The puppy cowered, yelping. Her yard had always been a safe place, and she’d kept her scent strong so other animals would know it was hers and stay away. The monster either couldn’t smell, or didn’t care. It had her penned in, trapped in a corner of the tall, wooden fence. Her humans were inside, and she couldn’t get their attention, no matter how loudly she cried. They could make it go away.
The beast’s wild, gamey smell grabbed her attention. When it bared its teeth and moved forward, she rolled on her back, whimpering. Even if obeisance didn’t help her, she hoped the evil wouldn’t eat her humans, too. It was her last thought, as the wolf clamped its jaws on her neck and shook the life from her small body.
The mother tried to cover her pups, but her bony frame was too thin to protect them from the cold. Humans had moved in, and she’d only found a couple of small rats in the areas left for her to hunt. Her babies’ weakening cries for milk she couldn’t made her whimper. Humans were dangerous, but she’d smelled a young dog on a scouting trip along the edge of their territory.
The scent was easy to locate again. The mother wolf followed it to a tall, wooden fence, but found no dog. She waited, slinking through the shadows, until she heard a door open. The young one ran to the fence, her shrill barks raising the hair on the wolf’s back. When the humans were inside, she leapt to the hood of a car and jumped the fence. The noisy thing wouldn’t be much of a meal, but anything was better than the empty pain chewing at the inside of her gut. She thought of her three babies as she clamped her jaws on her prey’s thin neck and shook the life from her small body.
Seeing things from another’s perspective is difficult for most of us. Doing so, however, is powerful. It’s hard to take something personally or to hold a grudge when we understand an antagonist’s motivation. We don’t agree with her, and we might still condemn her choice of prey, but it’s hard to see the wolf as evil when we realize she’s desperate to feed her own children.
A good storyteller is able to show us a character’s true motivation and introduce us to a whole new perspective. It’s why we find ourselves loving the villain and disliking the hero. Those stories, whether found in books, movies, or TV, teach us that we’re not the center of the universe. We’re only a small part of something bigger, and sometimes, even if we suffer a personal loss or setback, we’re better off when that bigger something is improved.
Good versus evil is probably the oldest and most constant theme we see in literature. I have to wonder, though, if its time is passing. Today, our society judges good and evil based on how something or someone affects the individual, not society as a whole. Even worse, we encourage the belief that everybody is better off when each individual gets whatever it is they want. That means good and evil are relative, and change at the whim of the strongest and the loudest. Everybody else has to hope they can keep up.
I’m glad I’m over the halfway mark, I think. Tomorrow’s writers will need to have much more skill than I could hope to achieve. When enduring standards of behavior are replaced with current expectations, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, I think, to communicate the human condition, or even create a lasting protagonist and antagonist.
The kids coming up now won’t know any difference, and folks who embrace the changes will undoubtedly find some level of hope, beauty, and joy in their art. I see a society, though, where those artists brave enough to truthfully address the human condition will be vilified and see their work suppressed. I see a world devoid of relevant, character driven stories. Maybe this fear has been lurking in the back of my brain since I first learned to read, driving my need to hang on to every book I’ve ever read.
Well, there you go. I can finally explain this compulsion to my long suffering wife.