The writing cogs are jammed, so I’m going to try and clean the system with a silly little game I’m making up as I write this sentence. Below is a list of a variety of mythical beasts. It becomes your job to consider whether you would like to shoot the beast (and therefore have to put in the effort to destroy it and everything that entails, from risks to expenses) or ride the beast (and therefore have to put in the effort to tame it, feed it, keep it, and train it). If you decide to play, please provide your reasoning in your comments. Here’s the list:
Ready? Here are my answers:
Okay, so first off, griffons are awesome. They look cool, they fly, and they’re sort of the best mix of bird of prey and great cat. As any good bird of prey or great cat, they’re smart enough to be trainable, I’d imagine, and they aren’t so titanically huge that they’d be impossible to feed. They eat horses, primarily, so finding food won’t be that hard. They’re really big, but not so huge you couldn’t keep them in a barn. Sure, you could hunt them down relatively easily, too, but why bother when you can get them to fly you around?
Dragons are even more awesome than griffons – on that score, I think most of us could agree. It would be really cool if you could train it to let you ride it, convince it to lay waste to your enemies, and so on. Thing is, though, you’ll never pull it off. Even assuming it doesn’t immediately roast you or you find some clever way around it’s fire/poison/acid breathing capabilities, where on earth do you keep a creature of that size? What the heck do you feed it? What happens if you stop feeding it?
Dragons, as intelligent reptiles, don’t really have much of a history of working well with people. Furthermore, there is no reasonable way you can ever feel safe around the thing – they have a noted tendency to eat people and steal their stuff. Are you going to supply it sufficient gold to keep it from sacking the nearest castle? Even if you do get up there, how do you control it? It’s too big to really tug around with reins and spurs aren’t going to make a mark. It even has a neck that can reach around and eat you off it’s own back. Ooof.
Granted, killing the thing would be really tough, but if you decide to tame it, you’d probably have to kill it anyway.
Okay, so how do you propose to ride this thing? Where do you put the saddle? How, once in the saddle, do you actually see where you’re going? Seems impractical. It should be noted that the Hydra has some advantages over the dragon on this score in that it isn’t notably intelligent, can’t breathe fire, and is a good bit smaller. They’re semi-amphibious, so they can live in swamps and lakes and such.
You also, of course, have to consider just how damned hard it’s going to be to kill the things. The ol’ Hercules cut-and-burn technique sounds good on paper, but that’s going to be pretty damned hard to pull off in real life. Even if you employ flamethrowers, there’s a lot of heads there. Shooting it from a distance might not even work. These are prickly beasts, to be sure. Weirdly enough, I think the regenerative properties alone mean trying to tame it might just be worth the effort. Kinda lose-lose, though.
This is a no-brainer, right? Well, not so fast. Pegasi are beautiful and supposedly kind and tame and are just like horses, right? Well, yeah, but consider that, if it’s just like a horse, it isn’t going to be able to generate enough lift to fly with a grown person on their back, or at least not for long. Dragons and Griffons are both significantly larger and stronger, meaning the odds of getting some good flying time in are much higher. So, instead of a flying horse you get to ride, you instead wind up with a flying horse that runs away. Okay, okay, so you can train it to stick around and win it over with sweetness and love, granted. You can do that with a regular horse, though, and without the trouble of chasing it around as it takes itself out for exercise. At least with a griffon, you get the added bonus of being able to fly with it and scare the crap out of your enemies.
On the flipside, killing a Pegasus would be really, really easy and save you a lot of trouble. So, if one showed up on your lawn and was trashing your car, a hunting rifle might be in order.
Depending on which legends you go to, this thing is a giant, venomous snake or a giant lizard that either petrifies or kills with a glance. In both cases we’re looking at a pretty terrible ride. How do you train a creature you can never look at? That mirror thing is only going to get you so far, and having it on your property is going to result in a lot of your friends becoming corpses or statues when they go looking for a trash barrel during your annual barbeque. Lets not even get into the fact that it’s venomous and fatally so. Oof.
Shoot it! Kill it with fire! Ahhh!
Answer: Shoot! Shoot it now!
Okay, your turn internet. Or not. Whatever – I’ve distracted myself long enough that I can probably get real work done now.
Defining evil can be difficult, especially for the nuanced and sophisticated mind. Every act, you see, springs from a place of positivity, essentially. Very few people go forth to act in an evil manner; even the selfish believe that, thanks to their selfishness, they are somehow helping the world if only by proving to everyone else that the world needs no help. All villains, on some level, can have their behavior boiled down to that which is understandable, if misled. Barring that, we write them off as ‘insane’ or ‘ill’ – conditions that rob them of their free will.
What, then, is the source of true evil? To me, true evil is comprised in something akin to ‘gleeful apathy’ or, to put it another way, as the refusal to believe or even care about something as being any more important than any other thing. Nihilism, essentially.
When I was teaching John Gardner’s Grendel to my students recently, we were discussing Grendel’s conversation with the Dragon (which, by-the-by, is one of the more mind-blowing sections of prose I’ve ever read). We wound our way (as we often do) to the point where the Dragon is compared to Satan or the Devil. The Dragon, for those of you who don’t know, lays out the most profound example of a bona-fide nihilist I’ve seen in fiction. Grendel, trying to search for a place in the world, wants the Dragon, in his omniscience, to explain to him the nature of Truth as it interacts with Art. The Dragon explains, as patiently as he can, that it doesn’t matter in the least what Grendel thinks about Art or Truth or anything else. For him the entire universe is:
A swirl in the stream of time. A temporary gathering of bits, a few random dust specks, so to speak – pure metaphor, you understand – then by chance a vast floating cloud of dustspecks, an expanding universe…Complexities: green dust as well as the regular kind. Purple dust. Gold. Additional refinements: sensitive dust, copulating dust, worshipful dust!…Complexity beyond complexity, accident on accident until…Pick an apocalypse, any apocalypse…Such is the end of the flicker of time, the brief, hot fuse of events and ideas set off, accidentally, and snuffed out, accidentally, by man. Not a real ending, of course, nor even a beginning. Mere ripple in Time’s stream.
So, then I ask my students this question: What if the Dragon is lying?
It is all very easy for us to assume nothing really matters. In point of fact, nothing really does, right? We are ripples in time’s stream. We are the copulating dust. This belief, though, gets us nowhere. If we do nothing but find gold and sit on it, what are we, really? If we go out and do evil or do good, we are still doing. We are making an imprint on the face of the universe, no matter how inconsequential. Even the most wicked killer does less for the forces of evil than the deepest, most apathetic nihilist. If nothing really matters, nothing really is worth changing. Without change, there is no motion. Without motion, there is death, bleak, empty, and silent.
To me, that’s a heavy part of true, unutterable evil. The kind common to demons, devils, and the deep abyssal reaches of damnation. No matter how misled, even to believe wrongly is to believe – we have that much in common, we may yet have more. To not believe is to forsake all but the Void.