I Play Both Hero and Villain
So, it’s not impossible that I’ll one day write this book—perhaps in serial format—but I’m not sure I could write it the best. The idea behind it is in the spirit of Japanese light novels. Many of these follow protagonists who become either the hero or the villain, and so it occurred to me that it would be nice to have a story that did both.
It could be hilarious.
We begin by seeing a cliché villain-hero end fight:
“Do you think, hero,” the dark lord demanded, “that because you killed a few piddling minions and overcame my traps, you are a match for me? Hah! I am ten thousand times greater than the greatest of these, and I will crush you under my heel.” Unlike before, when his voice had seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, now it was definitely located at the top of the stairs—at the figure who stood there, swathed in shadows.
Except that the hero is strangely incompetent at heroing, so the villain has to keep covering for him, something that annoys the villain greatly:
The Shadowfiend currently fulfilling the role of dark lord in this second-rate backwater, was significantly less amused. What was the multiverse coming to that he, Toloman Vraak, had to deal with such incompetence? Yet it had been increasingly like this for years. He, who had once played the best roles, the deepest darkness battling the most shining golden light . . . he who had gone up against Tom Griffin in the most epic battle ever recorded . . . how could he be pitted against mediocre hero after mediocre hero?
Toloman finishes up his villain role by “dying” whereupon he returns to his agency, fed up with this nonsense, only to be told he’s being retired:
The Fox puffed out his breath. He was, in his own opinion, a good-natured and put-upon soul, and he wasn’t without sympathy for the villain before him. But he was also a man with a job, and Toloman was making that job a lot more difficult. “I’ve explained this,” he said. “Old-fashioned villains are old-fashioned, Toloman. They haven’t been in vogue for decades. You have to move with the times if you want the big roles.”
“I,” said Toloman, “am classic.”
“Yes—exactly! That’s the problem.”
In a fit of rage (he is a professional villain, and magically powerful), Toloman kills his boss and escapes into a world to which a hip, sexy villain-type has been sent. There, he intends to replace his rival and live out his glory years with one final chance to be the perfect villain. He even plans to sneakily train the hero to be a worthy adversary. But when he disguises himself as a wise old hermit and meets the “hero,” he is disgusted by what he finds:
“If you want a puppet you can push into saving the world or some other nonsense, look somewhere else,” George said. “I’m no hero, and I’d just as well this garbage world burn.” He seized his shovel, surprised at how angry he had become, and for the third time turned to go.
“You are right,” said the hermit, “when you say you are no hero.” He threw his arms up and shadows poured forth. George only had time to see blue flames burst through the blindfold before the shadows stripped the flesh from his bones like a sock. It took him a little more time to die, but not much.
Toloman clutched the discarded skin in his hand, seized by the determination that had barely begun, back in the Fox’s office. He was still crying, the tears evaporating in the heat of his eyes. “You were not worthy to be a hero,” he snarled at the skin, ‘and I will not have you sullying the name of Tom Griffin or Alan Sun or Owen MacLeon. A true hero is brave and self-sacrificing. A true hero believes in people no matter what. Are there no heroes left in the multiverse?”
There was only one possible answer, and it bloomed within him like magic, pulling him to his feet. He threw back his head and laughed. “If a villain is only as good as his hero,” he cried, “let the hero be as good as his villain! Then let me play hero and villain both—as both roles ought to be played. Let us have a story such as has not been seen since Tom Griffin fought Toloman Vraak!” In one movement, Toloman pulled on the hero’s skin, letting it mold over his own and sticking up the holes with shadows.
Half a minute later, George Moon stood there once more, alone, with such an expression on his face as had never appeared there before. “For you, Tom,” he said, “and for Alan and Owen and Ben—and even for you, Fox. Let the Game begin!”
For the rest of the story, Toloman goes back and forth, trying to juggle both roles. Being a hero is harder than it looks, and he keeps getting it wrong, because he is acting as the villain perceives the hero to act, rather than how the hero actually acts. After the Agency discovers the Fox dead and figures out what happened, it gets Tom Griffin (the hero Toloman admired most from back in the day, and now a retired king) in after him. Tom Griffin decides to beat the evil overlord by mentoring “George,” who is really Toloman in disguise, to be a true hero . . .
Oh, I love this idea so much. It is absolutely delightful and potentially hilarious. Maybe I will write it someday, possibly as a serial novel; but it intimidates me. Since I really would like to read this book, I AM MAKING THE CONCEPT AVAILABLE UNDER A CREATIVE COMMONS COPYRIGHT. That means you are able to use the basic concept (though preferably not the same character names), including for commercial use, as long as you properly credit me as follows:
Original story concept by Deborah J. Natelson (www.deborahjnatelson.com), used under a Creative Commons license.
Please also send me a copy!
There are a couple of other books floating about in my head,
which I may or may not write; and, since this is getting pretty long, I’m not
going to include here. Ultimately, what
I decide to write and not write isn’t entirely up to me: as demonstrated by the
number of half-books I’ve written (including, alas, the sequel to Bargaining Power—which, when I write it, will be
entirely different from the tens of thousands of words I’ve already put to
paper), it’s what I’m able to write.
How strange, wonderful, terrible . . . and human.