We all have favorites. Our favorite flower, favorite season, favorite hero, and favorite villain. Let’s talk about the villains.
Now I’m going to divide villains into two categories, human and inhuman. A human villain is a man, woman or child without supernatural powers. Moriarty, Lex Luther and Hannibal Lector are examples. Inhuman villains can be anything from Dracula, to the perfect storm.
One problem with both heroes and villains is the way our society recycles them. Consider the stories of Robin Hood and the Sherriff of Nottingham. There have been 18 films, six television series, eight animations, four parodies and five retellings. All have the same characters. Personally I think the low point was an animated series names “Rocket Robin Hood”. This Canadian animated television series, placed the characters and conflicts of the classic Robin Hood legend in a futuristic, outer space setting. Check it out on YouTube and cringe.
Let’s talk about human villains that have stayed with me over the years.
Who could forget Inspector Jarvert? He was born to a fortune-teller whose husband was in the galleys. Javert grew up in the galleys, conscious of the fact that he had only two choices of profession open to him. He could become a predator on society like his father, or a protector of society. Here is a man who has only one faith and one following, the letter of the law. What makes Javert (who has no first name) a great villain is his humanity and rejection of all that is human. He has no kindness, no mercy, and no empathy.
All his strength is channeled into a fanatic observance and support for the law, and in his case his hunt for Valjean which lasts years. How does Valjean defeat Javert? With mercy. When Valjean spares Javert, he destroys the basic tenants of the Inspector’s morality, that convicts could never be good citizens. Suddenly he realizes that he is the monster, not the man he pursued. That drives him to suicide.
Who could forget the creation of Dr. Frankenstein? The creature is not Frankenstein. In the novel, the monster is identified via words such as “creature”, “monster”, “fiend”, “wretch”, “vile insect”, “demon”, “being”, and “it”. Speaking to Victor Frankenstein, the monster refers to himself as “the Adam of your labors.”
Made from the best portions of corpses, and animated by science, we have a creation that is a blank slate at the beginning. However, Dr. Frankenstein is repulsed by his creation and abandons it. The creature finds nothing in the world of man but hatred and rejection. This hardens his heart to mankind, and he demands the Doctor, create a mate for him to sooth his loneliness.
What should be a tragic figure, by his actions becomes a monster. Again we see the unyielding determination and lack of moral compass that we see in Javert.
Who could forget Richard III? Shakespeare in his tragedies, concentrated on the fatal flaw the destroyed the protagonist. In his histories, his characters had to fit both the history, and the politics of the day. In the play Richard commits every vile act known to man. He drives his sick brother, the king, to death, has the princes murdered in the tower, and more. Shakespeare lays the foundation for all of this in the opening soliloquy, where Richard states his aim, to play the villain, to be subtle, false and treacherous. He blames all this on his deformity.
He had drive, ambition, and courage. Again it is his lack of a moral compass that makes him the villain. In the play he is so strong and successful that he destroys all his enemies until the final battle.
Who could forget Iago from Othello? At the start of the play he states the reason for his rage. While he has served Othello, he feels he was passed over for promotion and plans to destroy both his lord and his rival. What makes Iago so intense a villain is the manner in which he accomplishes this.
Each one of these villains remains in my mind long after the book is set down and the play is finished. They are all strong, smart, almost fanatical in obsession, and without moral qualms of any sort. All almost succeed, and in the process cause terrible suffering that we can see as the story unwinds.
Yet they are only men!
To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net