Wednesday, March 16, 2016

In Defense of the Hot Ginger Vampire...

A #TeamBaldwin Perspective

Now that we have your attention, we need to talk about Baldwin. As you know, a few of the Daemons are the founders of #TeamBaldwin.  We get that he's not for everyone and, honestly, we like it that way! We're generally a live and let live bunch (yeah - we know he probably wouldn't approve, but he'll get over it), but the level of vitriol and Baldwin bashing gets out of hand sometimes!  He's been likened to an abusive husband, a serial killer and characterized as worse than Benjamin and Domenico - characters that Deb has described as having no redeeming qualities. The most strident criticism seems to be rooted in the outside experiences and issues the reader brings to the story rather than the character created on the page by Deb and, ironically enough, seems to have a very bully-like undercurrent.   Frankly, it has little to no basis in the book and universe created by Deb Harkness, nor does it reflect the lessons of tolerance and empathy which are the centerpiece themes of the series -- it makes the skewed perspectives on Baldwin's character all the more disappointing.  Ironically, many who criticize/dislike Baldwin's character actually picked him to come to their rescue in a recent social media post!

The Set Up:
Our introduction to Baldwin creates the image of an imposing, ancient warrior, modern day master of the Universe and vampire, not the psychopathic bully some readers have labeled him. “Baldwin Montclair, as he was known in the financial markets, strode down the hall of the ground floor. His copper-colored hair gleamed in the electric light, and his muscles twitched with the quick reflexes of a born athlete. Trained to wield a sword from childhood, he had been imposing before becoming a vampire, and after his rebirth few dared to cross him. The middle son in Philippe de Clermont’s brood of three male children, Baldwin had been made a vampire in Roman times and had been Philippe’s favorite. They were cut from the same cloth—fond of war, women, and wine, in that order. Despite these amiable characteristics, those who faced him in combat seldom lived to recount the experience.” ADOW p336

Baldwin is the product of his times. He is a 2000 year old soldier - steeped in a culture that operates in a very regimented, hierarchical fashion. Not to mention 2,000 years of PTSD inducing battlefield experiences. He spent that time serving as Philippe's right hand. He was the one who executed Philippe's plans and was his enforcer.  Those plans, first and always, involved protecting the family and its interests.  That was the role he was given in the family. The perennial lieutenant and "bad cop".  A lieutenant hand chosen by Philippe - who offered Baldwin the opportunity to become his vampire son because he 'just liked the guy."  Philippe, as always, chose well in Baldwin who thought "being a vampire would be a grand adventure, and it has been."  <--- Deb's words.   The truth of the matter is that Baldwin made the decision to be reborn with a clear head - not through a fog of physical suffering, emotional despair or impending death.  The circumstances of his making reveal a side of Baldwin that we haven't really met yet - an adventurer with moments of recklessness and, dare we say, whimsy - albeit a more ferocious brand than we may be used to in the modern day. It shouldn't be a surprise, given that Philippe has a tendency to make "terrifying" creatures. "Terrifying" in the de Clermont universe and in this context doesn't necessarily mean that they are bad creatures or psychopaths.  It just means they had the nerves of steel to do the vital jobs that no one else wanted to take on.

The Near Current Situation:
When we first meet Baldwin, he's without a leader - bereft and without the proper skill set. He has huge shoes to fill and 70 years isn't much time at all for a vampire of his age to learn a new skill set and mind set. He's prickly and brash with a whole host of issues including sibling rivalry, a challenging relationship with his stepmother, and perhaps a bit of PTSD. And he's being called in to sort out yet another mess involving Matthew, the family "black sheep.” A magnet for trouble.  Ernst actually refers to Matthew as the “troublesome stepbrother”; Philippe makes reference to Matthew's multiple transgressions; Verin thinks Matthew can't be even more of a problem then he already is, and calls him wölfling with derision. At this point in the story, the readers and Diana may be swooning over Matthew, but the rest of the family knows better - because they know his whole history. Even with the limited information we, as readers, have about the St. Leger incident, Baldwin's attitude in chapter 30 of A Discovery of Witches shouldn't be shocking to us.   It was Matthew falling into the same old habits.

Some will argue that Baldwin only helped in the search for Diana because Matthew threatened to strip him of his KoL command.  A close reading of their exchange shows otherwise.  Knowing what we know now about vampire families and culture Matthew's threat to Baldwin becomes another situation where Matthew didn't think things through. Best case scenario it's mutual assured destruction because Baldwin's power as the head of the family equals his. Worst case, it's an empty threat. Regardless, Baldwin didn't acquiesce immediately in face of the threat. His change of heart came when Matthew admitted his decision to not take action after Philippe's death was the wrong one. Baldwin had already warmed up to the idea of helping Diana before Matthew used the KoL card. The rest of the debate was getting Matthew in the right mindset. The KoL card showed Matthew was finally starting to think strategically - and if you think about it, Matthew was the bully in this situation, not Baldwin.

When we catch up with Baldwin in The Book of Life, he's bursting into rooms again.  Some people rely heavily on this as evidence that Baldwin is an awful, ill-behaved bully, ignoring that he comes from a background that really didn't have or value privacy, and imposing modern sensibilities on a feudal family. Bursting into the bedroom isn't all that offensive when you look at it from his perspective.  For goodness sake, he walked into Sept Tours and heard his father's blood song!   Of course it would push him over the edge and make him a bit irrational.  Especially when it's heaped on top of everything else that's been going on.

Let's recap:
Not long after Baldwin helped rescue Diana from the oubliette, she and his black sheep brother drop off the radar.  Marcus is running the KoL.  There's unusual doings going on at Sept Tours, including all manner of strangers gathering there.  Over the next eight months he's pretty much kept in the dark about what's going on.  From that position of weakness, he is trying to keep a lid on things, and the Congregation out of the family's business.  A witch gets killed at his family homestead with Congregation members involved.  The "Black Sheep" brother and witchy wife show up.   Hearing his father's blood vow when he crossed the threshold probably destroyed the last of his patience and pushed him over the edge.  It's no wonder he was more than a bit excitable and angry.  Who wouldn't be after all that?

At the end of the day, what has Baldwin truly done to be labeled as a serial killer or psychopath?  Has he betrayed any family member?  Hasn't he always tried to do what was best for the family?  At trilogy end, the story seems to have been sorted out exactly as it should with the creation of the Bishop-Clairmont scion – with Baldwin’s blessing and respect.  We suspect not many earn either blessings or respect from Baldwin.  If one does, rest assured it means something!  Diana should thank her lucky stars that Baldwin continued to protect the family and her, and helped bring Philippe's plan to fruition.  In our opinion, the Baldwin "bully" brigade should perhaps use a little empathy and stop trying to assign modern sensibilities to an ancient personality.  Maybe even put themselves in his shoes.  They might learn a few things about the story and themselves.  Isn't that what reading great stories is about?

(specifically, #TeamBaldwin today!)

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