Where Virtue Is Victorious


When looking at a Tor article about mapping fantasy lands, which I previously looked at here, I noticed that the description for post-Wizard Oz gave it a Virtue level of two, defined as “Overriding harmony in world, active championing of human/being rights, but still threatened.” We know that things don’t change much in Oz. Bad stuff can happen, but it never lasts. Indeed, after L. Frank Baum returned to the series after taking a few years off following The Emerald City of Oz, Ozma’s administration has access to a picture that can show whomever or whatever someone asks it to, a book that records everything that happens, and a belt that does pretty much whatever magic the plot requires. For a villain to come close to succeeding, they generally have to have powerful magic of their own, a cunning plan to evade Ozma and Glinda’s magic, or sheer dumb luck. Oddly, Ruth Plumly Thompson, who reinforced the idea of Oz always returning to the status quo in her books, has the Unicorn Queen Roganda say in Ojo that, “Nothing is ever the same. That is what makes life interesting.”

Not only does Oz thrive on many things staying the same, but even the minor change that occurred in that particular book (Ojo moving out of the Emerald City and in with his parents in Seebania) is more or less negated by John R. Neill and Jack Snow.

Mind you, I grew up on cartoon series in which the villains never won, but the heroes never killed or captured them either, so there was basically always a stalemate at the end.

At least Ozma generally either tries to render a villain harmless or reform them at the end of an Oz book, even if it’s not always ultimately successful (as with the Nome King).

Interestingly, Narnia under Aslan’s control is given a higher Virtue score, even though it’s also still threatened. That’s the case in The Silver Chair and The Horse and His Boy, anyway; there’s an Aslan-approved ruler on the throne, so the good guys essentially have the upper hand, and have to stave off invaders. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, on the other hand, have Narnia start out under the control of villains. I should think having Almighty God on a fantasy land’s side would be better than Magic Picture, Great Book of Records, and Magic Belt combined; but it doesn’t really seem to work out that way. That’s really the case with just about any spiritual warfare narrative, however. God, or whatever name you use for the Forces of Good, can easily defeat any challenge, but for some reason allows evil to thrive.

I suppose it makes sense to followers of religions that use this model, but I can’t say it does to me. It kind of applies to Baum’s fairylands as well, as The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus tells us, “But it is the Law that while Evil, unopposed, may accomplish terrible deeds, the powers of Good can never be overthrown when opposed to Evil.” Even when Good is dumb?

Oz, at least after Land, is a place where the good side always has the upper hand, and while not all-powerful, will pretty much always win. I’ve mentioned before that I was kind of hoping for something more like that in the most recent Star Wars film. Obviously there had to be wars among the stars, but did they really need to give us another evil government and return Princess Leia and Han Solo to being a rebel leader and smuggler? I’m not saying the galaxy should have been utopian, just that the good guys should have a chance to be in control for once. The prequels took more of a third direction, with the galactic government being corrupt but not strictly evil, and the corruption allowing evil forces to take control. It’s much the same way with Harry Potter. While I’m not quite as familiar with Star Trek, I get the impression that worlds under the United Federation of Planets are generally peaceful except when threatened by outside forces. Come to think of it, there’s also a lot of restoring the status quo in that franchise, as with Kirk in the first few movies. Of course, people can and do question how good the good characters really are, and the same with the bad ones; but it’s generally pretty clear in fantasy universes whether the writers intend for those in control to be moral, immoral, or amoral. All of them can certainly work, but there’s probably a reason why the ones where love and peace generally triumph are often the ones I find myself coming back to frequently. Then again, there’s also some appeal to total chaos.

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5 Responses to Where Virtue Is Victorious

  1. James Krych says:

    One of these days I’d love to discus regarding your view on good versus evil in private conversation.

    Your words regarding Ozma:”At least Ozma generally either tries to render a villain harmless or reform them at the end of an Oz book, even if it’s not always ultimately successful (as with the Nome King).”

    Make for interesting situations. For example, with the Nome King regaining his memories it would go to say that he wouldn’t be the only one to do so-even if it did take time. That is the premise for my upcoming The Flight to Oz Book II: Anusha of Oz. That large army that was sent back had many totally regain their memories and made life hell for the Kingdom of Ix for 85 years. With the initial invasion happening “15 years after Oz couldn’t be seen again.”

    In Book I, I have Ozma confronting Pure Evil in the form of the darkest and most evil thoughts that all mortals/half-mortals have that got trapped by the enchantment of the Magic Barrier. The collected thoughts eventually gain sentience and wait for a sign to attack-all the while getting bigger and bigger.

    The “Evilons” cannot be reformed, transformed, enchanted, or lose their memories. They are purely evil. When they take form, individual magic cannot work. And, any affected areas only show up as fog with the Magic Picture.

    Of Oz, yet not as they have the ability to go on, in, and through the sands of the Deadly Desert without being destroyed. So, the threat comes from within Oz and not from an external enemy.

    Fortunately, Lurline provides the key to Glinda in the form of a vision that must be followed.

    • Nathan says:

      In Magic, Ozma’s rationale is that the Nome King learned his evil ways again because he returned to his old home, and such would not be the case in Oz. She turns out to be wrong, at least according to Thompson. It’s been suggested that he built up an immunity to it, but it’s certainly possible that others who drank the water would eventually regain their memories, especially if surrounded to those who had known them before.

  2. Bryan T Babel says:

    “God, or whatever name you use for the Forces of Good, can easily defeat any challenge, but for some reason allows evil to thrive.”

    Here is C. S. Lewis’ argument from Chapter Two of “The Problem of Pain.” The asterisks indicate my skipping around. The complete work can be found here:

    pc-freak.net/files/ProblemOfPain.pdfhttp://www.pc-freak.net/files/ProblemOfPain.pdf

    “IF God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.” This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.
    **********************
    [God’s] Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say “God can give a creature free-will and at the same time withhold free-will from it,” you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words “God can”. It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.
    ****************************
    But if matter is to serve as a neutral field it must have a fixed nature of its own. If a “world” or material system had only a single inhabitant it might conform at every moment to his wishes “trees for his sake would crowd into a shade”. But if you were introduced into a world which thus varied at my every whim, you would be quite unable to act in it and would thus lose the exercise of your free will.
    ****************************
    Yet again, if the fixed nature of matter prevents it from being always, and in all its dispositions, equally agreeable even to a single soul, much less is it possible for the matter of the universe at any moment to be distributed so that it is equally convenient and pleasurable to each member of a society. If a man travelling in one direction is having a journey down hill, a man going in the opposite direction must be going up hill. If even a pebble lies where I want it to lie, it cannot, except by a coincidence, be where you want it to lie. And this is very far from being an evil: on the contrary, it furnishes occasion for all those acts of courtesy, respect, and unselfishness by which love and good humour and modesty express themselves. But it certainly leaves the way open to a great evil, that of competition and hostility. And if souls are free, they cannot be prevented from dealing with the problem by competition instead of by courtesy. And once they have advanced to actual hostility, they can then exploit the fixed nature of matter to hurt one another. The permanent nature of wood which enables us to use it as a beam also enables us to use it for hitting our neighbour on the head. The permanent nature of matter in general means that when human beings fight, the victory ordinarily goes to those who have superior weapons, skill, and numbers, even if their cause is unjust.

    We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free-will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.
    ************************
    That God can and does, on occasions, modify the behaviour of matter and produce what we call miracles, is part of the Christian faith; but the very conception of a common,and therefore, stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare.
    *************************
    So it is with the life of souls in a world: fixed laws, consequences unfolding by causal necessity, the whole natural order, are at once the limits within which their common life is confined and also the sole condition under which any such life is possible. Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.
    *************************
    Perhaps this is not the “best of all possible” universes, but the only possible one. Possible worlds can mean only “worlds that God could have made, but didn’t”. The idea of that which God “could have” done involves a too anthropomorphic conception of God’s freedom. Whatever human freedom means, Divine freedom cannot mean indeterminacy between alternatives and choice of one of them. Perfect goodness can never debate about the end to be attained, and perfect wisdom cannot debate about the means most suited to achieve it. The freedom of God consists in the fact that no cause other than Himself produces His acts and no external obstacle impedes them – that His own goodness is the root from which they all grow and His own omnipotence the air in which they all flower.

    • Nathan says:

      Interesting read, but it doesn’t really explain why, in Lewis’ own books, Aslan had to wait so long to kill the White Witch. Getting rid of her earlier wouldn’t have been a paradox or a violation of free will. Then again, she WAS a divine executioner, right?

  3. Bryan T Babel says:

    “Why does God wait to oppose evil?” is a question famously asked many times in the Bible itself.

    “How long, O LORD, must I cry for help and you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ and you do not intervene?
    “Why do you let me see iniquity? why do you simply gaze at evil? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and discord.
    “This is why the law is numb and justice never comes, For the wicked surround the just; this is why justice comes forth perverted.”

    HABAKKUK, I, 2-4

    For the record, God’s reply to Habakkuk is that He’s cooking up something big, and that it will be worth it. Whether one finds this an acceptable answer …well, your mileage varies.

    J. R. R. Tolkien was, very famously, fretted by Lewis’ slapdash world-building. Narnia grew in a very eccentric manner, and Lewis himself often forgot details, or indeed never considered them, when it came to new stories. For instance, in the first book it appears there are no humans in Narnia; later this develops that there are no humans in the land of Narnia, but there are plenty in the greater world of Narnia (e. g. Calormen, Archenland, or the Lone Islands).

    The human race in the land of Narnia (through whom Aslan established proper rulers) was either bred out to extinction or otherwise destroyed; this left the land in disarray, and after the Tree of Protection failed the Witch was able to come in and conquer. During her reign, it was possible for four appropriate children from, say Archenland, or even Calormen (if they could have traveled so far or penetrated what were undoubtedly guarded borders) to have come to Narnia.

    The Calormenes would be culturally disinclined to risk their necks rescuing Narnia; I can imagine a few valorous Archenlanders trying and being repelled by the Witch’s minions in the mountainous borders between the lands, and eventually giving up. Aslan had to get some humans in WITHIN the borders, and this is where the Pevensies (and free will) come in.

    Chance (if chance it can be called) led them to Narnia, but their free will made some return, and all remain. If they had refused, or if any less than four came, then Aslan could not have fulfilled the conditions laid down (by the Emperor’s Magic?), and he could not have returned. Miracle (the suspension of the usual course of things) got them there; Free Will (what they chose to do once there) fulfilled the prophecies, with Aslan’s help.

    I wouldn’t say the Witch was a divine executioner, that was sort of an insult Mr. Beaver threw at her. Anyone who put themselves outside the Law by an act of treachery put themselves in her power; it was tantamount (paradoxically) to swearing allegiance to evil and putting yourself under her dominion.

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