These antagonists are similar or identical to the protagonists—similar upbringing, lifestyle, heritage, and skillset—but somewhere along the line they made a choice that set them on diverging paths with the protagonist. They reflect the protagonist’s strengths, weaknesses, and morality, but where the protagonist makes the “right” choice, the Mirror Antagonist makes the “wrong” one.
Mirror: The Origin
The “Mirror” type character appears in one of the oldest stories in recorded history: the story of Cain and Abel. Both were raised by the same parents in the same environment, yet they made choices that led them down drastically different paths—specifically, Cain made the choice to kill Abel.
Essentially, a “Mirror” antagonist is someone who is similar or identical to the protagonist in any number of ways:
- They can be in the same organization (military, religious, political, etc.) and have the same ultimate goal. Their methods for reaching that goal is what sets them apart.
- They can come from the same family (brothers or sisters) and have the same upbringing—good or bad. The psychological effects that upbringing had on them will often determine who they ultimately become.
- They can have the same skills, but their ways of using those skills set them apart (assassins vs. king’s bodyguard, paladin vs. death knight, soldier vs. mercenary, and so on).
Usually, the Mirror will differ from the protagonist in one significant way: their morality, their actions/methods, or their desires.
The Mirror will serve as a reflection for the protagonist to example his flaws, failings, and weaknesses, usually for the purpose of character growth and improvement. However, they can also be used as the primary antagonist to force the protagonist to develop an important skill.
My favorite way of using a Mirror antagonist is to showcase how one simple choice can lead to drastically different ends. One chose the “right” path—self-sacrifice, selflessness, humility, courage, or justice. The other chose the “wrong” path—selfishness, cowardice, pride, greed, or anger. Even if they only made the choice ONCE, that single choice led them down diverging paths. With every successive choice, they can either return to the “right” or go deeper into the “wrong”. The Mirror serves as a way to illustrate what happens when we make the “wrong” choice.
Mirror: In Stories
The Mirror tends to be one of the more complex types of antagonists. They can easily shift between ally and enemy, and they can be fully redeemed. However, they are most effective when used opposite the protagonist:
- Artemis Entreri in the Forgotten Realms novels is the perfect mirror image to Drizzt Do’Urden. He is as cunning and lethal as Drizzt, but his lack of morality makes him do things that the highly moral drow would never consider, thus making him an antagonist.
- Qurrah Tun from David Dalglish’s Half Orcs series is the twin brother of the more “heroic” Harruq Tun, but he becomes the series’ primary antagonist because he is willing to serve the death prophet that offers him power.
- Gollum from The Lord of the Rings was once a hobbit just like Frodo Baggins, but he was seduced by the power of the One Ring, which ultimately transformed him into the creature he became.