What is in a villain? What makes them the bad guy who every wants to see fall from a tower, or be blown up in their own death star?
In the last part, we looked at some modern day protagonists and asked the very important question, are these heroes?
In this post, we’ll take a look at some recent villains, and see how they compare as villains.
First off, as always, the Merriam-Webster definition of a villain is as follows.
: a character in a story, movie, etc., who does bad things
: a person who does bad things
: someone or something that is blamed for a particular problem or difficulty
Full Definition of VILLAIN
2: an uncouth person : boor
3: a deliberate scoundrel or criminal
4: a character in a story or play who opposes the hero
5: one blamed for a particular evil or difficulty
Okay, now keep that in mind as we go through the list.
President Snow The Hunger Games
President Snow is the leader of the post-apocalyptic world, Panem. He is the one who sits in the capitol fully conscious of the conditions in the district, and of what the games truly are. Cold-blooded murder designed to brainwash the capitol-people, and strike fear into the hearts of the district, keeping them distracted from more threatening pursuits, like rebellion. He is quite an… intricate character. He, I think, has a respect for Katniss, and holds no personal malice towards her. To him, she is a worthy opponent, but one who must be eliminated to prevent a rebellion.
Is he a villain?
Jeanine Mathews Divergent
*Spoilers for Divergent*
Jeanine Mathews is the leader of the Erudite faction, the smart ones. She will do anything to keep it that way. Now, the Abnegation, being the selfless ones who won’t get power hungry or corrupt (usually) are in charge of the government. They also know the Secret. the Secret about the factions. Through certain circumstances Jeanine learns the Secret. And she will do anything to keep the Secret a secret. Unfortunately, the Abnegation are preparing to tell it to the city. Enter Jeanine Mathews, criminal master mind version.
Using her extensive reach, she brainwashes all of Dauntless, the military faction, and orders them to murder all of Abnegation. Of course she is foiled, but not before she wipes out almost all of Abnegation. An entire faction, pretty much destroyed.
All because she can’t bear to let go of her power and leave the city.
Durza the Shade Eragon
Back info, a shade is a person who has practiced dark magic attempting to raise the dead. An evil spirit then takes possession of the human, turning them into a shade. They are nasty creatures, who can only be killed by a direct blow to the heart.
Durza is the main antagonist in Eragon.
He is tasked by the emperor, Galbatorix, to hunt down his stolen dragon egg.
By the time Durza finds Eragon who found the egg, the egg has hatched, and Eragon is the dragon’s rider.
Durza is nasty, and also a backstabber (pun not intend for those who’ve read the books). he doesn’t really have loyalty to Galbatorix, or doesn’t appear to. Durza is truly a shell of a body possessed by demons. He has no mercy, no compassion, and no sympathy. He is there to get a job done, and to enslave everyone who disagrees with him or the empire.
Peter Pan Once Upon a Time
*This May Contain Spoilers For Season 3*
Peter Pan, like all fairytale characters in this series, is not the Peter Pan we grew up wishing would fly up to our windows and carry us off to Neverland. This Peter Pan is a bit… darker. In fact, he is dying. And when a person who traded their own son for eternal (well, maybe not so eternal…) youth is running out of time… well, then they get very desperate. They also decide that they can’t just choose anyone’s life force to steal, they have to be personally connected to the son they abandoned and who they’ve been tormenting on and off for centuries.
This Peter Pan is manipulative, power hungry, and not afraid to go to extreme measures to get what he wants. He still loves to play games of course, but his games have a less then happy ending….
Is he a villain?
Now, in my opinion, these all seem like classic villains. Especially Pan and Snow.
I would like to point out again the definition of villain, especially these two different lines from the above definition.
A Villain is
1. A person who does bad things.
2. A deliberate scoundrel or criminal.
The childhood idea of villains that I recall having is that he is the bad guy who wants to take over the world, kill the hero, and curse the princess (who may or may not be the same person as the hero). Now, in almost all the above cases, there isn’t exactly a princess to curse, and there may not be a hero to kill. There is always a world to enslave of course.
The point is without a hero, what good is a villain?
I don’t mean to say a story without a hero couldn’t be any good. I’ve had a few plot bunnies myself of stories without a hero, and genuinely enjoy some book series that don’t have an actual hero. But they were designed like that to carry a certain message that a hero would hide.
As we looked at in the last post, there is a declining number of protagonists in YA books who are actual heroes. But almost every single YA book has some kind of villain. I realize people are trying to make books seem lifelike, and exciting, and yes, every hero has their faults and darkside. But too many books are mistaking making things real and blurring a line. They create these epic villains with no hero. They have a bad, with only a gray tinged good to stop them.
In some of these cases, it can be excused, because the story is trying to deliver a message and the blurred line is the main carrier of that message. I do not see that as the case to often though. Rather, the lines were blurred for the sake of the book’s success, and not for any lesson to be learned.
In short, without an ultimate good, a bad guy might not seem so bad.
The quote, “I’m not evil, just misunderstood” is being shared far to often and being taken too literally.
As I was looking up villains for this post, I found myself nodding, and thinking that, hey, this guy isn’t quite so bad.
There is real evil in the world, and real villains who don’t have a personal backstory that make them all immediately sympathize-able.
Without sharing figures of that same evil in books with an actual good to stop them, how are kids supposed to learn the differences between right and wrong, and how to be heroes themselves?
Thank goodness for saving stories like Redwall, and Lord of the Rings.
However, these stories are from a time that is passed. They are retiring to the world of classics and “big sister’s or mommy’s books”.
What we need is a new generation of stories and authors to bring back the classic heroes and the frightening villains.
That’s one of the many reasons I write. 🙂
To help bring back the classic story structures with protagonists who are heroes, and villains who you don’t want to give a hug to.
Those kinds kind pitiable villains who aren’t all that bad are good in moderation! Not in every. Single. Book.
I hope you have found these posts enlightening.
Now go! Write your stories with heroes, and dastardly cowards who are not huggable!