Five Reasons Demons are Awesome
So one question I was asked when The Demon Within—the first book of my Dale Highland urban fantasy series—was published was, “Why did you choose to write about demons?” After all, wouldn’t angels have been the more obvious choice? They’re the “good guys” of the supernatural world, right? They should be super easy to cheer for. It’s like casting Tom Hanks as the lead character in a movie. (Any movie. Doesn’t really matter. As long as Tom Hanks is good, all is right with the world.)
But honestly…while I like my pop culture angels, I just dig the demons more. And here’s a few reasons why:
1) Bad guys are sexy
Okay, yes, this is probably the most obvious reason I could have picked, but it’s true. It’s something wired into our hindbrains, I’m afraid. Just look at Tom Ellis in the recently-departed drama Lucifer. I watched the first season and found it, overall, pretty predictable, a paint-by-numbers police procedural with undertones of the supernatural thrown in. You had the ultra-serious female detective paired with a footloose and morally ambiguous non-cop partner. It was Castle, but without Nathan Fillion’s winning humor.
But I kept watching. And you know why? Because Tom Ellis was captivating. Seriously, the man just oozes charisma, and his British accent wins me over every time. But it wasn’t just Ellis; it had a lot to do with the character he played. Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness himself. He’s cocky and self-assured and fun-loving and charming. But he’s also got a protective side. Granted, this protective side usually involves him torturing the real bad guys or throwing them into the pits of hell, but whatever. Nobody’s perfect.
And let’s take a look at the classic “good guy vs. bad guy” conundrum: Angel vs. Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Buffy met Angel, he was constantly trying to keep his vampire side—literally the demon within—in check. He was angsty and tortured and oh-so-noble…and also really, really boring. Seriously, the emo thing might have appealed to 15-year-old me, but as an adult I want to tell him to quit his whining and get a therapist. Spike, on the other hand, is all evil when he waltzes into Sunnydale, what with his Billy Idol hair and his Elvis swagger. Spike is evil, but he owns it. I mean, seriously, how do you beat taking down a building when you have sex?
2) Being bad = conflict
My favorite angel is Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life. He might look and act like a dotty old man, but he saves George Bailey’s life by showing him the impact he’s had on his little world of Bedford Falls. I mean, this is an angel who jumps off of a bridge just to get the suicidal George Bailey’s full Gryffindor to come out and rescue him.
I love the movie, and I literally cry every time I see it. But what would happen if the movie had focused on Clarence instead? What’s the conflict? Clarence wants to earn his wings. He does a good thing. He gets his wings. The end. There’s no internal conflict, no real drama. A movie focused on Clarence would be, quite frankly, pretty damn boring. (This has been proven. A made-for-TV sequel creatively titled Clarence was produced in 1990, and it was so utterly unmemorable that even Wikipedia doesn’t seem to know what it was about.
But what if you have someone who frequently does bad things, but wants to be better? My protagonist, Dale, has killed people. She rationalizes that she did it for good reasons, but the deaths still haunt her. This is the kind of stuff internal conflict is made of.
With a demon acting as the heroine of the story, it takes the story into much more of a moral gray area. Angels do appear in the story, but they’re usually acting as antagonists. Are demons really bad, or are they just perceived that way? Are angels really good, or do they just buy into their own hype? Demons and angels are set up as oppositional to one another, but is it really so clear cut?
3) I like to root for the underdog.
In the battle for pop culture dominance, angels clearly have the upper hand over demons. Not only have there been a lot of them depicted in books, movies, television shows, comics, computer games, etc., etc., etc., but people automatically want to root for them.
And yet…when we think of the stories that really stick with us, that showcase triumphing over adversity, it’s always the underdogs that come out on top—or at least, they’re the ones you want to come out on top. Rocky Balboa in the boxing ring (at least in the first few movies), Rudy participating in the game-winning play during his very last game at Notre Dame, the Mighty Ducks winning their game, the Bad News Bears losing their game but celebrating anyway.
Demons are the ultimate underdog.
Think about it. When you’re a demon, the whole world is rooting against you. People think you’re shady and untrustworthy at best, something to be exorcised at worst. But what if you can still win the game, even with every single thing working against you? That’s the person I’m rooting for.
4) Demons have less baggage than angels.
When you think of an angel, what pops into your mind? Wings? A white gown? A halo? Ethereal beauty, maybe? What about when you think of demons? Maybe your demon is humanlike, or maybe your demon looks more like the cockroach in The Metamorphosis. Maybe your demon has bat wings, or no wings at all, or maybe their wings have been shredded. The point is that we don’t seem to have as many preconceived notions about the way demons look and what they can do as we do angels, and as a result the depiction of demons in pop culture is pretty varied. As an author, that gave me carte blanche to do pretty much whatever I wanted.
In the Dale Highland series, demons…are a little bit like X-Men, to be honest. They look like regular humans, but they have abilities that humans don’t have. Dale can control minds. There are other demons who can move things with their minds and teleport and freeze time and shape shift. They’re also immortal, and pureblooded demons can only reproduce with humans. (Why would you need to have babies when you’ll never die?) There are angels in the books, but they don’t have wings and halos, either; once I figured out what demons were/were not in my world, I felt freer to make the angels more like them—rather than the ethereal, bewinged creatures everyone expects them to be.
5) I can’t resist a redemption story.
I think this is what it comes down to, for me. I’m a big fan of Once Upon a Time, and one of the best parts for me is how the bad guys were shown as complex, conflicted people—and how they often redeemed themselves and became good guys in the end. (Even Rumplestskin got redeemed, and he did evil things for millennia, in multiple timelines.) Lost is another of my all-time favorite television series, and on the surface it seems to have nothing in common with Once Upon a Time. But the redemption arc runs strong in Lost, and we see it play out over and over again: Jin, Sawyer, Sayid, and even Benjamin Linus.
When I started working on The Demon Within, I wanted to write a story about people who have made bad choices…maybe even characters who consistently make bad choices. But I also wanted to explore this idea that maybe they made bad choices for good reasons, and maybe making bad choices didn’t make them bad people. And maybe even the people who make the worst choices can be redeemed in the end.
They want her dead. She wants to know why.
Dale’s investigation brings her face-to-face with her arch-nemesis: John Goodwin, master assassin and leader of a deadly guild of angels called the Thrones. (Oh, and did I mention that in Beth’s world, demons are the good guys, angels the bad?) Dale and John have history—they were lovers until he betrayed her. John brings word of a mysterious illness that’s infecting the supernatural. Deducing that the Zeta Coalition is behind it, Dale proposes a plan to infiltrate the Zetas’ upper echelons to find the cure.
But by the time Dale and John figure out the Zeta Coalition’s real intentions, it may be too late.
Beth Woodward is the author of the Dale Highland series of urban fantasy novels. The second book, Embracing the Demon, releases on June 19. (Purchase from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.) She lives in the Washington, DC, area with her husband and the three cats who own them.