Demons in Fantasy

2012-Feb-12 -> from the 29-days-of-fantasy department Tags:

Okay, it's true. Despite how much we all love a hero story, there is nothing I find more fascinating in the world than the darker workings of evil. And so here's yet another post on a very different aspect of the dark side.

My guest blogger today, Phil Tucker, is a young Brazilian Brit that currently resides in Miami, FL, where he does his best to ignore the allure of the beach and work instead at his laptop. His book, Grind Show, is currently on my to-read list, and is rife with today's subject matter, Demons.

Take it away Phil...

When I sat down to write The Grind Show I had no idea as to whom the villains would be. I remember sitting in my office long past the hour everybody else had gone home, door shut, staring at the screen as I pondered the traditional list of bad guys. Vampires? Overdone. Zombies? Werepigeons? Whom did I want my intrepid hero to fight, what manner of conflict did I want to explore? And while werepigeons definitely caught my attention, I found myself writing out the word 'demons' and pausing. Considering. In the basement of my mind my muse flicked his lighter and held the flame to my imagination, which suddenly went Whoomph! as it caught fire.

Demons. What are demons but our terrors externalized? Our darkest fears given material form? As such they have a delicious malleability that vampires and werewolves are denied, for there are no set rules which they must follow. An author writing a zombie novel has to consciously decide which rules to follow and which to break, but no matter what he decides his villains are defined for him -- he can only follow tradition or actively react to it. Not so with demons. With demons, your imagination can truly run free.

One thing I had to decide going in was whether my demons would be the Christian kind, bowing down to Lucifer in Hell and striving to trap souls through chicanery and temptation. At the thought, my imagination immediately shut down. Those were devils, I decided, not demons. Devils are defined, have modus operandi and further they drag you into the realm of Christianity (or whichever other religion you're having them work in opposition to), such that suddenly your heroes are dealing with crosses and holy ground, prayers and catechism. That's all well trod ground, and thus not for me. I wanted Demons, I decided, not devils.

So what is a demon? Anything you want it to be. Seductive, horrific, mindlessly violent or the ultimate in temptation, demons are without predefined form or function. Yet despite their variability they need to possess a certain basic quality in order to qualify as 'demonic'. As I see it, they need to be literally inhuman. Vampires were once people; werewolves are part people; zombies are defined by once having been people (though an intelligent zombie would basically be a demon). Demons, however, have no truck with us. Demons are monsters with whom we cannot empathize, with whose goals we cannot relate. They are the ultimate other, nightmare given form. Their appearance and means of achieving their goals can change, but this core of absolute darkness is a must.

Consequently, demons allow you to examine how your heroes respond to unmitigated evil. They are the black mirror in which our characters see their true selves, the crucible in which their core truths are tested. How your character reacts to the absolute negation of humanity speaks to the strength of their own values and willpower in the first place.

In the end, that is one of the primary reasons I write. To test my understanding of what people do in extreme situations, to explore characters as they fight to survive, grow, love, and live. Demons are just a particularly nasty way to do that, but the more extreme the test the more intense the experience and the sweeter the reward. My characters in The Grind Show go through hell to survive, but it wasn't their survival that interested me when I started writing -- I knew the protagonist was going to survive. What I wanted to see was how much he would have to sacrifice in order to do so, and in the end, whether those sacrifices would be worth it.

It's always the inhumanity that disturbs us the most. We don't want to put our minds in that dark place where our imaginations, our fears, and our deepest desires are stretched to their limits. But that's what demons are all about.

Thank you, Phil, for sharing this with us on 29 Days. I really appreciate the guest post.

Tomorrow's post takes things in a slightly different direction, by taking the inhuman, the heinous, and humanizing it. I hope to see you all back again!


Thanks for reading!

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