Today, I went to a dark place… a very dark place.
I was just writing my story about Medea (like y’do), and it took such an unexpected turn, even I didn’t see it coming. I think it was because I was chatting to an acquaintance (a writer) about writing about Medea, and as soon as I mentioned her, he tried to confirm that this was about the wife and notorious child-killer. I pointed out that yes, it’s about her. Maybe I was struck by the instant prejudice, I don’t know, but as soon as I returned to my story, I found the writing started trying to defend her, to make her remotely human (well, more than before, I mean). I realise it’s not a writer’s job to explain or defend why they’ve chosen a specific subject or character – at least, not in the world where the fiction takes place…
I don’t mind characters being hated (at least, not when I intend them to be viciously evil and get up to no good, hehe) but I’ve been trying to make Medea… human or at least, approachable, if you will. Which is probably the wrong idea when talking about someone who did what she is claimed to have done. I dunno… Maybe that’s the problem.
But how do you defend a character with such a dark past and precedent? I mean, a character so dark and ‘damned’ from the start that everyone hates them? The Medea story is well-known, so I’m trying to approach it in an unexpected way. I guess this is kind of the problem the classical tragedians would have faced, what with rehashing stories everyone knew back in the 5th century BCE. Yet… even if we know the end, does it make Antigone’s death or Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ any less valuable? Not that I’m comparing myself to either Sophocles or Shakespeare in any way – I’m just trying to work out whether I should actually write this story. Perhaps it’s the force of the inevitable, the knowing that ‘it must be done’ that makes them so powerful. That’s what Euripides’ Medea seems to try to convey at certain points – she sees it as the ultimate and the only way to exact her vengeance upon Jason. But how do you make a character like that remotely approachable without stepping into dodgy territory? Sure, he lied and broke the oath he swore before all the Gods (that he wouldn’t cheat on her till they died), but how is that justification for what she did (if we are to fully embrace Euripides’ version, of course)?
Clearly there’s a conflict of ‘crime’ here that doesn’t sit well with the human conscience: breaking a binding, lifetime-long oath to the Gods vs. killing children. I mean, evidently it isn’t even a dilemma worth answering. Then again, wasn’t Abraham ready to kill Isaac in the name of God, to prove how unwavering his faith was?
Geez, this is dark territory… Uncharted waters (at least for me), I tell you!