Continuing on the previous thought of “It must be socially horrible to be Sherlock Holmes“: I wish I had a bland, moderately successful fantasy franchise.
Not just for the fame and the moderate amount of money, nice though those would be — but for the joy of the “logical conclusion”.
In your average fantasy saga, as it grows long, there is first one Dark Lord or Threat To All Life. That is dispatched, thanks to our motley crew of snappy heroes, who get money, power, spouses, other rewards. Then another ravaging, havocking threat comes, roars, and goes down: more principalities, kingdoms, children accrue to our heroes. Lather, rinse, repeat: seems the heroes’ lifetime is a period of more upheaval, destruction and chaos than any before.
It would be so sweet to conclude such a series with a Terrible Revelation: Our Heroes are no heroes, but the lodestones and agents of a still vaster force of destruction and chaos! Never mind the bogeys they fought: they were a symptom, not the cause. The — by this volume — absurdly overpowered heroes were the real villains all along.
Let me explain.
Does their own concept of Right and Justice trump all laws and rulers? Do they do what they want, for some vague Greater Good, and damn the whims of others? Why yes, it seemed so reasonable they were autocrats — political compromise does not fare well in fantasy. And if someone disagrees, and dares think the farmboy might not be the most apt king, the scruffy wizard the bestest adviser, the one single life worth hazarding the whole kingdom — well, humiliating the uptight vizier chump seems so right. And if he takes offense, and then takes offense, why off with his traitorous head! (Disregard hurt feelings, possible alliances and families. In common fantasy, “good” equals “chums with the heroes”.)
Do the heroes have their own ideals, ones that seem a little askew, a little naive and simplistic? Why, that’s storybook heroic! And why, which Evil Overlord doesn’t have high ideals, in the beginning? It’s a garden variety that wants power and riches from the outset; really good — by which I mean, evil — overlords start with the best intentions, only their intentions work only in a world which isn’t as the real one is.
The usual conflict is this — Overlord wants people to be machines, so they can be regimentally happy, like he wants. People are chaotic gentle folks. Harsh measures, tyranny ensues to make people into stackable square pegs instead of all manner of round ones.
But how about this: Overlord wants people to be kind, gentle, chaotic folks, so they can be bucolically happy, as he sees fit and wants. People are unrepentant selfish bastards, or just go for a freebie when they see one. Harsh measures, tyranny ensues to force people into unselfish kindness and gentleness. (“Frolic, damn you! And be quirky with it!”)
And so — do our heroes keep the course that seems Right and Just to them, and risk their good intentions turning sour once their lives aren’t so charmed anymore? Or do they give up, walk into the shadows, and leave the world to its devices, and more random patches of small-e evil lords and ladies?
(…said the Emissary of Chaos, grinning evilly. “Or did you never ask for the source of your successes, the reason for why you were so indispensable? Did you really believe those silly prophecies? Did you ever wonder why you had the Sea-Devil’s own luck? Why you, sir knight, were so absurdly unbeatable — you, sir wizard, ever recalled the crucial clue? Why, sirs brawlers, did you came out of every fight alive, both of you? Why death avoided all of you, save that one solitary significant time it so well served to inspire you? Dears, sirs, did you really think the world worked that way? No! The world is a messy, ugly place where your ideals alone, the purity of your essence alone, will not see you to justice and success, for the world is one big cursed muddle. But far be it from me to lecture you — the blessing of Chaos is withdrawn, and you are mere people once more. Powerful sorcerers, skilled thieves, formidable knights, that is true — but the continuation of your continent-shaking success is no longer guaranteed. Do on your own, or call for the help of Chaos — Chaos cares not, for her will will be served either way.”)
(And with a flash of light and a dark cloud over the sun, the Emissary of Chaos was gone.)
(“Well”, the Thief said, “we’re boned.”)