Authors love their jacket photos to show them sitting in a studious den with some books, a wonderful view out the window at their back, and wood paneling. And a globe. Like they are going to spin it and peer intently – “Hmmm. I shall send my hero to Madagascar…”
The image is that here is where they arrive at their great insights on human nature.
My insights on human nature come over the front of my bicycle handlebars when I ride to work.
Honestly, I see more of what it means to be human in my commutes by bicycle than one will find in a musty old den. In the brisk morning air, in the cool darkness, I’ll see true humans. I’ll see the oblivious middle-class drivers, grinding through their long commutes from the burbs, driving their pastel FUVs without headlights. I’ll sit at the light and watch an entire line of cars make their left turns without signals. And I’ll deal with Odyssey-wandering soccer-moms in the perpetual distraction they think of as their lives.
Nobody is out to cripple me. Nobody is out to kill me. But human nature being what it is, they don’t give a tinker’s damn if they do hit me. It’s an even chance they’ll run if they do (I speak from personal experience). And regardless of what their plates say about “life being precious”, regardless of their “coexist” bumper stickers, they don’t care. Not really.
When I apply this to history, I get a much more realistic view. Do I think that when Vikings sacked a village, they did it because their warrior prince was out to prove to his father that he could command a longboat, or that he’d cut a bloody swath because of the loss of his eye or the death of his maiden love? Do I think he was mo-ha-ha evil, that he’d chortle in baritone delight at the carnage he’d create? No. I think most Vikings were just out to rip a lot of people off and kill anyone who got in their way. And that’s probably more horrible when you give it a thought, that you might have home and loved ones torn from you, not in an act of dynamic melodrama, but just as an unthinking humanist act.
When you look at it, perhaps that’s why writers pen the villains they do. Certainly, dramatics factor in; it might make for a better story. But perhaps authors write meanings behind bad things because we need an explanation. Like religion, perhaps writing requires a reason for the terrible, inhuman acts we see about us. Because anything else, from seeing your village afire to that crushing impact of an FUV bumper against your thigh, requires a reason.
Anything else would be too terrible to imagine.