Good isn’t stupid, or weak, or nice

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Good isn’t stupid, or weak, or nice, Rick Stump argues:

I had spent my early years reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, Andre Norton, Le Morte d’Arthur, and (especially) the stories of Charlemagne and the Twelve Peers. Heck, I read Vance’s Lyonesse before I read The Fellowship of the Ring.

The great thing about the books that I read first and most, from the Twelve Peers to The Return of the King, was that they all give a very clear idea of what is meant by good and evil, especially within the milieu of fantasy, be it literature or tabletop role playing.

The Twelve Peers, John Carter, Allan Quatermaine all shared a few traits — they were brave, they were honest, they protected the weak, and they were decisive. They also laughed, had close friends, drank, and fought. But they also were champions of the weak, loyal friends, fierce enemies, and able to judge others by their words and deeds rather than being bigoted (John Carter not only has friends of all of the races of Mars he forges close ties between them for the first time in millenia; Allan Quatermaine admires and supports Umbopa/Ignosi long before he learns he is a king; if a man is a good fighter and a Catholic his past is his past to the paladins.

Note that I didn’t mention King Arthur or his knights here. This is because in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (and unlike the earlier source material) Arthur and most of the rest are actually cautionary figures; Arthur is a deeply flawed man and poor king who begets an illegitimate son with his own half-sister, then kills all of the newborns in his lands trying (and failing) to hide this sin; Merlin is capricious and advises Arthur to hide his sins through mass infanticide; Lancelot is portrayed as not very clever and, essentially, a plaything of Guinevere who believes his sins are not sins because the queen says so; Gareth is underhanded and deceitful in his quest for fame and tries mightily to break his chastity; the list goes on. Suffice it to say that Le Morte d’Arthur was written during the Wars of the Roses and was meant to be a warning about men who claimed to be good but were not. It is truly unfortunate that Malory’s work is so popular that many modern readers mistake the figures in his version of the stories as examples rather than warnings.

And I suspect that this may have a lot to do with the confusion some have over how to play good — modern culture is saturated with King Arthur and the Knights as being exemplars of knighthood when they weren’t.


I am far from the first guy to point out that Good is not Weak. C. S. Lewis directly addressed this more than once, perhaps most famously in this quote,

“Then he is safe?” asked Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “Didn’t you hear what she told you? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

Or this one, more detailed is less famous,

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.”I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

Both of these quotes from C. S. Lewis are concerning Aslan the lion who is a stand-in for Jesus Christ. Lewis was eager to dispel the mistaken concept that being good means being soft, weak, or harmless.


Traditionally, while demons might be able to overwhelm any human they stood no chance against angels and typically fled at their approach. While movies like The Prophecy and Constantine change this in the hopes of good storytelling they skew the traditional concept of the power of angels and nerf them pretty badly.

In the bible when an angel appeared to a human their mere presence was so overpowering that the first thing they usually said was a variation of ‘don’t be afraid’. John Milton mentions this in Paradise Lost, book IV, when he wrote, “Abashed the Devil stood, and felt how awful goodness is.”

Medieval books of magic warned would-be summoners to never attract the notice of an angel and certainly never to summon one, because angels would destroy them for attempting to make pacts with evil and their power was so vast no warding circle could stop them.


  1. Isegoria says:

    This stupid, weak, nice version of good seems to come from 20th-Century heroes like The Lone Ranger.

  2. Kirk says:

    Mmmm… I’d say it came earlier, way earlier. Like, Victorian times.

    The romanticizing of a lot of things grew out of an earlier era; the characters you’re thinking of were created by men (and, not a few women…) who were steeped in that delusional stupidity. “Shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hand…” is something that only a dunderheaded late-Victorian idealist could come up with, and that person was more likely to be city-bred, far away from the ugly realities of things.

    Authors like Robert E. Howard did not write characters like The Lone Ranger(tm). Solomon Kane, anyone…? Now, there was a “good is not nice” protagonist, if I ever read one. Good God above, if I ran into Kane, my first instinct would be to edge quietly for the exit, before I got myself on the collateral damage list.

    Most of the Pollyanna-ish goody-two shoes characters come out of seriously out-of-whack with reality authors. I’ve read a bunch of them, and the only thing I could conclude after reflection was that the vast majority of them were learning-disabled. I mean, how many innocents has the Joker killed, in the Batman universe? At what point does the man behind the mask not suddenly realize “Hey, every one of these people died because I failed to kill that stupid freak the last time I had him in my power…”?

    No matter how much of a rule-follower you are, eventually you’re going to take matters into your own hands, and it’s gonna be “Well, Commish… You guys couldn’t keep him locked up away from the public the last ten times I caught him for you, and turned him over for trial and punishment… So, tell me: Why should I make it eleven? Oh, by the way–I wouldn’t waste my time holding his cell up at Arkham open; you won’t be needing it. Ever.”.

    I mean, at some point, it is gonna have to dawn on good ol’ Bruce that by leaving the Joker alive, he’s doing more harm than good. At that point, guess what? I think he’s going to slip the surly bonds of his morality, and just start killing mofo’s.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    I was brought up to be nice, and suffered for it. Now I will ever, ever trust anyone who tells me to be nice.

    Some nice people are stupid. Some nice people are evil. No nice people are good. The only time I’m nice is when I’m up to no good.

  4. Faze says:

    C..S. Lewis might have portrayed Jesus as a lion, but the New Testament portrays him as a lamb, and satan is quite effectively named as the lion. Peter writes, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” John the B. said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

    This unexpected reversal, that the greatest power in the universe should come to earth as a weak, sacrificial lamb, is a paradox that brings down empires, and challenges our ideas of strength.

  5. N.N. says:

    No, Faze, an adversary who prowls *like* a lion is not ‘effectively named as the lion’. Metaphors are not similes.

    As for Christ’s link to the lion, turn to Saint John the Evangelist’s vision:

    ‘Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals”…’

    Revelations 5:5.

    Christ the Lamb takes away the sins of the world, but Christ also conquers death as the Lion of Judah. A stronger student of the bible than I–C.S Lewis, no doubt– would be able to link that to Isaiah and his vision of the changing aspects of angels.

    Long and short of it is that the New Testament portrayals of Christ are well in line with the broader claims of the article shared by our host. Consider the ends of the parables of the banquet, talents and vineyard, for example.

  6. Albion says:

    I’m with Kirk on the Batman farce. Every time the overdressed fool puts a bad guy away the criminal soon escapes and carries on as before. Why, it’s almost as if Batman was in on the deal so he could look like a hero by continually catching the bad guy, knowing they would get out and carry on as if nothing has happened.

    But maybe the underlying message is prisons in Gotham (meaning all of ours, I presume) are useless and cannot hold determined criminals, but then they don’t really try, do they? Just as the Gotham (meaning our) police can’t do anything about the bad people, neither can the courts or the prisons.

    They are ‘good’ and ineffective, consuming money and energy but achieving no results.

    If I lived in Gotham I would begin to wonder just whose side ‘heroes’ like Batman are on. But then, that’s fantasy because we don’t have masked heroes: all we have is the police, courts and prisons.

    How’s that working out for justice?

  7. Kirk says:

    The whole comic-book superhero milieu has always struck me as more than a little “off”. Would real people actually do the things those archetypes (supposed ones, I mean) do, in the situations they’re in?

    And, on top of it all, there’s a not-so-subtle leftward tilt of wish-fulfillment to the whole thing. The entire industry has this ideological twist to it, one that is entirely leftwards in orientation. The underlying assumptions are pure leftwing escapism–The Nietzschean concepts are clearly there, of superior men setting themselves aside from the rules and conventions of society to fix everything for everyone, whether they like it or not.

    Reality is, if you had people like this running around? You’d put up with it for one iteration of city-wrecking, and then it would be open season on Superman. Either that, or the Tony Starks behind it all would be sued into penury. Just one of their little in-city battles would result in literal man-millennia of lawyer’s hours, and just the fees alone would bankrupt the lot of them–Justifiably so. Imagine it: “Bruce Banner, in the guise of ‘The Incredible Hulk’, threw a streetcar through my living room, killing my aged mother as she watched TV…”.

    The whole genre is full of this objectively left-wing underpinnings. There aren’t “normal citizens” doing their own thing, minding their own business, running their lives as participants in a democratic society. It’s all downtrodden everman victims, some of whom get special “powers”, with which they instantly go off the rails and either become supervillians or their equally destructive superhero counterparts. The “authorities” are always shown as ineffective and useless, with the superheros coming to their rescue.

    What more perfect metaphor for how the leftwing meddling mindset views the world? Don’t all of them seem to see themselves as superior beings, “helping” the rest of us? Look at San Francisco or Seattle for examples of how that crap really works out.

    No, I’m not a fan of the comic book, its simplistic views of the world, or the people who model themselves on those characters. I see Superman on paper or the screen, and what I see hidden in the shadows behind him are the same set of destructive left-wing ideologues that have wrecked much of the civilization in the name of saving us all. The mindset stems from the same roots that the wish-fulfillment in the comic books do, and when it is expressed out in the real world, then you get the Ayres mentalities that we have running things. I dare say that the Strzoks of the “Deep State” all see themselves as comic book heroes, entitled and empowered to do all the things they did to save the rest of us from the evil supervillian Trump… And, you can see where that crap is leading us: Likely breakdown of the social commons and coming revolution as these types go further and further into their derangement. Imagine some character like Strzok in charge of the missiles out in North Dakota, deciding he knew better than the people of these United States and their duly elected representatives…

    All of that stems from the same things that go into the world of superheroes and comic books. The mentality is inherently narcissistic and deranged, entitled and unaccountable.

  8. Harry Jones says:

    Every villain is the hero of his own story.

    Good isn’t stupid, because stupid isn’t good. Stupid isn’t evil, but it is bad, and that ain’t good.

    Every jackass is a genius in his own eyes.

    As for comic books, they’re all about the continuity. Batman can’t kill off the Joker because the franchise needs the Joker. Art does not imitate life. Art imitates itself.

  9. Voatboy says:

    “The whole comic-book superhero milieu has always struck me as more than a little “off”. Would real people actually do the things those archetypes (supposed ones, I mean) do, in the situations they’re in?”

    I agree. American comic books are very leftwing. Possibly they are a reaction against right-wing pulp stories. Possibly Hollywood pulled them further left.

  10. Kirk says:

    How much pulp fiction have you actually read? I honestly can’t think of a bit of it that’s actually “right-wing” to any real extent–The viewpoint characters are always good lefty stereotypes, and the baddies are always Establishment villains, or in cahoots with those in power.

    Hell, when you get down to it, very little of our popular culture is actually framed or related from a conservative viewpoint. If it were? It would all be a lot different. Bambi would be told from the viewpoint of the hunter filling his pot, feeding his family. Instead, they take the side of the forest rat, a deer, and play up all the underdog animals of the forest as the Good Guys ™. Look at Peter Rabbit, ferchrissakes… The only version of that with a conservative slant is the Perry Bible Fellowship one:

    No, nine-tenths of media and entertainment is told from the left’s viewpoint. There is little to nothing of a right-wing cast to much of anything.

  11. Kirk says:

    Hell, the more I think about it… I don’t think there’s anywhere in media where stories are told from a truly “right-wing” perspective. Even a lot of the Bible-based “Christian” BS is couched in terms and told in ways that are intrinsically of the left, when you look at them from a certain angle.

    Of course, that’s because Biblical/Christian thought processes are how we got to “the Left” as we know it. You want really right-wing stuff, you have to abandon Christianity, which got its start as a subversive slave religion and then turned out to be even more of an asshole thing than the old-school pagan religions. The priests of Ishtar and Jupiter didn’t feel the lack of confidence necessary to lead to them killing off their competition, but maybe they should have.

    Weird thing when you stop and think about it, but even the base assumptions and mindsets for a lot of modern media are essentially and intrinsically left-wing in outlook and worldview.

  12. Harry Jones says:

    Kirk, I think you’ve got it backwards. Modern left wing thinking is a corruption of Christendom. Liberty, equality and fraternity are all Biblical ideals. They’re also things that are difficult or impossible for humans without Divine assistance. This is the point that the French Revolution missed. Subtract God and what you have left becomes degenerate and corrupt.

  13. N.N. says:

    Damn! Kirk, your analysis is usually more penetrating. The pagan priests saw the expansion of the States linked to their idols as proof of their faith’s superiority. All those wars of the Near East, not to mention the human sacrifices, were done in honour of their gods. Bit like the millions of babies sacrificed to the idol of ‘bodily autonomy’ today.

    The difference is that because their belief systems were polytheist, there was always space for defeated gods in the pantheon. As Christians found out though, attempts to change the social structure underpinned by those beliefs invited bloody reprisals. Your ‘insecurity’.

  14. Huey “Every Man a King” Long says:

    God save the Queen comment.

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