The Villain Within

This in the series of lectures from old and/or defunct classes. This is from DU’s Villains, Monsters and Foes again, with a shout-out to former student of mine, Sam Nicolletti, who is reading LeGuin’s Earthsea series for the first time and so inspired me posting this lecturette on The Villain Within. Readings/viewings for this week of class included A Wizard of Earthsea by LeGuin, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde again, and the movie Fight Club. The Palahniuk novel Fight Club was optional.   ~Jenn


The Villain Within                           

I have seen the enemy and it is us.[1]

…Ged had neither lost nor won but, naming the shadow of his death with his own name, had made himself whole: a man who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any power other than himself, and whose life therefore is lived for life’s sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark.[2]

The first rule of Fight Club is: you don’t talk about Fight Club.[3]


Coming to terms with the villain within is not easy and never pleasant. Who, after all, wants to admit they have villainous tendencies? Dr. Jekyll couldn’t bear the fact that he, respectable though he was, actually enjoyed “indulgences,” as he so delicately put it. It bothered Jekyll when he considered “that strong sense of man’s double being, which must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking creature.”[3] It bothered him so much that he used his scientific brilliance to actually separate his inner bad guy, never imagining Hyde would be uncontrollable and end up dominating his “host.” What moral is this story supposed to teach? That to separate the villain within is to destroy oneself? Certainly Jekyll’s distaste at his own sinful behavior isn’t worth dying for in the end, not to mention the murder Hyde commits as well. So the proper place for the Hyde in all of us is integrated within ourselves, not repressed or destroyed, is that the lesson here? And who is the “good guy” in this story—the dreary

it's amazing how difficult it is to find an image of Ged that isn't of a white guy.

it’s amazing how difficult it is to find an image of Ged that isn’t of a white guy.

Utterson, who never seems to do anything fun?

On the other hand, Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea, also has a now-separated inner shadow to contend with. Unlike Dr. Jekyll, Ged does not purposely loose the shadow, nor does he seem to know what it is until the climax of the book, when we are in Vetch’s POV and hear the name he finally utters. Unlike the Victorian Jekyll and Hyde who can’t survive in the same world for long, Ged opens his arms and literally embraces his shadow, accepting his shadow as an integral part of him, naming his name and making himself into a whole person by doing so. Hey, isn’t that the same lesson we learn from Jekyll and Hyde? Hm…;)

Jekyll’s stuggle and demise epitomizes the Victorian Christian conflict: propriety vs. pleasure. Ged’s solution is more Zen-like: accepting the shadow as an integral half of his being.

And what about Fight Club‘s Narrator and Tyler Durden? Like Mr. Hyde, Tyler is destroyed at the end, out of necessity. But is he really gone for good? What does he represent in the Narrator? Interesting premise: my husband has a theory that the Narrator actually dies on the airplane and the resulting story is his death-dream of sorts. Anyone feeling ambitious and has read the book this week? Have anything to add?



[1] Okay, what the heck is this from? Anyone? Someone smarter than me out there? Is it originally Pogo?

[2] Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea.

[3] Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.



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