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The Best of Tobias Mastgrave: Demons, Monsters, and Ghosts, Oh No! Part II

As you know, Tobias Mastgrave has started his own blog after a good run with us here at LHP.  In thanks to him and recognition of his work, for the next few week’s we’re running several of his highest rated posts from days past.  Check out his blog at http://tobiasmastgrave.wordpress.com

Good luck and Godspeed Tobias in your new endeavors!

Lantern Hollow Press

https://lanternhollow.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/newrule5.gif?w=239&h=27&h=27

  • The Ravager is generally the most common demon archetype found in fantasy.
  • The Ravager demon is the thug of the supernatural world, relying on brute strength and lacking in intelligence.
  • Ravager demons have their place in fiction but are generally over used or used to too little effect.

In the first installment of this series I introduced some of the differences between demons as they exist in mythology and in fantasy. In this and the next few installments I would like to discuss a few archetypal demons. Now I learned my lesson with my post on villain archetypes and I’m going to discuss these one at a time. The first archetype* I want to discuss is the most commonly used, the Ravager.

This sums up the Dresden Files pretty well.

As with all excessively common archetypes the Ravager has some problems. However, while it may be generally overused, it does have a solid place in fiction. The Ravager is somewhere in between a monster and a true demon. Generally Ravager archetypes are portrayed as the brute thugs of the demon world, very powerful but lacking in cunning and intelligence. One basic example of this archetype is found in the first book of the Dresden Files, Stormfront. The toad demon which appears in this book is a classic example of the Ravager, it exists for one purpose, to destroy, and that is the only thing which enters its mind. As with any Ravager the toad demon has one, and only one, approach to dealing with a problem, smash it. If the problem can’t be smashed then it is too much for the Ravager to handle. While the toad demon in Stormfront is relatively weak some Ravagers are very powerful. In Glen Cook’s The Black Company the Limper is another Ravager archetype**. The Limper is excessively powerful, able to confront entire armies on his own multiple times through the series, but he lacks cunning. Through the course of the series the Limper displays only one reaction to any obstacle, kill it, if it cannot be killed then smash it, if it cannot be smashed then he can’t do much about it.

Ravager archetypes generally see little character growth, they are too simplistic to truly develop as characters and generally exist to get in the way. For instance in The Black Company the Limper presents an excellent obstacle to portray the company’s main strength, its cunning. Though the Limper is excessively powerful he is defeated time and again by the cleverness of the company’s soldiers.

Ravager archetypes can also serve to exhibit the great power which opposes the main characters. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring the Balrog serves to show the great power which opposes the fellowship, both in Moria and as a foreshadowing of greater threats to come. Though the Balrog is portrayed in the novel as little more than a very powerful brute its power manages to, apparently, overcome the wizard Gandalf, who is the fellowship’s own ‘man of power’. This not only provides a sense of emotional loss for the reader but also underlines the very real danger which the fellowship faces on its journey.

An amazing showdown

The difficulty with the Ravager archetype is that it has been used so often that it has become mundane to think of fantasy demons as brutes who can’t think or plan. In The Amulet of Samarkand*** the image is created that Bartimaeus, one of the two main characters, is the only demon of any real cunning in existence. While there are shown to be demons of much greater power Bartimaeus inevitably overcomes them through his intelligence and cleverness. Also in many stories, The Amulet of Samarkand being only one, Ravager demons are beholden to mortal men who have bound them, again through cunning rather than power. This use of the Ravager demon does not mesh well with mythology, as discussed in Part 1, and so gives demons on the whole the image of being little more than lackeys.

Patricia Briggs, in her novel Blood Bound, combines the Ravager archetype with the Possessor archetype (which I will discuss in a later post) to good effect. Though the demon is still portrayed as being single-minded, obsessed with killing and destruction, it is given a certain low cunning which allows it to become a very real threat. Instead of the traditional use where the Ravager is bound to its summoner in Briggs’ novel the Ravager is clever enough to have overcome its summoner and become a threat to the world, or at least the surrounding area. In my opinion this, along with Tolkien’s use of the free-willed Balrog, is a better example of the Ravager archetype than the norm.

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* Demons may sometimes be villains and villains may sometimes be demons. In this there is some overlap between the villain archetypes and the demon archetypes.

** While the Ten Who Were Taken are technically mortal sorcerers the power and persistancy they portray in the series has more in common with demons than with men. The Limper, for instance, ‘dies’ at least three times in the series (in one of his deaths he is chopped to pieces) and yet returns after each death to further harass his enemies.

***The Amulet of Samarkand, ostensibly intended for younger readers, has been challenged or banned from certain libraries.  While the novel itself shows quality writing the characters within display and, in my opinion, encourage a certain amorality which could be detrimental to younger readers.  I suggest you consider carefully before allowing children under the age of 16 access to this book and if your children are considering it as a reading option I suggest you read it before deciding whether or not to allow them access.  A review of the book which disagrees with my own opinion may be found here.

 

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Among The Neshelim: My first novel, Among the Neshelim, is now available from Smashwords here, and Amazon here. Print copies are not yet available, but will be soon.

Among the Neshelim

by

Tobias Mastgrave

Understanding. One little word, and yet it means so much. We spend our lives pursuing it in one form or another. We long for it, seek it out, and break ourselves trying to find it. But it is always a rare commodity.

Chin Cao Yu, priest and scholar, has sacrificed all he held dear in its pursuit. Now he undertakes the journey of a lifetime, a journey among the mysterious Neshilim, a people of power unlike any he has seen before – all for the hope of understanding. This journey will turn upside down the world he thought he knew and challenge all of his dearly held beliefs. Has he found the ultimate truth or the ultimate lie? And what will he do with it when he learns?

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Demons, Monsters, and Ghosts, Oh No! Part VII: What’s the Difference?

That's gotta be annoying!

All bad guys aren’t the same, though they do all have certain similarities.  When we’re talking about the demons, monsters, and ghosts that populate our fantasy worlds one of the things we have to ask is ‘what’s the difference?’

If you remember way back in the first post I did in the series I discussed some of the ancient mythology surrounding various views of the demonic.  Many of these creatures could be viewed as demons or monsters interchangeably.  For instance the Indian Raksha, or Rakshasa, could be considered a monster, a demon, or (at times) a benevolent spirit.  The evil Raksha, Ravana, who stars as the villain of the Ramayana, began his life as a devout sage.  In fact, according to the mythology, the great power which makes him such a devastating opponent is a blessing from the gods for the services he has rendered to them.  He is described, in various places, as a devout follower of Shiva and a disciple of Brahma.  However, by the time we see Ravana in the Ramayana he has been corrupted by his own power, injustices done to him and his kin, and his greedy desires.

Even though in mythology there is a great deal of confusion between the three categories, in much modern fantasy there is a distinct difference between demons, monsters, and ghosts.  Usually these differences can be classified in three ways:

Whaaaaaaaag!

Origins:  These three types of creatures normally have very different origins.  Demons are usually either fallen or evil gods and their servants (Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, Demon Wars, Exalted), creatures from another plane of existence (Forgotten Realms, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Another Fine Myth), or the fallen servants of God or the gods (Demon: The Fallen, Marvel Comics, Mercy Thompson Series).  Although both Glen Cook and Steven Erikson mix gods, demons, and extremely powerful human sorcerers into the same bag to some degree.

Monsters, on the other hand, are normally homegrown, self-perpetuating species that could have any number of origins.  Some are natural (Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Mercy Thompson Series), while others are created (The Lord of the Rings, Anne Rice’s Vampires, Frankenstein, Mistborn Trilogy), and others are cursed (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, many Werewolf stories).

Ghosts generally have one of three origins.  Either they are the souls of the unquiet dead (Supernatural, Hamlet, The Haunting of Hill House), they are magically created animate beings that mimic those who were once living (Avnul, Supernatural: Hell House), or they are the lower soul of man (or Hun) that escapes when a man dies and his higher soul (or Po) escapes to the afterlife (Exalted, Legend of the Five Rings).  These differences in origin can be used to identify various aspects of your wicked creatures, or you can combine them  (such as the suspected Demon Ghost that appears in the Dresden Files).

Burn, baby, burn!

Power: Demons, monsters, and ghosts all have widely varying levels of power.  However, they have a lowering order of magnitude (demons, then monsters, then ghosts).  For instance, in fiction, demons usually wield great (sometimes god-like) power and are often immortal (Demon Wars series, Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, Malazan Book of the Fallen), though they are at times limited or almost human (Another Fine Myth, Malazan Book of the Fallen).

Monsters, on the other hand, normally have a level of power that is comparatively close to human (Forgotten Realms, Mercy Thompson Series, Mistborn Trilogy, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit).  Some monsters, such as dragons, may be much more powerful than humans but are still bound by mortality (The Spear Wielder Trilogy, The Hobbit, Elven Bane and Elven Blood).

Ghosts are generally powerless outside of specific circumstances (which may be defined by location, time, or the actions of their victims among other things), but within those circumstances have substantial power (Poltergeist, Supernatural, The Haunting of Hill House,  A Haunting in Connecticut).  Ghosts usually live within a set of specific rules that define their capabilities, and their ‘lifespan’ (or when and how they can move on or be destroyed).

Intentions:  The intentions of a creature are another useful means by which it can be identified.  Demons often have nefarious intentions to subvert or destroy large portions, or the entirety, of mankind (The Black Company, Demon Wars, Mythborn Trilogy).  Monsters are usually much less grand in their intentions.  The intentions of monsters vary from near human (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Spear Wielder Trilogy) to mindless and instinctual (Mythborn Trilogy, Forgotten Realms).  Many monsters will form very human-like societies and compete with the local human population (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance).  Ghosts, however, are usually motivated by an instinctual drive left over from their previous life and have little, if any, intelligent control over their actions (Legend of the Five Rings, Supernatural, Darkness Falls, The Grudge).

Yup, he doesn't look friendly.

These three categories can commonly be used, both in your reading and in your writing, to identify different types of creatures.  Now, obviously, within these categories there is a lot of room for movement and originality, and some writers get away with combining categories if they can do it in a believable way.  You could, for example, have an expansive underworld (Exalted) in which ghosts live very much like humans and are plagued by the ghosts of monstrous creatures.  Alternatively you could have a world in which some monstrous or demonic race is dominant, but haunted by the ghosts of the humans they slaughtered to gain control of their world.  There are a great many possibilities for originality both within, and between, these different types and styles of creatures.  Use them well.

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Among The Neshelim: My first novel, Among the Neshelim, is now available from Smashwords here, and Amazon here. Print copies are not yet available, but will be soon.

Among the Neshelim

by

Tobias Mastgrave

Understanding. One little word, and yet it means so much. We spend our lives pursuing it in one form or another. We long for it, seek it out, and break ourselves trying to find it. But it is always a rare commodity.

Chin Cao Yu, priest and scholar, has sacrificed all he held dear in its pursuit. Now he undertakes the journey of a lifetime, a journey among the mysterious Neshilim, a people of power unlike any he has seen before – all for the hope of understanding. This journey will turn upside down the world he thought he knew and challenge all of his dearly held beliefs. Has he found the ultimate truth or the ultimate lie? And what will he do with it when he learns?

Demons, Monsters, and Ghosts, Oh No! Part II: The Ravenous Horde

  • The Ravager is generally the most common demon archetype found in fantasy.
  • The Ravager demon is the thug of the supernatural world, relying on brute strength and lacking in intelligence.
  • Ravager demons have their place in fiction but are generally over used or used to too little effect.
  • See the bottom of this post for details on Lantern Hollow Press’ upcoming giveaway.

In the first installment of this series I introduced some of the differences between demons as they exist in mythology and in fantasy. In this and the next few installments I would like to discuss a few archetypal demons. Now I learned my lesson with my post on villain archetypes and I’m going to discuss these one at a time. The first archetype* I want to discuss is the most commonly used, the Ravager.

This sums up the Dresden Files pretty well.

As with all excessively common archetypes the Ravager has some problems. However, while it may be generally overused, it does have a solid place in fiction. The Ravager is somewhere in between a monster and a true demon. Generally Ravager archetypes are portrayed as the brute thugs of the demon world, very powerful but lacking in cunning and intelligence. One basic example of this archetype is found in the first book of the Dresden Files, Stormfront. The toad demon which appears in this book is a classic example of the Ravager, it exists for one purpose, to destroy, and that is the only thing which enters its mind. As with any Ravager the toad demon has one, and only one, approach to dealing with a problem, smash it. If the problem can’t be smashed then it is too much for the Ravager to handle. While the toad demon in Stormfront is relatively weak some Ravagers are very powerful. In Glen Cook’s The Black Company the Limper is another Ravager archetype**. The Limper is excessively powerful, able to confront entire armies on his own multiple times through the series, but he lacks cunning. Through the course of the series the Limper displays only one reaction to any obstacle, kill it, if it cannot be killed then smash it, if it cannot be smashed then he can’t do much about it.

Ravager archetypes generally see little character growth, they are too simplistic to truly develop as characters and generally exist to get in the way. For instance in The Black Company the Limper presents an excellent obstacle to portray the company’s main strength, its cunning. Though the Limper is excessively powerful he is defeated time and again by the cleverness of the company’s soldiers.

Ravager archetypes can also serve to exhibit the great power which opposes the main characters. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring the Balrog serves to show the great power which opposes the fellowship, both in Moria and as a foreshadowing of greater threats to come. Though the Balrog is portrayed in the novel as little more than a very powerful brute its power manages to, apparently, overcome the wizard Gandalf, who is the fellowship’s own ‘man of power’. This not only provides a sense of emotional loss for the reader but also underlines the very real danger which the fellowship faces on its journey.

An amazing showdown

The difficulty with the Ravager archetype is that it has been used so often that it has become mundane to think of fantasy demons as brutes who can’t think or plan. In The Amulet of Samarkand*** the image is created that Bartimaeus, one of the two main characters, is the only demon of any real cunning in existence. While there are shown to be demons of much greater power Bartimaeus inevitably overcomes them through his intelligence and cleverness. Also in many stories, The Amulet of Samarkand being only one, Ravager demons are beholden to mortal men who have bound them, again through cunning rather than power. This use of the Ravager demon does not mesh well with mythology, as discussed in Part 1, and so gives demons on the whole the image of being little more than lackeys.

Patricia Briggs, in her novel Blood Bound, combines the Ravager archetype with the Possessor archetype (which I will discuss in a later post) to good effect. Though the demon is still portrayed as being single-minded, obsessed with killing and destruction, it is given a certain low cunning which allows it to become a very real threat. Instead of the traditional use where the Ravager is bound to its summoner in Briggs’ novel the Ravager is clever enough to have overcome its summoner and become a threat to the world, or at least the surrounding area. In my opinion this, along with Tolkien’s use of the free-willed Balrog, is a better example of the Ravager archetype than the norm.

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* Demons may sometimes be villains and villains may sometimes be demons. In this there is some overlap between the villain archetypes and the demon archetypes.

** While the Ten Who Were Taken are technically mortal sorcerers the power and persistancy they portray in the series has more in common with demons than with men. The Limper, for instance, ‘dies’ at least three times in the series (in one of his deaths he is chopped to pieces) and yet returns after each death to further harass his enemies.

***The Amulet of Samarkand, ostensibly intended for younger readers, has been challenged or banned from certain libraries.  While the novel itself shows quality writing the characters within display and, in my opinion, encourage a certain amorality which could be detrimental to younger readers.  I suggest you consider carefully before allowing children under the age of 16 access to this book and if your children are considering it as a reading option I suggest you read it before deciding whether or not to allow them access.  A review of the book which disagrees with my own opinion may be found here.

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Giveaway

Lantern Hollow Press has an upcoming giveaway.  Next week when you see a *crazy prayer request* in one of our posts follow the link provided to our Facebook page.  Copy and Paste the *crazy prayer request* into the appropriate discussion thread.  For each day you post the correct *crazy prayer request* you will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of one of our favorite books.  The submissions must be made between Monday, January 24th, 2011 and Sunday, January 30th, 2011 in order to be included in the drawing.  If your name is drawn a member of the press will contact you through Facebook in order to obtain your contact information and mail you your prize.

First Draw Prize: The Belgariad Volume 1 by David Eddings (Includes: Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, and Magician’s Gambit)

Second Draw Prize: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson and Question Quest by Piers Anthony

Third Draw Prize: Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

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Among The Neshelim: My first novel, Among the Neshelim, is now available from Smashwords here, and Amazon here. Print copies are not yet available, but will be soon.

Among the Neshelim

by

Tobias Mastgrave

Understanding. One little word, and yet it means so much. We spend our lives pursuing it in one form or another. We long for it, seek it out, and break ourselves trying to find it. But it is always a rare commodity.

Chin Cao Yu, priest and scholar, has sacrificed all he held dear in its pursuit. Now he undertakes the journey of a lifetime, a journey among the mysterious Neshilim, a people of power unlike any he has seen before – all for the hope of understanding. This journey will turn upside down the world he thought he knew and challenge all of his dearly held beliefs. Has he found the ultimate truth or the ultimate lie? And what will he do with it when he learns?

Demons, Monsters, and Ghosts, Oh No! Part I: Unleash the Beast

  • Demons are often used in fantasy writing, sometimes well and sometimes poorly.
  • Examining actual, historical, beliefs about demons in the mythology of various religions can be very helpful in deciding how to use them in our stories.
  • In historical belief systems demons are always connected with religion.
  • In historical belief systems demons vary greatly in power, cunning, ability, and appearance.
  • In historical belief systems demons almost always live on earth rather than on their own planes of existence.
  • In historical belief systems demons do not age but in some they can be killed.
  • Be careful of a few, basic, pitfalls in writing demons such as making them too static or dumb, or making them too powerful for your heroes to realistically overcome.

Sure, it's just a wall...that wants to eat you!

Let me first say that I’m not done with my series Social Commentary In Fiction, just taking a break.  I’ll probably be interspersing that series with this one just to keep myself interested.  Those who have been reading for a while will remember my series on Villains.  Being that I love the bad guys this time I’d like to take a look at the variety of supernatural wickedness that you might put into your fantasy and the way in which you use them.  I’d like to start off by talking about demons, which I see used often in fantasy, and often used poorly.  Many times demons are portrayed as little more than the thugs or spree killers* of the magical world, lots of power but very little brain.  It seems to me that, if a creature is thousands of years old and incredibly powerful it’s not likely to be a thug…thugs tend to have short lifespans.  So what are demons and how can/should they be used in your fiction.

When looking at beliefs about demons in the real world a few things may be noted, first of all demons are religious in nature.  In every instance demons are intimately related with gods, sometimes they are the servants of a god or the gods (e.g. Shintoism, Taoism, and Buddhism all recognize ‘demons’, an english translation of a wide variety of words, as spirits which serve the gods in some fashion or even as minor gods themselves.  In these cultures demons may be wicked, beneficent, or ambivalent depending on their current task, associations, and needs).  Other times they are gods themselves (e.g. Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, and various Mesopotamian religions recognize ‘demons’ as evil, wicked, or chaotic gods who are opposed by the benevolent gods.  Oftentimes these beings are not necessarily evil in a moral sense but representative of the natural and chaotic world as opposed to the order imposed by human civilization.  So those supernatural entities who support civilization become gods while those supernatural entities who oppose civilization become demons).  Those who are familiar with western religion, which includes most American and British fantasy authors, recognize demons as the morally evil opponents of God or the gods (e.g. The Christian idea of Lucifer and his demons, which is where the word ‘demon’ gets its wicked connotations**, the frost giants of Norse mythology or the titans and children of Echidna in Greek mythology, though these last are arguable).

I told you he looks weird.

Secondly demons in the real world vary greatly in power, ability, cunning, and appearance, among other things.  Taking all of these views of demons together they can range from nearly powerless (grass or dust spirits from eastern religions) to equal in every way to the chief god of their pantheon (Tiamat from Mesopotamia, Angra Mainyu from Zoroastrianism).  They range from devestatingly beautiful (Lucifer) to quite ugly (Oni, originally, were described at 10-12 foot tall red-skinned giants with either one or two horns and grotesque faces) to gelatinous (While Tiamat is often called a dragon when the actual descriptions of her are read she sounds more like an amorphous mass of…well…gelatin which shapes itself at will) to odd (in the Ramayana the Raksha*** which the hero, Rama, must slay is described as being ten feet tall with ten heads, and ten arms, though sometimes he is portrayed in pictures and statuary as having as many twenty and as few as two).  Some are considered to be wise beyond human understanding (Lucifer is a good example of this, as is Angra Mainyu) others are quite single minded (Oni were pretty much content to raid villages in Japan and eat the farmers) while others are…well, drunk is one word that comes to mind (like the Norse gods their enemies, the frost giants, spent most of their time inebriated…actually, given how much time both sides spend drinking, it’s kind of a wonder any warring actually gets done).

Thirdly demons almost always live on earth, the only exceptions I know of are the Norse frost giants (who live in Jotunheimr, one of the nine worlds) and the celtic fae (who often do reside in the world but are sometimes considered to have their own world of Faerie, which is sometimes considered to be literally under the earth and sometimes considered to be elsewhere).  However in Christian, Mesopotamian, Oriental, Greek, Egyptian, Native American, etc. mythology the wide variety of demons to be found all live on the earth, under the earth, or in the sky.  They may often go back and forth between being ethereal and physical and sometimes make small pocket worlds for homes which exist within the physical world (for instance in Japanese mythology some spirits live in grass and river filled plains that exist at the bottom of wells or burrows under trees).  Often these creatures are considered to make their own ‘worlds’ either in the sky (see the early Shinto mythology****) or under the earth.

From fire I am born with REALLY spikey shoulders!!!!

Fourth and last demons do not age but in some religions they can be killed.  For instance in many animistic or polytheistic religions both demons and gods may die by violence or poison.  In Shintoism, Hinduism, ancient Egyptian religion, and Norse mythology there are examples of both gods and demons being killed (though their existance normally continues in the underworld until they are resurrected).

Now let us compare these real world beliefs to some common rules for demons in fantasy.

First of all in many fantasy stories and games demons come from a separate plane of existance.  Thus they may not be killed in the material world but, assuming one can reach their home plane and battle them there, they may be killed on their own plane of existance*****.  Demons must be summoned into the world by a human, they may not enter it on their own.  Demons are always wicked, cruel, and malicious, they love destruction more than anything else.  The last common use is one which I deeply dislike, demons have no ability (or possibly willingness) to change, adapt, or make long term plans.

Now there are rare exceptions to each of these and, with the exception of the last, I think these common stereotypes can be useful for a story, mostly because readers are already so familiar with them.  The last assumption is, however, one that I see often and have never been able to comprehend.  If a being is thousands, much less millions, of years old it is unrealistic to think that it cannot change, adapt, or make long term plans.

Many fantasy authors uses the very Christian idea of demons as the enemies of all that is good, as powerful forces which influence humanity.  However the cunning, intelligence, and adaptability of demons in the Christian comprehension is rarely evident.  Moreover these beings of great power are inevitably overcome by mortals, which also makes little sense.  In real world stories where demons and mortals battle either 1) the mortals have the help/blood and power of the gods in overcoming these demons****** or 2) the demons, while powerful, are on the same essential level as the mortals they battle.

This is a demon from the Dungeons and Dragons Role Playing Game...look at the tiny wings.

So, how should demons be used in our writing.  Well, for one I would say that demons should be used sparingly.  They should be used in a manner which is warrented by the story.  If the demon/demons in your story are going to be overcome by humans then do not make them world altering powers.  Look again at the Ramayana, Ravan was a world altering power who was only defeated by the combined efforts of both gods and men.  In Christian belief Satan and his demons are not defeated by humans, they are defeated by God.  In Norse stories the frost giants are not the enemies of men, they are the enemies of the gods.  I could go on but I think you get the picture, if your demons are immortal entities of world altering power then they need immortal entities of world altering power to oppose them.

On the other hand if your demons are going to be opposed by humans then give them realistic weaknesses.  Look at Japanese and Chinese mythology for some ideas, give your demons physical bodies that can be killed, give them homes in the real world that might be invaded, families or kingdoms that might be threatened.  You could give them a moral understanding to which the hero might appeal.  Demons in Japanese and Chinese mythology, while very different from humans, are at the same time remarkably similar in many ways.

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* A spree killer is a type of serial killer.  The spree killer is a serial killer who kills large numbers in sprees, sometimes over several days and sometimes at one time.  Spree killers normally have a large number of victims but a very short span of activity as they are quickly caught.

**The word demon comes from the greek daemon or daimon which refers to a spiritual entity, not necessarily good or evil, just spiritual.  The word was used by Christians to refer to those spiritual entities which were the enemies of Yaweh, thus ‘demon’ became synonymous with wickedness.

***A Raksha, also seen as Rakshasa and as Raksa, is a type of Hindu demon which stands somewhere between the gods and men in power.  In some myths Raksha are relatively weak and similar to humans only with the ability to change their shape.  In other myths Raksha are immortal and all but invicible, as is the case in the Ramayana.  The hero, Rama, is the reincarnation of Vishnu (a Hindu god) who then receives help from both human heroes and other gods in order to defeat Ravan, a Raksha of incredible power.

**** My favorite myth is the story of how Susano-o is banished from the sky to the earth for driving Amaterasu, the sun, to hide in a cave the full story can be found in the Kojiki here (Susano-o is translated as His Impetuous Male Augustness, start at section XV).

*****This was popularized by the Dungeons and Dragons line of fantasy role-playing games.  This series separates demons and devils giving each their own plane of existance.  Demons represent the evil forces of Chaos and are drawn from older mythology ranging from Norse, Mesopotamian, Greek, and Egyptian mythology to a few creatures inspired by Chinese and Japanese Mythology.  Devils on the other hand represent the evil forces of law and order and are predominently inspired by Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost.  In D&D these demons and devils may be summoned into the ‘Prime Material’ or real world where they cannot be killed, only dispersed.  If a hero is to permanently kill one of these creatures the hero must travel to the creatures home plane and battle it there.

******See the Ramayana here or the story of how Susano-o defeats the demon Orochi, here for examples of this.  I love that Susano-o turns the chieften’s daughter, his reward, into a bead for his necklace.

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Among The Neshelim: My first novel, Among the Neshelim, is now available from Smashwords here, and Amazon here. Print copies are not yet available, but will be soon.

Among the Neshelim

by

Tobias Mastgrave

Understanding. One little word, and yet it means so much. We spend our lives pursuing it in one form or another. We long for it, seek it out, and break ourselves trying to find it. But it is always a rare commodity.

Chin Cao Yu, priest and scholar, has sacrificed all he held dear in its pursuit. Now he undertakes the journey of a lifetime, a journey among the mysterious Neshilim, a people of power unlike any he has seen before – all for the hope of understanding. This journey will turn upside down the world he thought he knew and challenge all of his dearly held beliefs. Has he found the ultimate truth or the ultimate lie? And what will he do with it when he learns?

Heroes Part II: Why do these things happen to me?

Previously, I wrote about the idea of maintaining a sense of realism when having your heroes outwit the villain.  Another important aspect of heroic proportion (or proportions, if you prefer), is sort of the flip side to that idea:  How many BIG things you can have happen to your heroes without it becoming completely ridiculous?  Shouldn’t they just throw their hands in the air and scream, “Why is all this stuff happening to me?!   What did I do to deserve it?!  I quit!  Find yourself a new main character!”

Just as heroes find their way out of trouble at a rate higher than normal, trouble also finds them more often than it should.  The trick, as before, is to retain a proper balance, and be reasonably daring while doing it.

One of the most important things you can remember when writing heroes is that whatever you want them to seem like at first, they are not “normal” by the regular definition of the term, and the sooner you get the idea that they are out of your head, the better.  Yes, my heroine, Megan O’Riley, is technically a “regular” girl, but before five chapters are up, she has had a picture try to suck out her soul, she’s met a squabbit, been chased by a monster, and jumped into another world.  Melissa’s Mikalea began her story as pretty unremarkable, but quickly discovers that she’s has mysterious powers and the pitchforks start flying.  Kyle’s Seshui and Hisoka may have regular runs of bad luck, but they manage to survive against incredible odds to come back for another story, even when faced with ship-eating monster demons.  As I’ll discuss in my next post, use the “normal” side of your characters to build a bridge to your readers, then pull them on across it into lands beyond the pale of everyday life.  People won’t be satisfied if you just stand on their side of the bridge.

The fact is that if our heroes really were “normal” no one will be interested in reading about them.  Worse, as I noted in Part I, their books would be quite short:  “and they all died, horrible, painful deaths at the hands of the ruthless villain” just makes for a lousy end, especially when that end comes only ten pages in.  We want to see the heroes “go in there, and face the perils,” to see them challenged in all sorts of creative and difficult ways.  The response that, “No, it’s far too perilous” just doesn’t carry any weight.  No, it doesn’t always make sense in terms of the “real,” but most people don’t turn to fantasy or science fiction novels in search of anything remotely normal or run-of-the-mill.

One of the best explanations of this dynamic I’ve ever encountered—at least it clicked with me—was from an edition of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game.  In their advice to the game master, the authors pointed out that heroes are essentially a class beyond the regular Joe.  They face dangers far beyond anything that “normal” people will face, and they overcome them with luck, skill, and power that no “normal” person will ever come remotely close to emulating.  That doesn’t make them “fake” or “unrealistic.”  It makes them heroes, and that’s why we read about them.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that you ignore all the rules of common sense just because your characters are heroes, but I am saying that you can feel comfortable bending those rules to an appropriate extent.  Remember:  if we wanted “regular” we would pour a bowl of Fiber One.