters to have that conversation at some point.

    On a more cynical note, I'd say we enter the world naked, bloody and screaming, - then exit it the same way. Everything in between is just marking time, so does it matter who remembers us?

    Where I am going with all this? Eh, beats me.

  2. This comment got caught in the spam filter and I'm not sure how. Just found it, sorry about that!