214 – Moral Dilemmas

The Mythcreant Podcast
Sometimes your hero is stuck between two choices, neither of which have a good outcome. Will they allow the villain to escape or shoot said villain in the back? Will they destroy one city to save another? Will they eat less at dinner so they have more room for dessert? Those are all moral dilemmas, which is our topic for this week. Listen as we discuss common problems with moral dilemmas, how to avoid those problems, and what moral dilemmas can add to the story. Plus, why doesn’t Dragon Prince’s Claudia carry a meat cleaver with her at all times?

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Star Trek Discovery

The Truman Show

Infinity War

Dragon Prince

Avatar: The Last Airbender 

The 100

Legend of Korra

Harry Potter



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  1. DvD

    “Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.”—Lord Farquaad, Shrek. 2001

  2. Tifa

    Oh, this is such an interesting topic. I greatly enjoyed listening to it.

    I have noticed the ‘contrived solution’ show up so much, especially in stories that so desperately want to appear ‘deep’ and ‘meaningful’, but fall flat for one reason or another. >.<

  3. Fay Onyx

    I’ll attempt to recreate my lost comment.

    I think that the biggest factor in whether or not an alternative option to a moral dilemma is satisfying is whether that alternative involves a shift to a new moral framework. This new moral framework presents new options for solving the conflict and the old moral dilemma is revealed to have been a false choice. Shifting to a new moral framework resolves the moral conflict by taking it in a new direction that provides a solution. Without this shift to a new moral framework, the third option simply becomes a sidestepping of the moral dilemma that fails to resolve that conflict.

    The earth king’s choice to create a democracy is a great example of this. Through his growth as a character he is able come to the realization that no one person should have all the power (this is the new moral framework) and from that realization he finds a better solution.

    • Fay Onyx

      I did want to add that tricksters can sometimes get away with sidestepping moral dilemmas with trickery. When done well this can take two different directions.

      1) The trickster is operating out of a different moral framework (sometimes this is less obvious) that says that they don’t have to make these sort of choices because there always is an alternative. In these situations they aren’t really sidestepping the moral dilemma, so this continues to be satisfying (assuming their solutions are clever).

      2) The trickster is sidestepping a moral dilemma for a period of time but ultimately comes to a situation where they are forces

      • Fay Onyx

        That second one should read:

        2) The trickster is sidestepping a moral dilemma for a period of time but ultimately comes to a situation where they are forced to make a choice.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Yay, this comment was reconstructed from the ether!

  4. Lucy

    This was an interesting listen, as always – thank you!

    I think writers often just want to have their cake and eat it. Moral dilemmas are interesting and can make for very compelling reading … but they are also, by definition, kinda horrible. Either you have to come up with a third way (and risk it coming across as contrived, as you say), or accept that your story is just going to be a bit of a downer. I think people often fall in love with the ideas, but just can’t bring themselves to go through with it. The, uh, dilemma of writing a moral dilemma? (sorry)

    I was reminded of Doctor Who, which constantly pulls contrived solutions out of nowhere, and Torchwood: Children of Earth, which …. really didn’t. They went through with the whole ‘you’ve got to kill one innocent person to save a whole bunch of other innocent people’ thing, and it was pretty brutal.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Yeah you really have to be sure you know what you’re saying with moral dilemmas, otherwise it just comes off as contrived or depressing. Fay is really onto something with solutions that change the moral paradigm though, wish we’d thought of that on the podcast.

  5. Sarah West

    Great episode!

    I don’t think the end of The Truman Show was setting up a moral dilemma between Truman doing what’s best for the audience/show (staying) versus himself (leaving). I think it was supposed to be a choice between safety and freedom. Staying in the show meant that he’d be protected in a predetermined, but not real, life.

    We discussed this movie in my 9th grade Advanced Studies unit on philosophy (*NNNNNEEEEERRRD!*). The Truman Show is meant to be like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where he’s only experiencing the “shadows” of reality in his safe little world, and he has to make the choice of leaving, even though it’s dangerous. The show’s audience represents all of us viewers making this decision with him as they live through him and route for him.

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