X is for Xerxes
Xerxes is son of Darius who attempted an invasion of Greece and conquered a good part of the ancient world stopping at Greece (oh those damned stubborn Greeks). At 36 he took over his dad’s job and became self-proclaimed king of Persia, Great King, King of Kings, and King of Nations. Let’s just say he had a thing for being king. But the Greeks defeat him eventually and he goes back home only to be murdered by the commander of his royal bodyguard. It’s not always good to be a king.
So Xerxes is not Greek but he is an antagonist for the Greeks and the one for which great and heroic acts are required to be performed in order to defeat him – take Thermopylae for example and the stand of the 300 Spartans. And that’s just the one gets all the press. The naval battle at Salamis is a pretty neat little fight also and on a grand scale (let the Greek Fire loose!).
Antagonists then are the subject and Xerxes is the model. Is he evil? (Probably not but he certainly does have issues.) Does your antagonist have to be evil? (No, but it can make the story stronger sometimes if you’re playing up the good vs. evil angle.) Do you even need an antagonist? (You may not but you do need something for your protagonist to struggle towards or against even if it’s only him or her self.) Can your antagonist and your protagonist be the same person? (Yes, literally if you have a good Kirk bad Kirk going like that episode of Star Trek in the original series with William Shatner splitting himself and giving us smiling Shatner and sweating snearing Shatner. Or, as I mentioned before you can have your protagonist have to overcome his or her own limitations like lack of courage, or facing their past.)
Regardless of who the antagonist is, I like characters that I end up feeling for or seeing why they end up being who they are. It’s more complicated and nuanced a story but I find I enjoy them more. Would Darth Vader be the same if we didn’t eventually find out that he was Luke’s father and at some point regrets what he has done? Understanding why someone does bad things can help us feel for them, as uncomfortable as that can be. And if I feel for the bad guy I will feel that much more involved with the good guy. This is probably why a good bad guy can so easily steal a show, novel, movie. If written well, they are just so interesting.
Who are your favorite, authentic, fully fleshed antagonists (people, places, or pieces of self)?