Angels and Demons of Urban Fantasy

We are Legions… of inhuman eyes.

Vampires, witches, and werewolves have long been the icons of scary stories, as surely as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman have become the iconic trio of superheroes. Meanwhile fairies and goblins, hailing from the pagan traditions of ancient Europe, are natural inclusions in any fantasy, urban or otherwise. But the conflict between good and evil is far, far older than any of these, and has been deeply imprinted onto humanity from the beginning, and so there are far older powers which manifest within the stories we tell about that conflict and our role in it today. This week, I discuss the very agents of Heaven and Hell themselves, the angels and demons we see in urban fantasy.

Starting off with the most obvious elephant in the room: Supernatural.

The show begins with a murder committed by a demon, and it looks to be ending with a confrontation with God himself, also known as Chuck. In between, there have been angels and demons galore, drawn from every corner of the Judeo-Christian tradition, especially the multitude of apocryphal add-ons which have popped up over the eons, plus a few original additions. That’s a great deal to explain, so I am going to do as Inigo Montoya did, and sum-up.

In the world of Supernatural, God had a sister who was jealous of the attention he gave his creations, so she destroyed all of them. For his creative process to succeed, he had to lock her up, and he needed help with that, so he created what we call the Archangels, who, like all angels to follow, would be incorporeal beings made of the cosmic energy of his light. With the Archangels helping, God locked his sister away, and went on to create infinite realities, but a key was required to keep her prison intact, and he entrusted this to Lucifer. Unfortunately, Lucifer became corrupted by it, so, when God created humans, beings who had actual souls, Lucifer lost his mind in jealousy, too, and went about corrupting and destroying all the human souls God had created. Thus, the first demons came into being, and they have carried on the work of corrupting humanity ever since, no matter that their original corrupter was imprisoned.

And so it has been ever since, with demons luring countless souls into bargains that seal their fate in Hell, while the angels safeguard all the other souls in the vaults of Heaven, both sides awaiting the Apocalypse. Once the Apocalypse happens, though, and not in accordance with the script, both sides undergo ordeals, undertakings, and transformations for which they are not prepared. This puts them very off-balance, as they make serious mistakes, and forge unusual alliances in desperate times. All of which allows the humans to shine foremost in the story as the equals, and sometimes the undoing, of both angels and demons.

Not God’s best work.

Interestingly, as both angels and demons are incorporeal, they have to possess human bodies in order to act on Earth. Demons, perhaps because they originally were humans, are able to do this involuntarily, while angels need consent… or, rather, they need their chosen human vessel to say the word, “Yes,” in some way. On their own, demons are like wisps of smoke, usually but not always black in color, while angels are apparently towering creatures of shining power with wings. Demons forfeit humanity but keep their own will, or at least some twisted shell of their will, while angels need to learn about having and using their own will in the first place. And make no mistake, while demons are utterly self-interested, they can still occasionally be found working alongside an angel or two, while angels can be every bit as selfish and duplicitous as the worst of demons and humans.

Outside Supernatural, most stories tend to treat the subject of angels and demons with more of a feather touch, if at all. In the world of the Mercy Thompson series, for instance, there is an acknowledgement that both exist, but they do not come up that often. One character, Charles Cornick, states that he has seen an angel, but as of yet there haven’t been any details shared of that experience. As for demons, we have met one, so far, it being the primary antagonist of the second novel of the series, Blood Bound. From this, we learn that demons can be summoned to grant sorcerers great power in exchange for possessing them. These are called “demon-ridden,” and they are highly dangerous and destructive, especially as the will of the sorcerer is worn away until only the demon is left. The danger of them, I think, cannot be overstated, as their mere presence drives every creature to worse and more spontaneous violence, and the demon-ridden themselves wields power over the mind and will, and it is very, very difficult to kill.

The Monster Hunters series is a personal favorite of mine for how it treats angels and demons because, while it doesn’t go about preaching at all, there are certain traces to be found of the religion which the author and I both follow. It doesn’t get too explicit about it, but, basically, angels are servants of God who further His work and help mankind, often working through mortal allies but sometimes stepping in directly. As for demons, there are references to an ancient conflict, a division where some angels rebelled and were cast out, and they have worked against God and mankind ever since, taking a variety of shapes to do so and leaving much devastation in their wake. Where it deviates, as stories must deviate from reality, is that there are also other powers, other factions, at work in the cosmos, and so there are other angels and demons to be found as a truly cosmic conflict comes into focus.

I also love how the Dresden Files depict angels and demons. We don’t see much of them early on, except for one scene fairly early in the series where the main protagonist summons a demon, as wizards can, to gain information. The demon appears to be rather civil, at first, which encourages the hero to think of him like one of those unusual friends that demons are often depicted to be. But that soon turns out to be a facade, and the truth is revealed: the demon is evil and malicious, and careful and cunning, and ravenously eager to obtain the hero’s soul. It leaves him a bit shaken as he realizes the truth.

The same hero has to contend, several times, with an order of fallen angels (ie, demons or devils or what have you) who possess human hosts by way of their possession of some rather infamous silver coins which were once given to Judas Iscariot. The hero himself becomes partially possessed, though he deals with it in an unusual way. Through this experience, he gains even more insight into how the other side works, especially in terms of temptation and turning a shining knight’s own virtue into a weapon which destroys them.

Finally, there are the angels, and the audience sees at least two of them. A powerful fae refers to the Archangels as if familiar with their behavior, but we see one of them directly more than once. Uriel is his name, and he is something like, if God had ninjas, then he’d be chief among them. He is clever, cunning, patient, and he’s always working on a plan. He also takes the time to explain things to the hero every so often, to help them understand, and chief among what is to be understood is this: they fight for free will itself, which means they cannot, must not, violate it. Ever. That means striking a balance between acting too directly or not acting at all.

The other angel the audience meets is none other than an angel of death. And that, too, is not as one might think. They come to collect souls, yes, but death itself is not evil and not to be feared. No, the angel’s primary purpose is to protect the soul they collect, especially when that soul has done so much good that the powers of Hell would dearly, dearly love to take retribution.

To wrap this up, there are two more shows I am discussing in this little monster-themed series which give me a bit less to work with.

The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off The Originals don’t seem to have much of either angels or demons at all. I am given to understand that something at least demonic comes into play in the third show of the franchise, Legacies, but so far as I know, everything supernatural on the shows is pretty much the result of the activities of witches.

Slays at least as many demons as vampires.

As for the Buffy and Angel shows created by Joss Whedon, the word “demon” seems to be practically a catch-all for supernatural creatures that are not human, as opposed to witches, vampires, and werewolves. That leaves a lot of room open for what can qualify as a demon, including a number of ancient, apocalyptic evil forces and their many servants. It can refer to creatures that come and feed on humanity, and it can refer to truly massive monsters that we only see once or twice. It can refer even to the thing that resides within a vampire that makes it a vampire. Some are phantasmal, others are entirely physical. Some eat flesh, and some eat souls. Almost all of them, I believe, originate from other planes of existence, other dimensions, other worlds. Which, as my best friend noticed, all of these other planes and dimensions seem to be hellish and spawn demons who invade our world and feed on us. But, he also noted, that could be explained if our world was appealing to them, while those who might be theoretically more advanced and enlightened and safer might see our Earth as some backwater planet, and with porous, unsecured borders to boot. Small wonder they would stay away, while the savages continually infiltrate and pillage.

As opposed to the proliferation of everything that is called “demon,” there are no angels at all. In fact, the closest we get to benevolent cosmic protectors is some nebulous unknown group of intelligent beings referred to on Angel as the Powers That Be. Despite the name, they seem to be pretty well powerless to act for themselves, so they select servants and champions and vessels and the like, including giving the gift of visions which not only are too obscure, but are also eventually lethal for a human to have. And then there’s how the single strongest Big Bad on Buffy was formerly a god (or, a Hell-goddess, really), and one of the worst evils on Angel is a Power That Was, which rebelled against its fellows and descended to take control in a manner that is strikingly reminiscent to me of the devil as my own religion sees him. As in, I seriously wonder if Joss Whedon based this on the “mythology,” so to speak, of my own faith.

Either way, there are certain similarities found among all of these iterations of angels and demons, made more prominent, I think, by their differences.

Both of them are unearthly powers, agents of opposing forces greater than themselves. They are limited in some ways as to how directly they can intervene, being much more effective with the aid of the mortals whom they aid/use in turn. Demons are rebels doomed to failure and suffering, while angels are strongest when they stand firm and unyielding for the sake of others. One side actively spreads suffering and urges people to be their worst selves, while the other tries to mitigate suffering and encourage the best in others.

Ultimately, though, it strikes me that demons are just self-serving angels, which angels were never meant to be. When was the last time you heard of someone being called angelic when they did something selfish, instead of something selfless?

…you know what I mean! 😉

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Sunday’s Wisdom #308: Human Remorse

“To kill without remorse is to feel like a god.”
– Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 3, Episode 15, “Consequences”

It’s amazing how there can be several hundred hours in any given franchise, but it’s a handful of moments that stay with us, even decades later. What made this one stick with me is how it so simply and accurately sums up a major reason for why people hurt each other: because they like it. It’s the pleasure of power, the feeling that they can do this and get away with it, not even feeling bad for it. It’s quite a heady feeling.

When Angel says this, he is speaking from many long years of experience, and he’s speaking to a young woman, Faith, who has only just tasted the pleasure he remembers wallowing in. That pleasure, however, is a defense mechanism. She did something very bad without meaning to, and now she’s trying not to be haunted by the death she caused. She’s trying to avoid the horror that naturally follows such an act, and so she is beginning to take pleasure in the kill instead. She’s always run to pleasure before, to escape the horrors of her life, and somewhere along the way that morphed into something automatic and all-consuming. She’s taking pleasure, now, in taking, and casting aside, anything that suits her fancy. What greater pinnacle of such is there, than to savor taking a human life?

That extends to many other things, besides taking human life. Most people don’t ever do that, specifically, but we all make mistakes, some worse than others. Be it the smallest slight or the greatest sin, we all do bad things and wrong things and hurtful things, and none of us enjoy being held accountable for it. No, we prefer doing whatever we want, mistakes included, without the burden of conscience or consequence. It’s much more pleasant, and less painful. This is part of what makes the drug of empowerment so heady, addictive, and dangerous, especially when the alternative is confronting the merciless, horrific truth: that we have done something reprehensible.

That feeling of empowerment, of supreme, self-preserving ego, it’s nothing more than an empty shell. It’s a defense mechanism, and a highly addictive one which breeds further justifications, further defenses, which must be defended to the death, lest we face the horror of one’s actions. That excitement and exhilaration we get when we succumb to our brutal wrath, our spiteful envy, our lust for violence, or any number of other behaviors… it hollows us out inside. It twists, consumes, strangles, or simply drives out everything truly human about us.

That’s what remorse is there for, to remind us of the truth that we did something wrong, and we need to do something to make it right. It’s not pleasant, or easy, but it keeps us human. To try and evade that natural, humanizing pain… if we do that, then we lose a bit of our humanity, don’t we?

To be free from remorse for our misdeeds — be those misdeeds large or small — is to also be “free” of the love that such remorse springs from. To empty ourselves of such natural, wonderful love for our fellow beings, just to avoid the painful burden of our sins and other mistakes, that is not what it feels like to be a god, I think. Not really.

In the Bible, Cain murdered his brother Abel with a rock, and declared that he was free. Did he feel like a god? Or was that a devil he felt like, all short-sighted and taking delight in a moment of violent power over his saintly brother? A moment which soon passed, and left him wallowing under the judgment of God and mankind alike.

And then, also in the Bible, we have the Son of God, the greatest of all, who did not avoid suffering and remorse at all. No, He took on all the pain, no matter that He did nothing to earn it.

So, which side really feels like a god? The one that tries to evade the pain of remorse through pleasure, or the one that faces it head-on? One side has love, and the other side has only the pain it tries to bury beneath pleasure.

For this reason, I am wary of my own more savage inclinations. It’s that little whisper in my heart that tells me not to pity those who suffer from their own actions. It’s that temptation to take fiendish glee in the suffering of those whom I see as responsible for the suffering of good people. It’s that hard, unyielding instinct to destroy any who threaten me and mine, and feel nothing, or even feel pleasure, for it. It’s that white-hot rage that says “torment,” and that cold, cold anger that says, “kill.” I don’t want that darker voice to win. I don’t want to be the devil that pretends to be a god. I don’t want to be like all those people who are filled with hatred, envy, and greed as they rampage through the community, preying on everyone in their path and burning everything in their wake.

I want my heart, my soul, and my life to be filled with better things, with love, and hope, and peace, and real, lasting joy. If having that means I must endure remorse for my actions, sorrow for my sins, and pain for the pleasures I too hastily indulged in, then so be it. I would face all the wrongs I have ever done, rather than let myself be trapped by them.

Maybe that is why it has always been one part of my nature to face the consequences of my actions head-on. Maybe that is the real reason why Angel’s words have stuck with me so well.

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Fairy Queens and Goblin Kings… Usually

Where there is urban fantasy, there are the fae.

That might not be a hard and fast rule, but it’s a trope that gets a fair amount of use. I mean, the entire idea is to bring all the fairy tales and scary stories into a modern setting, so of course the fairies and goblins themselves would be part of that! Am I right? 😉

Twilight has *so much* crappy YA romance to answer for.

And boy, do they show up all over the place! Lost Girl has every supernatural creature be a fae of some limitless variety. Grimm uses wesen for most of its supernatural creatures, these being the truth behind the creatures in fairy tales, including ogres and the big, bad wolf, among many others. And a huge slough of titles practically buries the genre in fae and half-fae and such. I couldn’t begin to count the number of books with half-fae princesses with forbidden fae prince love interests, or some variation thereon. A Court of Thorns and Roses, anybody?

In Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the fae are roughly divided into two or three major camps. The Summer Court and Winter Court are each ruled by three queens, and within them one finds trolls, centaurs, and pretty much every other fae creature. And then there are the Wildfae, loosely ruled by the Erlking, a dark figure of great power who leads the infamous and deadly Wild Hunt. It is in his court that one finds goblins, and these are not small, relatively weak creatures, easily killed. No, these are large and strong and absolutely savage.

All of these fae creatures, of which there is a dizzying variety and being tens or hundreds of thousands strong in number, live in what Butcher entitles the Nevernever. It’s some sort of other space, existing alongside the mortal world but apart from it, yet close enough to heavily influence the condition of the natural world. There have been intimations that the bulk of one court’s strength is constantly at war with some manner of monstrous invaders at the furthest reaches of the Nevernever, leaving only one-tenth of its strength to protect the world from other encroachments, and that the opposing court has only that much strength, just enough to protect the world from those protectors who are actively stationed nearest the mortal world. The wildfae seem to have no part in that overarching conflict, as of yet, though they have been called upon to help in a dire situation or two.

One thing to keep in mind when dealing with these fae is that they cannot outright lie. Their word is quite literally their bond… and they can bind mortals by whatever they literally say as well. Such as one poor fellow who said he’d die just to play his instrument as good as he wanted, so a fairy princess bespelled him to do so, even at the cost of his life-sustaining breath. They tend to be cruel and overwhelming, and they revel in playing with other people’s misery.

In contrast, the fae of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series can’t simply compel people. They can exercise some sort of influence if they can lay some sort of claim on you, such as, for instance, if you owe them something. For that reason, one never says “thank you” to a fae, because this indicates some sort of debt which they can then call upon. But as for the fae themselves, they are bound by some sort of ancient bargain where they are blessed with power and abilities, but only so long as they never tell a lie. To which end, they are masters of using the truth to deceive in a multitude of ways. They’re basically weaponized lawyers: every last detail of what they say can be a weapon of mass destruction.

They’re also a bit less physically powerful than the Dresden fae. Oh, their more powerful leaders, the Grey Lords – and, formerly, the fae kings and queens who had their own courts – can command the awesome power of natural disasters, but they can’t wipe out humanity without noticing, let alone simply by virtue of existing. They used to be a good deal stronger, until humans with iron and Christianity encroached on their territories, gradually wearing them away to a fragment of their former glory. Which is fortunate for humanity, because some of the older fae never quite managed to break themselves of that nasty little habit they had of eating the pets, and the children, of their neighbors.

On that note, it’s interesting to see the contrast between the Dresden fae, who are oh so powerful and dangerous and secretly in charge, and the Thompson fae, who seem to be locked in a very human struggle to survive, both among humans and among themselves. To which end, the Gray Lords are striving to rebuild both their power and population, but the results are very mixed and dangerous. They tend to turn on each other as quickly and easily as they breathe. Which, actually, brings me to the goblins again. In both series, the goblins seem to be a type of fae, or closely related to the fae, but somehow distinct from the rest.

In the case of the Thompson goblins, Mercy meets goblins who are a bit smaller and leaner, such that they can easily be mistaken for delinquent teenagers from a distance. Yet, they have a surprising physical strength, even brutish werewolves being rightfully wary of tackling them. They don’t have much magic, but what they do have, they use very well and keenly. Unfortunately for them, the balance of mystical power seems to favor the rest of the fae much more, which has often put them on the menu right alongside those pets and human children. Thus, their chosen disenfranchisement from the rest of the fae as a whole. They even have their own Goblin King, by the name of Larry. (I enjoy Patricia Briggs’ sense of humor)

Interestingly, the fairies and goblins seem to have a much stronger presence on paper than they do on the screen. I don’t recall them appearing at all in The Vampire Diaries or The Originals. Meanwhile, Buffy the Vampire Slayer restricts itself mostly to demons, though I may recall the character of Anyanka being classified as some sort of dark fairy when she was first introduced to the series. Certainly, the wish-granting ability she and those like her use seems to rely a good deal on one’s choice of phrase.

It seems that the fae can come and go in urban fantasy literature, but on television they absolutely have to take center stage (ie, Lost Girl) or no stage at all. Very vain creatures, aren’t they? 😉

The strongest explicit appearance of the fae on a show that wasn’t oriented directly towards them, which I can think of, is in one single episode of Supernatural. They seem to be some sort of extra-dimensional beings who aren’t subject to quite the same rules as everyone else. They’re clever, even using the culture of UFO abductions as a cover for their activities, and brutally strong. It’s amazing how one of the most formidable hunters in the world was nearly beaten to death by a fairy with a glorified cane. But, they’re also very OCD. Spill salt in front of them, and they have to count the individual grains.

Even moving back to literature, there aren’t explicit fairies and goblins in Larry Correia’s Monster Hunters. But there are certain corresponding creatures. They might be a bit different, but Correia has a way of turning the stereotypes on their head. That much is shown by a troll who is a literal internet troll, an anime-loving cyclops seer, and a dragon who runs a financial empire from behind the scenes. So, how do the fairies and goblins come into it?

Well, there are the trailer park elves, complete with hick accents and a fat queen. That’s about as close to fairies as we get. And in place of “goblins,” per se, we have a tribe of very cool orcs. Seriously, they’re fan favorites. They may not match a human standard of physical beauty, but they got soul, and they love heavy metal music! A number of them are gifted in skills, like swordsmanship, or flying a helicopter, or performing magic and healing with unusual herb mixtures.

Oh, and the elves and orcs are in a long-lasting feud, until they have to work together for the greater good, that is, and get their very own version of a Romeo and Juliet story.

The running theme of all of these, however, is that fairies and goblins are powerful and dangerous. The goblins, however, are much more overt, straightforward, and violent about it, while the rest of the fae hide behind illusions and the trickery of lying with honest words.

I notice a trend, and wonder what it says about us as humans, that the straightforward brutes are led by kings, and the more subversive manipulators of truth are ruled by queens. I mean, it’s not exclusively true, as in the case of the Gray Lords consisting of both male and female. And I know Shakespeare drew on the tales of King Oberon, but even that guy basically spent the entire Midsummer night just trying to get what he wanted from his queen.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #307: Quiet Wolves

“Growls, whines, and barks are all bluffing tools – it is the quiet wolf that will kill you.”
– Mercedes Thompson, from Moon Called
Mercy Thompson series, by Patricia Briggs

It’s always the quiet ones, as they say, and there’s a reason they say it.

I take some personal pleasure in saying that because, as my friends and family can attest, I am one of the quiet ones. …generally speaking, at least, until you get me talking about something I’m passionate about, and then I may never shut up. Witness: this entire blog. 😉

When Mercy makes this comment, as she tells the story in first-person, she is commenting on the behavior of wolves in particular, but it also extends to most other animals and to humans as well. When a wolf makes its presence known, it is for a reason. When its territory, its pack, its cubs are endangered, a wolf will look and sound as threatening as possible, to try and convince any aggressor to go away before there is bloodshed. When it makes more carefree sounds, it’s showing how at ease it is, and therefore how secure it feels, which is a different sort of warning for any would-be interloper. When it whines, its trying to draw attention to itself, maybe because it’s been hurt. But when a wolf is quiet, the only concern it has is survival. A wolf is quiet when it simply doesn’t want trouble, and it goes really quiet when stalking something it means to kill.

Lions do the same thing: they are loud in the face of battle, but silent as the grave when on the hunt. A preying mantis will make itself look as large and obvious as possible when faced with a threat, but it goes completely still when waiting for its prey. Across the spectrum of animals, you have this general pattern of behavior. Sounding a threat, in some way, makes a statement, either “this is my territory” or “there is danger here” or “I am a good mate,” but stealth and quiet abound alongside the intention of killing.

Silence means, “this is too crucial to mess up with noise.” Silence means, “I’m getting down to business now.” Silence means, “I am focused on the important task at hand.”

…or, it could also mean “I’m in my own little world and not paying attention,” but that’s more automatic than deliberate. So, perhaps it’s more accurate to say, “Deliberately quiet wolves will kill you.” 😉

Or maybe not.

I mean, among humans, there can be absolute loudmouths for whom their noise is just another way of being quiet. It’s a facade, sometimes even an outright mask, something for people to see and hear, cloaking whatever may lie unseen beneath. I wonder which is more quickly dismissed: the one who is quiet, and therefore less visible and more overlooked, or the one who is so loud that their greater strengths and intentions are hidden like a tree in a forest. It’s certainly a very effective disguise, then. After all, how often in books and movies do we see the big, boastful bullies get bushwhacked by people who actually use their wits?

What I know is that when I am quiet, it’s because I am thinking. Sometimes I am collecting data and simply have nothing to add to a conversation at the moment. Sometimes, especially when I’m engaged in a task or some sort of contest, I am calculating what to do next, and how to destroy my enemies, so to speak. Sometimes, in particular situations, I am concealing what I think and feel, and that, too, can be useful, but also dangerous when done too much. How many times have we heard of people who went on murderous rampages after having withdrawn from the world for whatever reason?

Not that I intend to do anything like that, of course, but the difference is that I know I have people I can open up to later, after a more volatile moment has passed, and they help me be stable. Others don’t have that, or refuse it, and so they bottle everything up until they explode, often in tragic ways.

Quiet wolves have more need of silence than noise. Quiet people are usually the same, but sometimes, every once in awhile, they need to let themselves make noise and be heard, rather than stay silent.

Sometimes silence is harmless, and sometimes it is dangerous. Sometimes it’s natural, and sometimes it’s intentional. Sometimes it’s an ally, and sometimes it’s an enemy.

Either way, the power of silence, be it a quiet enemy or a quiet friend, shouldn’t be underestimated.

Keep an eye on the quiet ones. 😉

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Vampires and Witches and Werewolves, Oh My!

Happy October, everybody!

We are in the home stretch of 2020 now, just a bit more to go! We have ghost stories, turkey, presents, and possibly the end of civilization to look forward to in these final few months. (wait, did I say that last one out loud?)

As I thought about the holidays we can still look forward to, naturally I started thinking about Halloween, and I realized that, of late, I’ve found an urban fantasy I quite enjoy in the work of Patricia Briggs, author of the Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series. At last, I thought, a third entry into the genre that I enjoyed as much as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Larry Correia’s Monster Hunters. I was thinking specifically about the monsters found in each series, and it didn’t surprise me how much overlap there was between the three. What surprised me was the nuance to be found between these three works, the similarities and differences. Thinking a bit more about that, I began comparing them more, and soon I was including the versions of all these creatures that can also be found on TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries, and Supernatural.

Hmmm… I thought to myself… what might emerge if I write all these things down, comparing them all to each other, side by side?

Thus, I am undertaking a little project in the spirit of Halloween, where I do exactly that. All this month, I shall post weekly about a few of the usual monsters we find in urban fantasy, drawing from the three literary universes and the three televised universes which inspired this. I may mention other franchises as well, but that’ll be more in passing.

Also, this obviously will not, and cannot, be an entirely comprehensive list of all the critters and crawlers that go bump in the night. These are just some of the more widely known ones, because I am interested in the different takes that these various storytellers have on these supernatural creatures.

For this week, as the title suggests, I am looking at the three most classic Halloween monsters: vampires and werewolves and witches! Oh my! 🙂

No. Just… no.

First off, the vampires!

Ah, those bloodsucking fiends! Those undead lords of the night! Those kings of all spooky monsters! …and they do not freaking sparkle in the burning light of the SUN!

Butcher’s Dresden Files depicts several types of vampires, divided into “courts” across the world. The Red Court is (or, spoilers, was) a clan most like typical vampires, including allusions to blood-sucking bats, being brutal masters and merciless enemies. The Black Court, meanwhile, was more like truly undead, decaying horrors, the likes of which the ruling council of wizards ensured the destruction of by sponsoring the publication of Bram Stokes’ Dracula, so they’ve been long-since rendered nearly extinct. The White Court goes in a much more seductive and manipulative directions, where one would find a succubus or an incubus, feeding on lust, fear, and other emotions (their weakness being the touch of one who truly loves another). That lot is unsurprisingly reluctant to dirty their own hands with blood, always using pawns and cat’s paws instead. And then there’s the Jade Court, which, we have heard about, but not yet seen. So, all in all, vampires are predators, but with some variance in methods of feeding (most of them drink blood exclusively) and how civilized they can appear to be.

That trend generally holds true across the entire genre, but most others seem to be more strictly predatory, rather than having actual courts and such. Some of them try to rule each other, and others as well, but The Originals shows how bloody a proposition that tends to be. Mercy Thompson has its vampires practicing a more successful model as they, and other such creatures, are ruled by figures of particular power and wit, and who enact only a few basic rules. That is contrasted with the vampires of the Buffy-verse, where they have no such connections at all. No, that lot is more like a very loose fraternity than anything else: they know about each other, some of them meet up here and there over the centuries, and generally they only congregate into groups the same way humans do, when they have a common interest. And Supernatural has virtually no social order among the vamps at all, though there was, for awhile, a first vampire who could command the rest, before that one unwittingly tangled with something much more dangerous than itself.

Some vampires have more mystical tricks up their sleeves than others, like the Master vampires (as opposed to the regular vampires) of Correia’s Monster Hunters, or various vampires (some masters, many not) in Briggs’ Mercy Thompson. For the latter, their magic is more like a mutation, or some amplification of magic that the living person already possessed. The Buffy vampires can perform magic the same as anyone else could, but they aren’t automatically mystically gifted.

All of the above, however, with the exception of the Buffy vamps, are a little psychic, and this is how they enter people’s minds, compel them in some way. TVD and its spinoffs, The Originals and Legacies, keep up that trend, though in this case it tends to be more of a technique, made possible by staring into the eyes, into the soul, to give orders which must be obeyed, including the order to forget things and remember something else. It’s something of a cheat with them.

My most favorite vampire ever!

If that all seems pretty powerful, it is, but they have their limits, their weaknesses. Most of them are vulnerable to sunlight (like proper vampires), and the Mercy Thompson vamps go absolutely out cold, being as dead as they really are, when the sun comes up. In TVD and such, the vampires can obtain an enchanted daylight ring in order to withstand the sun. Most of them are unable to enter a home uninvited, but there are ways to twist that rule. The vamps of Buffy and Mercy Thompson both suffer when exposed to symbols of faith, though the latter requires faith to do so and does not require physical touch as it radiates a holy aura. The more physical, and less spectral, vamps in both Buffy and Monster Hunters can be seriously damaged, if not outright killed, by more mundane methods, though such injuries tend to be more spectacular than humans could survive. Garlic, however, is generally a non-issue, though a particular herb TVD will wound, limit, and protect against vampires, this being explained as part of the price which nature exacted for the spell which made the original vampires in the first place.

Finally, there’s how vampire reproduce. In Supernatural, one bite will do the trick, though the deal is sealed only after the first time they feed. In TVD, if one drinks vampire blood and dies with it still in their system, one then awakes as a vampire, though, again, the “awakening” is only complete after their first feeding. In Buffy, one must mutually exchange blood, drinking and being drunk from by one’s vampirical sire, but only when on the brink of death, and then only by dying right afterward, at the very moment of mutual feeding. And then one’s corpse and memories are taken and worn by a demon, an entirely new entity within one’s flesh. Mercy Thompson features a method where one must usually, though not always, be fed on many times, for a prolonged period of time, before dying and coming back, and even after the change, one needs one’s maker to help one navigate the change and one’s new instincts successfully. Dresden Files doesn’t go into specifics, or at least not that I recall, but it seems that one does indeed become a vampire when one is fed on and dies. There is one exception, though, namely the White Court vampires, who can apparently have children biologically.

The overall depiction of vampires, then – and I like how Monster Hunters depicts them so straightforwardly – is that they are basically undead horrors who prey upon humanity in the dark, ravaging the body and raping the mind, and turning humans into more of themselves. And yet, there is something consistently seductive about them, perhaps as they embody the inevitability of death even as they symbolize a refusal to submit to it. That leaves them, in the intimacy of their attacks, also representing the things we do with our bodies, the proof that we are somehow still alive, which leans towards the seduction of the sexual appetite, and the corruption of abuse which results from a stronger person preying on a weaker one. I recall that Bram Stokes’ novel, and at least one movie based on it, have very strong themes of such seductive power being matched only by the value of the Christian virtues of chastity. Small wonder Dracula and his ilk eventually became so savagely seductive.

And small wonder that eventually rubbed off onto other creatures of the night, including witches and werewolves. Indeed, if you follow the legends back far enough, you find the monsters from which both vampires and werewolves and even zombies all spring, the cultural common ancestor of what has now become two distinct species that are classically at odds with one another. On which note, and saving witches for last, on to the werewolves! 🙂

I love werewolves! That’s my own canine-oriented bias, of course, because wolves are my favorite animal. Yet, there is something vastly interesting to me about these men and women who bear a curse, that their inner beasts are called forth by the siren song of the full moon.

Butcher once again provides variety within Dresden Files, as he did with the vampire courts. We see mostly only one kind throughout the series, but they are introduced in the second novel Fool Moon, alongside several other types. There are the werewolves we see most often, being more like one-trick wizards who can shift between a human form and a large wolf-like form, not quite identical to real wolves, but close enough. These were taught, it turns out, by a wolf who could take human shape. Then there’s the loup-garou, more like the classic movie version of werewolves, being individuals who are cursed to become ravening monsters on every full moon, including the two nights on either side of the full moon. Thirdly, there’s the hexenwulf, being a human with some item like a belt made of wolf pelt, which has been enchanted by dark magics, turning the human into a gigantic wolf, and wearing away their humanity until there is only a mad monster. Finally, there’s the lycans, who are pretty much just people with the minds and souls of ravening wolves.

So, man becomes wolf, and wolf becomes man, or some hybrid of such, usually. They might maintain some humanity, or they might be monsters, or they might just be animals.

In the Monster Hunters, werewolves are fairly rare, and the first monster we meet is a man who got bitten and went crazy, thinking he was some sort of chosen being. However, the werewolves are a bit more mystical, like avatars of wild beast spirits, and connected in a way that they have a “king,” so to speak. Not that said king rules with an iron hand, usually, but the rules he sets are to be obeyed, or else invite his lethal wrath.

In the Buffy-verse, they use the three-night’s per month idea. A person is a person, except for those three nights where they are a wolf-human hybrid, and they usually can’t be held responsible for what they do on those nights. That’s why the werewolves who are good people get themselves locked up and/or chained, though there was at least one who reveled in a wild rush of being a monster. Outside that, however, they’re just regular people, and it’s the werewolf hunters or, even worse, a circle of wealthy clients who pay to eat werewolf meat who are much more evil.

The werewolves of Supernatural are somewhat similar, but there is more interplay between the wolf and human halves, such that some can control themselves, and many can draw on the strength and savagery of the wolf side fairly easily, at almost any time. The TVD werewolves, by contrast, have almost no control at all until they transform, and it’s a long, agonizing process that tends to leave the savage beast in charge. That comes in again in Monster Hunters, though the most powerful werewolves can at least point themselves in the right direction at need, with exception to full moon nights.

My favorite, though, are the wolves of Mercy Thompson, and they are wolves, albeit very large ones, typically in the range around three hundred pounds. They have a wild side to them, yes, but one which a strong human will can keep under control. They’re more aggressive, and usually more assertive, than usual, as humans, but most of them function well enough that they have a true social order among themselves. It’s based entirely on their internal hierarchy, but it stabilizes their aggression so they can live among humans. Not all of them, mind you. Some are broken in one way or another, and they have to be put down to protect everyone around them, but by and large they can do fairly well in the human world. A huge part of the balance they strike is thanks to the work of one wolf in particular, the Alpha of Alphas, called the Marrok. He is, in short, brutal when he needs to be (which is often), but filled with love for his fellow wolves and those who accept them.

One fascinating aspect of werewolves is how we’ve tied them to vampires. Often, they are enemies, and sometimes they are wary partners. But comparing strengths and weaknesses can be quite a unique balancing act.

The most obvious advantage that werewolves have is that they can go out into the sun and be active all day, every day. Meanwhile the most obvious disadvantage, with the exception of the Mercy Thompson wolves, is that their power is usually tied to the cycle of the moon, putting them at a severe disadvantage at night, when vampires rule. TVD adds in an advantage of werewolf venom being lethal to vampires (much like how Dracula can only be killed by a wereolf bite in the movie Van Helsing), but that depends on them being able to use it, which, with slow transformations across the board and being little more than oversized canines, is not so feasible. Also, vampires can generally breed much more quickly, and they’re strong and fast, as well, and sometimes they have magic. All in all, the advantage tends to go towards the vampires in a straight-up fight… but not always. 😉

And speaking of advantages… finally, the witches! The practitioners of unholy crafts, calling on powers the likes of which no mortal man can comprehend, but all can fear!

For once, Butcher is outshone when if comes to variety, which is a ironic considering Dresden Files follows the adventures of a wizard. There is, after all, only so much one can do with a magic system that consists solely of a mixture of natural talents, rituals, and rigorous study and self-development. Anything can happen, but it’s all the same, really.

Mercy Thompson talks about various kinds of magic users, who follow traditions that all have their own limits and capabilities. There are wizard, who can manipulate non-living things, especially in the form of telekinesis. There are shamans and others who are basically priests of the natural world, using holy magic to heal the innocent and to smite evildoers. There are those who are touched by elemental power, and they are formidable indeed in their might. There are the avatars of otherworldly beings, children of powerful spirits who circumvent most of the rules and the dominion of other magics, shepherding the unquiet dead and giving strength to the living. And then, yes, there are the actual witches, who draw on the power of living things to enable themselves in doing all manner of spells.

Said witches come in three varieties: white, black, and gray. White witches are those who hurt no one and nothing else, and so their power tends to be limited, with very rare exceptions. Black witches do much harm, gaining power from the pain, blood, and death of others, people and animals alike. To a black witch, a white witch is usually their single most appetizing prey, having enough power to be above average but not nearly enough to protect themselves. Between these two are the gray witches, who dabble in things which push the limits of what black witches do, but not crossing over into outright black magic. They are both a strong safeguard against black witches, and also the most likely to become black witches if they do not withstand the temptations of greater and greater power. And speaking of such, they tend to jealously guard their spells through their family lines, but that just results in wide variances in expertise, which makes them even more troublesome as enemies, and even more useful as allies.

These are not children we are dealing with in urban fantasy.

Speaking again of temptation, the witches of Buffy have a more subtle temptation than simply raw power to contend with. They are the tinkerers of the natural order, using spells and potions and rituals to accomplish a wide variety of remarkable things. Even if that sort of power and influence didn’t go to their heads, the way a child finding kryptonite might make them more daring and less responsible even when Superman is in the sky directly overhead, they’d still have to contend with the immense euphoria that can arise from tampering with the fabric of the universe. Pride, pleasure, and ease of use make for quite the addictive drug, and witchcraft can easily consume its more powerful practitioners. Even if they triumph over all of that, they’re still human, and still capable of every sin which leads humans into darkness, including the wrath which erupts when a loved one is murdered, not to mention the spite of envy.

And then there’s the witches in TVD, Originals, and Legacies. Not only do they wrestle with all the same temptations, and the creeping madness of their own minds, but they seem to be responsible for every single supernatural things in their world. The original vampires were created by a spell, the werewolves were made through a curse, the creation of various limbo afterlives was done through magic, the threat of otherworldly powers is enabled through witchcraft, and more. It always seems to come back to the witches. Even the existence of Hell itself, being made by the dying moments of a powerful psychic, which is the oldest root of all witchcraft.

Fortunately, that also makes witchcraft the solution to almost everything, including, my favorite example, the apparent undoing of Hell in TVD‘s series finale. There have been spells, and attempts at spells, which have undone other afterlives, and nearly ended all vampires and whatnot and even magic itself throughout the world. Heck, the oldest and most powerful supernatural beings in the world are all made vulnerable, at any time, by magic. Witches are freaking powerful in that story.

Not so much in Supernatural, though. They can hold their own, and arrange horrific deaths for people they don’t like, and they tend towards being devious, but they also die pretty easily, and permanently.

And I don’t recall much in the way of witches in Monster Hunters, though various figures are able to use magic in various ways, often unique to them. Which, I suppose, just makes one’s status as a witch a bit less formal than it is in other urban fantasies.

In summary:

Vampires are dead people who eat you.

Werewolves are people with a dangerous beast lurking within.

And witches are scary as all Hell, partially because they are capable of making or unmaking Hell itself.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #306: Authority of the Sword

“A blade at the throat has an authority unlike any other.”
– from Ravages of Honor, by Monalisa Foster

This observation is made – skating around spoilers – when one man, with a not entirely inconsiderable position in the government, tried to take an innocent woman to a horrible fate, and literally found the blade of her protector touching his throat. He took that as a “no,” which was apparently a monumental accomplishment for him, and managed to keep his head. Barely.

Authority has long been an interesting concept to me. I still remember learning in college about five basic types of authority, five types of leadership. In order, from the least effective and most used, to the most effective and least used, they were, if I recall right:
Coercive, based on force and punishment
Reward, based on what one hopes to gain
Legitimate, based on official, governing authority
Expert, based on expertise in a given area
Referent, based on pure affection, respect, and trust

Obviously, the “blade to the throat” qualifies most easily under the “coercive” category. It has no qualms based on respect, no reverence of expertise, no consideration for any legal power, no reward to add as an extra incentive… and no care for any punishments that may follow afterward. It doesn’t care how rich or influential or popular one may be. It doesn’t care how invulnerable one has made oneself in one’s own mind. Death is simple in that way.

There are many ways there are to die, and one of them is guaranteed to find you. A sword is just a rather pointed reminder of that.

Yet, even the authority of the sword only carries as much weight as the one who wields it. You never see someone trying to talk or otherwise prevent a weapon from killing them: they always focus on the person wielding it. A sword literally doesn’t care whose throat it may cut, and it has no will of its own. But if the person on the wrong end of it can, in some way, overcome the will of the person holding the blade, then the blade itself is useless in their hand.

The sword, then, isn’t just a reminder: it’s a statement. If one has the will to enforce that statement, that is what makes it useful. That requires understanding that the blade, or any other weapon, isn’t meant for a threat, it’s meant for action. It’s only effective when one fully intends to use it. Ironically, that is the only time one can successfully not use it. Provided, of course, the person at the other end values his or her own life sufficiently. Don’t even get me started on people who are willing to die, that is a whole other discussion.

All of this is very like what we find among animals. They bare their fangs, growl and roar, look as large and dangerous as possible, whatever it takes to issue the primal warning of the wild: Do not challenge me. There is more danger here, more risk of harm or even death, than you want, because, if necessary, I will kill you to keep you from killing me. Go away.

Which suddenly makes me more appreciative of every other form of authority we humans try. The efficient brutality of violence has its natural appeal, and sometimes it is absolutely necessary, and, in truth, perhaps it must always be present in the background. Yet, it is everything else we try that proves our humanity, that we are not just animals.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #305: Stories Teach Us

“Stories teach us how to live, and why.”
– The Storyteller, Arabian Nights

All this time and I have actually never discussed this, one of my most favorite quotes of all time. Go figure!

I love this quote because it speaks to what I love about stories and storytelling, namely, that they present to us lessons and truths and questions that need to be asked, and they do so in such a way that we remember. Stories stay with us long, long after the telling of them is done, and we can always revisit them and learn more. They reflect us, our nature as humans and the world we live in, and they push us. They challenge us without provoking our tempers, and they explain how we can apply the lessons they teach.

The stories we tell are the ultimate vessels of truth, and the ultimate expression of our souls.

That applies to stories which are true, and stories which are fictitious… and, of course, to stories that are a bit of both. 😉

In the miniseries Arabian Nights, the stories that Scheherazade tells her husband each night have a profound impact on him. He is a man who went mad when those he loved and trusted most betrayed and attempted to murder him in the night. It colored his entire perception, and no rational, straight-forward speaking could bring him around, back to reality. But her stories drew him in, each fantastic tale helping him to find his way, to confront the truth of himself, and accept reality again. Thus, he emerged from his madness stable and strong. He applied the lessons she taught him in a climactic battle, but it was the truth he allowed into his soul which saved ultimately saved him and his people, including his queen.

Stories help us process what is real, and emerge with the power of truth in hand. With that power, we become stronger than we were before, and as we rise, we lift those around us as well.

I do not think it is a coincidence that all the great civilizations in the history of the world produced stories, and poetry, and music, and art. Ancient Greece, wherein the seeds of Western Civilization were sown. Elizabethan England, the time of Shakespeare, wherein the hinges of history swung open between the Old World and the New. Ancient Israel, whose religious history was recorded in the Bible, a bedrock of our civilization. And here and now, today, with so many Masters at work as ideas and ideologies clash, and the fate of freedom itself may soon be decided both in tumultuous conflict and backroom whispers and every vote cast. What an exciting time to be alive!

I wonder what stories of today we will tell again in the ages to come. I wonder what our stories will teach others.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #304: A Strong Hope

“Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on.”
-Nick Fury, The Avengers

One of Nick Fury’s more famous lines ever, it’s a reply to his subordinate, who is directing an evacuation – which rather encourages one to grab only what is most immediately essential – and questioning how important it is to take with them some experimental technology that isn’t useful right then. It’s a reply, an explanation that it might still be very important in the future, and a censure to get the job done instead of wasting time talking about it. It’s an answer that has stuck with me ever since.

For one thing, it’s obviously a choice that he is making, and using his authority to lead others in supporting. The choice is to remember the future, to look after it, instead of forgetting it in the mad scramble of the present. I cannot count the number of times people have made the argument that the future doesn’t matter anyway if we don’t even manage to get there. There is some truth to that, and I rush to clarify that we do need to see to the here and now. That is our first priority, but it must not be our only priority.

We have to balance taking care of the present with looking to the future, without sacrificing either one entirely. It is, as always, a question of balance.

To that end, he is exercising the discipline required to not get caught up in the moment. That can be surprisingly difficult, and even more surprisingly essential. I am recalling a moment from a film which depicts the conflict surrounding George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware in the depths of winter, to take a force of enemy mercenaries by surprise and defeat them. It is his army’s first victory in over a year, and it was well-earned by the exhaustive efforts of everyone in that army, including their general. Naturally, everyone would feel quite right and entitled to sit down and rest for a moment, just to take that moment to enjoy their victory.

But one is never more vulnerable than they are in the moment of victory, the moment they finally let their guard down.

Washington did not make that mistake. He took his men, and their prisoners, and marched them back down to the river and crossed it again. Why? Because there was still a British army very close by, which outnumbered them by five to one. He did not stop and rest until he had put the river back between them. The scene I recall in the film has his officers questioning his orders to do so, asking if he was insane, and he replied, in essence, “No. Have you?” He kept his eyes open to the future, instead of staying only in that moment. And a good thing too!

Finally, there is something very hopeful about this attitude. It’s a forceful hope, a strong hope, rather than a mere wish or a dream or even a choice. It’s a hope that is refined and disciplined, determined and willful, unyielding and uncompromising. It’s the sort of faith that enables one to stand staring into the face of absolute disaster and destruction, the catastrophe of cataclysm, and remain composed, calm, and beyond merely defiant or fierce, but powerful. It gets results. That is the sort of backbone that civilization itself is built on.

It comes to me particularly strongly now, of course, in light of the unending disasters of this year, and the promise that there is more, and worse, to come. Pandemics, shut downs, mask mandates, a nuked economy, massive riots, burning, looting, murders, elections, corruption, propaganda, and more. Heck, at the time of writing this, I can’t even see the sun. I live in a city, in a state, that has dozens of wildfires burning all over the place, and the smoke from them has billowed and collected and saturated the air like a noxious fog. I saw it happen over the course of a few days, where the sun’s light dimmed to an orange, like sunset at noon. I saw the clouds of smoke billow and rise, brown and yellow and black. I saw the sky dim entirely to a grey-white dome, through which the sun was a nearly blood-red hole, dimmer and dimmer, and now it’s entirely gone. There’s light enough, still, to see, but going outside is a bad idea, and we may soon have to flee for our lives, taking whatever we can carry, whatever is most important to us, and nothing else. We are all a bit on edge, as people evacuate, and some wait for the order to evacuate, not knowing what tomorrow holds, not knowing what the next five minutes hold. I don’t know if my job will have us come in tomorrow, or if they’ll keep us home until the air clears and we don’t have to worry about evacuation orders. I don’t know if my workplace is going to burn or not. I don’t know if I’m about to lose nearly everything I own. And that is on top of all the normal pressures of life.

In short, it is a very stressful time, and I am scared. It would be very, very easy for me, right now, to forget about the future and just focus on surviving. It would also be very easy for me to do the opposite, to forget about taking care of the now because I’m so frightened of the future, both immediate and otherwise.

But the world hasn’t ended yet. It’s still spinning, like normal.

So I am going to do my best to keep calm, to balance the present and the future, and to make my choices accordingly. And you better believe I am praying right now.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #303: Forgiving Sorrow

“I was never angry with you. I was sad, because I thought you’d lost your way.”
– Uncle Iroh, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Season 3, Episode 59, “Sozin’s Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters”

It’s one of the more emotional moments in the story, when Zuko reunites with his beloved Uncle Iroh. Zuko is… well, he made some serious mistakes along the way, even turning against his uncle, so he has some understandable trepidation about this reunion. But Zuko barely manages to get his apology out before Uncle Iroh grasps him in a fierce, loving hug. Overcome by emotion, Zuko is bewildered at how quickly, how easily, his uncle is able to forgive his trespasses. But Iroh was never angry, as he says, and now he is proud of his nephew, who has found his way again, restored his honor himself, and rejoined the right side.

I have had reason to contemplate forgiveness lately, and what happens if/when two parts of a soured relationship eventually reunite.

In particular, without going into details, I have recently had to end a friendship that once was very positive, but had slowly turned into something very negative. It is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. So, perhaps I’m just being a little stubbornly hopeful when I think about a future where we might meet again. Maybe I just want to remember what I feel right now – not angry for any slights from my friend, more sorrowful for who my friend used to be, and who they have become – so that if we meet again, I might be able to offer, and ask for, forgiveness, with a clarity of mind and heart.

I suppose I think about what Iroh says here because of what it means to forgive. It means to let go of one’s grudges, one’s anger of what has been done. It means to be honest about what one truly feels (such as being more sad than angry), and why (because we actually care about them). It means to allow someone else to make a mistake, as we all do, and to come back in peace. It means to love them more than our own pride.

I hope I can do that, if the time ever comes for it.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #302: Believe in You

“While it is always best to believe in oneself, a little help from others can be a great blessing.”
– Uncle Iroh, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Season 2, Episode 15, “The Tales of Ba Sing Se”

Uncle Iroh is one of my favorite characters in all of fiction.

In this particular part of the story, he has been stopping to help most everyone in his path, including some children who have accidentally broken a window, and a mother with a crying child, and, at this moment, a desperate man who tries to mug him. Instead of beating the man down (as he demonstrates he could, easily), he builds the man up. He gives him tips, shares tea, listens to him, and encourages him to pursue a dream which would leave him both happier and more honest (and legal). On that last, the man comments that no one has ever believed in him (probably in ways besides those that involve this dream of his).

Thus, Uncle Iroh’s words about believing in oneself, and in having others believe in you. That’s why he believes in this man, because it’s something he can give him, to help him in some way.

For myself, I must confess that it has grown harder and harder to believe in myself. I’ve not succeeded at much in my life, and a litany of my failures rolls through my head every so often. I am certain that I would not have made it this far without the people who have believed in me when I could not.

(…oh gosh, I am tearing up just thinking about it… I think I need to make this one quick!)

I am just going to say thank you to my mother, my friends, and my friends-who-are-my-family. The help that has been given to me, with just a few kind words, a few minutes of listening to me and refusing to let me beat on myself too much, and a little bit of encouragement… it’s real. And it has meant everything to me.

I hope that I have done something similar for my friends, and for others. I hope I have been an instrument in blessing others, as others have been a blessing to me. And I hope that I can keep helping. It’s one of the things that gets me through my low moments.

So, if you’re reading this, I want to say that I hope you can believe in yourself, and, whenever you can’t, I hope you have someone else to believe in you.

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