Monday, April 28, 2014

Assassins in Literature

What is the current obsession with main character assassins in fantasy literature? I find it very creepy.  We don't admire murderers, in general, yet all sorts of people say, "I love [fill-in-the-blank assassin character] because she's such a strong female!"  So..."strong" equals "kills for money?"  And then, the ubercreepy:  "We need more strong female characters like [fill-in-the-blank assassin] to empower young women."  So..."empower" equals "tell people it's great to kill other people?"  I find this very, very disturbing.  

I just read a book where the main character assassin shows very little remorse or guilt about all the killing she has done.  She does no soul-searching, suffers no trauma, has no nightmares, and doesn't seem to think it's a moral dilemma.  There is no deep probing into the ethics of the situation. Yet this heroine isn't a stone-cold, hardened, detached shell of a person either.  This is not realistic.  Any non-sociopath would suffer some of these consequences.  Through the course of the book, she does not change.  When presented with the opportunity to escape the life, she doesn't take it.  She will most likely work as an assassin in the future.  I found this profoundly disturbing.  

Even more disturbing is that I've been combing the internet for two days and I have found only one review--ONE--that even mentions this issue.  It's in a post that discusses what kind of role models YA literature is presenting to our young people.  Even in that context, the writer only skirts around the inherent unethical nature of being an assassin.  Perhaps everyone is afraid of coming off as judgmental.  I hope that's the reason.  That's much less disturbing than if it actually doesn't bother anyone else.  But here I am.  I'm going to be judgmental:  murder is generally wrong.  I stand by that.  Therefore, being an assassin is generally wrong.

"Assassin" can have different meanings, and in today's world we might think of assassins as people who kill powerful people for political, religious, or even moral reasons, sometimes thinking that they're doing the world a service.  However, in most fantasy literature, an assassin is a person who kills people for money, more like a hit man.  It's a job.  In some books there are even rules and regulations and professional organizations of assassins.  

Readers defend the heroes of these books by saying things like, "He's just taking pride in his job." But the fact that it's a job doesn't make it right. Others say, "You don't understand.  It's a dark, gritty fantasy world."  Be that as it may, if the hero is killing people for money, that's adding to the darkness and grittiness, and "everyone's doing it." isn't an excuse I accept.  Other readers argue that these assassins are only doing what they need to do to survive.  Possibly this is the case for a few of them, or for a period of time before they escape the life, but these heroes are also usually quite clever and skilled.  They could figure out another way to survive.  Fans write, "I like [this assassin] because he doesn't take guff from anyone."  Okay...not taking guff from anyone is entirely different from murdering a bunch of people, some of them likely quite innocent.  Other fans write, "I love [this assassin] because she can defend herself."  Umm... defending yourself is good, but defending yourself is not the same as hunting down a person you were paid to kill.  

If the protagonist has been forced into becoming an assassin, but over the course of the book finds a way to stop the killing and lead a less violent life...that's one thing.  If she's a reluctant assassin who struggles in a real and painful way with the morality of what she's doing, that could be powerful.  If it's political, and he's doing it for the perceived greater good...though it damages his soul...that's interesting.  But when killing is treated so lightly in some of these books, it makes me sick.    

If remorseless assassins are the type of people we're supposed to admire, this is a darker world than I thought.  

1 comment:

  1. People who like assassins are perverts. They like to play sick video games where they get to be assassins. Nasty scary little juvenile delinquents in training. Lock your doors at night everybody!