Ahh, the Ides of March. Casey here, wishing you a happy Friday.
Unless of course, your name is Julius Caesar and the year is 44 BC, then you’re about to have a really bad March 15th. To the Romans, the ides didn’t mean anything sinister. The ides simply marked the middle of each month. That’s it.
But thanks to Brutus and the Roman Senate, it has come to symbolize the date of Caesar’s assasination – beware the Ides of March!
History is loaded with betrayals: Brutus, Benedict Arnold, and whoever ratted out the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylea. In literature, betrayal is commonly used as a plot twist. I’ve used it once or twice.
Betrayal exists in so many forms: Family backstabbing, corporate greed, an apprentice killing the master, friendships gone sour, betraying your country. Even betraying your own ideals. So many flavors and all of them leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
But, as a writer, you should never be afraid to go down the dark path. Traitors have a place in fiction. In romance, it can drive the hero and heroine apart. It can also bring them back together. Depending on the genre, your protagonist can be ruined by betrayal or uplifted (or both!).
Case in point – Casey’s Top Fictional Betrayers (not in any special order):
1. Fredo Corleone - The Godfather by Mario Puzo. When Michael Corleone realizes that his own brother has betrayed him, it’s heartbreaking and ultimately destroys what little soul Michael has left. In true mafia style, Fredo ends up swimming with the fishes – the execution ordered by his brother Michael.
2. Edmund Pevensie -The Lion, The Witch, and The Wadrobe by C. S. Lewis. If you think only mafia families can backstab each other – wrong! Even children’s stories aren’t immune to betrayers. Edmund is influenced by the White Witch (and her endless supply of Turkish Delight) and he betrays his siblings. But with Aslan’s intervention, not all is lost. Edmund redeems himself and joins Peter, Susan and Lucy to defeat the witch.
3. Anakin Skywalker - The Stars Wars Saga by George Lucas. Anakin doesn’t listen to Yoda and lets his anger consume him. Yes, he betrays the Jedi Order and the Republic, but Anakin majorly betrays himself by turning his back on his master and training. Not to mention, that whole “I am your father” incident and literallay lopping off his own son’s hand!
4. Mr. Wickham - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The most odious of betrayers, Mr. Wickham uses falsehoods under the guise of friendship to lure Elizabeth Bennet into seriously misjudging Mr. Darcy. And then he runs off with Lydia Bennet, the youngest daughter!
5. Thomas Barrow and Sara O’Brien - Downtown Abbey by Julian Fellowes. These two are the dynamic duo of backstabbing. Not only do they cause subtle and sometimes serious mayhem (hello bar of soap!) both upstairs and downstairs, in season three, they embark on backstabbing each other!
6. Saruman the White – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien. Nothing stings worse than discovering that the leader of your wizard order is a turncoat. Poor Gandalf. Not even he can foresee what’s about to happen. After discovering that the One Ring has resurfaced, Gandalf consults the one person he thinks he can trust. Instead he’s imprisoned by Saruman leaving Frodo and company in dire straits.
Imagine how different each of these stories would have been without these acts of betrayal. In every case, the traitor has served a purpose, providing a lesson to the hero/heroine and the reader (or viewer) as well.
So remember, while it may be uncomfortable to contemplate, betrayal is a writer’s best friend.
What say you? Who are your top choices for fictional betrayers? And have you used betrayal in your stories?