The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.
People often ask writers who or what is their muse. What inspires you? I guess they are asking. Something akin to where do you get your ideas. I suspect that the creation of the muses was a way to explain forms of expression—dance, music, poetry—that were not universe gifts, and therefore, probably seemed divine to ancient peoples. Yet, there is likely something of that idea that still exists in the minds of artists today, a certain humility and reluctance to take credit for something that seems to generate out of nothing. It’s a peculiar process to lay words on a page and tell stories. To see the barest impression of a character acquire shape and substance, to become so real that he or she forces a story in strange and unexpected directions. Of course, we know that that is our subconscious at work. But we can’t see our subconscious and can only obliquely affect it. We lie down to sleep and concentrate on a particular problem to let our subconscious solve it. And the solution comes in dreams. All ephemeral and otherworldly. So it is easy to see why the ancients created muses, and why it is, to some writers and artists, difficult to take credit for things that occur out of our sight.
Now to the quote—why am I talking about muses when the quote is about evil? Recently I answered the question about muses by saying that I didn’t have any, or if I did, they were my guys, those phantoms of my imagination, my characters. They were my muses. I was being somewhat facetious.
But here is the thing—I write about evil. Evil is a complicated, polarizing subject. Not everybody believes in it. To some its source is psychological—a chemical imbalance, a genetic anomaly—the purview of science. This is opposed to those who believe that evil has a divine purpose, and that we are free agents able to choose our own paths. Free will too is a topic on which people often do not agree. The thing is, we can’t prove that there is free will. Nor can we prove that there isn’t. We can’t prove that evil is an entity with which we make our beds or is merely a defect of birth. It’s tempting to say that evil is an act or acts, and that people are complicated mixes of both good and evil. Yes, it’s tempting. The argument would go, “Of course, I’m capable of evil, but I’m also capable of good, so I am not entirely evil. I can not be called evil as long as I also do good things.” Hitler liked animals. I’m perfectly comfortable with calling him evil. Was Hitler’s will free? If it was, he chose acts of such enormous evil that they defined him. If he wasn’t, he was condemned to commit evil. In either case, evil exists. Most of us don’t live at the extreme points of this argument. My characters struggle against the evil that besets them. In every story. Story lends itself to this conflict. At its best, villains become complicated. The potential for redemption appears. We fight our inner demons and our outer enemies.
This is often story—good versus evil. It’s also real life—just another lousy week in the world we live in. Something really ugly is taking place, and I can’t change it. It’s an old story–greed, revenge, jealousy. I can only watch. I can write it down. I have my next villain. I can’t exorcise the spirit of wickedness that lives in some people and lets them wreck lives and blithely go on, but I can put the bastards in my books.
My muse is real life. And this week, she’s a leprous bitch.