Usually on Main Character Monday I feature the main protagonist, the hero, from one of the books I’ve reviewed. We love our main characters. They give us something to aspire to. They remind us of us. We connect to their stories, and we are firmly in their corners. We learn with them, hurt with them, and laugh with them. Their lives, the growth they go through during the time of the story, encourage and challenge us in our own lives.
But what would a main character be without their antagonist, their villain? These are the characters created to receive our dislike. They are the ones challenging the characters we love. Sometimes they act in deplorable ways. Even the less vile ones exhibit characteristics that simply rub us the wrong way. Their methods, their driving forces, are not things we aspire to. We don’t want to see ourselves in these characters. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t as necessary to the story, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons we can take from them as well.
Often, the antagonist of a story isn’t what you would term a true villain. They aren’t pure evil. They aren’t psychopaths. These certainly exist in stories, but what about the others? Some of the most strongly written antagonists have stories that are just as compelling as their heroic counterparts. They are stories of hurt, pain, disillusionment, disappointment, and torment that twist the hearts and minds of the antagonist.
Kristen Heitzmann is an expert at creating this type of character. Her antagonists are so complex that to use them as an example would give away too much of the stories she’s written. I found only one of these characters that I feel I can share anything about in the novel The Edge of Recall. He is a young man with a more than troubled past. Hidden since childhood from a world that is less than understanding and far from kind, Donny knows to survive he has to stay invisible. However, when developers threaten to unearth the only home, the only safe place he has ever known, Donny realizes the only way to protect himself is to get rid of them. Donny has spent years honing the skills he needs to survive, including breaking into houses and stealing what he needs. He puts these skills to use as he terrorizes those he believes wants to rip his home away from him.
Donny is far from being the only antagonist in the story, but his part in the novel is equally terrible and heartbreaking. He does some horrible things in his attempts to keep himself safe. And we realize actions have consequences no matter their motivation. But at the same time, Heitzmann gives us a clear picture of the pain that molded him into the man he became. This is where we find our challenge.
Donny didn’t set out to be the bad guy. People rarely do. Hurt and fear can push people to things they never would have imagined possible. Again, I don’t say that as an excuse to justify wrong actions. There are plenty of people that find something to hold onto, to encourage them to rise above the sad tales of their pasts. Even for those who don’t there is still accountability. But there is a level of accountability for believers as well.
Scripture tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The New Testament tells us in many different ways to bear with each other in patience and love. Our battle cry when we are faced with the topics of abortion or euthanasia is “God made us all. We’re all loved by Him. We all have a purpose and deserve a chance at life.” It may be right, but what about when we’re faced with someone different than us? Do we cringe and pass to the other side of the street when we see the literally dirty, smelly old man coming? Do we make a moment’s stilted conversation and excuse ourselves as quickly as possible when we come in contact with someone who has a mental challenge, physical defect, or is just plain socially awkward? What about that annoying person who always seems to want to be around us? How do we treat him?
How many have suffered mentally and emotionally at our own hands because we were too uncomfortable to deal with them in love and patience? How many have internalized the pain and poured it out on others, when a simple act of kindness could have given them something to hold onto, could have given them hope? Please understand, I am not saying we are responsible for their actions. Everyone has choices. But we are responsible for our actions, and those actions can cut deeper than we realize.
James 1:27 gives us the definition of pure religion according to God. In addition to living a life that is undefiled, he says it is “to visit widows and orphans in their distress”. How often are we guilty of brushing off the cranky old widow or needy little kid? Of looking only at our own needs and the needs of those in our immediate circle? Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” When we as believers start doing justly and loving mercy, when we act in patience and in love, we can become God’s hope for someone who’s hurting. We can’t make them choose the hero’s life over the villain’s life, but we can show them there is a better way. Isn’t it time we did our part to ease and heal the hurts of those God has brought into our lives?