April 17th, 2006

ozarque figure

Writing science fiction; about Troublesome...

After I posted "Troublesome's Song" yesterday, hagsrus commented:
"I have never understood Troublesome -- she is so patently *not* evil. A bit of a pain, perhaps, but I really don't comprehend her function, if that's the right word."

And mamadeb comented:
"I have the same problem. It seems to be something about vicarious sinning, and I canNOT wrap my brain around the need for such a thing."

[For those who haven't read the Ozark Trilogy, Troublesome is one of the characters in those books -- one of three women who have major roles: Silverweb, who stands for extreme good; Troublesome, who stands for extreme evil; and Responsible, who stands in between, for balance and moderation.]

Theologians tell us that the reason an all-powerful and all-good Deity allows evil in this world is because there must be evil if humankind is to be aware of the existence of good, in the same way that there must be darkness if we are to be aware of the existence of light. We can't have access to one without the other.

Troublesome's function is to be evil on behalf of the population of Planet Ozark; her function is to embody and personify evil, to focus on evil so fiercely and wholly that no one else on the planet needs to give it so much as a thought. (If they choose to, despite her efforts, that can't be helped -- but her goal is that they shall never need to, because she is taking care of it for them.) Because this is what she does, and because she does it so well, she's sent into exile -- into a kind of quarantine high on a mountain. She lives there all her life, being evil for the sake of others.

Which leads to a paradox that has fascinated me since I was a child. The problem is that the more you do evil for the sake of others, the more your evil morphs into good. Good and evil are not a binary matter but a circle, from least good to most evil; when you do evil for the sake of others, that circle betrays you. And the more evil Troublesome is and does, for the sake of others, the more good she is and does; there's no way out.

My own fascination with the paradox began with Judas. He identified Jesus for the men who came to arrest him -- the ultimate evil .... thereby bringing about the events necessary for the rescue of all humankind -- the ultimate good. When I wrote "Lest Levitation Come Upon Us," I had the saint in that story trying desperately to sin her way out of sainthood for the sake of her husband and children, who find her status embarassing and inconvenient; she has a dreadful time because of the paradox. "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend." The individual who is evil for the sake of a friend is, in this worldview, laying down not only earthly life but eternal life as well ... and there you are again, trapped in paradox.

Troublesome doesn't do vicarious sinning, she just sits herself down to be evil, every single morning, first thing after breakfast, and puts her back into it. The evils we tend to focus on in the mainstream U.S. culture -- the evils that make "living in sin" refer to only one sort of sin, for example, so that if you're living in a household of three axe murders that phrase doesn't apply to you -- are trivial by comparison with what Troublesome does.