‘They shall be my finest warriors, these men who give themselves to me.
Like clay I shall mould them and in the furnace of war I shall forge them.
They will be of iron will and steely muscle.
In great armour shall I clad them and with the mightiest gun shall they be armed.
They will be untouched by plague or disease, no sickness will blight them.
They will have tactics, strategies and machines such that no foe will best them in battle.
They are my bulwark against the terror.
They are the defenders of Humanity.
They are my Space Marines…
…and they shall know no fear.”
-The Emperor of Man, Warhammer 40,000
The Warhammer Universe is a grimdark setting where war is eternal and man has become united across parts of the galaxy by the greatest Shaman to ever live. Yet that man’s very creations in his Great Crusade would steadily turn against him until the powers of chaos were at his door. This setting is filled with thousands of different options and concepts. Racism is rampant, and so is persecution on a grand level. Entire worlds can be put to the torch if one Inquistor deems it necessary (I am being a tad bit hyperbolic here). This is a world of war eternal and a place where evil is fairly definable on many levels.
However, I tend to dislike this kind of over the top “grimdark” interpretation for myself and for years I’ve often leaned toward a grayer sense of the moral high ground. Many people will often tell you that there is a right or wrong in this world. That is the basis of how people view the notions of justice in the real world.
Lets Talk About The Eye of the Beholder
Cultural tendencies and gaze hugely effect what people consider right and wrong. A young kid on the street selling drugs might be doing it for his family or for himself. A girl who does the same or comes to lead a vast corporate enterprise may think she’s doing great things for the local populace. Some will see the young kid as a cockroach who spreads a problem, and that girl as a destroyer of families. One person’s hero is another person’s tyrant. That is a consideration I make everyday when I think about how my writing is going to proceed.
There are obvious evils and broken people in this world. Ted Bundy is a tragic figure, but trying to apologize for his actions without laying them on his doorstep (an extreme example I know). Ghenghis Khan is considered by many to be a great inspiration figure, and yet he killed thousands of people. The Mongols destroyed entire cities and it is said that Tamerlane built a pyramid of skulls in Dehli. Yet their actions brought about a peace that was said to bring no bandits all across the Silk Road.
Everyone sees things in a different light, some see the actions of Ghenghis as horrendous and others as great. Southerners view Ulysses S Grant as a bad man for eliminating freedoms during reconstruction and native Americans see Jackson as a genocidal leader (they are not wrong really). We often pursue a story of great men and women in our history and through that we construct a narrative where the bad is gleamed away. Not in my universe. Good and evil walk side by side and are indistinguishable from each other. In the Amazon series the Amazons face off with conspiracy while also devouring themselves with internal politics. The Faeru of Land in the Stars talk about the greatness of Empire while sticking their boot upon the neck of the downtrodden.
“Conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard.”
Keep Things Questionable
One respite I take in writing is the capability of forcing a read to question the motives of the main character. In the Amazon novels there are obvious villains and there are characters who quite easily are walking a line. Liam as the former IRA man has killed people in a near fanatical sense to “free Ireland” from “british influence”. What he ends up doing in the novel later on causes him to question who he really is. Was his taking part in human trafficking worth the money, and can he be redeemed?
Nyla Clarkson deals with trying to make sense of who and what she is. She solves murders and crimes and yet has to do deals with the Fae who often do not see human life as worthy anything more than that of a bug. She cannot kill the Fae as they provide her answers for who she is and a sense of what she may become. It is a dichotomy which causes people to say, “I am not a Dragon Slayer”. A quote derived from Liam in “Arrow Child” when he views himself in the context of the shining knight.
White Knights are the John Carters of the world; the Prince Charmings that aim to bring an end to the evil Dragon. Even Aragorn son of Arathorn however had problems (he was kind of a douche at parts to Eowyn), and even Boromir felt the tinge of the Ring. Characters need struggle, and so do the peoples they are related to. You don’t need to create a grain to grind against, but you need to create difference so that conflict can occur. I don’t write stories about knights that save damsels (I love them, but also find writing them boring). I write stories where the Dragon might be the hero, or where the knight might be a drunkard trying to make a quick buck (a Farscape influence).
One of the reasons we love characters who question our morality is that often at times we like understand them better. Scorpius deserves utter hatred and yet his desire in Farscape to find a means of defeating the Scarrans and tragic upbringing rope us in. This is why Grey Morality is fun and at times tragic. It forces the reader to look into themselves and consider what they think. As the magistrate said in the “Avatar Day” episode of ATLA:
“I say what happened, then you say what happened, and then I decide who’s right. That’s why we call it justice. Because it’s ‘just us’!”
-Mayor Tong of Chin Village