We have a guest post from Lisa Jensen whose book Alias Hook is to be published by Thomas Dunne Books in July.
It’s a story from the perspective of Captain Hook from the classic story Peter Pan. However, it’s got a twist. From the book’s description it sounds like Lisa Jensen has created a bit of a “redeemable villain” in Hook. Here she shares some of her favorites of the type.
Top 5 (Redeemable) Villains
When I was writing Alias Hook, it was so liberating to re-imagine the Neverland, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys from the perspective of Captain James Hook. What had he ever done to end up as the designated villain of that place? Recasting Hook as the sympathetic protagonist got me thinking about some other "classic" literary villains who might be due for an update—or at least a chance to tell their side of the story!
Satan (Paradise Lost) Okay. He's the Devil. A character can't get any more villainous. But in John Milton's epic poem, he is also irresistibly introspective, wry, witty, and tragic. He's mounted an insurrection against the rule of God that failed, and now he's banished to Hell. Eternally. "Which way I fly is Hell," he tells us, "My self am Hell." So what's the worst that could happen, if he decides to get up to a few more shenanigans? Convinced that he has lost God's lover forever, and too proud (or too afraid of the answer) to beg forgiveness, he decides his only plan of action is to sabotage the Divine experiment going on in Eden. "Farewell Hope, and with Hope farewell fear."
In Alias Hook, James Hook sees himself trapped forever in the role of Satan in the boy's paradise of the Neverland. He and Stella Parrish, the grown woman who tumbles unexpectedly into the Neverland, have a conversation about the protagonist of Paradise Lost. "He only embraces Evil because he believes Goodness is denied him," says Stella. "In my world, we'd call him a hero with a tragic flaw."
"Well, he IS Satan," Hook points out.
Still, that doesn't mean he's beyond redemption—much like James Hook himself.
Circe (The Odyssey) A naturalist branded a witch for her skillful use of herbs and potions—as so many women have been, in history and folklore—she is vilified for transforming Odysseus' crewmen into pigs. But she's only protecting her island home from unwanted invaders. She doesn't murder them by witchcraft, but behaves in a more humane way, turning them into animals who are not enslaved, but free to roam the island. All they have to sacrifice is the man shape that makes them warlike. (Get rid of those opposable thumbs and no more weapons can be drawn!)
In other Greek tales, her transformees are often depicted as tame lions and wolves. Also please note that she turns Odysseus' men into swine only after they spend a night in gluttony feasting at her table—so apparently, her "victims" become the animals they most deserve to be.
She is the daughter of the Sun (Helios) and the Sea (Perse, an Oceanid/sea nymph). As such, she is identified with the natural world, the cycles of Sun and Sea. She's not some petty witch with a grudge; she wields the Justice of Nature.
Beast (Beauty and the Beast) Of course, Beast is not technically the villain in the beloved and enduring fairy tale. He's been transformed by dark magic into a creature so hideous to behold, it's assumed that no one could ever possibly love him. So he's already more of a tragic than malevolent figure. But the whole tale is skewed toward the challenge for poor Beauty to overcome her natural aversion to his hideousness and learn to feel something for him. In some versions, he's so bestial, he can't even speak; in others, he's incredibly eloquent and courtly. But all that ever matters to Beauty is the huge dealbreaker of his physical appearance.
I say, Beast already has it all—he's attentive, warm-hearted, generous and soulful. Why does he need to turn back into a handsome prince to be the hero?
Nimue (Legends of King Arthur) In some versions of the Arthurian saga, the Lady of the Lake (who bestows Excalibur on Arthur) and Nimue are the same person. In other traditions, "The Lady of the Lake" is more like an office or title held by successive enchantresses. I refer here to the young woman—most distinctively called Nimue, but also known as Viviane or Nenyve—who seduces (or is seduced by) Merlin, learns his magic, and removes him from Arthur's court by shutting him up in (variously) a tree, a hawthorn bush, a cold stone tomb, or a magical glass tower.
But she's only a villain(ess) if we believe Merlin does not go willingly into the prison of magic she conjures for him. His powers of foresight showed him what lay ahead, so maybe he resigned himself to the inevitable truth of his vision, or maybe he wanted to go, out of love for his bright young apprentice. Or maybe he was tired in his old age and sensed that it was time to pass the torch to his most accomplished pupil. That she dared to learn the secrets of the court mage, even though she was a woman, would be enough to have her condemned by history; that she learned so well (and was so good at it) makes her even more worthy of censure by succeeding generations of (mostly male) balladeers.
Frankenstein's Monster (Frankenstein) The so-called "monster" is the ultimate offspring who never asked to be born. But created he is in Mary Shelley's seminal 1817 novel, by a rash and feckless Victor Frankenstein too ambitious to harness the power of Science and eager to assume the role of Creator to consider the consequences of his experiment. Fashioned from mismatched spare parts and ghoulishly reanimated, the Creature come to life is so horrifying to behold, Frankenstein immediately flees.
This first parental rejection has the usual result. The Creature (variously referred to as "monster," "wretch," and "fiend"), fated to be shunned with fear and loathing by every human to whom he tries to reach out, inevitably develops a grudge against humanity. In the face of such ongoing negligence, no wonder the Creature has to act out to get his parent's attention. (In the meantime, on his own, he also manages to learn French, German, and English, and teach himself to read, so it's not like he has no redeeming attributes.)
Yes, his crimes against the innocent are brutal, but we can't help but feel if Frankenstein had had the sense to stage an intervention early on, the Creature's story might have turned out very differently.
Lisa Jensen is a veteran film critic and newspaper columnist from Santa Cruz, California. Her reviews and articles have appeared in Cinefantastique, the Los Angeles Times, and Paradox Magazine. She also reviewed books for the San Francisco Chronicle for 13 years, where her specialty was historical fiction and women's fiction.
Her swashbuckling historical novel, The Witch From The Sea, was published in 2001. Her fantasy novel, Alias Hook, is due out in July, 2014.
Lisa lives in Santa Cruz with her husband, artist James Aschbacher, and their two tortie cats. Find more about Lisa Jensen:
About Alias Hook: "Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It's my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy."
Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.
With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game. Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen is a beautifully and romantically written adult fairy tale.
Thomas Dunne Books/Macmillan | 7/8/2014 | Hardcover | 368 pages