Friday, June 10, 2011

Non-Human Morality

When it comes to non-human characters I like them to be . . . well, not human. This means they probably have a set of attitudes, thought processes and values which are completely alien to us. Not everything, some stuff’s going to be the same, but enough for some of their actions and responses to surprise every now and again.

The Doctor from the BBC’s series Doctor Who is a classic example. Alien. Looks human. Big big heart(s). Saves the world multiple times. But every so often is a bit . . . weird. The current actor playing him, Matt Smith, has got that whole a-bit-too-weird-to-really-pass-for-human thing down perfectly. Tom Baker was also brilliant (although I suspect he might actually be an alien marooned down here on earth . . .)

That little spice of alienness is really important to me. I hate reading urban fiction with vampire or werewolf protagonists where the characters display a completely human array of emotions and reactions. If the author hadn’t told me the character had fangs, super-strength, was centuries old, whatever, I doubt I’d realise they weren’t human at all. Feels like a waste (Although I can’t argue with the success of that genre. Maybe my wrong is everybody else’s right! :) ).

I think this is why I might be so reluctant to write anything from one of my succubus’s point of view. It’s hard to avoid humanising a character and takes away a lot of their mystique.


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  2. This is an interesting issue.

    Of course, I quite concur - to a certain degree:

    It *is* much more interesting, when there's an element of preternatural mystique involved. It adds a new dimension open to exploration. It takes the some of the triviality off a concept such as "the vampire" ("some Romanian bloke chugging back the odd pint of blood") or "the succubus" ("a lass that takes the reins in bed"). That is of course, welcome.

    Take the superhumanity too far, however, and instead of characters, caricature will be gotten. This happens, in my view, far too often - more often than the opposite. The result is a two-dimensional monstrosity. And I, Sir, don't like it. Not only does it invite banality; it also robs us of what is most interesting to me: The sounding of the emotional depths of a union between human and non-human.

    That is, among other things, why I like vampires, or succubi, or anything else to be painted in shades of gray:

    My favorite depiction of vampirism, for example, is decidedly "La Morte Amoureuse" by T. Gautier. Briefly summarized, it deals with the stormy affair of a youth who has just been ordained a priest - and a lady of nobility, who just so happens to be a vampiress. Although designed in no small part as an acrid satire on catholic clergy and moral code, it works charmingly as a romance: The young curate is conflicted by his newly discovered passion and his mad fondness for his lover on the one hand and the code of his office on the other hand (not only is he breaching his vow of celibacy, but with a *demoness*). More impressively though, the vampiress is at least equally torn: One, her nature and her survival instinct command her to drink of his blood - conflicting with her nigh-delirious love and her resulting revulsion for visiting pain or injury upon him. Two, her fondness for her lover only serves to compound the conflict, as she feels so drawn to him that the thought of having someone else's blood in her mouth repels her.

    For the same reason (and others), I'm not terribly interested in a succubus who kills her victim: It prohibits all the most interesting questions from being asked. Questions, that inevitably arise during a more lasting, emotionally charged relationship.
    How does the succubus deal with the tension between her human side and her demonic side? Between her human desire to love and be loved, the desire for warmth, gentleness and so on - and her demonic, primal part, which regards her mate primarily as prey, which is kept alive and well tended-to, simply as a convenient replenishing source of nourishment, and pleasure? How does her lover deal with being partner and quarry at the same time? And how do both of them deal with a congress between a [societal] human and a [truly extra-societal] demoness? And so forth. It need not be mentioned that these questions being tied to "that great and mysterious force" of sexuality adds additional zest.

    So, I like a succubus to be not a monster, but certainly predatory and to a degree truly demonic - but also an actual person, with human(e) emotions: Love, hatred, joy, sadness. And I like a vampire to be much the same. Or any other kind of non-human character for that matter.

  3. Hmm, some interesting points. I was going to mention the opposite extreme - the 2D super "clone" race, where every individual seems exactly the same (Alas poor always Chaotic stupid orcs) - but the post was turning into another essay again.

    I think the non-human charactes should have some depth, but the bits that make up their character won't necessarily be the same as ours. They'll have some extra pieces and be missing some.

    Sad to say, one of the most logical pieces for a succubus to be absent is love. They're lust demons. Lust is diametrically opposite to love. Depending on how your demons fit into your fictional world, there's a good argument that they were created in what passes for that universe's hell specifically to stamp out love wherever found and lure unwary souls down a path of lust.

    I'm a bit kill-crazy with my succubi. The more subtle plots would be taking the classic "tru-love" couple and throwing in a succubus as a wrecking ball to lure away the dude (or even the gal) and make the couple miserable.

    That's only one interpretation (using the ole classical fire'n'brimstone hell) and can throw up the 2D monsters. There are plenty of other ways to use the myth. I still think, throw in too much emotion and they might as well be another human.

    It is a difficult balance and people have their preferences. I fall on the side of keeping the mystique. Hint at some depths in the character, but make it clear things are missing or very different.