The Care and Feeding of a Villain
Written by Joseph Nassise
I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of psychopomps; those creatures, spirits, or deities that show up in many myths and religions, whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls to the afterlife, and while looking for a villain for the sequel to Eyes to See, I decided to dig into the idea a bit more to see what, if anything, might work. The more I dug, the more interested I became.
While you might not have heard the term “psychopomp” before, I’m sure you’re familiar with them. Charon the Ferryman, the Greek mythological figure whose job it is to guide the dead across the River Styx, is a psychopomp. The Valkyries of Norse legend, who bring the vanquished to Valhalla, are likewise psychopomps. The Morrigan, the Celtic Goddess of War and Death, is another.
Psychopomps exist in modern culture as well. Stephen King uses sparrows as psychopomps to great effect in his novel The Dark Half. George Lass and the other reapers on the television program Dead Like Me could accurately be described psychopomps, as could the Reapers from Supernatural. Even Grim, the hound from the wizarding world of Harry Potter, might be a psychopomp.
Everything I’ve read states that it is not a psychopomp’s job to judge the dead, but solely to escort them to their destination. That got me thinking. What would happen if a psychopomp went “psycho,” so to speak, and began to judge the dead? What if they went a step further and acted as judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one? What if they considered every living thing on this plane worthy of their attention?
Suddenly I had a purpose for my villain and a problem my hero had to solve. Then, while hunting through various examples of psychopomps, I stumbled upon the legend of the Ankou, sometimes written as the Angeu, a psychopomp from Breton mythology that appeared as a skeleton-like man dressed in a wide brimmed hat and old cloak, carrying a scythe, and driving a rickety old wooden cart pulled by two horses, one whole and hearty, the other blind and diseased. Some stories say he is the first child of Adam and Eve, damned for their transgressions. Others say that he is the first dead in a given year and is required to collect the others for the next 364 days until passing into the afterlife himself. One story in particular called him the King of the Dead.
That one line caused everything I’d been thinking about to finally gel together. Not only had I found my villain, I found a title, too.
From the Tor/Forge November newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from the November Tor/Forge newsletter:
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
- Goodreads First Reads: Box Office Poison by Phillipa Bornikova
- Starred Review: Sea Change by S. M. Wheeler
- Starred Review: Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe
- New Releases: 6/18/2013
- Why Read Dystopian Novels?
- The Writer, Not the Song
- Postultimate Postulations
- The Week in Review
- Book Trailer: Solstice by P. J. Hoover
- Starred Review: Midnight by Kevin Egan
- Shawn at @ElitistReviews tackles John @scalzi’s THE HUMAN DIVISION: bit.ly/142Ddnk It worked for him. Did it work for you? 47 minutes ago
- "Another powerful addition to the Tufa series." @BookwormBlues reviews WISP OF A THING by @AlexBledsoe bit.ly/17jIuNv 1 hour ago
- RT @MadHatterReview: New on Mad Hatter's: GUEST POST | @kenscholes on Libraries and Memory, Knowledge and Power: bit.ly/16ISVXl 2 hours ago
- Here's a chance to win an ARC of Box Office Poison by Phillipa Bornikova: bit.ly/11y9Nfc 3 hours ago
- SOLSTICE author @pj_hoover examines why we read dystopias: bit.ly/15cJaxm 4 hours ago
Summer Grab Bag Sweepstakes
- New Set of Characters (Finally!) Revealed for Star Wars Episode VII
- Did Amazing Spider-Man 2 Just Cut Mary Jane From the Movie?
- Dream a Little Dream: The Sleep Room by F. R. Tallis
- The Guiding Nose of Ulfänt Banderōz Sweepstakes!
- Defiance: For Better Or Worse, A SyFy Western
- Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Toll the Hounds, Chapter Fifteen (Part Two)
- No, Man of Steel’s Superman is Not Your Superman. And That’s Okay.
- The Bone Season (Excerpt)
- Pour a New Trailer for The LEGO Movie Out of the Bucket!
- Ten Characters I Love (But Don’t Expect To See) in World War Z
- The Firefly Cafe: Exclusive Limited-Time Release!
- First Look: Megan Frampton’s Baring It All (June 24, 2013)
- Stacia Kane’s Wrong Ways Down Cover and Excerpt!
- July 2013 Romance New Releases Shopping List
- World War Hero: Who Would it Be?
- Summer Lovin’: Summer TV Premieres, June 2013, Part 3
- Meet Maya Banks and Team H&H in NYC Tomorrow!
- June 2013 Bloggers’s Recommendations: Psy-Changelings, Avengers, Wedding Photographers, and More!
- Holding Out Through the Hiatus: Speculation on Lost Girl Season 4
- First Look: Rebecca Zanetti’s Twisted (June 20, 2013)
- Murder One
- Fresh Meat: Lethal Treasure by Jane Cleland
- Welcome to the Dollhouse of Horrors
- A Quick Hit and Run from CrimeFest 2013
- Longmire Episode 2.04: “The Road to Hell”
- Fresh Meat: Death of a Dyer by Eleanor Kuhns
- Buckles the Clown is Here for the Laughs...Kind Of
- Inspector Lewis: “Down Among the Fearful,” Episode 06.01
- Fresh Meat: The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill
- Fresh Meat: Crime of Privilege by Walter Walker