Contributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and sci-fi and fantasy enthusiast.
To borrow a turn of phrase,
it is a truth universally acknowledged that a villain with a good plan for
world domination must be in want of a nemesis. And if there isn’t a nemesis to
be had, the best villains will create one, whether they know it or not.
We’re not talking about a
traditional rearing or mentorship. What we’re talking about here is the
archvillain who, through their own wicked doings, engenders an individual who
will be their downfall. It’s on the fringe of what we imagine a father figure
to be, but even deadbeats can be dads.
Perhaps the first recorded
instance of this particular trope is the unnamed pharaoh who orders the
drowning of all newborn male Hebrew children. As the story goes, Moses is set
afloat in the Nile by his mother in hopes that he will not fall victim to the
pharaoh’s decree. His bulrush raft drifts downstream, where the daughter of
Pharaoh finds him and adopts him as a son. You don’t need a recap from me. We
know what happens to Pharaoh, and if you don’t, the Charlton Heston version of
the story runs about 220 minutes. Or you could spend considerably more
time on the version recorded in the Book of Exodus.
What I want to do is outline
some of the best begettings in fantasy.
There was a time when James Earl Jones’s character in Conan the Barbarian searched for steel. By his own admission,
steel meant more to him than gold or jewels. And in his mania for metal, he
raided Conan’s village, killed all the adults, and sold the children into
slavery. In fact, Thulsa Doom kills Conan’s mother right in front of the boy,
first disarming her with the stare -- a
power he perfects over time as evidence of the riddle of steel -- then beheading
her. Conan never forgets. Everything that happens from that point on prepares
Conan for his inevitable confrontation with his maker.
One man’s evil genius is merely a highly exceptional person with Malign
Hypercognition Disorder for another. In the opening pages of Soon I Will
Be Invincible, Dr. Impossible
tells us that all superheroes have an origin. They tend make a big deal of
it. Austin Grossman’s character makes it clear that supervillains have
the same tendency as he tells us the story of his life in opposition to
CoreFire, “an imbecile gifted with powers and abilities far beyond normal
man’s.” I don’t want to spoil it for you entirely, so I will leave it there. If
you know, you know what I’m talking about.
Of course, no discussion on the birth of a nemesis is complete without a
mention of the Dark Lord and the role he plays in formation of Harry Potter,
the Boy Who Lived. The erstwhile Tom Riddle had a choice and he chose
Harry. We find out that it could have been Neville Longbottom -- both fit the prophecy delivered by Sybill Trelawney -- but Voldemort decides Harry will be the one that
This is sticky because I don’t know Kvothe’s whole story. The Kingkiller Chronicles are
only at book 2, so things could change, and certainly more will be revealed,
but the way it starts for Kvothe is very similar to how it begins for Conan.
Halifiax -- leader of the Chandrian, a group of seven baleful magical
beings -- spares Kvothe after the boy discovers his family and troupe dead at the
supernatural villain’s hands. Kvothe develops a unique focus on learning who
and what the Chandrian are. It makes him into the man we come to know as Kvothe
the Bloodless and Kvothe the Arcane.
In an ideal upbringing, we
would hope that our own father figures might define our lives in a more
positive sense, but there is no denying the men who made some of our favorite characters