Legends of Innocence

by James T. Price

"It is amazing how complete the delusion that beauty is goodness." Since Leo Tolstoy lived about a century before the making of Ridley Scott's Legend, it is doubtful that he had the movie in mind when he said this. However, the point that Tolstoy makes still applies: one does tend to associate beauty with goodness without questioning the assumption. When Darkness tells his minions to use Innocence to bait the Unicorns, the audience naturally assumes that he is referring to Lili, the lovely damsel that is introduced soon thereafter. But if Lili is innocent, then why is she the cause for the entrapment of the Unicorns? Could it be that the innocence is embodied in a character other than Lili? I believe that the Innocence in this film belongs to Jack, the child of the forest, rather than to Lili, whose actions allowed the Unicorns to be endangered.

Light and dark. Good and evil. Innocence and corruption. Like the Taoist concepts of yin and yang, these are polar opposites. However, very rarely does one find a pure example of any one of these symbolic concepts. In Legend, we find a physical manifestation of several of these concepts – the most apparent being the antagonist named Darkness. Darkness clearly represents the absence of light, as per his name. His appearance as the classic Judeo-Christian Devil lends credit to the theory that he also represents evil as well. Not quite as blatantly obvious is the existence of his symbolic antithesis – the Unicorns. They are "creatures of love and beauty. As long as they roam the earth, evil can never harm the pure of heart." These creatures represent the goodness and the light of the world, which is why Darkness wants them to be destroyed. However, Darkness tells Blix, his chief goblin (and a minor symbol for corruption), that Unicorns are too powerful to be caught using ordinary methods. In fact, the only bait that can attract such a creature is Innocence. Blix then takes his goblins and tracks Lili as she travels through the forest on her way to meet Jack. It is Jack who then takes Lili (and the goblins, unknowingly) to see the Unicorns. The goblins do not find the Unicorns on their own – they obviously symbolize evil to some extent and cannot possibly have the innocence needed to do so – and Lili is blindfolded and led by Jack. This means that Jack is the one that knows where the Unicorns will be passing through. Together, these facts imply that it is Jack that has the innocence required to find these magical creatures.

Now the question becomes this: is the innocence required to find the Unicorns a quality of Lili, Jack, or both? Lili did not actually find the Unicorns, but the stallion's attraction to her might suggest that she possesses traits that would appeal to these mystic creatures who "express only love and laughter. Dark thoughts are unknown to them." It is clear from this that we must examine Lili's character in depth before we can discover if she does indeed symbolize Innocence. From her conversation with Nell, one can see that Lili is in fact born of noble blood. Yet Lili believes that "This place [Nell's house] holds more magic for [her] than any palace in the world." This quote implies a naive love of the more simple aspects of life, which in turn suggests that Lili is in fact the embodiment of Innocence. Upon closer inspection of Lili's nature, however, we find flaws in her character that do not exist in Jack. First of all, we must examine Lili's betrayal of the Unicorn stallion. She purposefully touches the Unicorn, ignoring Jack's warnings to the contrary and allowing Blix to hit it with a poison dart. When Jack later tells her that "what [she] did is forbidden. They are sacred animals," she petulantly replies that she "only wanted to touch one. What's the harm in that?" Her arrogance and lack of respect for what is clearly holy in Jack's eyes tells us that she doesn't see anything wrong in what she did and she continues to believe that until she begins to see the effects of her actions: "a mortal world locked in ice," and the possibility of an eternity ruled by Darkness. Jack tried to stop her and she did not heed his warnings, therefore it was not a mistake born of innocence. Instead, it was a mistake born of arrogance – definitely not a trait of someone that is supposedly innocent.

Now that Lili's innocence is truly brought into question, we can examine her actions later in the movie, specifically her interaction with Darkness. Darkness attempts to seduce her in order to win her heart, and he partially succeeds. Lili is entranced by the glamour of the jewels and the fine dress that he presents her. She accepts these gifts of his, knowing where they came from, and by doing so she is admitting that she shares some of Darkness' qualities. Lili tries to deny this, calling Darkness an animal, but he slyly points out that "we are all animals." Darkness is acknowledging a point that we are slowly becoming aware of: Lili is not the perfect image of goodness and innocence that we were led to believe. Perhaps the most damning evidence against Lili is her request to Darkness: "Let me be the one to kill the Unicorn." Lili has not been turned against the Light; her heart has not been corrupted even though she is not entirely innocent. She is, however, planning on using Darkness' love for her to trick him and set the last Unicorn free. This premeditated treachery of Lili's is not characteristic of the innocence that we are searching for. Even though she keeps Jack's trust, she betrays the trust of Darkness. Darkness may be evil, but that fact does not lessen the truth that Lili's betrayal is a form of evil and corruption as well, albeit a lesser one. Clearly, the innocence needed to lure the Unicorns cannot be found in Lili's soul – for that kind of innocence we must turn to Jack.

The opening pseudo-monologue states that "Unicorns are safe from the Lord of Darkness, they can only be found by the purest of mortals ... such a mortal is Jack." The idea that Jack is "pure" is reiterated when he relays the Unicorn mare's message to Gump: "We need a champion [to end the eternal winter], bold of heart and pure of spirit." Gump wastes no time in nominating Jack to be the Unicorns' champion. Coupled with the knowledge that innocence is required to bait these creatures, one can surmise that Jack must himself be innocent. Another way to look at Jack's character is to examine his metaphoric value. Like others in this faerie tale, Jack's character can be seen as a symbolic representation of several concepts. As the text at the beginning of the movie points out, "there can be no good without evil ... No love without hate ... No heaven without hell ... No light without darkness." The cosmos exists in balance, and this balance cannot be upset without dire consequences, as seen by the taking of the alacorn. By facing Darkness in direct physical conflict, Jack is fighting to regain the balance of the cosmos as the avatar of all that Darkness stands against: light, goodness, and innocence.

If one compares the characters of Lili and Jack, one can immediately begin to see that Lili makes for a poor example of innocence when put next to Jack. Lili displays the qualities of arrogance and deceit, neither of which make her a very good symbol for Innocence. Jack, on the other hand, who is repeatedly described as "pure", confronts Darkness, the physical manifestation of evil in the world, for the love of Lili and the selfless desire to save the world as he knows it. By doing so, he becomes the incarnation of Light to battle Darkness, Goodness to battle Evil, and Innocence to battle Corruption. Jack succeeds in the end, using light to banish Darkness to the abyss, but before he strikes the final blow Darkness asks this of him: "What is light without dark? I am a part of you all! You cannot destroy me. We are brothers eternal." Darkness is pointing out something that Jack fails to realize; the balance of the universe cannot be upset for good or for evil. Just as Darkness failed to eliminate light, Jack will not be able to destroy Darkness. Jack symbolizes innocence, but there are others such as Blix who symbolize corruption, and one cannot exist without the other (Sturgeon). Thus equilibrium is maintained, and as long as Darkness exists, the world must also be "Loved by the Sun."

Works Cited


Legend. Dir. Ridley Scott. MCA Universal, 1986.

Sturgeon, Theodore. "Dazed." The New Awareness: Religion Through Science Fiction.

Patricia Warrick and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. New York: Delacorte Press, 1975. 261-297.

© 1995-1998 James T. Price. All rights reserved.


James T. Price can be reached at fetch@udel.edu and his homepage can be found at http://udel.edu/~fetch.

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