While one can debate the value of An Unexpected Journey as an adaptation of Tolkein’s novel The Hobbit at great length, it is ultimately an entertaining film. I recently realised there are very few truly good fantasy films made; many are entertaining or fun but flawed, but few are unequivocally good. I was thus very surprised at the quality of the first in the three films loosely based on The Hobbit; it was tonally consistent throughout, visually impressive and had a real sense of being a film made with some love and care.
In a past article about Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series I talked about how a key part of the setting and overall mood is a result of the sense of inevitability and inescapability that is created. Routine becomes destructive and insular, and as a result any kind of change – even change from a traditionally “evil” source – is welcome to the reader. This ties in to what I see as an interesting possibility for historical or pseudohistorical fiction – an exploration of evil. The concept of the empirical novel, central to science-fiction in its consideration of the effects of a setting on its inhabitants, becomes interestingly mutated when the settings and attitudes being explored are real ones or close to real ones.
This series of articles will explore presentations of evil in genre fiction.
Recently, I was discussing dystopian fiction and the “evil empire” archetype, and began to wonder about what could really be considered evil yet also avoid being simply parodic. Outward acts of brutality are in themselves unsatisfying signifiers of evil; they can even be considered unconvincing. A society based on mass executions and physical punishments and easily-understood savagery supposes that all involved in it are mindless savages who take pleasure in this – and is thus reductive as a setting.