It’s our favorite day of the week! That means it’s time to ramble.
I’m going to preface this with a very honest disclaimer: I have fantastic uncles. They’re fun, amazing people. To my wonderful uncles, I hope you know you’re the best!
That’s why I can’t really wrap my mind around this trope. I see it all the time: the uncle is always evil. Ever since I saw it for the first time in C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian, I’ve been thinking to myself, “Well, this is odd.”
But I shook it off and read some more books, watched some more movies. But this pattern started showing up again…and again…
All this kept nagging at me. Scar in Disney’s The Lion King and Hades in Hercules. Home Alone. Harry Potter. A Song of Ice and Fire. Technically, Hamlet’s stepdad was his uncle first, before his father died and his mother had some weird marriage arrangements.
The list goes on and on!
Maybe this trope originates with fantasy and the idea of royalty in medieval times. If the king should, unfortunately, die in an unfortunate manner, oh-so-unfortunately, then that leaves the unfortunate throne wide unfortunately open for an unfortunate someone to take the seat. Someone within the family. Someone who’s “better suited” for the throne.
Someone like him: the Evil Uncle.
All it would take is a little poison in the ear…
And now Thanksgiving is very uncomfortable.
BREAKING NEWS: Thanksgiving took a turn for the bloody when King Claudius asked Hamlet to pass the gravy.
To be honest, I’m a little tired of this. Even characters who aren’t technically uncles are coming down with the Evil Uncle Syndrome. Even so-close-they’re-basically-family-so-the-kids-call-him-uncle characters end up turning to the dark side. Or, they were already on the dark side and were just hiding behind a mask the whole time.
The idea of betrayal, of your own family stabbing you in the back, is an engaging concept, sure. But I’m looking for a cure for this Evil Uncle Syndrome so we can save the uncles of stories everywhere.
The only uncle I can think of who has subverted this trope is from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Uncle Iroh is the best uncle you could possibly have in your life (except, of course, my own uncles).
If you adore the traditional Disney villain, then maybe the Evil Uncle Syndrome is actually fun to write. The deliciously evil back-stabber. The blood relative turned rotten.
This can make for some crazy-intense drama!
But it can also set up a pretty interesting plot twist if a reader is expecting the uncle to have a bad case of Evil Uncle Syndrome, only to realize that Uncle Evil saves puppies on the weekends.
“But Uncle Totally-Not-Evil, you’re a scary, scar-faced man who’s always wanted the throne! You really expect me to trust you?”
“Well, Revenging Nephew, you know your sweet old grandmother?”
“The one who bakes cookies for the homeless?”
“She subscribes to Familial Murder Weekly.”
If there’s one useful thing about overdone tropes, it’s that they’re very fun to subvert.
So, let this be a lesson to you, kids: Keep an eye on your uncle characters. If they start to show signs of Evil Uncle Syndrome, you could either surrender to it or use it to your advantage. Either way, you’ll have some dynamic character interactions on your hands.
You have the power. To doom the uncle, or return him to the family, saving him from a fall from grace.
Have yourselves a weekend, lovelies, you earned it! (And give your uncle a hug!)