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:
- How many syllables was that again, or, “Can I buy a vowel?” by Melissa Ann Singer
- Living in a Real Teenage Dystopia: The Classroom by Isamu Fukui
- On Taking Risks and Being Dead by Sharon Lynn Fisher
- Steampunk Sweepstakes
- An Editor’s Dirty Little Secret
- On a Bus to New York
- Sister, Healer, Soldier, Spy
- Tor/Forge Blog is Moving to a New Domain
- The Week in Review
- Not at New York Comic-Con Sweepstakes
- Starred Review: Ask Not by Max Allan Collins
- New Releases: 10/8/2013
- Goodreads Sweepstakes: Watcher of the Dark by Joseph Nasisse
- Tor Books Announces Programming for New York Comic-Con 2013
- Read "The Scholast in the Low Waters Kingdom, " a space opera story about interstellar diplomacy from @maxgladstone… twitter.com/i/web/status/8… 10 hours ago
- Nuclear disaster strikes Pennsylvania in #Fallout by Wil Mara. Start reading here: bit.ly/2o4rqoS https://t.co/wNTe1Ya5Sw 11 hours ago
- Author @iannmcdonald returns to the harshest mistress in LUNA: WOLF MOON. Read @BoingBoing's review:… twitter.com/i/web/status/8… 14 hours ago
- RT @tordotcom: How would you like a chance to win a pretty pile of books from @R_Emrys @casskhaw @victorlavalle @auntbeast & more? https://… 17 hours ago
- Head to @LightspeedMag to read an interview with #Binti: Home author @Nnedi: bit.ly/2oasHic https://t.co/rQseK9CS1y 17 hours ago
- A Good Horror Story Hinges on Sincerity
- It’s Time to Light The Lights: The Unrepeatable Magic of the Theater
- Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “The Pirates of Orion”
- Tor.com’s Lovecraftiana Sweepstakes!
- Are You Ready to Float? Check Out the New Trailer for Stephen King’s IT
- How “Tallyho!” is Not Always Applicable to Airship Battles
- H.P. Lovecraft and the Chamber of Secrets: Lovecraft and William Lumley’s “The Diary of Alonzo Typer”
- Why the Next SpaceX Launch Is Important
- If You Love Game of Thrones, What Science Fiction Books Would You Like?
- Take a Peek at This Sumptuous Trailer For Luc Besson’s Valerian