4 February 2013


As children, and still as adults, we are told that lying and purposely misleading or deceiving others is bad. Does that then mean that any lie we might tell instantly makes us a bad person? And what of characters that lie? Can you ever like a character that lies?

L is for Lying

Despite the fact that we are taught that honesty is best, research conducted by Bella DePaulo showed that people lie at least once or twice every day. And if I was really honest, I could probably count myself with these people. But I wouldn't say I was a bad person.

Recently I thought I was buying a particular service only to realise later that it wasn't what I had thought it was. In fact it was a poor substitute. This deception really annoyed and frustrated me. But is it any different to when I tell a friend that a new haircut or item of clothes looks good (when in fact it really doesn't)? Both are lies. But the purposes are different. Whilst the shop I went to gained extra profit from their deception, I didn't really gain much from lying to a friend. Except perhaps maintaining a positive relationship. 

So do these little lies I tell make me a bad person? Would society be a better place if we didn't lie at all? Or are some little lies that smooth over social interactions a necessary evil? Many people believe that if we didn't have these little 'white' lies, then society would be very different, and not for the best either.

What I loved about the main character, Moist von Lipwig, in Terry Pratchett's Going Postal is that he cheats, cons and tricks his way through life. In fact, lying and disguising his true self has become second nature to the point where being himself makes him feel naked and vulnerable. He barely even recognised how his tricks and lies might affect other people and and enjoyed the thrill of getting away with his scams and schemes. 
"No one had bothered him. No one had looked at him twice; no one ever did. The city gates had indeed been wide open. The plains lay ahead of him, full of opportunity. And he was good at parlaying nothing into something. For example, at the first little town he came to he'd go to work on this little old nag with a few simple techniques and ingredients that'd make it worth twice the price he'd paid for it, at least for about twenty minutes or until it rained. Twenty minutes would be enough time to sell it and, with any luck, pick up a better horse worth slightly more than the asking price. He'd do it again at the next town and in three days, maybe four, he'd have a horse worth owning."
But despite all these things, I liked him. I really, really liked him. If he was just a liar and conman, then I wouldn't have. But he was more than that: he changed and grew. Meeting a rather brusque young lady helped him to slowly start seeing the error of his ways. He found somewhere that needed his charm and cheeky talk. He found someone that cared for him; someone he could care for; and he wanted to be better.

Like many of the people in DePaulo's study, I don't lie to hurt others or to necessarily gain anything. None the less, I do lie. But these lies aren't the whole of me, they don't define me; they allow me to get on better with other people. This might not be the case for everyone, but when it comes to book characters, I think we can like characters that lie if they aren't the defining feature of them. If there is more to them than lies. If there are other things that they care about.

Could you ever like a character that lies?

1 comment:

Jamie Gibbs said...

Deception and lies are all a form of storytelling; the only thing that differentiates a lie from a story is the level that people believe it. Little white lies and small untruths don't really count in the grand scheme of things. I like to think of myself as an honest person but it doesn't mean I spew truth constantly. It means not maliciously deceiving others.

I think I'd get pretty annoyed with Moist quite quickly, but he's got a charm that means you'd stay friends with him.

Jamie @ Mithril Wisdom