Is everybody familiar with the way character is designated along the moral spectrum in the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons? The categories are: lawful good (eg Abe Lincoln), chaotic good (eg Robin Hood), lawful neutral, chaotic neutral, lawful evil (eg Hitler), and chaotic evil. It's an interesting perspective to apply to mystery protagonists and their worlds. Police procedurals usually feature lawful good protagonists: cops who play more or less by the rules and bring the bad guys in. Private eyes tend to be chaotic good: they break the rules to bring the bad guys in--or take them down. Robert B. Parker's Spenser is a good example: he kills at least one bad guy in every book and never suffers any consequences: but there's never any doubt about the bad guy's badness. TV's Jack Bauer on "24" is an even better chaotic good. He kills whomever he has to to save the world. Chaotic neutrals may be the most interesting characters. Donald Westlake's Dortmunder is a chaotic neutral. So is Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr. Hannibal Lecter is chaotic evil. Margaret Maron's Judge Deborah Knott is lawful good. Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski is chaotic good. Where would you place Sharon McCone? Kate Shugak? Anita Blake? Dexter?

Sometimes a character is more moral than his environment. Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti is lawful good. He always detects the villain. But Leon's Venice--her whole Italy--is so corrupt that the bad guy is hardly ever brought to justice. Where would you place your favorite protagonists? What's your favorite moral stance in fiction? Do you prefer your noir heroes chaotic neutral or chaotic good? Do you admire a chaotic good sleuth more or less than a lawful good?


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Comment by EDWARD C MORGAN on March 15, 2007 at 1:23pm
I have to say in my own fiction, I explore, umm, I guess it is chaotic good? I'm not sure.

My stories tend to explore themes such as "committing an act of evil to achieve a means of good." I've always been fascinated by the thought that the end justifies the means.
Comment by Daniel Hatadi on March 15, 2007 at 9:13am
I shouldn't admit to understanding this, but ...

I'm partial towards chaotic evil or lawful neutral. Actually, no, screw that. I like all characters to have some kind of moral ambiguity about them. One of my favourite recent 'heroes' is Dexter, the good-guy serial killer. And the TV show is far superior to the novels.
Comment by Stephen Blackmoore on March 15, 2007 at 9:12am
The one thing that that doesn't really cover is amorality. You could say that neutral is completely self serving, but it doesn't really convey the same sense that amorality does. Being amoral doesn't necessarily mean that you're doing what's in your best interest. Why, yes, I am a geek. How could you tell?

I'm a big fan of chaos, which is ironic considering how ordered I like my life. But chaos to me has always implied a flexibility of thought that leads to creativity. It goes against the grain of established thinking. I wonder sometimes that if not for chaos would anyone have ever accomplished anything?

Why do kids grow up to be great entrepreneurs and inventors, experimenters of life? Because nobody told them they couldn't, and if they did, they didn't listen.
Comment by Christa M. Miller on March 15, 2007 at 7:56am
Wow. I have to think about this. My kneejerk is to say I prefer chaotic good, but that's only because I have a streak of Pollyanna. If I want to think as opposed to escape, I prefer chaotic neutral.

As for admiration, I'd have to say I regard both equally for different reasons. They both do the right thing despite odds (and maybe inclinations), but I don't think one is inherently "better" than another.

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