Uncategorized | July 28, 2016

Today, in our viProse section, the Missouri Review features Seth Fried’s mind-bending story “The Evil Tyrant of Ten-Kurk,” which originally appeared in TMR 36:4. Fried’s story illustrates evil and its manifestations with originality and skill.  Here TMR summer interns Libby Peterson, Elana Williams, and Steven Zokal weigh in on what intrigued them about the story.

“The Evil Tyrant of Ten Kurk,” from our Winter 2013 issue, was Seth Fried’s third appearance in TMR. The story is a dark commentary on morality and human nature. You can read the story here.

As the title suggests, “The Evil Tyrant of Ten Kurk” focuses on an unnamed tyrant ruling  over the mythical country of Ten Kurk. The story has an objective tone and experimental structure that reminded us of a textbook, featuring headings such as “The Tyrant’s Dungeon” and “Defending the Tyrant.” Each section discusses a separate aspect of the tyrant, his nature, and his country; and each expands the definitions of good and evil themselves.

Right off the bat, as readers, we become aware that it is not the narrative we should be concerned with; rather, it’s the moral substance. What truly differentiates the tyrant from the masses he controls? What makes him more evil than the next person? How is “evil” even defined?

One section, titled “The Tyrant on the Subject of Evil,” quotes the despot’s manifesto:

“‘Many claim to know what evil is,’ the tyrant writes in his Meditations, ‘but their thoughts on the matter are always far from rigorous. This is because the distinction itself is irrational. At best, the recognition of evil is an expression of emotion.’”

The piece at times convinces us the tyrant is evil beyond doubt: “The tyrant is fascinated by torture despite the fact that he has no appetite for the resulting gore. He is enthralled by every inch of the pendulum’s descent but becomes visibly bored once the prisoner’s torso is split,” Fried writes.

Photo Seth Fried

Seth Fried

At other points, such as the story’s opening, where the tyrant is sitting bored in his throne room, readers are forced to grapple with a reality that humanizes him. This was very intentional on Fried’s part, as he explained to us: “We never see Darth Vader sit on the edge of a couch and rub his own feet at the end of the day,” Fried said of the piece’s first scene. “It’s as if his whole existence is just spent in really tense meetings where he’s threatening to choke everybody with his mind. So I thought it’d be fun to see a purely evil person in a moment of repose. The descriptions I came up with ended up evolving into an examination of what it would mean for a leader to be absolutely evil, what it would be like to live under that, and what the word ‘evil’ even means.”