I’ve always found villains in books to be fascinating, whether it’s because of their glee when they’re causing havoc, their deeply fascinating intellectual psych or whether it’s because they’re just downright entertainingly evil in a way that the heroes are never allowed to be. Maybe it’s also because the villains symbolise the free, uninhibited sides of ourselves that do all the things we’d want to do if only we didn’t have that darn conscience. Although for those of you listening to that pesky voice telling you to burn stuff…er…that might not apply.
Here’s my list of Top Ten in no particular order:
1. Lord Voldemort (or Tom Marvolo Riddle) – Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
This is a pretty disturbing character, showing how magic can go to one’s head (and burn off your nose to make you look like a cocaine-user in the process). Lord Voldemort is a sinister wizard, intelligent, manipulative and quite charismatic – a lethal combination which works well to gather followers who are willing to destroy, murder and battle in his name. With people being afraid to say his name out loud, he is almost comparable to a mythical legend whose actions have a long-lasting, although terrible, legacy. The film adaptation did justice to his creepiness, showing a ruin of a man with barely any humanity left and a consuming ambition to win – not to mention a seriously worrying face problem. Dentist, anyone?
2. The Grand Witch – The Witches, Roald Dahl
An old hag severely in need of a face-lift, The Grand Witch is the ultimate scary witch with features that you never even knew about until you read this book. Bald, blue-spitted, wonky teeth, square feet and with about a hundred other maladies which also sound suspiciously like something a lot of old people might suffer from (hate children, always telling children to take a bath), the Grand Witch has ambitions no less than to rid the population of their greatest pests – children. Quentin Blake captured the look well, using sinister looking figures with scary eyes and wonky noses to make us think twice about every other strange woman who offers us sweets in the street. Not that I ever took sweets, Werthers Originals were never my thing, hmmph.
3. Count Dracula – Dracula, Bram Stoker
The original of the Gothic bloodsuckers, this character is surprisingly understated in the actual book itself, rather than the Hammerstein-style, blood-spatter and gore we often see today. Nor is he like the sexy-pire seen in Angel and Buffy, with their techno-gadgets and sparkly stakes. Dracula is a Transylvanian aristocrat who uses dreams, charisma, manipulation and intelligence to fool the hero, Jonathan Harker, and manages to get very bitey with Mina, his fiance/wife. What follows is a difficult journey to hunt down a cleverly hidden vampire who is difficult to defeat.
Not to be confused with Vlad the Drac, the vegetarian vampire, who incidentally also is a pretty nifty dancer too.
4. Lady Macbeth – Macbeth, William Shakespeare
Quite possible one of the coolest villains, both in level-headedness and erm…levels of awesomeness, Lady M is a very memorable female anti-hero who isn’t quite villain nor heroine. Unlike her weaker-willed other half, she’s a strong character and willingly pushes her hubby onto meet her higher ambitions (who WOULDN’T want to be Queen, eh?) Although she’s finally reduced to a hand-wringing wreaked, unravelled by her own imagination and visions of blood, she’s proof that behind a successful man is a pushy woman who may not necessarily always be his mother.
5. Sauron – Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
This villain is more than just a big eye in the sky, it’s a FIERY, angry eye in the sky. Unlike the more subtle, politically-charged eye of Orwell’s Big Brother, this eye is constantly searching for the One Ring which will bring him better broadband quality and more Sky channels. Or something like that anyway.
Makes you want to buy some eye drops for the poor, cranky thing.
6. Iago – Othello, William Shakespeare
Another of ole Billy Shakespeare’s creations (yes I’m a fan of Mr S, as you can see), this time of a master of the manipulative mind-changing and seed-sowing. And he’s not very nice to his wife either. Iago is the epitome of the whispering devil on your shoulder, being careful to side-step any actions which could land himself in trouble while always encouraging the worst in others for his own entertainment and jealousy. Racist, jealous and sexist, this is a pretty nasty character, and not someone you’d want to your pet guinea pig to in case he micro-waved it out of pure spite.
7. Professor Moriarty – Sherlock Holmes Casebooks, Arthur Conan Doyle
Moriarty is the ultimate brainy villain, designed to be Sherlock’s perfect arch-enemy to match his wits. Always in the middle of a network of thieves, spies and murderers, Moriarty represents chaos and villainy, always escaping away in the background without being caught in an exasperating slippery way. Mind you, this is from the Victorian period where people were so prude they’d put pieces of fabric around table legs to hide any potential scandal from looking at…well…it’s legs.
8. The White Witch – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
With her shares in the Turkish Delight Factory, a questionable hairdo and a face seriously in need of some make-up to liven it up, the White Queen is another female delight who does the usual tyrannical thing of keeping the land in ice and terror. Oh, and turns anyone who defies her into stone. While her social skills need some serious dusting, her levels of scary-ness and witchy-ness are pretty up to scratch. My sister dressed up as the White Witch once, all she did was wear a white dress and put a white scarf on her head and she won the prize for best dressed costume. I went as Alice in Wonderland but just about managed a blue dress and a random apron which nobody understood what I was meant to be. I’m guessing the long black Pocahontas-hair didn’t help much.
9. The Joker – Batman, Bob Kane
Although technically a graphic novel villain rather than a literary villain, I still think the Joker deserves his place in this Hall of (obscure) Fame. Having several facets to his personality, and being seen as genius, insane, evil, criminal and heck, even funny (well, he IS the Joker), he is arguably one of the most famous and fascinating villains in graphic novels which has been interpreted and re-interpreted by so many. I love the fact that several actors have made this role their own, each representation unique to the other, and yet still open to others to be re-invented. Not sure I approve of his crazed make-up style, but you gotta love the jokes : )
10. President Snow – The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
I had to mention this sinister fella, due to all the hype recently from both the books and the film adaptation, and it can be agreed that this blood-breath’d and rose-obssessed President is one you certainly wouldn’t want to cross paths with. Cold, politically inspired and willing to sacrifice anyone to make an example, this is a character who uses brutal, Battle-Royale style games to keep the country in check. While his motives are continually questioned throughout the novel, he is a character that is hard to feel sympathetic for, simply because he’s just a smug git.
There are, of course, hundreds more villains out there that I’ve missed out (otherwise I’d be here all day), but to me, these are definitely the ones which come to mind when I think of ‘villain’ in the traditional sense. Oh and I’d like to make an honoury mention to Dahl’s The Twits simply because they always made me laugh, and they look like half of my family does first thing in the morning :).
Any more literary villains you think there are worth mentioning?