life is full of good guys and bad guys lately, what with reaching the end of the harry potter series, and quinn’s passion for all things star wars. while reading a section revealing new information about a character, quinn stops me to ask pointed questions about their affiliations: “so, is snape on the dark side then, or the light side?”
when he was very young, i wanted to shy away from good guy/bad guy play, and have always been uncomfortable with his interest in weapons, though i have tried to let him explore unencumbered by my biases. yet i realize now that this play is where he is learning some profound life lessons about the complexity of human nature; this is obviously where he is spending his time and focusing his neurons. the paradox of the good/evil dichotomy is that we can almost never categorize someone as good or bad without a long list of caveats. more often than yes or no, the answer to questions in life is “it depends.” even darth vader, (i’m loosely trying to avoid harry potter spoilers in here but if you’re late to the star wars party, my apologies) is impossible to pin entirely on the dark side, though much of his career was spent there. his youth and then the moment of his death belie other lighter aspects of his character.
voldemort presents a very dark character indeed, however, harry does a great job of noticing all the similarities between himself and the dark lord, and throughout the story we learn of points in his life where a choice was made aligning him with darkness. sometimes our path depends very much on these choices, but while there is evil in the world, not one of us is inherently evil.
there is always a path back to the light, another choice to be made, no matter how far one has crossed over to the dark side. (i am a believer that people can change; whether they will change is up to them, and i don’t let my life hinge on someone else changing, say for example, a coparent, but can people change? i think yes.) this is one of the refrains in harry potter. the dark side may hold sway for some, with its sibilant siren’s song. and though it would have been difficult for voldemort to show remorse, as harry urges him to do, other characters did reach epiphanies and turn back towards the light in various parts of the story. sometimes, one who has turned dark comes back to be the most valiant of the good guys.
the initial appeal of the good guy/bad guy play, i think, lies in the straightforwardness, the ease with which one can identify with the “right” ones, can neatly place each character in one box or the other, hero or villain. and yet, as with everything in life, there is so much more gray than black and white. i am heartened to see quinn absorbing these subtle shades of gray in the stories he so enjoys.
one of the dangers of an oversimplified good guy/bad guy mentality, to my mind, is the righteous justification of acts of a darker nature. so much war and slavery and rape and slaughter is deemed justified as long as these acts are directed toward the “right” target, i.e. the bad guys. i think the worst part of watching my son want to take up a make believe weapon and kill a bad guy is just that; i want him to realize that you can never really know, you can never be sure, that who you are fighting is truly evil. and no amount of evil on someone else’s part makes it right for you to commit atrocities. two wrongs don’t make a right, right? it is why i oppose the death penalty.
is anyone ever truly evil through and through? isn’t there always a person behind the evil, an adult who was once a child, was once a baby, as innocent as any other baby? i’m not saying evil isn’t real and ever-present, or that people should not be held accountable for wrongdoing. it’s just that i don’t believe one can ever justify committing acts of evil in order to thwart evil. this message is woven through j.k. rowling’s writing, and is one reason i find her books so compelling. harry’s aim to disarm even when his opponents are dueling to kill illustrates his commitment to keeping his own soul intact and aligned with the light.
if quinn’s constant humming of star wars theme music, punctuated by sound effects of explosions and light sabres swooshing through the air, is any indication, this stuff is a big deal to him, a dominant theme of his thinking. even the squirrels in our yard seem to join in, making their laser gun sounds: “pew! pew! pew! ack-ack-ack-ack-ack!”
we might spend an entire morning out tidepooling, ogling anemones and urchins, but the ongoing subplot is one of “which angry birds star wars bird are you now, mama?” (i’m always leia.) and “which power do you have?” (why, the force, of course.)
“i’ll be the red luke bird, and i’ll have a blue light sabre.” no matter how many times we have both defaulted to these choices, he will still begin this game again and again, and continue to ask me who i want to be now, and announce his decision to be red luke with blue light sabre, and we jedis will strike out yet again to fight the storm troopers, the game never losing its appeal, his eyes still sparkling with anticipation at the prospect of fighting evil.
we might be romping along the beach, enjoying the sun-warmed sand between our bare toes, and quinn will find a perfectly smooth piece of driftwood for a wand. “want to know what’s inside the core of my wand? a phoenix feather!” the better to fight the dark lord with, my sweet son.
harry potter and luke skywalker are not the only heroes who capture quinn’s awe. he finds the good guys in any context and identifies with them the most strongly. on mother’s day, our little family went to my parents’ church together as a gift to my mom, and after singing the first chorus, quinn looked up at me, beaming, and remarked, “i like jesus.” as convoluted as my relationship to that particular good guy and his organized religion might be, i could only smile back and say truthfully, “me too, buddy.”
it is this unerring positive heliotropism i see in quinn, like a little sunflower forever orienting itself towards the sun, that comforts my unease with laser guns and light sabres, and is the precious gem i wish to preserve when i worry over his self-image and his moral compass. as surely as anything, his moral compass is properly calibrated, he identifies through and through with the most light-bringing and life-affirming of characters. the ones who have always been on the light side, and never wavered. he is and, i trust, will always remain steadfastly one of the good guys.