Saturday, October 11, 2008
I will rule the world!
Villains who want to conquer/destroy the world are only too common, but there are a few ways to make such an antagonist stand out from the crowd and be realistic.
Why does your antagonist want to conquer or rule the entire world? Every generic Dark Lord wants to do this, certainly, but these days, characters need more motivation. Here are a few ideas:
Ideology: The gods have charged her with bringing the Message of Hope to the heathen masses, and she’ll have to conquer them to do it. Or else a new religion is rising in other lands, and she’s afraid it will contaminate her people if she doesn’t act fast.
Greed: Other lands have gold mines and forests of spice-trees.
Expectations: The antagonist is a general and the order comes from above. What can he do but obey it and invade other lands? Or an ancient prophecy says that he will be king hereafter over all the world – I wouldn’t mind seeing an antagonist’s ambitions spurred by that.
Especially in a medieval fantasy, how does the evil emperor plan to control what will happen at the edges of his empire once he’s taken over the world? How does he know his underlings won’t plot against him or break away from his rule? If communication is patchy or slow over such long distances, how will he control the world once he defeats it?
Harry Harrison’s Deathworld 3 delivered a beautiful answer to those questions. The warlord Temujin, leader of a nomad army, defeated several cities, ruled the world… and realized he’d lost his people’s traditional way of life. His nomad army was now living in the cities they had conquered, enjoying culture and civilization and fine wine. Temujin’s life was battle and riding and living in tents, but suddenly that was the old way. It was unwanted now that his people had the world at their feet.
It may be easier to conquer the world than to control it.
If the Dark Lord needs a million-strong army to conquer the world, he’ll need a corresponding number of smiths, armorers, cooks, farriers, physicians, scouts, prostitutes, etc. Such a large army will need plenty of food and water, meaning their supply lines can be disrupted, and diseases will be more likely to spread among them (unless the Dark Lord uses magic or his brains to overcome these obstacles).
The conquering of the world is also going to be affected by the weather and geography of wherever the army is fighting. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 failed mostly because of disease, merciless weather and a lack of supplies, and this happened in relatively modern times. In Nux Varas, the land of my manuscript Redemption, the Triune accepts that much as they might want to rule the entire land, it’s easier to ally with the people in the frozen north than to fight them. The northerners have evolved to cope with subzero temperatures and lashing snow; no one else has.
Too many fantasies would tell such a story from the point of view of the band of heroes out to stop the evil empire. Why not one from the perspective of the Dark Lord’s general? I thought the Witch-King of Angmar was interesting, and such a character would have more power than the band of heroes. He would also have to use his wits as much as that power, if he was working against the Dark Lord.
The main character could also be the Dark Lord’s advisor, spymaster, personal servant, ally, parent, on-again/off-again lover (not all of these simultaneously, though). The different perspective would be interesting. And someone close to the Dark Lord might not necessarily agree with him on the ruling-the-world part but would also see him as more of a three-dimensional person and less of an evil force to be defeated.
This could be much more complex and intriguing than the usual setup where the hero is all-good and the emperor is all-bad, where the readers know in advance who’s going to win. I’ve got plans for a future book where the character plotting against a republic to take over all the land actually does succeed in this. It should be an interesting write.