My Favorite Villains
They’re soooo misunderstood.
Unless they’re not.
Sometimes they’re understood just fine because they’re simply evil.
But whoever they are and whatever they might have done—allegedly—most villains do have positive traits. First and foremost, intelligence. You’re not going to make it big in the villain game if you’re a
moron. And certainly charisma is an absolute must for fledgling villains. After all, unless you were able to intern at your uncle’s secret death-ray laboratory, you’ve got to start from the ground up, which means convincing potential henchmen/women that they should follow you and swear undying loyalty to your diabolical cause.
And then there’s that special “focus,” villains possess—that admirable clarity of purpose that is the hallmark of villainy. You’ve got to have your evil ducks in a row if you’re gonna hit the big time. A mastery of Excel spreadsheets probably wouldn’t hurt either.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite villains and why I admire them:
• Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects: He’s the Way, Way Smarter Than You Villain. He’s twelve steps ahead of you at all times, even when it seems like he’s trapped, and the man can spin a yarn like nobody’s business. Also I think he may be one of the few examples of a villain who turns out to be the hero of the story. You may not root for him, but you admire his all-encompassing mastery of playing everyone for a fool.
• Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr. Ripley: He’s the Pragmatic Villain, just doing what he has to do to get ahead. You know how it goes, one day you’re mastering the art of fitting in with the rich folks, maybe dabbling in forgery or what have you, and then the next day, you’ve got to cover up an accidental killing of a guy who totally had it coming. Before you realize it, you’re committing the cold-blooded murder of your lover just to cover your tracks. Hey, the guy certainly knows how to up his game whenever it’s called for.
Villain At All Villain. Listen, it’s not her fault she needs to gestate her young inside your chest cavity. Sheesh. Girl’s just trying to propagate her species. Nothing personal until you made it personal, busting into her nursery with your flamethrower, Ripley.
• Jabba the Hutt: He’s the perfect example of the Hubristic Villain. I chose Jabba rather than Darth Vader because of Jabba’s low-flying brothel hoverboat thing. That is one sweet ride. Jabba was the original gangsta. He’s got the dancing girls and all the people groveling and hanging on his every word. Plus he’s got the best evil laugh in the game. Alas, it’s his need for drama and gloating that ultimately does him in. Why do villains never learn this? No need to stage a dramatic death ritual over the mouth of a desert beast that will digest your nemesis for a thousand years when simply shooting the guy works perfectly well.
• Voldemort: The Bad Seed Villain. Sure, we learn about his sad past as an orphan, but what does that ultimately tell us about why he is the way he is? Nothing. Dude’s a bad apple down to his core. Some people just are. Of course, what really motivates him to kill Harry is his anxiety disorder. The guy’s an over-planner who can’t tolerate any potential disruptions on the road to world domination. If he’d just heard that prophecy and said, “Eh, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” instead of going looking for trouble, he wouldn’t have ended up a disembodied spirit in the Albanian hinterlands for ten years.
• Hans Gruber: The Professional Villain. He’s jaded, snarky, clever, elegant. If I were hiring a bunch a guys to steal bearer bonds for me, hell yeah, I’d hired Hans to lead the assault. I’ll bet his J.D. Power & Associates Villain Ranking is way up there. He is the silkiest guy around and he figured out all the angles. That plan of his would have worked too. Gosh, that’s got to be so irritating when one little thing messes things up for you.
• The Wicked Witch of the West: The Vengeful Villain. I have great sympathy for this green-skinned lady. Thwarted—that’s what she was. She had power within her grasp and dammit, she’s not gonna let some kid from Godric’s Hollow screw it up. Whoops! I meant to say “that farm girl from Kansas.” (Someone needs to check the Slytherin family tree and see if there was some random cousin who moved to America.) Again, maybe her single-minded pursuit of the prize she was denied is a little much but hey, you can’t argue that she’s got a point. If someone stole my dead sister’s shoes right off her feet—I’m talking about the superfly heirloom magic
ones—you can be sure I’d do a whole lot worse than make them fall asleep in a field of poppies.
I’d pop a cap in them.
• Ursula the Sea Witch: She’s the Caveat Emptor Villain—she’s totally misunderstood. Yeah, misunderstood in the sense that she is clearly, obviously, and unapologetically EVIL. I mean, come on. Did you not see that sign out in front of her lair that says, “Offering you help/power in exchange for your soul since 1947”? Why didn’t you bother reading that? Caveat Emptor, Ariel. Let the buyer beware. It’s not Ursula’s fault you didn’t read the fine print on that contract you signed.
Any others you’d put on this list? I’d love to hear who your favorites villains are and why! (Oh, and
by the way, I deliberately left off Hannibal Lechter because ... ew. I don’t care if he is a genius. To me, cannibalism cancels out whatever redeeming traits you might have. No exceptions.)
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In this fast-paced but superficial sci-fi thriller, 16-year-old Sarah, who is half-Latina, is being held in a remote, snowy location in a facility where she is being systematically operated on to erase her memories and make her a Tabula Rasa—a blank slate. She has been told it's for her own good because it will redeem her juvenile delinquent past and get her back on track. After mercenaries attack the facility and kill the staff and patients, Sarah realizes that she's their main target, but has no idea why. The teen struggles to stay alive, helped by Thomas, a talented hacker who's broken into the facility for his own reasons. Gunmen relentlessly purse them throughout the damaged facility on orders by Hodges, a powerful woman whom Sarah instinctively hates. The story's plot is more like a video game or film screenplay—all action and little substance. With the exception of Sarah and Thomas, the characters are underdeveloped. Hodges is a caricature of an evil villain with rather nonsensical motives. The medical procedure Sarah's undergoing and the expected result is the most intriguing aspect of the book, but it's ancillary to the rest of the action, which will be a disappointment to readers hoping for a more complex tale.—Sharon Rawlins, New Jersey State Library, Trenton | Amazon | B & N | Indiebound |
I’m a mom of four, a practicing geek, a holder of many opinions (which I’m more than happy to share with you—really, just ask). I earned my MFA from Columbia University. My debut YA thriller, Tabula Rasa (EgmontUSA), Fall 2014, is about a girl whose memory is forcibly stripped from her and so naturally she must kick everyone’s butt in retaliation. I live with my husband and merry band of misfits in Arlington, VA. | Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Youtube |