I ❤ a well-written bad guy. I especially ❤ a well-written bad guy who is bad because reasons. Villians, or antagonists, make great stories. They’re the thing against which our heroes sharpen their swords, who represent the other side of the story. A really great villain will blur the lines between good and evil, will encourage thought and discussion, and will (every now and then) make you hope the good guys don’t win.
There are lists and lists of villains I could do, because there are so many great ones, but here is a general, extending-the-hand-of-friendship-to-villains-of-all-genres-and-age-groups list of some of my favorite villains.
- Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne) It is easy to call Nemo a villain. After all, he’s a murderer. He uses his genius and ingenuity to build a murder machine in the form of the Nautilus. However, Nemo doesn’t kill for fun; rather, he sees his sinking of war ships as his duty to oppressed peoples. Nemo has an intense hatred of oppression, specifically in the form of colonization. I am fascinated by Captain Nemo. He is undoubtedly a tortured soul with a dark and terrifying backstory. But he still designed and built a submarine, explored the ocean depths, and, if Verne can be believed, discovered Atlantis! He’s brave, doesn’t ask anyone to do something he wouldn’t do himself, and also shows surprising compassion at times. He’s a mystery surrounded by an enigma, which my contrary heart loves.
- Mrs. Danvers (Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier) Oh, evil housekeepers are the worst. Danvers is haunting Manderley in human form. She is described in skeletal, cadaverous terms, and acts as if she was spawned from a hell portal. She is a constant threatening presence throughout the novel, a lingering reminder of a dark secret. I find her to be slightly terrifying, because she is purposefully manipulative and cruel, and sincerely hopes to cause harm, both emotionally and physically. When she literally burns down the world, one gets the impression she is neither frightened of the flames, nor sorry for anything she has done. So, an unrepentant, psychotic evil housekeeper.
- Severus Snape (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling) Voldemort, who? There’s no way Voldemort should get all the credit for being the big bad of the HP series. Snape is way worse. (My feelings for Snape are clouded by my love for Alan Rickman, who will ever be Snape to me, but) I still maintain that Snape is THE biggest threat Harry and Co. face throughout the series. They only have to deal with Voldemort a couple of times; they have to deal with Snape every day. This loathsome dude does everything he possibly can to make life hell for Harry and his friends, and isn’t a bit sorry for it. He puts them in danger, he gets them in trouble, he lies to them, he keeps secrets from them, and rather than take an active role in helping destroy evil, he lingers in the shadows making things harder for them. “But, but reeedemmmption!” you cry. “Poppycock,” say I. (Not even at the end, when reasons…)
- The White Witch (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis) This character terrified me as a child. She is a tyrant who has set herself up as ruler against the wishes of everyone else. I think one of the things that makes her so evil is she uses family to hurt family. I mean, she preys upon Edmund’s weaknesses and turns him against his siblings. She threatens adorable woodland creatures; she turns living things to stone, effectively ending their lives. Her entire agenda is to start a war so she can destroy all who oppose her. Oh, yeah, and she murders Aslan. Can’t get much more evil than that. Except if you take away Christmas. Oh, wait…
- Irene Adler (“A Scandal in Bohemia” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) I almost didn’t put her on this list. But even if she’s not a villain in the classical sense of the word, she is a brilliant criminal. After all, by Sherlock Holmes’ own admission, she was the only one ever to best him. She is brilliant and crafty, and on top of those, beautiful, which make her a triple-threat. She lacks a conscience, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to survive. As an actress, she has the tools necessary to carry off sophisticated crimes. She also has the ability to capture Holmes’ admiration, which makes her a thief of the most cunning sort.
- The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum) Those poor Winkies! The WWotW is another oppressor, someone who took, rather than earned. She’s described as being hideous, showing that sometimes the appearance reflects the heart. She is cold, she is calculating, and she isn’t above enslaving entire countries to get what she wants. AND only terrible people threaten little doggies.
- Long John Silver (Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson) So, this mutinous, murdering pirate is a very colorful and complex character, which makes him great. He takes young Jim Hawkins under his wing and protects and mentors him, which makes it that much worse of a betrayal when readers find out he’s the scallywag leading the mutiny. He’s opportunistic and manipulative, and switches sides with the wind. One thing I appreciate about Silver is he’s married to a woman of African descent, who he entrusts with his business endeavors while he’s gone at sea, trusting her to build his fortune. Argh for progressive pirates!
- Sauron (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien) It takes a really bad bad guy to never be seen, and still have everyone be afraid of you. Sauron exists as a shadow over the whole of Middle Earth, a constant, terrifying threat, even though few are around who even remember who he is, or what he did. But he has an insatiable want for power that transcends generations, and he is willing to destroy the world, and all who stand in his way to achieve his goal of owning the Ring of power. He is a source of true evil who begets more evil. (And he’s way more scary in the book than just a blazing eyeball.)
- Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Thunderball by Sir Ian Fleming) Evil genius. Number 1. Head of SPECTRE. And all-around bad dude. Blofeld heads up the world’s biggest, most covert criminal organization, and instigates all sorts of nefarious plots. With his eyes set on world domination, the only thing standing in his way is British Secret Service agent James Bond. Blofeld has to be a substantial villain to stand against Bond, and holds his own as Bond’s archenemy. He will do anything to win; he alters his appearance twice, he moves across the globe, he uses expendable henchmen. He murders Bond’s wife. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that Blofeld dies a slow and painful death.
- The Firemen (Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury) Though this isn’t one particular character, I firmly believe they should be on the list. The Firemen pose the greatest threat possible to humankind, because they propose to destroy knowledge. Everyone knows the saying knowledge is power. Therefore, without knowledge, people are limited in what they can do, say, learn, understand, be. At that point, they lose freedom and autonomy, and must rely on those with power to simply survive. And that is a truly terrifying thought.
There are SO MANY other villains out there – who are some of your favorites (or unfavotires, as it were)?