This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is a “character freebie,” meaning we could post a list about anything related to book characters. I thought it’d be fun to revisit some favorite fictional villains, those characters we love to hate, or just love for their inimitable badness. 🙂
Ben and I had a conversation about how it may not be easy. The fiction we read is so often more complicated than good guys vs. bad. I think that’s one of the things you learn in high school English classes right off the bat – protagonists aren’t always the “good guys” and the bad guys sometimes have very good reasons for being bad.
It’s not always the Rebellion against the Empire. And if it is, you can usually see why the Empire became the Empire in the first place. There’s a backstory.
That said, we did each come up with five villains that have stood out to us in our reading lives, and frankly, I scrambled a bit. You’ll see I had to include a “mysterious, nefarious presence” as a villain because the books I read lately that have villains are more likely to be ghost stories.*
Ben’s Top Five Fictional Villains
1. Valentine Wolfe – Deathstalker series by Simon R. Green
An appropriately insane space aristocrat from the delightfully deranged Deathstalker saga. He’s a ruthless, amoral schemer who is searching for some sort of transcendent consciousness by surfing a constant wave of exotic drugs while he plots against the heroes, his rivals, his own family…basically everybody.
2. The Black Riders – The Lord of the Ring series by J.R.R. Tolkien
Their mysterious, implacable menace as they stalk the hobbits through the early stages of The Fellowship of The Ring haunted my childhood nightmares. You know that the unimposing halfling heroes stand no chance if they’re caught without heavy hitters like Gandalf or Aragorn to protect them. So the relentless pursuit fills the reader with dread. And as always, the monster is scariest when it’s still a mystery.
3. Iago – Othello – Shakespeare
Robert Ramirez as Iago, Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival
He didn’t totally jump off the page to me when I read Othello. But seeing Robert Ramirez perform the role last year, he absolutely steals the show. His wit and all-too-knowing humor made it tempting to root for the bad guy up unitl the heart-wrenching final act.
4. Samuel “Slick” Des Grieux – The Warrior by David Drake
He’s actually the protagonist of “The Warrior” by David Drake, and he starts off looking like a hero. His rivalry with nemesis Lucas Broglie could be described as Achilles vs Hector with hovertanks: a heroic fighter gone off the rails due to pride, stubbornness, and rage.
5. Montresor – The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
Another villain-as-protagonist, Montresor’s carefully-plotted vengeance in The Cask of Amontillado is haunting and sinister. Thanks to his narration, we journey through dark catacombs inside a mind poisoned with resentment over “a thousand” unspecified injuries and insults. His smug closing line, “Yes, for the love of God!” is deliciously dark.
Shannon’s Top Five Fictional Villains
1. Mrs. Danvers – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers (right) with Joan Fontaine as the unnamed protagonist in Rebecca (1940)
I hate to be so basic but no one makes me want to shout “WHY DON’T YOU SHUT UP AND GET OUT OF MY LIFE” in a Napoleon Dynamite voice like Mrs. Danvers. The housekeeper at Manderley made her creepy presence known and hated at every turn, along with her obsessive devotion to her previous mistress, and nearly drove our heroine to jump out a window to her death. Horrid woman.
2. The Sheriff of Nottingham – The legend of Robin Hood
My two favorite sheriffs: Pat Buttram (1973) and Alan Rickman (1991)
Is there any worse villain than a mid-level government official on a power trip? I mean, we’ve all had business at the BMV or the County City building. Sorry, too real? In the legend of Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham is characterized as a power-tripping, greedy low-level tyrant of the worst order. He imposes unreasonable taxes on the poor and is, of course, the nemesis of beloved Robin Hood. My two favorite flim adaptations of this story are the Disney movie and, because I grew up in the 90s, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. “Look into my eyes…You will see…What you mean to me…”
3. Annie Wilkes – Misery by Stephen King
Cathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990)
Ahhhh, she’s so crazy. A classic obsessive psychopath, Annie Wilkes imprisons the injured bestselling novelist who has killed off her favorite character in his series of Victorian romance novels. That just won’t do. Is there anything better than a mentally unstable villain? They’re so deliciously unpredictable. And Cathy Bates is iconic in the movie adaptation. I think I’ll reread the book this year…
4. Count Olaf – A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf in the Netflix series (2017)
Count Olaf is a guy who is easy to hate. Ugly, mean, and lacking good hygiene, Count Olaf enacts a series of ridiculous and complicated plots to steal the fortune of the three Baudelaire orphans. Reading the series is a bit like watching a bunch of Scooby Doo episodes. It’s always “we thought it was [a grizzled seaman/mean gym teacher/detective in sunglasses] but it was really Count Olaf in a mask the whole time!”…or whatever. I read these books to Jacob when he was younger and always got a kick out of the “surprise.”
5. Mysterious, nefarious presence – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Julie Harris as Eleanor “Lance” in the 1963 adaptation The Haunting
I don’t know if you consider inexplicable phenomena villains, but I feel that in the case of Hill House, it is an apt description. The spooky presence at Hill House leads poor, meek Eleanor Vance to a cataclysmic ending, so you be the judge. I don’t know how Jackson made progressively louder door-knocking so scary, and in book format no less, but I didn’t want to get up to pee in the middle of the night for like a week after reading this book.
*Speaking of ghost stories – do you have any you like and can recommend? I’m always on the hunt for more.
Check out our past Top Ten Tuesday posts here.