Asked • 07/09/19

Why is black evil and white good?

This trope appears everywhere in literature - _especially_ in fantasy. Everywhere you turn, _black_ means bad and _white_ means good. This is particularly true when applied to people, or the consequences of peoples' actions. _The Lord of the Rings_ does it. _The Chronicles of the Black Company_ does it. _Harry Potter_ does it. Less recently, _Paradise Lost_ does it. _Tekkonkinkreet_, _The Golden Age_, _Myst_, _The Belgariad_, _A Canticle for Leibowitz_, _Heart of Darkness_... in some respects, all of these use the color black to denote and describe which people are not worth trusting, and the consequences of their actions that hurt people. But if we go back far enough, with peculiarly higher frequency in the non-Western/European world, it seems to disappear as a relied-upon trope. Much of ancient Greek literature, for example, seems to entirely (or nearly entirely) ignore using black as a symbol for evil. Even some modern literature uses it as a neutral symbol, or just as a color signifying the presence of magic with no particular alignment; e.g., _The Sandman_. Its use as a reliable trope, then, seems to be maybe deceptively recent. To where should we trace the roots of its popularization in contemporary Western-style literature? (As an aside, I've thought about this question a lot. I'm hoping to find and learn something deeper than the fundamental notion, or basic Googleable ideas, esp. about its Western fantasy popularization.)

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