Historical Villains Becoming Heroes in Fiction... How does it Read to You?

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    I was going to put this in the New Game+ thread, but I figure it'd just bring the discussion further away from the novel specifically.

    I want to look at the whole "making an historical villain your protagonist / an ally of the hero". Many see the hero of New Life+ as a stand in for Asaka, one of the men claimed to be responsible for the Nanking Massacre, who also lived to 94. This isn't confirmed explicitly of course, but the potential of a villain like that becoming a hero in another world can be irksome.

    There's a manga called "Afterschool Charisma", and one of the major characters is a clone named "Adolf". For me, I honestly dropped the series because I was renting it from the library, and the next book had him featured on the cover. They used some villainous characters from history to try and tell a "can you have a different fate if raised in a different environment" tale, which is kind of admirable. It kind of works, but it still looks bad a bit that you have all these great characters from history, but you're going to settle on maybe the worst human being among them as one and also humanize him (which is something that is already done by some, who say "if his paintings were only accepted" like it's the fault of the guy who rejected his art, not Adolf himself).

    Jojo's Bizarre Adventure has Stroheim. He's an example of a character that goes from being an antagonist to a helper. I just... I don't know about making a guy like that a helper of the hero. It's been a while since I watched it, so I don't really remember if his arc was treated well or no. JoJo isn't really serious business to begin with, so I just kind of shut my mind off, but yeah, I remember thinking that whole arc and its representation of him was a bit... Bizarre.

    And then there's stories with tough guys who killed people, like delinquents and gangsters, as heroes. Would it be wrong to have a story where Al Capone or Whitey Bulger gets Isekai'd to another world as a protagonist? Sitting here, it sounds wrong, but who knows how you could spin it (it would still be severely disrespectful to the families still alive that suffered from these gangsters, so probably no). New Life+ has a mobster as a hero afaik, one who also killed many, and that aspect has honestly been lost in the discussion of the more visceral Nanking aspect.

    There's a manga released recently called Golosseum, and... Yeah. Go look at the dude on the cover. Certainly bizarre enough for me to give it a look, but I dunno how I feel about making that figure a badass main character in a short comic.


    And I kind of mentioned examples of the white savior role in the New Life thread. Like, Dances With Wolves has a white man defecting away from his duty to protect the Native Americans. I like the movie, but I imagine it doesn't play amazingly to some to see their oppressor humanized and as a savior (there may be some historical tales of white men, like Kevin Costner's character, trying to protect Native American land from encroaching US forces, but I haven't looked too deeply).

    Are there any other examples of evil dudes from
    history being represented as heroes? And does it feel appropriate or no? Can it be done right? Is there a purpose or value to using characters like this?

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    @terrence Oh this is such a delicious topic - thank you for posting it!

    I'll have a LOT more to say after work but I'll ninja in and out right away to summarize my thoughts.

    Yes there are lots of examples of "bad" people being rehabilitated in literature. I'll toss out Milton's Paradise Lost. Milton took Lucifer himself and made him a noble hero. "It is better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven!" Mufasa! The shivers down my spine just thinking about it!!!

    The Japanese had a ball with this basic storyline in a creation called in English "Tears to Tiara". Great anime - I highly recommend it. :-) The concept of Noble Satan has been used over and over again in literature across the world, not just in Japan. Piers Anthony's Incarnation series had a noble devil. I'm sure others will throw out examples before I can say more.

    Work no baka! :-)

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    To be blunt, I honestly just don't read into stuff that much. I read fiction, primarily for escapism, so I'm not chomping at the bit to connect real world events with a fictional world. You'd need to hit me over the head with it in order to make the connection ("literally Hitler").

    I'm more annoyed if there's a fictional villain that's "redeemed" with no consequences, and that happens all the time. And even that's more an issue of suspension of disbelief than anything else.

    I can certainly see lots of value to using such characters. Keeping in mind that, villains though they may be, they were human, with all the inherent complexities. Making them heroes without alt history or time travel shenanigans might be a stretch though.

    I guess I'm a pretty laid back person with this kind of stuff. It's going to take a lot to rile me. I just don't feel that fiction is going to hurt me, because by it's very nature it's just made up stuff.

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    I think this is a matter of Context and time. For example, some historical figures will be seen as a hero to one culture or nation while a villain to another whiles others will be seen as a universal hero or Villian. Mongolia and China have a very different view on Attila the Hun for example. Attila the Hun died nearly 1,500 years ago making a story about him I do not see any problems (though China will certainly have problems). Now Hitler is a completely different matter; so many people have been affected because of him and people are still affected, Hitler is a Villian to everyone.

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    @drone205 Yeah its all context to me too. I don’t have any inherent issue with the idea of having historical villains shown in a different light, but it depends on the story and how it’s done. Outside of Shirley or super recent people which are going to be sketchy however you do it

  • I literally could not care less. I read stuff to see what happens to fictional characters in a fictional story. How much inspiration the author takes from real life people or events is irrelevant to my interests.

    Now, the following example may not be as impactful as a WWII massacre, since it's not as recent. But hear me out.

    I'm Bulgarian. My ancestors were under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 500 years (1396–1878) before gaining back their freedom after the Russo-Turkish War.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_Bulgaria (also referred to in our literature as Ottoman slavery)

    You won't see me complaining if, say, some random Turkish author decided to reincarnate a notable sultan/soldier/etc. from that era as the hero of some otherworldly adventure. Even if the writer himself was a racist a-hole toward Bulgarians, my skin is thick enough not to care what one person (with no real power in a time of peace) in a neighboring country thinks of me. Rather, I'd be focusing on whether his work was of any interest as a story.

    I fully support the right of any story to be published, regardless of who it may or may not be glorifying. If it continues to sell (like, say, a certain 18+ volume series), then it's obviously bringing some modicum of worthwhile entertainment (with its plot, characters, etc.) to some people's lives. Maybe not my life, but still, I find that to be a good thing.
    Now you might've figured it out by now, but I don't like seeing fans getting thrown under the bus because someone said a few mean things online. Especially if the series getting cancelled was near completion anyway.

    I think this turned into a rant and I'm not sure I meant for it to...

    To end this off on a brighter note:

    You can check out this book, probably one of the few interesting ones we had to read for school. Hailed as the author's heartfelt masterpiece. If you also find this historical romance worth the time to read, like I did, that'd be pretty cool:

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    I didn't even think of Satan, good example. Just the concept of an ultimate evil in our minds becoming good is interesting.

    Like I just had a discussion on Devil is a Part-Timer. Fictional characters, but the Satan in the story actually was involved in the bloody takeover of Ente Isla. He gives excuses later about fighting humans, but on the surface of it he was involved in a campaign that took many lives. The author is still toying with the concept of forgiveness for him where I'm at, and I honestly don't know how I should ultimately see Maou yet. I'd guess even the most religious people these days wouldn't see the Devil Is a Part-Timer as something abhorrent though (unless they just saw the name). But I'm guessing that other one, Dante's Divine Comedy, could have ruffled some feathers back when though?

    @drone205 said in Historical Villains Becoming Heroes in Fiction... How does it Read to You?:

    Attila the Hun died nearly 1,500 years ago making a story about him I do not see any problems (though China will certainly have problems).

    Another example would be Vlad Dracul. Guy was ruthless, impaling people on stakes. But his name is immortalized as Dracula, and I'm betting there's a light novel that has him as a protagonist.

    Elizabeth Bathory too now with Fate series. People making a woman who was a serial murderer their Waifu is.. umm... xD

    Another example of when this can be a slight problem, John Smith's fiction was almost more famous than actual historic accounts of Pocahontas. Disney doing a romantic cartoon movie with him as a protagonist based on his fictional account seems kind of messed up to me, but whatevs.


    John Smith was basically one of the older fan fiction writers, lol.

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    There are also characters that are based on historical people or groups. An example is the Daleks from Doctor Who, The Daleks were created based on the Nazis. Though the Daleks are the bad guys so this is not really about becoming the hero though but I think talking about characters or fictional groups based on Real historic people or groups can work in this discussion.

  • Then you have Drifters, where they had an isekai'ed Hitler found a country to save some people, then he was killed and the ones that took over the country turned it into an empire by enslaving demihumans. Literally making Hitler a tragic hero. I wasn't sure how to feel about it. Then again, it also gave me a zombie monster Gilles de Rais following a flame-controlling batshit crazy Jeanne d'Arc so in the end I stopped caring and just kept watching lol.

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    Just as one more example where this can be a real problem, "The Birth of a Nation"'s presentation of history and the heroes of that work.

    A short clip from a PBS special on it:


    This film was super significant and influential for its filming techniques, but also for its controversial message about reconstruction, its racist ideology, and, for the purposes of this thread most significantly, the presentation of clansmen as heroes. Like the documentary says, this was one of the most unvarnished unfiltered distillations of white racist ideology at the time regarding the state of the nation and how the white heroes were supposed to use their supremacy to stabilize the country after a "failed Reconstruction". =/

    The director of this one didn't really own the racism of his work either, he did a few films after trying to defiantly answer back at critics who called him a racist + called for censorship / banning of his film, including one that featured one of the first on screen interacial couples.

    @drone205 said in Historical Villains Becoming Heroes in Fiction... How does it Read to You?:

    I think talking about characters or fictional groups based on Real historic people or groups can work in this discussion.

    Absolutely! I meant to include some, but I couldn't think of anything offhand. I was thinking of actually a villainous portrayal that got a writer in some hot water where he basically had the Jewish group pretend to be victims for gain. So it seems like the writer is professing Holocaust denial in this fantasy work. Terry Goodkind was the author:


    "Soul of the Fire" describes a minority group that keeps itself in power by controlling the schools and teaching everyone in their society that they were the victim of a horrible injustice in the past and are therefore owed a great debt by the "evil" majority (and the horrible injustice may not have actually happened in the first place). They used this (along with being moneylenders who control the economy) to take control of the entire country during a crisis. Parallels to real-world groups are left as an exercise to the reader.

    Yikes! =[

    And aren't there some Doctor Who eps with "good" Daleks too? That always makes things murky too about how we're supposed to see them and the Doctor allegorically if anything.

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    I couldn't care less, what someone was in their past life.

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    The biggest problem is that no person is truly, completely, evil. Every single person have their own point of view and think themselves right in doing whatever they are doing.

    This is a major benefit for all when the ideology is fairly central (no extremes), but when it settles into extremes, the people who are opposite that extreme are then hurt. If the people opposite the extremist then win the fight, that person is labelled "evil". If the extremist won, he is lauded as heroically good. The victors are truly the ones who write history.

    There are exceptions to this: mob rule is a strange and rational mind losing event. It didn't matter how intelligent or righteous a person is: if they get swept up in mob mentality, it can be hard to explain just what they are thinking... Because they weren't. But if you leave mob rule running for too long, people will start applying what they do as "right" and see what they do as civilised, when though it's a regression in civilisation.

    And that's dangerous: What Hitler used was effectively mob rule to influence the minds of the populace into accepting Nazi thinking as "right". To unite the "mob", he needed a minority target who would be easily seen as an enemy. Back then, it was the Jews.

    The mobs in witch hunts against the Jews became so common place that the people thought they were doing "good". And I am sure that if you got a single person who was swept up in this, and showed this to themselves 5 years earlier, they would be horrified at their actions, unable to reconcile seeing their own body and mouth do things they see as horrendous.

    Even Hitler believed what he was doing was not only good, but for the benefit of all the Germans. And that without his actions and leadership, Germany would be lost in the midst of the European countries. To Hitler, he was fighting for Germany to stand tall. To be a country to be reckoned with.

    So yeah... The point I'm trying to make was the view point of that person is always "in the right", as there is no people who are truly and completely "evil".

    That said, there are some people who do terrible deeds, and yet live an externally normal existence until they are caught. Take some child rapists who then murder the kids and hide the bodies. These people have enacted on their desires and then return the "logical" step of hiding the evidence against them. And yet, they interact normally others in society. The biggest problem is that not only have they enacted on a forbidden desire, but repeated actions, plus lack of being caught wears down their conscience that what they are doing is wrong, until they see what they are doing is "normal" and "right".

    Truly, the malleability of the human mind and what we see as right or wrong is truly a fearful thing.

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    @terrence There's actually the opposite as well, where people like Oda Nobunaga (who wasn't exactly a hero but certainly was not particularly evil) get demonized into the Demon King legends.

    The problem of art being influential in history is treated best by Walter Benjamin (the essay on reproduction and its attendant problems) and Traffaut, you can't avoid it and is it the art or its representation that's problematic to the audience? And while I'm generally a relativist, there are examples in history where the excess gets remembered (Leopold of the Belgians, Arthur Zimmermann for both the US and the CIS, Hitler). There's always hagiography written about the "villains" but yes, I don't want to read a whitewashing fantasy even distant from it, because it encourages others to replicate the same problem behaviors (think of all the Steve Jobs wannabes at your workplace right now).