For our second installment describing Mr. Malahide’s characters in terms of D&D alignments (the first one is here), Fearless Admin and I will be discussing the Neutrals. These are characters who tend to skirt the middle ground while pursuing their own interests, although they can be law-abiding when it suits them. They’re a little trickier to define, but despite their name, they aren’t fence-sitters – and they’re just as much fun to watch. And now, the Neutrals!
A lawful neutral character typically believes strongly in lawful concepts such as honor, order, rules, and tradition, and often follows a personal code. Examples of lawful neutral characters include a soldier who always follows orders, a judge or enforcer that adheres mercilessly to the word of the law, and a disciplined monk. [Source: Wikipedia]
RF: When it comes to a character who adheres to the rules, sometimes mercilessly, the first one to spring to my mind is… the Reverend J.G. Keach from “A Month in the Country“. From his seeming obsession with his fabric fund to his relentlessly picky calculation of Birkin’s (Colin Firth) salary for restoring the medieval mural in his church, everything about him suggests he’s a stickler for rules and proprieties. He’s so inflexible that he insists Birkin stay in the church’s unheated belfry while carrying out the work, despite having a large (and extremely empty) house at his disposal. Yet despite all of that, Keach is not entirely without feelings; he knows he’s a fish out of water in Oxgodby but doesn’t know quite what to do about it, and he seems to sense that there’s a bit of an emotional divide between himself and his much younger wife, Alice (Natasha Richardson).
Admin: Poor Keach. I felt quite sorry for him, but most of his problems were of his own doing. He really needs to lighten up and reach out to others, but Lawful Neutrals have a hard time doing that. I’ll choose a much lighter, funnier Lawful Neutral: The Marine Safety agent, Mr. Lancing from “Captain Jack“. He almost comes close to being evil since he seems to take a fiendish delight in waving his clipboard around, but he shows just enough good humor at the end to save him from that category. Mr. Lancing’s dedication to enforcing the rules is truly remarkable, and he gets some very funny lines. I especially love his insistence that Captain Jack (Bob Hoskins) use a “proper British whistle” rather than one those unreliable Danish models. He’s a stickler through and through.
RF: Yeah, Mr. Lancing certainly enjoyed being as officious as humanly possible, but I got the impression he rather liked his run-ins with Jack. I think they made his life just that little bit more exciting. 😉 You’re right, he did seem to have a sense of humour, which is one quality that poor Rev. Keach appeared to lack.
Admin: I agree he liked his run-ins. Mr. Lancing seemed to enjoy having an adversary which made it all oddly rather friendly.
A neutral character (a.k.a. true neutral) is neutral on both axes and tends not to feel strongly towards any alignment, or actively seeks their balance. Druids frequently follow this dedication to balance, and under Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, were required to be this alignment. In an example given in the 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook, a typical druid might fight against a band of marauding gnolls, only to switch sides to save the gnolls’ clan from being totally exterminated. [Source: Wikipedia]
RF: Hmmm, okay… Setting aside the bit about gnolls (I had to google what a gnoll was), I think we could describe Mark Binney of “The Singing Detective” as a character who doesn’t feel a strong allegiance to either side. But Binney’s neutrality is more the product of opportunism rather than an idealistic “dedication to balance”; his loyalty (such as it is) can certainly be bought for the right price. Ultimately, to paraphrase Rick Blaine in “Casablanca”, he’s the only cause he’s interested in. And while he’s supposed to be an antagonist, Binney is also the creation of Marlow’s (Michael Gambon) mind, which means that he’s representing part of Marlow’s own psyche as well.
Admin: Binney is a complicated guy and very hard to read. I think Marlow admires his elan and confidence, wishing he had those qualities himself, but he just doesn’t have it in him. I’ll go Robert Dangerfield from “The Blackheath Poisonings“. He starts off as something of a riff-raff, but he’s now ready to rise up in the world. He’s done a spot of “love ’em and leave ’em” and doesn’t pay his gambling debts, but he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He just wants to do what is best for himself. When he does show his decent side by helping Isabel at the end, it is only after she has been acquitted of murder. He seems reasonably principled, but he won’t act if it really means putting his neck out. His main ambition is to make a comfortable life for himself on his own terms. He doesn’t fully succeed, though, since he winds up on the dog end of his wife Charlotte’s firm leash. I think she is also a True Neutral only she’s a bit better at it than he is. 😉
RF: Agreed that Robert Dangerfield would qualify as a True Neutral. He quickly discovers that the Vandervents and Collards are up to all sorts of nefarious doings, but rather than turn them in to the authorities, he’s more interested in seeing how the situation can be turned to his advantage. However, he still has quite a ways to go if he hopes to outwit Charlotte.
A chaotic neutral character is an individualist who follows their own heart and generally shirks rules and traditions. Although chaotic neutral characters promote the ideals of freedom, it is their own freedom that comes first; good and evil come second to their need to be free. [Source: Wikipedia]
RF: An individualist who follows his own heart, shirks rules, and whose personal freedom comes first? That can be none other than one of our all-time favourites, Alfred Jingle of Charles Dickens’ “The Pickwick Papers“. 🙂 Very true that he doesn’t particularly care about good and evil, as long as he comes first; he’s quite willing to take advantage of the Pickwickians’ trust and toy with spinster Miss Rachel Wardle’s (Freda Dowie) affections in order to make a few pounds for himself. And while Jingle occasionally acts out of kindness – saving Mr. Pickwick (Nigel Stock) from an irate coachman, for example – his primary concern is that he, himself, has a good time and lives as comfortably as possible. If that requires bringing a little chaos into the lives of others, he’s all for it. 😉 But despite all of that, his intentions are never malicious.
Admin: Indeed, it is Jingle’s Neutrality that allows him to be redeemed. Had he been a proper Evil, Dickens would have never allowed such a save at the end. That is kind of a shame, though, because we all liked the mischievous Jingle better. 🙂 My choice will be Colin Anderson from “The Standard”. He is a hot-shot investigative reporter so you know he’s going to be really chaotic. If the episode guide is anything to go by he has morals, but he is very flexible with them and seems to wind up in situations where all sides are gunning for him. His main commitments are to himself and to his job (providing it pays him enough). Unfortunately, we’ve only seen Colin in action in the first episode, so a lot of this is conjecture on my part, but I think he’s likely a great candidate. I’m also including him because I really, really want to watch this series in full. The first episode is excellent, and it sounds like they just get better from there. C’mon, BBC, get this on DVD!
RF: Well, both Jingle and Colin Anderson enjoy stirring things up, thumbing their noses at the establishment, and deflating puffed-up types, so I’d agree they’re both excellent candidates as Chaotic Neutrals. 🙂 Colin Anderson might be slightly more altruistically motivated in that the evildoing he uncovers usually involves political corruption, but as we saw in that first episode, he’s also pretty smug about being the best reporter in Scotland. They both know how good they are and do a certain amount of basking in it. I would love to see “The Standard” get a DVD release!
RF: But thinking of Chaotic Neutrals… I wonder if another Malahide character from “The Singing Detective”, philanderer Raymond Binney, might not fit the bill. He’s definitely an individualist who follows his own heart, and isn’t too concerned about good, evil, or other conventions like “don’t have an affair with your best friend’s wife”. He employs his considerable charm to get what he wants and ends up causing a lot of chaos, though he’s able to remain mostly untouched by it himself; his main motivation seems to be simply pleasure-seeking. As he tells Mrs. Marlow when they sneak off for their tryst, “Thou doesn’t want no angel, dost,” and indeed he’s about as far from an angel as one can get.
Admin: He’s no angel, that’s for sure. He likes drink, women and a good sing-song down at the pub. Also, he seems to know the woodlands inside and out. He’s practically the human embodiment of a Satyr, which incidentally is listed as Chaotic Neutral by the D&D Online-Wiki. Yep, Raymond qualifies alright.
RF: And there we have part 2, the Neutrals! Stay tuned for part 3, where we’ll discuss some of our favourite and most interesting characters, the Evils. 🙂