It’s an age-old trope in writing, the bread and butter for almost every narrative, the classic tale of good versus evil. But now that there are so many narratives, keeping tropes like this interesting becomes a lot harder to manage. In saying that, though there are still narratives that manage to freshen up this universal trope and we’re going to dissect how best to go about it.
When I think of good versus evil, I think of classic high fantasy. Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring versus Sauron, Harry Potter versus Voldemort. The classic hero’s story where the hero vanquishes the big evil villain and sets the world right. But stories like that get tired quickly, even if they’re as well written as the two I’ve mentioned because the ending becomes predictable. So what can we, as writers, do to jazz up this age-old struggle? Well, here are a few semi-modern examples.
The first is the new Kayle and Morgana lore coming out of League of Legends. The two sisters are daughters of the Aspect of Justice, and whilst technically both being about bringing justice (a technical aspect of what is considered good), both are so extreme in their ways that they blur this line of goodness into something far more morally grey. Kayle, while looking angelic and pure, is a zealous puritan who smites the wicked. She’s seen as an idol for Demacia, who are equally as zealously puritan against magic users and as such persecute them to the fullest extent of their laws. Morgana, on the other hand, is seen as an idol of mercy and, whilst still somewhat known in Demacian folklore, she is mostly forgotten. Their narrative works as a way to establish that good people can do bad things, even if they are driven by divine intentions. It also sets up an overarching story for the wider universe, especially Demacia where their influence is felt the most, and as such influences the rest of the story behind League of Legends.
Another one that is talked about a lot is Deadpool and the idea of the anti-hero. While the idea of the anti-hero has been around for ages with characters like Zaphod Beeblebrox from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and (in my humble opinion) Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello, the character type really rose to prominence with Deadpool. Everyone was raving about how funny Deadpool was because he didn’t stick to the golden child hero script. Sure he did heroic things but he was technically a villain before that, and almost none of his actions in the movie are driven by purely heroic motives. As such he enters another morally grey area; technically he’s a hero doing good things but his character is inherently bad and not afraid to show it. He only comes out looking like a hero because the people he is fighting are just that much worse than he is, giving him a skewed but still apparent hero’s story.
So what do these examples show about the good versus evil cliche in modern storytelling? Mostly that writers are now looking to morally grey areas to fill up this tension. They’re blurring the lines between what is good and what is bad, replacing it by motivations that can be loosely attributed to either which results in more diverse character roles and more room for an interesting story to blossom.