Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pondering the Bad Guys

I love a good villain. Great villains make me cringe, make me hate them, make me believe they really, truly would sacrifice their own first born to further their conquest of the galaxy. Villains frighten and embody everything we fear and/or hate. They are the shadows we avoid, the things we tell our children not to become.

They can also be mirrors into the darkest corners of our souls.

We all carry a little villain in us. If we didn't, how could we create such terrible creatures? If there's not a little darkness, how can we ever come to appreciate the light?

Sometimes, villains are obvious. No one's going to mistake Voldemort for the hero. Sometimes -and these are my favorite- the villains aren't so obvious. If you read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix before seeing the movie, you KNEW the soft spoken, Cheshire Cat grinning lady in pink was the devil incarnate. However, at first glance to the uninformed, she probably seemed like a harmless, misguided employee at the Ministry of Magic. Oh how looks can deceive.

Tell me, what kind of villains make you shiver? Do you like your villains straight up, dressed in black and slimy? Or do you like them a little more subtle, villains that leave you wondering from one chapter to the next what they're up to and what their motives are?

Better yet, ever run across a villain who wasn't really the villian at all? A red herring villain. Now THERE'S a challenge...


  1. Jen, could you nudge that plate of brownies over just a bit? Ah, thank you, delicious! Sooo happy you've got more time (read previous blog!)

    I've finally gotten back into the groove and what a fab blog to stir the brain cells. Oh, but I've met red herring villains...humph...a couple of nice people (separate from each other)...who allowed others (the villains) to use them, found out what was going on and hung on for the ride. This is far worse, I think, than an up-front villain (which I wish wasn't always a cat with one of those smiles *sighs*)

  2. as a fan of the doctor I love your pic for evil. Yes. I do. I like a multi-layered villain. In pink or green.
    Jan Morrison

  3. i like the hidden villains...those that adjust the circumstances without others really knowing...kinda like our government....errr....anyway...i like the tragic flawed hero or hapless villain as well...

  4. Oh, I love contemplating villains. And Harry Potter is such a good source of examples for so many kinds of villains. Probably why they're some of my favorite books.

    I actually think that Voldemort was a fantastic overt villain. I thought the way she introduced him as this completely inhuman specter whose motives seemed to be just killing people and taking over and then gradually over the course of the books gave him more and more dimension and revealed that his inhumanity was the result of his very human fear of death... well, I thought it was brilliantly done.

    And of course Rowling really did the red herring villain well in both Sirius Black and of course Snape. The way she introduced Snape as the seeming villain and then revealed that he was helping Harry all along but STILL kept us wondering about his motives and allegiances for years... that was masterful characterization.

    Out side the HP universe, I'd have to say my favorite villain is the Baron Harkonnen from Dune. He just had so much character, he was so cunning, so vengeful and so very flawed in a genuine way.

    Wow, I've got a lot to say about villains... perhaps I should do a post on them myself. ;)

  5. I love the red herring villian. I don't like to be tricked, but I'll have to say that a villian who seems so real, and could at some point chose the light or the dark side, is the most compelling. We can actually feel sympathy for a really good villian.

  6. Great post & awesome poster!!!

    Villains are so much fun - I'm not sure what kind is my favourite - there are so many good ones. :)

  7. It depends on the story as each one deserves its own bad guy and his form is critical to the plot. "Alien" wouldn't have worked very well if the creature looked like Hugh Jackman. I think I prefer my villains to look like villains...not as scary that way!

  8. Philip Seymour Hoffman was pretty evil in Mission Impossible III. I like my villains to be rather disturbing in their villainy. Not wildly evil, but controlled and well thought out evil.

  9. I have to admit I've rather enjoyed the times when I've written from the villan's point of view. Not sure what that says. :) For me a good villan is one who whether noticable or subtle has clear, deep-seated motivation for his or her villanous acts.

  10. I love villains best when you understand what drives their actions. When you see the humanity in them. That's scary to me.

  11. First of all, I totally agree with you on villainy. I propose that a protagonist can't really shine without a really good villain- otherwise, what's the point? The sort of villain I DON'T like are the one which are so stupidly cruel and over the top that I can't believe they would ever rise to power to begin with, partially because their motive seems just to be mean. A really good villain, in my opinion, is completely sold out to his own cause- maybe we know he isn't the hero, but he doesn't. In his (or her) mind, he is the star of the show and everyone else is just getting in his way, think Captain Ahaz, Cruella Deville, and yes, Voldemort! These folks have mission and a purpose. Of course, I also like the villains who are almost not villains at all, but are dogged in their pursuit, like Les Mis' Javert or Tommy Lee Jone's Character in the Fugitive.
    These are not bad people, but they represent the letter of the law to an extent that they miss its intent. Without a really good nemesis, your hero cannot fly.

  12. I love to be surprised. But a bad guy from the start is great too. What I think is the most important part of villainy is to make them human enough so a part of us cares about them.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, Special .99 through April 30

  13. I like pure evil played subtly.

    I don't mean that I want to wonder. I just mean that I like my bad guys to have a certain... charm. Like Sylar from Heroes.

    On the other hand, I think Darth Vader is the badassest bad guy out there.

    So let's say it's a tie.


  14. She is a good villian! Snape was the best red herring villain ever.

    I think I like mine not so obvious. That makes them more scare to me!

  15. The best villains are the ones who flicker in and out of evil. In "the Hobbit", the other hobbits asked Bilbo if they could trust Strider. Bilbo considered it, and said something like, "looking fair, but is foul. This one looks foul, but is fair..." I wish I had the line nailed.
    I was right about Snape, too.


Well, hello! I'm so glad you made it. Come inside and sit by the hearth. I'll take your coat and hat. The kettle is singing and there's cake and candles and good conversation. Settle in and make yourself at home. Don't mind the wolfhounds; they're friendly if you give them a bit of lemon curd.