I wrote this post as a part of my upcoming Fantasy and Science Fiction Reader’s Lounge Takeover.
Can someone curse you without your knowledge? Literary convention argues that you cannot. In Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rights, master witch Granny Weatherwax subscribes to “Headology.” According to her, if you give the evil eye to someone, they’ll blame their next bit of bad luck on your curse. Soon enough, you’re the reason for their misery, and it didn’t take a trace of magic.
Curses are made of three components: the curse giver, the person being cursed, and the belief in such a thing as curses. In this way, being hexed is a kind of hypnosis where a person subconsciously acts out the suggestion of the curse giver.
Is this how it works in life? Maybe. You might walk under a ladder and then spill your coffee. Common sense dictates the two events are unconnected. If you believe dropping your coffee results from walking under a ladder, you’re committing a logical fallacy called post hoc ergo propter hoc. Or maybe the ladder cursed you. Who am I to say?
Some magical curses in literature are not a result of Headology, though. Highly magical curses like that of the beast in Beauty and the Beast or the Unforgivable Curses in Harry Potter are so forceful they don’t require a shared belief in jinxes. In fact, fairytales are full of hexes with complex unraveling involving true love and kisses.
No, you cannot be unaware of a curse. Either your belief that someone cursed you is perpetuating your hardship, or the affliction is of a highly magical, unmistakable nature. So, go home, open your umbrella, snuggle your black cat, and ignore all those chain letters.
Come back next week for the final post in my Writing Alignment Series.
I adapted this blog series from a section of an online workshop I conducted for Writers & Books in March 2020.
Deciding a character’s alignment helps determine how’d they’d act during their adventures. I find it helpful to think about how each alignment would behave in the same circumstances because it highlights the differences between each alignment.
Here’s the scene:
A character is in a market and encounters a thief who has stolen from them in a previous incident. The thief doesn’t see the character yet, so they have time to react. How will they act?
A lawful evil character would call his connections throughout the city to ensure they bring the thief to justice with the most severe punishment possible. If the character is in a foreign place away from the root of his influence, he will still call upon the law hoping law enforcement will jail her. He will always try a variety of means to sway the system in his favor.
Defining Lawful Evil Characters
Lawful evil characters are often well-connected or wealthy individuals who exploit the system and use legal technicalities to their benefit. Lawful evil character subtypes include corrupt executives, dirty cops, and diabolical masterminds. He is quick, cruel, and hard to beat because the administration is on his side, or he is the administration, sometimes. Because of their insidious nature, many of the most heinous villains are lawful evil.
It’s important to note, he doesn’t always follow the law, unlike the other lawful types. He’s happy to toe the line or appear legitimate while doing just enough to avoid legal consequences. More powerful lawful evil characters can write the rules, bending the law in their favor. The law is his weapon and shield.
Lawful Evil Character Development
The government or organization must have complicit members for the lawful evil character to exploit and cajole, and these toadies will eventually work their way up, providing a clear path for development. However, there are other routes to prominence.
A young lawful evil character might be a lackey for a more powerful character, waiting in the wings to take over when his leader fails or dies. Lawful evil characters are often wealthy, enjoying generations of esteem and political influence or a sudden influx of money and the power that comes with it.
Lawful Evil Character Examples
Dolores Umbridge from The Harry Potter franchise insists that everyone follows the rules, which she enforces in cruel ways. A corrupt system installed her in a position of power, and she gained prominence by aligning with influential villains.
The Stephen King master of evil Randall Flagg, also known as “The Walking Man” from The Stand, is the malevolent lord subtype of lawful evil. He’s the guy in charge, he makes the rules, and everyone must follow them or face horrific consequences.
Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol is lawful evil before his transformation. He does nothing to break the law, technically, but according to Charles Dickens, he’s a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”
"There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”