SPOILERS FOR WANDER AHEAD.
I have an anxiety disorder. My husband would be the first to tell you that I have god-awful insomnia. I think about everything as I lay awake, from death, to the end of the world, and to something someone said that I didn’t like fifteen years ago. The strangest part of it all is, this torturous habit is something I take pride in. It built me, and it built Wander.
My insomnia and anxiety are what gave birth to villains in Wander. There are three types. We have the big bad, Aura, a benevolent leader to her people and a mind-controlling monster to outsiders. Then there are characters like Chant, who are more like forces of nature and they do not see morality as we do. Lastly, there is society itself because of course society is a villain to someone like me with anxiety issues.
Let’s start with what Aura is all about. To most readers, she is the obvious villain of the book. Her powers are mind-control and healing. To me, that combination is an utter nightmare and that is why the main villain has those abilities. As for the reason that that combination scares me, it is a very old and primal feeling I have had since I was a kid. It’s this idea of vulnerability that I can’t stand.
I took Tai-Chi in college. We would meditate and our teacher would tell us to empty our minds. However, the idea of emptying my mind was something I just can’t handle. I wanted to think. I wanted to be present. I wanted to disobey. But why? It doesn’t harm me. However, I do not know the answer. This is also why I never take naps unless I am with people I completely trust and feel utterly exhausted. When others that I don’t know nap in front of me, I feel disgusted.
That is just how I work. It may sound insane, but it’s real and it’s me and it is what created Aura. She does not use mind-control to turn people into evil killing machines. She empties their minds, puts them to sleep, and in a way. . . “heals” them of all their troubles. To those she controls, it is not painful or uncomfortable. Its the opposite, and that is terrifying to me.
Aura’s non-magical ability is her political power. It was obvious for her character from the get-go, as my relationship with politics has been pretty active from a very young age. To be quite honest, there has never been a political leader that I have liked. There is just tolerable to utterly intolerable. As you can imagine, this viewpoint has made me very cynical and has not helped with my anxiety. So, of course, the main villain is a person in power. More than that, she is the leader of a nation who only thinks of “us versus them” and that think the only way to not be oppressed by others is to be the oppressor.
That’s enough about Aura though. One of the less prominent villains, but still a very important one, is Chant. Is she evil, mind-controlled, or just doing what is natural to her as an elemental?
There is not really a right answer. However, the elementals are tied into one of my biggest anxieties as a young person: climate change. Notice that they are not exactly water, earth, fire, and air. They are disasters: fire, earthquakes, storms, and sea. They are not characters out of Avatar: The Last Airbender. They are the most inhuman characters in the book. Excluding the shapeshifters who joined their societies, they do not have a sense of good and bad. To them, there are no such things as destruction, only change.
An important thing to note is that the fox guardian never seeks revenge on Chant, but on Aura. This was very purposeful. The guardian did not curse the fire that burned it, but the one who sent it. Politics, the environment, and human rights are all tied together and are a part of what inspired Wander. The guardian may seem an animal and mythical being, but its morality is close to my own in that is blames those in power for the destruction of its home.
Lastly among the villains of Wander is society itself. This one is really obvious, as many books are rather critical about society as a whole. Wander is ignorant of societal issues such as war, racism, classism, and sexism. Due to that, she gets taken advantage of throughout nearly the whole book. Society does not care about her motivation or goal because it is too individualistic. Who is Masu? Who cares?
This is the more difficult villain to write about because it’s so all-encompassing. I think there were a couple of sentences in the Moonflower Ball chapter that describes the anxiety I have long felt that I put in Wander.
“Then all the lullabies drank at once. What made
them decide to drink all at once, Wander had no clue.
All she knew was that the brides wanted her to lose.
They were like everyone else in this world, curious,
cruel, and together.”
Thanks for reading! Feel free to email me any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org