Tag Archives: darkness

Heroes & Villains

Heroes and Villains

You’ve probably noticed that superhero movie franchises are becoming a thing these days. With every new year, the number of such movies released increases. And it is not going to end anytime soon.

The recent rise in superhero movie franchises is just the product of a sentiment that has been building up for ages. Throughout all time, we’ve all found ourselves intrigued by stories with heroes defeating villains, good triumphing over evil and happily-ever-after endings. We love these stories because of the much bigger picture that they paint. Or maybe this picture is all too familiar to us. Maybe we want these stories because we see ourselves in them, somehow.

Stories have come a long way since … well since as far back as they’ve been around. But we don’t just narrate events in our stories. Some say our stories influence our lives. I think our lives also have an impact on the stories we tell. It’s a circularly-causal relationship between stories (art) and life.

The classic ‘good-and-evil’ story thread was built on absolutes. They usually had heroes of impossibly ultimate charisma rising up to defeat villains with evil intent, monsters that were evil for the sake of being evil, in whatever form they took. The Heroes were people with good manners, good hearts, and conveniently excellent muscular form (wink). The Villains were dark and ugly to behold. Some deceiving through their words, some bruising with their might. Myths and legends of monsters terrorizing villages, and demigods rising up (or coming down) to defeat those monsters, sprang up through the ages. They filtered into fables and stories over time.

These days I find that I’m drawn to stories that have believable villains. When I was younger, the villains in most stories I came across were all evil just for the sake of being evil. But these days, stories have villains that actually think, and that you agree could exist. They are actually endearing in their own creepy, demented ways.

“D’you wanna know how I got these scars?” *

“There’ll be nothing but fear and darkness … and me…” **

“Showdown at midnight. Wanna trip, baby?” ***

Creepy.

If you did not get those references, the first is by the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), the second is from Pitch Black (the Boogeyman) in Rise of the Guardians (2012), and the last was from Marsuvees Black in Showdown (Ted Dekker).

In these guys –be they good or bad guys – we see a little bit of ourselves, and that is what makes them endearing or repulsive to us. Either way, they make us interested in the story.

This is what makes your story a winner: when your audience can identify with at least one of the characters, or the circumstances in which they find them. It pulls us into your story so that we subconsciously have a friend in your fictional world, heightening the reader or viewer’s senses and emotions, so that every plot point affects us almost as much as it affects your characters. Our new friend keeps us coming back for more, to check up on him or her, joining them on their journey through the pages.

(SIDE NOTE: Jesus did this in His parables too. Whether His stories were about a sower sowing in a field, or a woman looking for a precious coin, or a woman trying to get the attention of the judge before her case came up, His first century Judaean audience could identify with the situations described in His parables. This was part of what set His teachings apart from those of the liturgical sermons they were used to hearing. They could actually see themselves in His stories, and could see their application to life.)

Storytellers (writers, filmmakers, etc.) these days have realized this secret to some extent, and that is why the heroes in our movies are a bit flawed, and no longer the ultimate models of humanity that used to be iconic. The flaws may be personality problems or just unfortunate circumstances that scar them for life, making them more human to us. Bringing them down to our level, so to speak.

  • Peter Parker (Spider-Man) has acrobatic skills, a sense of humor, and can shoot webs, but he lives with constant guilt because he feels responsible for his uncle’s death. And his city thinks he’s a nuisance, no matter how hard he tries to convince them he’s not.
  • Tony Stark (Iron Man) may be a billionaire genius that has a mechanical suit that helps him fly and shoot lasers and missiles, but he’s still got a piece of shrapnel near his heart and he lives moreorless on life support. (Sure, he finally got rid of it in the movies, but he’s got more challenges coming his way. Trust me.)
  • Bruce Banner (the Hulk) may be the strongest there is, but he still can’t control his rage or himself. And, seriously, who wants to go out with a big green rage monster? The future only gets worse for this guy, no matter how much good he tries to do.

I could go on and on with—

  • Oh yeah. Bruce Wayne (Batman) lost his parents when he was a boy. He grew up in this dark and brooding phase that’s affected him, even as an adult.
  • Thor has got complicated family issues—

OK! That was me geeking out a bit there. Sorry. The point is that the writers make us see that these heroes aren’t so perfect after all. And we’re OK with that because, we know we’re not perfect either. We may not be so far off from these guys, after all. And if they can save the world, so can we (on a different scale, no less, but still…).

But it’s not only typical of superhuman stories. Some of the more human stories show people without a chance of winning any battle suddenly rising as the hero through selfless acts. Characters like the little hobbit, Frodo in Lord of the Rings, who saved Middle Earth by taking the evil ring to the place where it could be destroyed; or Samwise Gamgee, his devoted friend that encouraged him along the way and helped him up when he was weak. We like these guys not because of their strength or abilities, but for the strength of their hearts.

 

And then, [Scottish-sailor’s-accent kicking in] “Therrre be Villains…”

Now, if you’ve noticed, the best Villains are those that believe, in their own demented way, that they are actually doing the right thing. There is nothing as dangerous as a man who perpetrates evil and yet sincerely believes he is doing the right thing. The suicide bombers on the news today have taught us that. This approach to the villainous character amplifies his (or her) humanity. We loathe and/or fear them for the evil that they do, but we also understand that they’ve just been affected by something or an incident in their past that warped their sense of right and wrong. As they say, “It all takes one bad day.” Just one bad day that messed up with the rest of their lives. We empathize with them, and wonder just how the hero is going to defeat this character. Somewhere deep inside us, we hope for his (or her) redemption or satisfaction. We do not want to admit it, but it’s there.

I’m not saying that these guys are good, and I’m not saying I agree with them. I do NOT. They are evil, and that’s that. But those strong stories accentuate their humanity by showing, for example, how much these guys love their own children, or loved ones.

  • The Evil Stepmother wants her daughter, instead of Cinderella, to marry the handsome prince. It’s not her fault that her daughter’s not as pretty as Cinderella. (you can blame the Disney artists for that one … lol)
  • Gothel (the Witch in Disney’s Tangled) stole Rapunzel because she wanted to always look young. The girl’s hair gave her the power to prevent aging.
  • Erik Lehnsherr (aka Magneto, from the X-Men series) is a mutant who hates humanity because he grew up among people that hated and maltreated mutantkind. His parents were even killed in a concentration camp. So his entire life is one long crusade to create a world where mutants can live free, even if humans have to be trampled on to get there.
  • The Joker (Batman’s foil and archenemy) just wants to have some fun. He’s crazy and demented, yes, but he wants the thrill of some real fun; be it through chaos or … more
  • No one believes in the Boogeyman (Pitch Black in DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians). How else would he get some attention, except by scaring people with nightmares? [and seriously, his ‘Night-Mares’ were actually dark horses that ran at night. I loved that pun]

Some stories, however, dare to shatter any hope that there’s any humanity in the Villain(s) and present us with some of the darkest creatures, with no love or life left in them. They are not just evil for the sake of being evil, no. They show us just how evil they are… and it could get really dark. These are also interesting in that they show us that evil is just that: Evil, and not something to be meddled with. Deeply, dark, demented and torturous evil. It pushes the storyteller, who wants to wrap up a good story, to write a reasonable hero or a believable heroic circumstance with as much depth and power and goodness to defeat such an evil character. How the storyteller pulls this off will tell on the quality of his or her story, and on his or her heart as well. If they could get the story to such a dark point, they should be able to bring us back to light.

But even these dark villains have a goal. They want devastation and destruction and death because that’s the only way they could ever get satisfaction.

 

In his classic ‘Mere Christianity’, C.S. Lewis explained that because creatures were made by God, the Good God, that’s why they all desire something good. Be it love, or satisfaction, or a thrill, or a home. We all want good things, deep down. For Villains, it’s not so easy to figure this out. But deep beneath all their quests for power and control is a desire for something good. Our quest is supposed to lead us back to God—the Good God. But sometimes we don’t see that far. What makes the difference between a hero and a villain however is how we go about getting that good thing we desire.

A good man asks. A bad man steals.

A good man works. A bad man kills.

The Good or evil we do is a result of the contents of our hearts.

The truth is we are all Heroes in our respective stories. Heroes, flawed by weaknesses but still trying to do what’s right. And we fail. Time and time again.

But we are also the Villains of our stories. Villains, making selfish decisions and feeling selfish emotions that tear us apart until we have attained or apprehended what we desire, no matter what we do to get it. Don’t believe me? All it takes is ‘one bad day’ to show what’s really in our hearts. When push comes to shove, how do we respond to the impossible circumstances and conflicts we face? How do we take on the battles we face without and within?

How do we get those things we desire?

Heroes at heart, but Villains too.

One bad day away …

This conflict we face on the inside is what pulls us toward the conflicts we see on the big screen, or in books, or even on the news. Whether the story is set in Middle Earth, or Narnia, or a dystopian future or the Victorian past, we feel we are in the same world with the characters we have come to love so much because we’ve been there before, facing those familiar struggles.

 

How do we get that ‘Happily-ever-after’ ending that we desire?

Is there a Happily-ever-after?

Did God put this desire for good in us and leave us to wander? Like a sick Toymaker winding his toys and leaving them to simply jerk around the room until they are simply wound out?

 

No.

Heavens, NO!

Ha!

 

He is the Good we want. He is the Love we’ve sought. The Freedom we’ve ever hoped to gain.

He is the Spring to satisfy our souls’ deepest thirsts. The Fountain to cleanse us from all that is bane.

 

Coming to Him for help would mean burning away a lot of pride; the very same pride we’ve built up as a defense to protect ourselves from the antagonism around us, but the very same pride that’s also killing us from within. That which we want to be cleansed of keeping us from That which would cleanse us.

Surrender.

Not to the evil, but to God.

Surrender everything that you hold so dear to yourself. Surrender all that you’ve accepted yourself to be and accept who God says you are. Surrender your will and your right to complain, to act, to live … to be. Surrender yourself.

Myself.

It’s very difficult, but it is the only way we can truly be free. And when we do, we find that we’d been prisoners all along. We wonder why we had not surrendered sooner.

 

So the Hero and the Villain are at war to this very day. To this very moment.

That ‘one bad day’ will come. The Bible calls it ‘the day of adversity’ in Proverbs 24:10. It says:

[If] you faint in the day of adversity, your strength [is] small.

The ‘day of adversity’ may not be an alien invasion, but it could be something as small as an opportunity to get what you want by lying or cheating or taking advantage of someone. It could also be an opportunity to do the right thing – it depends on how you see. How do you see?

The one that will rise up in that day is the one who has won in the heart. Good or Evil.

We were never meant to fight this battle alone.

We weren’t made to.

 

There really is a Happily-Ever-After, my friends. It is not going to be a mushy lovey-dovey ending, but a satisfying one. And there are many confrontations and battles between now and then.

But only Good can really give us the Good we desire.

Only God can bring us to God.

And He did. Through Christ. The battle that needed to be fought has been fought and won for us by Him already. He only asks us one thing.

Just one choice can make a difference that would ring through all eternity.

Surrender.

Why so Puddleglum?

Puddleglum-COLOURED_labelled

What do you do when all you’ve ever known to be true suddenly doesn’t feel so true anymore?

NOTE: If you want to read about the Art of Puddleglum, i.e. the picture up top, you can follow this link.

Puddleglum is a character in The Silver Chair, the sixth book (or fifth, depending on your point of view) in C.S. Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia. He was a marshwiggle, a weird creature who lived by a swamp, and had a mildly amusing pessimistic outlook on life. In the story, he joins Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole on their quest to find the lost Prince Rilian, following a set of clues given to them by Aslan.

I would have told you the story, but I feel that it’d be a mega-spoiler (and you’re like, “C’mon! The book’s like 50 years old already!”). Let’s just say that by the time they find the prince, he’s the brainwashed prisoner of the evil Lady of the Green Kirtle. They release him, but then the Lady walks into the room.

She doesn’t snap at them, but she cheerfully hypnotizes using the enchanting tune of her harp and the whiff of a secret powder she dumps on the fireplace.  With every word she speaks, with every strum on her harp, she almost fully convinces them that everything they’ve known to be true was made up, all in their heads.

First, they knew that they were in the kingdom of Underland (yes, it was literally miles underground). They knew they had come from Overland, the land above the surface. Or had they? Were they really sure there even was such a land among the rocks and mortar in the roof of the cavern? (Another character later comments on how weird it would be to live in a world like ours, a world without a roof, with just open sky above) She made them believe there was nothing beyond the dreadful world underground that they could see at the moment.

Then they asked about the Sun. About Narnia. About Aslan the Great Lion. And she convinced them that those concepts were merely flights of fantasy based on things they could see around.

Her words (however enchanted they were) made them reconsider their beliefs in these things; things they had always accepted to be true. Sure they had fleeting memories of daylight, of their home world, of the Lion, and of words spoken to them before. But these memories were fading as she spoke and strummed on her harp (or maybe it was a ‘lyre’ … see what I did there? 😉 ), the mist of the ‘Decepto-powder’ filling the room.

Until Puddleglum stomped out the fire and ended the enchantment, to the Witch’s horror.

Here’s that part of the story and what he said:

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

Wow.

 

I like Puddleglum because of his decision to believe in the Truth –to fight for it— even when his mind did not agree. Even when he was being convinced otherwise, he still held on in faith. It was not easy, but he did.

Life may present us with a couple of facts. But that’s what they are: Facts, and nothing more. But don’t let them make you doubt the Truth. The facts are like holograms, translucent 3D images in space. They last for a while, but they only appear under certain conditions. They would change with time. They look real, but they are not necessarily real. We may feel them, but our feelings are really subjective neural experiences (OK, enough geekspeak from me).

The Truth, like Ted Dekker (one of my top favourite authors) loves to say, is just beyond the skin of this world. Beneath and beyond all we can see is another realm where everything is the way they really are. It’s the Kingdom of God, a world where everything is in obedience to God. You’d see that something actually happens when you pray, that something happens when you speak, and that there’s a lot more going on around us than we can see with these eyes.

Jesus is the Truth, and what He says is true. No matter how the facts appear, don’t make the mistake of thinking the facts are the Truth.

You may have no family with you now (FACT) but that does not mean you’re abandoned.

You may not have money in your pocket at the moment (FACT), but that does not mean you will never be successful in life, financially or otherwise.

You may have failed a course or two … or more (FACT), but that does not mean you’re a failure.

You may have prayed for the sick and nothing seemed to happen (FACT) but that does not mean Jesus was lying when He said you would pray for the sick, and they would recover. It doesn’t mean that your salvation is inferior, either.

I guess Faith counts when its feels like there’s no reason to believe. That’s when it counts. And that’s when it’s hardest. We can’t do this on our own. We weren’t made to. Hang on. Ask for His help. He will help you. You’re not alone in this.

I should know. I’ve been there. A lot of times, actually. One of such times I cried and cried for strength, but it didn’t seem to come as suddenly as I expected. I was too scared to let anyone in on what was bothering me, so I slapped on my trademark smile. I didn’t want my doubts to bring them down too. I felt so alone deep down, desperate to scream, to breathe. Trusting in God suddenly felt futile. I know I encourage others to remember that He is always with us, but I didn’t feel Him near right then. I didn’t feel Him at all, period. I felt like a fraud, like I was just going through the motions. I gotta tell you, it was scary.

But He was there. Is here. Man, He is. He’s been here all along.

You know what? I guess I got used to feeling that way. I preferred to ignore God. And when I didn’t, I felt as though I was the one person in all history that He had wronged. It felt easier to ignore Him and His things. But He had not wronged me. What had just happened was that, like the kids in the story, my ears were filled with the wrong tune and that’s what I was listening to. The Liar’s lyre.

So what did I do? I don’t know, really. I’m supposed to tell you that I prayed more and studied the Bible more, and that that’s I got more strength, but that’s not what happened. To be honest, I didn’t feel I’d get anything from praying. When I read the Bible, it was as if there was no life. That’s where I was. I was supposed to stir up strength from my spirit within, but I felt too weak. Worn. Tired. And because my mindset was warped, so were my decisions. And, sure enough, somewhere deep inside, I blamed God for all of this. To most readers this scenario may sound weird, especially to those that know me personally. But I hope there’s someone out there that understands. Even if no one does, it’s OK. You don’t have to go through that. Just keep your mind on the right stuff. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I thank God for exposing me to the right words. Like that verse that talks about how God is our Hiding Place, Who surrounds us with songs of deliverance (Psalm 32:7). Though I was blinded to see His faithfulness towards me, I could see His faithfulness toward others, so I knew He was still out there somewhere. It’s like being in a dark basement, with a few pinpricks of light stealing in through cracks in the wall. I sought those spots where the light was peeking through, ‘cause that’s where I felt safe.

I realized that though I may be special, I’m not so special that His loving kindness would extend to all except me. I was hearing His words, but I wasn’t listening. For the longest time, I wasn’t listening. But He got through. Ha! He made sure He did. No matter how long it took, He hung on.

Why did it drag for so long? I guess I was a hard nut to crack. God did not leave me be. He kept making sure His words broke through the thick clouds around me, until I could finally really hear His songs of deliverance again. His words of Truth and encouragement.

He was trying to get to me all along.

That’s the annoying thing about Grace. No matter how hard we try to earn points on His scales, He shows us that He’s the One that gave us whatever points we’ve got. He’s the One helping us up.

I still have lots of questions, I won’t lie. I still do. But I’m learning to trust.

I’ll trust.

Man, I don’t usually get so personal in my writing. I prefer using a character in a convenient story to pass the message across, but I guess I just wanted to do this. Hope it’s worth something, though.

This is real life, man.

But, enough about me. Back to the point.

 

Sometimes the lies look like facts. Sometimes it’s easier to accept the lies than to fight to listen to God’s Voice of Truth.

We may be walking in caves as dark as Death with no light in sight (FACT), but we must not let that make us forget that there ever was a Sun. That there is still a Sun out there.

Don’t let circumstances make you forget that there’s a Son, either. And He’s not just ‘out there’, He’s ‘right here’ with you. The Son of God that died and rose to make you fully free – free to live, free to be! He’s alive! He’s broken the chains and blown the prison doors and nuked the concentration camp and placed you in another country, so you have no excuse for allowing the tunes of the Liar’s lyre to become your reality. God is holding you up, so trust Him. Let His words, His songs, break through to your heart. They are working on you. He’s working on you.

You may not feel it, but He’s after you. He’s surrounding you. Ah, if you could see His hands around you, trying to squeeze the darkness away. If your eyes could be opened so you can see what’s really going on!

There’s a battle going on, my friend. A battle for your soul. There’s a wooing going on, and each side is desperate for your heart.

One in seduction, One in Love.

One for destruction and One for Life.

The Liar wants to keep you shrouded in a cloud of darkness. The Truth wants to make you free, and truly free at that.

His words are real and true. Let them be your reality. Keep on studying what He’s said, and talking with Him. It’ll change your mindset.

Your feelings may not all change in an instant. But they also could. But whether they do or whether they don’t, you’ll be fine. Even when you mourn, Jesus says you will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). It’s not His desire for you to mourn, but even if you do He’s got you covered.

You see, the lies may be like those holograms. Holograms are particularly crafted to appear through some optical hijinks, subject to the directed lighting in the room. But the Truth has always remained. It’s the Pure Light that drives away all illusions.

And the Truth is that God loves you, and He’s got you. He would not let any evil come to you, and He would help you make an impact so great it would blow your mind (in a good way J ). His plan is for you to be satisfied and fulfilled in life. To thrive, not just to try to survive. What’s waiting beyond is so much better than anything there’s ever been. We can’t even imagine it, but He reveals it to us by His Spirit in us, His children.

So trust Him. He can be trusted.

And when you do, that’s when you’ll find the strength to stomp out the lies and shine Light into the Darkness, to encourage and comfort others.

To remind them that our Father has never left us. He’s right here.

Even in the deepest throes of Underland.

 

‘Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend into heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there…’

PSALM 139:7, 8

The Shadows Prove the Light

An Artist’s impression of Light usually requires the depiction of shadow.
I think there’s a song about that by Switchfoot. I saw a picture that brought that fact to me on Ted Dekker’s facebook page some months ago. It seemed really cool to me. But it just seemed to become so real recently.

It came alive as I drew a sad man looking down, kneeling, facing away from Light. That’s how I felt back then. Alone. Cut off from all that was dear to me. Like I was stuck in a dark cavern. It didn’t matter that I was surrounded by people that day. What I felt was deep … hurting me inside. I was in the Shadow. And so I drew. I usually draw figures depicting how I feel. So the man was definitely a lot like me.
Anyway, this guy’s face was cloaked in shadow. He was oblivious to the fact that Light was shining behind him.
I figured that when we feel down, or lonely, like we’re walking in a place of deep gloom and shadows, we can choose to remain gloomy.

Or…

Or we can choose to look Up.
When the man looks up and turns to the Light, his face is illuminated. It doesn’t matter that there are shadows behind him. No! Heavens no!
His eyes are enlightened.
His heart is ignited.

So when I walk in the Shadows, I remember that the shadows prove there is Light. That’s what they tell me now. They only seem darker because the Light is shining…
BRIGHTER!

We can choose to look down and mope, complain, grumble and wallow in self-pity. But when we look in the Light, we can truly see that we have good reason to be thankful.

I learnt that. Looking into God’s Light, I found that I had friends and family to be thankful for, even though we were not together. I got to meet new friends, and… the Light got brighter and brighter.

David also learnt this, you know. In Psalm 23:4 he says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
God is with me. That makes all the difference in the world … and beyond. Ha!

He is the Light. He made both Light and Darkness. When I look to Him He gives me the strength and comfort to be the Light for someone else.

Why don’t you do the same? You can choose to look in the Light. I learnt to choose to be thankful.
NOTE: Looking up is a deliberate decision. Just look up.

And the Light still shines,
piercing the darkness,
replacing gloom with bliss
in its glorious glare.

Aaa…