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Heroes & Villains Heroes & Villains

Mike Alsford
ISBN 0232525730 (9780232525731)
Darton, Longman & Todd, 2006
£10.95

Category: Ethics & Morality

As any Star Wars fan knows full well, there's a fine line that separates heroes from villains. The example of Anakin Skywalker crossing to the dark side illustrates just how fine that line between good and evil can be. Alsford, the author of this concise and insightful book, shows how fear acts as the main catalyst in deceiving heroes to cross the line. Having crossed, fear captures imaginations and remakes likely heroes into villains. With this book, Alsford has admirably achieved his goal of 'creating an interdisciplinary space' for examining aspects of the human condition as he draws on complex concepts from psychology, philosophy, theology, sociology and political theory. These various disciplines serve as the basis for examining motives, methods, and outcomes of heroes and villains found in books, comics, television, and films. Through these media, the author shows how personal choices define characters as either heroes or villains.

For example, both heroes and villains come from situations of having experienced parental loss at an early age. The evil which causes such loss seems to instil fear and eventually callousness in the villain. So from this evil root, an absence of compassion and conscience seems to form, perhaps because the villain is overwhelmed by fear. The object of fear for the villain becomes 'difference'. So the villain acts to control, limit and dominate others through exploiting knowledge and/or physical force in order to eliminate the diversity and complexity of the world. And, the villain's ends justify his/her expedient means, no matter who has to suffer. The author uses psychology and philosophy to explain how evil takes root, leading the villain to choose certain utilitarian means to achieve his ends, which results in the remaking of the villain's inner self. Social and political theory describes the effects which the villain aims to bring about. Alsford then compares the motives and means of villains to past and present cultural trends and politics; an unsettling comparison indeed.

Internalising the loss of parents also shapes the hero's psychological make up. But the hero is not controlled by fear, but by the desire to fight evil, and it seems, the hope for a better world. The hero's actions stem from his/her empathy for those who might suffer harm similar to his/her own. Thus it makes sense that 'a strong incarnational motif' underlies the hero's ability to relate to the pain of others. But the hero recognizes that he/she is 'limited' in the fight against evil. So the 'ethic' by which the hero acts is 'self-constrain[t]' which 'puts [the hero]... at a [distinct] disadvantage' vis-à-vis the villain. Consequently the hero never kills the villain, but continues to fight him/her recognizing that evil will continue to exist, and that good, in and of itself, is always worth fighting for. So the hero's implicit faith in good leads him/her to stand between evil on behalf of the other, always exposing him/herself to danger in order to rescue the other. It seems that the hero's faith and hope 'are made manifest in self-sacrifice' .

So through popular heroes and villains, this book shows how faith and hope versus fear works to influence human attitudes and actions. This makes it an excellent resource for preachers and teachers to draw on for demonstrating how Christian theology applies to the ethics of Christian living, and where heroism or villainy can describe aspects of relationships at the personal, church, national or international level. Alsford extensively references his material by thinker/author, hero/villain, and even selected theme and subject matter making this book an all-round tool useful for writers and speakers. Perhaps its only shortcoming is that it raises as many questions as it tackles.

Claudette Fisher-Johnson, December 2006

Claudette Fisher-Johnson is a mother, housewife, graduate of London School of Theology and a former management consultant.

Darton, Longman & Todd

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