Villains and Mental Health Depictions

The mask of Alathea

To my knowledge, no protagonist or antagonist I have written is a bad person because of a specific mental health issue per se. Every developed character I have is struggling with something deep and personal; for example, as I understand it, Derek has in common with his author that he’s autistic and that he gets to be under pressure from some of his peers and society for staying true to his demisexual nature, and also a deep dissatisfaction with his life at many points. He’s also not the main focus of this post, just an opening thought.

With my villains, their villainy tends to stem from imperialism, monoculturalism, a need for stifling control over everything, a refusal to collaborate with or listen to others about what their goals are and only letting people have input in order to use them for a personal goal, exaggerated vendettas, and a privileged detachment from countless human lives affected deeply by antagonistic actions every day. Lords Merton and Belheff are less-developed characters who have very specific agendas and treat human lives flippantly in order to pursue grandiose goals, and we can see how little they care about people of the land even if they claim everything they do is to strengthen and secure the future of that land. Merton and Belheff aren’t the focus either because they are pawns, and they’re getting about as much focus here as they do presence/relevance in the trilogy.

This is about Alathea, because I decided she’s important enough to have an entire new book written about her. This is also more within the trilogy context because that’s where she’s acting as primary antagonist. The new book doesn’t even go to the same places that the trilogy does because it’s focusing on a formative stretch or cycle of her life, though it sure doesn’t hide the aforementioned laundry list of villain traits either.

This is about her trademark mask. Everything she does that makes her an antagonist, she does whether the mask is on or off. It is never about being pleasant or charming when the mask is off, then a cruel dictator when it is on; she’s capable of being intimidating and mean without it.

The mask is specifically there because of an inner revulsion at having to perform violent acts against any other human being, even one who poses a threat to her, and a traumatic incident involving her father who believed she would need to have to kill someone some day for the sake of power and wanting a controlled learning experience of this for her. She’s convinced of what she needs to do according to his instruction, but feels utter revulsion that someone else couldn’t just do it for her, so her father’s mask is like something she can have with her that enables her to do what needs to be done.

After his death she likes to imagine it is him, and is a way in which he can be with her whenever she needs him, instead of constantly going away to fight battles that in her view he could always have gotten someone else to do, ultimately depriving her of his valued presence. She even likes to imagine having a conversation with him via the mask as a way of processing ideas which she may not like but she imagines he might have made her consider anyway.

None of which touches on why she is seen as a villain. It’s not wearing a mask that suddenly makes her an ultra-controlling imperialist warmonger, etc.

The original intent of the mask is also to intimidate, which her father used it for, which a key ancestor of theirs used a mask of his own for, so she can use that functionality as well. You wear it to battle so that no matter how you feel inside, no one should have to see you concerned or afraid. Just an intimidating entity to which one must surrender or die.

But she doesn’t have to wear the mask to send armies off to wars of aggression, nor order people tortured and/or killed, nor desire revenge against Chandra Kenderley, nor do any other terrible thing, except if she might have to take a life with her own two hands or do something very in-person and direct that doesn’t sit well with her.

Absolutely nothing about Alathea’s character arrived as a result of any study of clinical psychiatry, psychology, or any understanding of that nature, but everything I do certainly reflects long-standing tropes in fiction that I have read and any leaps of imagination resulting from that and everything is certainly up for discussion.

I felt the need to write this due to a broader discussion of mental health, its depictions in media, and especially cases where antagonists/villains are portrayed as having their villainy/antagonism directly caused by an unfair/inaccurate depiction of a mental health situation. I thought I should spell out my approach just for the record.

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