Worldbuilding: Justifying One’s Characters, Or, How Good People Let Bad Things Happen to Other Good People

“It doesn’t make him a saint, but it also doesn’t make him an irredeemable character… except that he’s never going to get the guidance he needs to redeem himself, because not even the Queen stands up to this jerkass. That both pisses me off and strikes me as tragic, because everybody knows about it but nobody does anything. Nobody says anything to Bors. Nobody even tries to stop Bors. Just marry off his daughters and remove them from his victim pool once the damage is already done and leave Bors thinking that of course he’s a good husband and father, because nobody ever argues with him.”

Thank you, Hat, for your wonderful comments. They’ve done horrible things to my inspiration for days — by which I mean, of course, that they’ve made me take a step back from my story, look around and really think about what my characters are doing … and what they’re not doing.

(Oh, by the way — in case you’re wondering, “What is this crazy blogger talking about?”, this post is in response to a series of comments by Hat and Andavri on Daughters Will Love Like You Do. To quickly summarize several very detailed and very lovely comments, they were each debating just how much of an asshat Bors is, whether his actions can be justified or mitigated or … oh, just read their comments, they say it much better than I can! ;))

Think, then type. It’s a useful method of operation, and one I ought to apply more often. But, ahem, anyway. Just why do Bors’s friends and neighbors let him get away with abusing his wife and daughters to the point where his wife is having a breakdown, and his daughters are on the road to hating him forever?

Well … I hate to say it, but I don’t think I can completely answer that question.

I say that because the fact is, I think that question is one of the deeper, harder-to-answer ones about human nature itself. I mean, it covers everything from, “Why didn’t the neighbors call the cops when they heard the kids screaming before one of them ended up dead?” to “Why did approximately seventy million Germans (the pre-war population) allow Hitler to get away with slaughtering millions upon millions of other people?” Hell, there’s even a name for it in psychology — the bystander effect. And all those very smart people with fancy white lab coats and lots of letters after their names don’t know exactly why it is that lots of people can watch a horrible thing happen and not do anything about it.

But a halfway-decent writer or blogger can’t just say, “Eh, it’s human nature, people suck, what do you want me to do it?” and expect to get away with it. I think — er, I hope — that we’re allowed to use the bystander effect to explain part of it, but not all of it. Because though characters in stories and blogs are supposed to lifelike, they’re not actually alive. They’re realistic but not real. We can see into their heads in a way that we obviously can’t see into the head of someone who turns the other way while another person gets pickpocketed or mugged or worse.

So the writer has to know, what’s going on inside those heads? Why isn’t anyone in Albion stepping in for Claire and her daughters and telling Bors where he can get off?

A Quick Note about the Origins of Albion

And when I say “the origins of Albion,” I mean their origins in my head, not the story.

I know I’ve mentioned this a couple of different places on my blog, but Albion is the product of another series of stories that I’m currently … eh, on hiatus from, because my Muse doesn’t like them at the moment. Bors and Lynn are characters from those stories. And Bors is just as bad, if not worse, in those stories.

But for those stories, I know why nobody else is interfering — it’s because these stories take place in the actual Middle Ages (or at least they do in part. It’s complicated). And back then, your wife or your daughter or your underage son was your property — you could do whatever the heck you wanted to them, and nobody would care. You could beat your wife or your daughter black-and-blue and nobody could say boo at you, because you were just “disciplining” them.

And another thing — I would bet some serious money that, back then, people would look at the end product of the way Bors raised his daughter and, say, the way Arthur raised his daughter, and say that Bors did a better job. Jessie in the stories is hotheaded, she isn’t afraid to say what she thinks, she’s just as intelligent as any of the guys and refuses to be left behind to worry about them when she could go adventuring. She chases the guy she wants instead of waiting for him to come to her — heck, half the time she’s rescuing him! Oh, and she’ll toss some battle magic at you if she gets pissed enough. Whereas Lynn in the stories is meek, gentle. She doesn’t speak unless spoken to, she keeps her opinions to herself. She plays the damsel in distress very well (at least at the beginning of the stories — by the end, Lynn has changed a lot). She’s obedient and good at the housewifely arts. She’ll be a perfect mouse to any husband who wants to take her, where Jessie is comparatively a firebrand. I imagine most medieval guys would go for a Lynn over a Jessie in a heartbeat — unless, of course, they were the type who would enjoy “breaking” Jess. (I wouldn’t recommend that as a hobby — they’d probably get fried by one of Jess’s electric-magic-orbs if they tried.) But, yeah, Bors I think would totally win parenting points for completely breaking Lynn’s spirit, as opposed to allowing that spirit to grow uncurbed.

But Albion isn’t sixth-century Britain — it’s Albion. So how come nobody says anything to Bors?

It’s About the Individuals

Subtitle kinda says it all.

Because the “people of Albion” aren’t a monolith, they aren’t a homogenous group. They’re individuals, or at least I try to make them into individuals. So I’m going to go through some of the individuals involved and explain why they haven’t said anything to Bors about the way he’s treating his wife and children. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to keep the analysis to the noble and royal adults of Albion. I’ve got a couple reasons for this …

  1. First of all, adults are adults. Tommy, Will, Jessie, Leona, Lamorak, Galahad — they were kids themselves when a lot of the worst damage was being done to Claire, Lynn and the other girls. I don’t think you can reasonably expect kids to fully understand this kind of emotional abuse, still less to call out an adult when they’re perpetrating it! I’m also going to lump Mordred and Dindrane into this heading, at least for now — they are, after all, only four years older than the Tommy-Will-Jessie-Lynn-Lamorak crew. And once they got back from Camford and were fully “adults,” Bors started shedding daughters at an alarming rate — they haven’t really been in a position to see what’s going on since they were in a position to do something about it. Of course, this could change once Evette and Lionel get to be of an age where Dindrane can start arranging play-dates between them and Nimue and Gawaine and Agravaine, but for now, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
  2. I really, really doubt that a merchant or, God forbid, a peasant would have the courage to call Bors an abuser. He’s a nobleman, a pompous one, and I think he would treat a commoner who dared to call him out on his child-rearing tactics the same way he would treat a wife or daughter who protested his treatment of them. Of course, this doesn’t mean that commoners don’t want to call Bors out — we saw Richard Ferreira dying to say something to him — but they have pretty good reasons for keeping quiet. Besides, I doubt that a lot of peasants and merchants have even met Bors, story-wise.

Ok, enough blather — onto my pathetic excuses for my characters. We’ll start at the top.

Arthur Pendragon: Ok, he’s the King, he could glare and put on his best King-voice and say, “Bors, knock it off and start treating your family better” and he’d probably have to do it. So why doesn’t Arthur say anything? I think a big part of his reticence is that he is the King. People listen to what he has to say and will often trust his judgment over their own. Even though his authority is, in theory, boundless, he doesn’t want to overstep his bounds. He doesn’t want to turn into a despot, and to him, that means at the very least backing off and letting people raise their kids the way they want to — as long as the kids aren’t in danger of losing life or limb, that is.

Secondly, there are political reasons for him keeping quiet. Bors is and has been his most trustworthy general for a long time, even before Lot had his stroke. I mean, Bors has never participated in or looked the other way for a cold-blooded murder. Especially now that things in Glasonland are heating up, Arthur cannot afford to be pissing Bors off. Honestly, I think he could be the type to take his toys and go home if he got annoyed enough.

Lastly, I think — and I’ll probably be using this excuse a lot, for most of the guys — it’s very easy for him to rationalize away just how bad things are with Claire and the girls. I imagine Arthur’s relationship, if you could call it that, with most of the girls is that of Jessie’s father. His interaction with them would be limited to poking his head in Jessie’s bedroom doors, saying the medieval equivalent of, “Who wants to go out for ice cream?” and then trying to survive the mob little girls shouting, “ME! ME! ME!” He would see that the de Ganis girls are quiet and well-behaved, and shut his eyes to anything else if he really wanted to.

Alison Pendragon: She’s the Queen, but I think she’s just as diffident of using her queenly power as Arthur is of using his kingly power — if for different reasons. Alison was born a commoner, and part of her still feels as if she’s an imposter. She’s not supposed to be placed so far above all of them. I mean, any nobility at all would have been a good match for her, a spectacular match would have been an heir to a household marrying her … marrying Arthur, at least in terms of blood, is so far out of her league, she’s not even sure she’s playing the same game any more. So she hesitates before she says anything to Bors, or to any nobleman or -woman, simply because part of her still feels as if she’s talking to her social superiors.

There’s also the Glasonlander upbringing; in Glasonland, women are still seen for the most part as property, they’re supposed to be meek and dutiful and submissive. Alison wasn’t raised that way because she’s an only child, and her father was both ambitious and older when he had her. He wanted her to get the best education and training, and he wanted her to know how to manage her money and the businesses if he should die before she married. He wanted her to be able to hold her own against both competitive merchants and backstabbing (minor) nobility. So Alison is trying to be a smart lady and a gracious lady and a genteel lady and a good mother and a Queen to make Arthur proud all at once. And sometimes these roles conflict, or seem to conflict.

And finally, Alison has tried to help over the years, but subtly. She’s tried to make the Pendragon castle a bit of a second home and an escape for the de Ganis girls. She’s encouraged the friendship between Jessie and Lynn and Clarice for that purpose — she’s been trying to give the girls some kind of space to grow into the women they want to be, not the doormats Bors wants them to be.

Lancelot du Lac: I think one word sums up what keeps Lancelot quiet: family. Bors is his cousin. Sometimes, you let a lot of things go under the rug for the sake of keeping family harmony. Lancelot in particular puts up with a lot from Bors to keep Bors quiet.

There are also political reasons — Lancelot knows enough of politics to be aware that the Gwynedds and Orkneys are growing closer and closer together and more and more allied. Lance is best friends with the King, and that will buoy the du Lacs for a long time (especially since Will is best friends with Tommy), but it won’t last forever. They need alliances. Lance also sees that Bors is the one getting left behind in the land- and wealth- and power-grabbing of all the other families, and Lancelot is too soft-hearted not to help him out. In his eyes, no doubt he’s helping the girls by staying on Bors’s good side and helping him out politically. The more land and wealth and power Bors has, the better dowries and better futures he can secure for his daughters.

Besides, with Leona for a mother, what are the odds that the second generation of de Ganis women are going to be as put-upon as the first?

Guinevere du Lac: Guinevere’s got two choices here: either tell Bors exactly what’s on her mind and have him cut off all contact between the younger generation of the two families, or keep quiet and have a hope of saving the girls by teaching them to stand up for themselves. Besides, I’m sure many family dinners have taught Guinevere that trying to talk sense into Bors is like trying to talk to a brick wall. It’s just not going to work. So she consciously models another way of being a lady to the girls, and hopes that they pay attention.

And when things get really bad — like with Claire — she doesn’t even bother bothering with Bors at all, but goes straight to someone who she thinks can help.

Pellinore Gwynedd: Pellinore actually has said something to Bors — or rather, he kicked Bors out of his office when Bors tried to draw up a legal document “gifting” Angelique to the nunnery. Angelique was all of three days old at the time. The problem, of course, was that what Pellinore said didn’t do much good — and it was something, I’d imagine, more along the lines of, “Are you out of your mind?!” rather than a well-reasoned, well-thought-out argument. He and Bors haven’t spoken at length since that day, and Pellinore doesn’t know Claire or the girls very well.

Eilwen Gwynedd: Eilwen is the hardest, if only because I’ve barely done anything with her. So her whole character is still a bit mysterious to me. I think I’ll have to lean on her Glasonlander upbringing, and the fact that she’s a rather shy and quiet woman to explain this for me — she’s certainly not my pick for “Most Likely to Rip Bors a New One.” Lastly, I don’t think she knows the de Ganis girls very well. There’s a sizable age difference between Dindrane and Lynn, and another sizable one between Angelique and the twins.

Accolon le Fay: He’s easy. Before he was killed and zombified, he was a peasant who’d probably never even met Claire or the girls. Afterward, he was a social outcast who only saw them when they were at royal functions — when everyone’s on their best behavior anyway. How’s he even going to realize that anything is wrong?

Morgan le Fay: I imagine, before she ran away with Accolon and blew a raspberry at society at large, that she didn’t know Claire or the girls very well. She was always close to Jessie and knew Lynn distantly, but not well enough to realize that something was wrong — she knew Lynn’s father well enough to rationalize any nervousness or jumpiness Lynn might have had in her presence just to her being a witch. Also, those gatherings where Morgan might have gotten to know Claire better and realize something was wrong on that end were the sorts of gatherings — imagine lots of embroidery and gossip and talk about babies — that Morgan would rather stick a fork in her eye than attend. So that’s that.

And afterward, of course, she was a social outcast and even less likely to see something wrong. But she also had some time to do some thinking. And when Guinevere came to her and said that Claire needed help … well, who jumped right in to help? 🙂

Lot Orkney: I really can’t see him caring. Yes, he loves Garnet very much and wouldn’t treat her the way Bors treats his daughters, but Lot is a very pragmatic soul. What advantage comes to him from pissing off his co-general to help some wife and some children who he really doesn’t know well? Not a lot (unless Bors really does pack up his toys and go home — and I don’t know if Lot would really want that. What with there being two of them and all, Lot could contrive to get all of the praise for successful operations, and none of the blame if things went wrong. Or at least he thought so). Also, I can easily see him just shrugging it off as “none of his business” and going on with life. And of course, now he’s not in a position to be helping anybody.

Morgause Orkney: … Look at the way she treats her own daughter. I think that’s ’nuff said. 😉

***

So those are my excuses. Are any of them any good? 😉

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5 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Justifying One’s Characters, Or, How Good People Let Bad Things Happen to Other Good People

  1. Ooops. See now if I hadn’t picked a debate (Not a fight there was no name calling involved.) with Hat then you’d have never had to think about this… (La Foo, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking. A dangerous pastime. I know, but that wacky old coot…) … Tsk on Andavri.

    I think your excuses are pretty good as they go, I mean they certainly fit the characters as the characters stand thusly.

    It is always a good question, that “Why don’t people do something.” And it’s a good thing to know. As you well know I have done a lot of rationalizing, explaining, thinking… (Now, Horace, what I tell you bout thinkin’?)… about Tibby and some of the things that have happened or are set to happen in St. Max.

    Also, in MI (Morgaine’s book series that she’s on hiatus on, which sucks cause she’s changed so much on the rewrite that I don’t really know what’s gonna happen other than vaguely and then her muse up and quits. C’mon that’s what Aarick does to me, not what Muse does to you. :-P) there’s something which I think kind of translated into this Bors, but I don’t think you really considered: Bors in Albion is a general, a good general, but a general. Bors in MI is Sir Bors the grail knight. The holiest living knight. The only one to see the grail and come back alive. He gets away with a lot of shit cause he’s BORS. Except in Albion he doesn’t have that backing of being (at least in the eyes of his peers) truly holier than thou.

    And as much as I think Bors is an asshat and he ought to be flogged with a squash by a woman in a leather Nazi uniform (Damn I don’t have the CC to do that in Otherworld do I? *sighness*) I don’t think he’s altogether unbelievable. I mean as much as we psychoanalyze Bors in our comments and debates, psychoanalysis is still a far off science for the denizens of Albion.

    Nobody sits and thinks about what makes Bors an asshole. To the people in his life the why never matters: He just is.

    Now, the questions I would add to think about with Bors are, as you’ve touched on the others’ upbringings and backgrounds, (IE Alison’s) what is there specifically, if anything, that’s in Bors’ background that might make him how he is.

    How Bors was raised? How did Bors feel about his mother and the other women in his life growing up? Why is this negligible in a lot of the other nobles, all of whom presumably had that same Glasonland upbringing, but somehow managed not to have their heads permanently lodged in their rectums?

    And I think if I were you I’d think about some of that stuff because I really think it’ll effect Elyan to a large degree and Lionel to some degree also.

    • To properly reply to this comment would take another post. So therefore, I’m going to just focus on Bors’s upbringing for this reply. Hopefully this will answer a few questions on how Bors got to be so … boorish.

      Bors has major mommy issues — his mother, Evaine, was a very strong-willed woman; before she died she was the only one (of the family) who dared to stand up to Bors about the way he was treating Claire and the girls. He didn’t listen to her, though, because of his ingrained misogyny — misogyny that wasn’t ingrained into him by his mother or even his father.

      I think I’ve mentioned before that Bors is the second son of his family. When he was very young (around six or so), it was decided that he would become a monk. Evaine was the main player behind this decision; the choices were between a monk and a knight, and Evaine preferred not to have her son enter into a high-risk occupation and talked Bors’s father (Bors the Elder) into sending him to a monastery. Bors himself wanted to become a knight, but nobody listened to his opinion. He blamed his mother for this. The monastery selected (because of family ties) was the Order of St. Consort the Thebe, which is one of the most misogynistic orders in Glasonland. Basically, they teach that women are the source of all evil, that the only thing they’re good for is making babies, etc.

      Then, when Bors was about eight, it came out that several of the oblates at the monastery were being sexually abused by one of the monks. Bors wasn’t one of these oblates and didn’t even know that the abuse was going on, but his parents were understandably scared and pulled him out, pronto. Bors wasn’t happy about this, either — by this time, he was pretty happy at the monastery and all right with becoming a monk. Plus, it was a huge upheaval for him generally.

      While he was at home, his parents got into another debate about what to do with his future — Evaine still wasn’t happy with the knight idea, but neither Bors the Elder nor Evaine wanted to take a chance on another monastery (understandably!). Meanwhile, Bors was acting out, making trouble, and spewing the anti-women invective the monks had filled him with to any woman who tried to rein him in — including and especially his own mother. This went on for about six months. Bors the Elder and Evaine were at their wits’ end with Bors, until Evaine’s brother Ban (Lancelot’s father) came for a visit. He offered to make Bors a page and then a squire in his own household, both to give Bors the Elder and Evaine a break, and to give the kid a future. They agreed.

      So Bors became a page in the du Lac household, and there he met Elaine, Lancelot’s mother. Elaine was everything the monks of St. Consort said that women were supposed to be — dutiful, quiet, gentle, a peacekeeper and able helpmeet for her husband. Bors pretty much worshipped her. What he didn’t know, however, was that Elaine was a very clever woman and Ban respected her as an equal. She was too shy, however, to give her advice to him in public, and so in public it looked like Ban was the complete ruler of the household and Elaine was a helpless lady. Lancelot knew his mother was a lot more capable and stronger than she appeared, but Bors didn’t.

      Then, when Bors and Lancelot were twelve years old, Elaine died. All three of them — Ban, Lancelot and Bors — were completely devastated, though in different ways. Bors set his idealized image of Elaine up as his vision of perfect womanhood, but at the same time, after being burned by her death, he wasn’t willing to open his heart up to any other women.

      A year later, then-Prince Vortigern and his brothers-in-law led the disastrous campain into Reme. Bors went along with his uncle and his cousin (and Arthur for that matter). For the next few years, the only women Bors came into conflict with were camp followers and whores — pretty much everything the monks ever warned him about. He lacked the emotional depth to see a lot of these women for what they were — people who were desperate and lacked other options — and instead just despised them. Lancelot and Arthur tried to talk sense into him, but eventually just gave up and began to tune Bors out, or change the subject, when he started on one of his diatribes.

      When they got back, it was time to go to Camford. Even though Bors had plenty of opportunities to meet intelligent, driven women there, he didn’t take advantage of those opportunities. While he was at Camford, he and his father arranged his marriage to Claire. Bors the Elder saw in her her dowry and her family connections; Bors the Younger saw her quiet nature, politeness and submissiveness. They were married soon after Bors graduated. His only sexual contact with a woman before Claire was with a whore his elder brother Lionel paid to give Bors some experience before he went to the nervous young virgin on his wedding night. Lynn was born about a year after the marriage, to Bors’s disappointment.

      Then, of course, when Lynn was about two, they all moved to Albion (Bors the Elder had died by that point) and you pretty much know the story from there.

      Hope that helped!

  2. How did I miss this post? 😯

    The characters’ reasons make sense, as horrible as that bodes for Claire and her girls (and her sons too). It’s unfortunate, but it fits in terms of the story 😦

    I just can’t wait until one of Bors’s daughters–or even one of his sons–chews him out over this. Or possibly Leona (she seems the most likely candidate at this point). And it would be romantic if Tommy or Freddy or Galahad did, but it might not do quite the same literary justice. Some day, somebody will have at him, someone from the next generation–I can feel it in my bones! 🙂

    Why does it not surprise me that the Order of St. Consort is associated with misogyny and pedophilia? 😯 I must say, I feel bad for the more noble incarnations of him that might be out there, going about their little sim lives in other people’s games.

    • I’m glad that the reasons all make sense — I had to really put on my thinking cap and delve into them to figure out, “Gee, why hasn’t anyone said anything to this idiot?”

      Actually, I think it’s pretty much inevitable that Tommy — if not Freddy or Galahad (they might, I just don’t know yet) — will say something to Bors. The problem is, not only will that not work as well in literary terms, like you said, I don’t think Tommy would phrase it in a way that would make Bors understand what he was doing wrong. I see Bors going off on Lynn for something (probably having a baby girl, at some point, rather than a boy), and Tommy would bust in with, “You WILL NOT talk to my wife like that.” If there’s any debate or discussion, it would revolve around Lynn’s new rank and her status as Tommy’s wife. In other words, Tommy won’t be saying, “You have no right to treat any of your daughters like that” however much he may think it.

      Which is convenient for me, because it allows me to let Tommy protect Lynn (which is what he’ll want to do) and it leaves the door open for Bors to continue acting like an ass and so therefore, one of his own kids can really hand it to him later.

      As for the Order of St. Consort, it shouldn’t surprise you, because it’s all your fault! 😉 Seriously, I looked around the Sims Wiki for other Sims that might work, and couldn’t find any. But Maxis, to their credit, doesn’t really make misogyny a key character trait in any of their pre-mades (that I could find).

      *sigh* But still, thanks to In Fair Veronaville, I’ll never be able to see Consort as a nice old man who just wants the best for his grandkids. 😉 Or see Kent as straight, for that matter …

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