The battle between good and evil is a well worn theme in fantasy books, shows, and movies. When I was young, I reflected this in my playing. My brother and I would divide the toys up into the good guys and the bad guys. Then the two would duke it out in a classic epic battle.
The toys that were good and the ones that were bad were usually set by the shows they came from, or we’d decide when we got the toy which side it “belonged” to. It was hard to give away the cool toys to the bad side, so their group usually got run by the purple panther Skelitor rides and a couple of battered insecticons. Some generic GI Joes would fill in the ranks as minions, or perhaps some plastic dinosaurs. It wasn’t easy being evil, you only had the dregs to help you out, while the cool characters remained in the ranks of good.
The thing is, in this world of good vs evil, do the bad guys call themselves bad guys? Do they think they’re bad? Revel in their evil and their plans for world domination, death, and destruction? Or do they think they’re actually the good guys? Do they believe they honestly are on the side of right and that the good guys are the bad ones?
We used to break our brains a bit, considering that. Sometimes we played it one way, sometimes the other, but it was a debate that always caught my attention.
And then there was Taggerung, by Brian Jacques. Now don’t get me wrong, while I’m going to complain about this book, I’m a huge fan of the Redwall series, and precisely because I’m a fan, is the reason this book bugs me. An avid reader of the series, while I started noticing the books were getting a little repetitive, I still faithfully bought each one as soon as it was released.
Most Redwall novels follow the same classic format our play world always did, with a team of good animals and a team of bad ones, usually defined by which animals
I was very excited when Taggerung was released. The book flap explained the story was about an otter (good guy animal) who as kidnapped as a baby and raised by ferrets (bad guy animals). Here perhaps was a good debate and adventure on the idea, with Taggerung questioning his upbringing. I excitedly dived in, only to be horribly disappointed.
Despite growing up in a family of selfish vermin who taught Taggerung constantly that selfishness and evil was the way to live, he seemed an instant hero. He was always fair, just, and righteous. He instinctively treated everyone he met kindly. He seemed too easily to realize everything his father taught him was wrong and too quickly walk away from his life of evil, and without a second thought. If he was raised entirely by vermin, where did he learn to be a good guy so easily? It left me with a picture of good guys always been inherently good and bad guys inherently bad, with upbringing mean basically nothing. He was an otter, not a ferret, so of course he was chivalrous and turned against the people who brought him up without a thought, all in the cause of good.
That didn’t sit right with me. It seemed like a simplistic answer and a waste of what could have been a very interesting debate.
So, while I was frustrated with Taggerung, to the point I gave up reading any new Redwall books, I’m also thankful for it, because it started me exploring in my writing what makes the bad guys bad and the good guys good. As I gear up to release “A School for Villains” I don’t feel like I’ve gotten to the half of it, but I have gotten some fascinating debates in my novels on this subject.
So, here’s to celebrating a novel I hated and all the inspiration it’s given me these past ten years.