27 – Worlds of Good and Evil

The Mythcreant Podcast

Oren, Chris, and Mike discuss how black and white morality is built into worlds, particularly through magic systems. They examine how good and evil are represented in different stories, and question the difference between light and dark magic.

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Have a question or comment for our hosts? Send it to [email protected]

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

Show Notes:

Unforgivable Curses in Harry Potter

The Light Side vs the Dark Side of the Force

Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

The Recluce Series by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

Madoka Magica (On Netflix)

The Powers That Be

The First Evil

The Dark Crystal

Skin of Evil from Star Trek: The Next Generation

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Belgariad and the Mallorean by David Eddings

The Silmarillion

The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Anderson

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  1. Bill

    This was interesting at first, and the insights about various modern films and anime remained fascinating throughout, so I was disappointed by the hosts’ simplistic understanding of the history of the good/evil binary as it has appeared in various religions, philosophies, and fiction.

    For most of human history, morality has been perceived as an inherent force of reality itself, and it was not until the 20th and 21st centuries that the notion of reality as “dead” or neutral and the notion of morality as merely philosophical viewpoint arising from human interpretation have gained any major social purchase.

    Fantasy tales often re-create the earlier postulate of a “living” universe, often one at war between good/order and evil/disorder in the same way that a single human soul might have conflict between his or her superego and id (to use a Freudian analogy) or in the same way that single human body might have health warring with a potentially fatal disease, with the heroes there to help the “living” universe’s better half triumph or help the “living” universe beat the analogous disease of evil. This notion of a “living” reality is seen clearly in Star Wars, the various Narnia stories, and the Lord of the Rings, and it is heavily flirted with in Harry Potter, Madoka Magica, and the Dark Crystal.

    Yet the hosts seem incapable of transcending their 20th and 21st century filter bubbles when trying to discuss stories which attempt to re-create the earlier vision of a “living” reality with morality as a universal force. Instead, they repeatedly return to judging these stories by 20th/21st century notions of a “dead” or neutral reality, notions founded on postulates of scientific materialism, the Enlightenment, and militant religious fundamentalism that contradict the basic axioms about reality which so many modern fantasies attempt to replicate and then play with.

    It honestly appeared at first as though this podcast would avoid the pitfalls that plague most modern podcasts about the “living” realities of fantasy fiction. Because so much of this was interesting and avoided other pitfalls, the hosts’ simplistic understanding of the good/evil binary becomes that much more disenheartening.

    • Mike Hernandez

      Hi Bill thanks for your comment. While I didn’t express it using the exact same terminology you are, I did bring up how Star Wars draws inspiration from ancient belief traditions that set the universe as itself a struggle between good and evil. Which I agree with you is one of the very interesting about it.

      Chris also seconded your point on Madoka Magica, which I only watched after we recorded this cast (Hadn’t heard of it before, alas. I am working on becoming more literate in anime). This show makes my “loved it” list, in part because of the interesting dynamics of magic in their world. I especially liked… *Spoilerish Comment Finished Below*

      Also the three of us don’t speak with a single voice (that would make two of us redundant!). Oren, Chris and I often hold differing opinions on things and I think if you continue to follow us you’ll see how we agree to disagree as often as we reach consensus.

      *Spoilerish Comment Here* I especially liked how Madoka Magica changed it’s fundamental worldbuilding at the end, recreating the world with variation of its original moral framework.

  2. Bill

    One clear example of the simplistic understanding is the painfully culturally biased statement, “That concept is incredibly silly, because it creates a universe of cosmic rules lawyering, where good and evil don’t really reflect human values at all — they’re just these weird kinds of cosmic forces … It stops being a moral choice because it has nothing to do with intent but becomes arbitrary because the universe was created that way” (with stammering cleaned up).

    For most of human history, most people have viewed good and evil as universal forces that should be the template or inspiration for human values — not as reflections of human values. Such hubris is at odds with Star Wars, Harry Potter, Narnia, Modoka Magica, LOTR, and the Dark Crystal, all of which work off the assumption that there is an objective not subjective morality to reality. In the sorts of fiction the hosts are discussing, heroism consists of having the perceptivity to recognize the natural, innate morality of the universe and the courage to align oneself with the universal good *even* *when* it does not reflect whatever “human values” may be popular in one’s community at the time.

    Luke chooses to align himself with the universal good in risking his life and seeking redemption for his father instead of reflecting the human values of pragmatism and tactical apathy that most people in the Empire espouse; Jill Poole and Eustace Scrubbs (and their marshwiggle friend) choose to align themselves with Aslan creator of the universe instead of reflecting the predominant human values of conformity and surrender around them; both Bilbo and Frodo clearly violate the hobbit values rather than reflect them when they align themselves with the good sung into the universe through Eru Iluvatar and embark upon their respective Hero’s Journeys. Their doing so is “silly”?

    To dismiss a concept as “silly” merely because it does not conform to one’s cultural biases rather than to recognize its significance in the works being discussed is as arrogantly absurd as dismissing all black-and-white filming as “silly” while discussing 1940s films as seen in the 1940s, as arrogantly absurd as dismissing all literal shapeshifting as “silly” when discussing how fans feel about werewolf films, or as arrogantly absurd as dismissing all violence as “silly” while discussing the appeal of the James Bond films. Why discuss fantasy tales if you have already made the choice to outright discard the underlying premises of most such stories with a condescending, flippant chuckle about how “silly” it all is.

  3. Xandar The Zenon

    In mistborn, I can see how it would seem that Preservation = Good and Ruin = Evil based on the story events. But the way the world is constructed, Preservation tries to keep everything the same, and Ruin tries to destroy everything. In the later books it makes a point that life requires both to exist, and they work together to create things. But because preservation used up a little more of himself to make people, ruin is overpowering him, and the world is ending.

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