Thursday, December 15, 2011

Types of Villains Through Literature

This is a companion post to my last one "Four Character Types in Four Musketeers" and as a special treat, I have asked Mara from 667B Bakerstreet to co-post with me since she has read a lot and I needed someone to help me think up different famous villains from books as examples. We found there are a few more different villain types than there are heroes. But then, your baddies are usually a more complex character than your heroes so that's kind of understandable. Anyway, we found some examples for you to take into consideration. As I have not read all the books Mara mentions, I added my own villains to the different types as well. Hers are in italics and mine are just regular.

Gehn from Myst: The Book of Atrus (Rand Miller) 
Your classic god-complex villain. Driven by grief for loss of his father, his wife, and his entire race (the D’ni), Gehn becomes bitter and hardened towards everything. He slowly became corrupted by the idea that his people – the D’ni – were superior to all races; that they were virtually gods, and he becomes obsessed to the point of insanity with controlling other worlds – as their god. Gehn hates his son, Atrus (the hero), because Atrus does not share Gehn’s “god dreams,” thus Atrus embodies the weakness which Gehn believes led to the D’ni’s total destruction. Gehn is a villain the Reader wants to, at first, feel sorry for, but as the story goes on, the Reader learns that Gehn has no humanity left. His insanity is cold, calculating, and he never does anything without a purpose, which makes him so frightening. He destroys entire worlds without thought, and his unbelievable cruelty to Atrus, his own son, isn’t necessarily for spite, but simply to cow one of his servants into submission once more. 

The villains who have this complex are incredibly dangerous, and the kind you just want to off in the worst way. Gehn to me sounds almost borderline Hitler which always makes for a memorable villain, no matter what you're writing. I'd like to bring to attention that (though, I've probably said this before in an earlier post) the villain is truly the most important character in the book. Your hero might be great, but if he doesn't have a good villain, well, he can hardly be a hero! In the short, making a memorable villain will make a memorable book!

The Keeper from Entwined (Heather Dixon) 
The mysterious villain who is undeniably attractive, and never loses his cool. Even when he is being horribly cruel, The Keeper behaves as a gentleman. When the Reader first meets him, you’re not sure if he’s a bad guy, but at the same time, you get this creepy feeling along your skin that something about him is just not genuine. This is a villain who utterly lacks a compassionate side to appeal to. The more you suffer, the more The Keeper is happy, even if he acts as if he isn’t. Here is a villain who has magical powers, but he rarely uses them, proving that he doesn’t need them to get what he wants. 

This type of villain reminds me a bit of Mordaunt from Twenty Years After by Alexander Dumas. When he was first introduced, you weren't sure what he was really like, but as he kept popping up later in the book, you saw him for who he really was.  He also had a somewhat high and mighty appeal and used it to his advantage to get what he wanted, and to escape the law. I liked Mordaunt as an incredibly well-crafted villain, though I would never want to meet him on a dark night!

Ralph Nickleby from Nicholas Nickleby (Charles Dickens) 
Here’s your money-pinching villain who thinks of everyone as a cockroach, and considers his brother’s widow and two children a mere inconvenience that won’t go away. Ralph Nickleby does everything he does to the hero (his nephew, Nicholas) purely out of spite. Nicholas, a young man who won’t tolerate tyrants, defies him at every turn and cares greatly for his remaining family. He is a constant reminder to Ralph what it is to be family, and there is, deep, deep down, a softer part of Ralph that he has boarded up. This makes his spitefulness all the more despicable, as Ralph throws Nicholas’s sister in the way of dishonorable men, and assists those people who would harm Nicholas’s friend, Smike. 

The "Evil Uncle" will never go out of style. This one obviously doesn't need any explanation. You might think of Hamlet's uncle, or even several in actual history. 

Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) 
The villain lurking in a dark alley, waiting to murder you. Bill Sikes is the uneducated, bred-in-the-gutters, mean drunk who won’t hesitate to bash in the skulls of those who cross him. He’s malicious, purely brutal (he really will bash your skull in, quite literally), and totally believable. If someone threatens his interests, he’ll kill them, no matter what their age or gender.

These villains are probably the most dangerous, if not usually as smart as the more cold and calculating types. They'll do anything to get what they want, but they are not brave themselves. I could name a handful of these from the Louis L'Amour books and even from my own. 

 We both agreed that Morgarath from John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series would be classed as a "relentless" villain. He will stop at nothing to right the wrongs done to him in the past as he shows in the books, continually trying to get his revenge on Halt for botching his battle plans years before. He's not necessarily the most evil villain perhaps, and a bit of a coward as he continually runs whenever things are looking bad, but he also has a commanding presence and a lordly nature as he was once a Baron and fancies himself able to be king someday.

Another villain choice that I personally find the most terrifying is the lady villain. I don't know why it is, but they are always the worse. Women can so often be much more cruel than men, and it's even more terrible when she is up against a male hero. Men of scruples will not usually want to hurt a women no matter how bad she is, but she will have no such scruples. (This is why, dear writers, you must give your poor hero up against a female villain, a strong woman by his side so she can take the villainess down!) The best example of female villain is Milady de Winter from The Three Musketeers. I don't usually get the shivers reading about baddies because I like to study them for myself, but Milady scared me in all her female evilness. She could also be called a relentless villain, for she would stop at nothing to get her revenge on the men who had "done her wrong" in the past. She manipulated people, she was cold and calculating, and had friends in high places so no one could really touch her. She was even the mother of Mordaunt, but though he was evil as well, he never seemed to me quite as terrible as Milady herself. I still shiver to think about what she would have done to poor Athos and D'Artagnan had she not been stopped!

A favorite type of villain of mine and a popular one when writing in the mystery genre is the mysterious, little seen villain that causes dastardly deeds, but yet stays in the shadows. What better example of this can we use than Pro. James Moriarty from Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories? His and Holmes' duel is legend in literature yet they never really meet until they fight on Riechenbach Falls in 'The Final Problem'. I remember when I first started reading the stories that I was a little disappointed in the fact that there was really not much about Moriarty and Holmes in the series. But over the years, I've come to love the little hints you see, but the stories with Moriarty in them are still my favorite.

And lastly, I am going to mention the type of villains the the reader might end up feeling sorry for. These villains are sometimes controversial, as not everyone might feel sorry for them, but they are also good to get your readers thinking. One such villain that I thought of was Brian de Bois-Guilbert from Scott's Ivanhoe. He started off to be a pretty mean guy who had done some really bad things in his past, but as the book goes on and he genuinely falls in love with Rebecca, he softens and, in my opinion, becomes a much better man. This is obviously seen as he fights Wilfred in the end and does not kill him. I rather liked Bois-Guilbert by the end of the book as well as his friend deBracy. Though deBracy is kind of one of those characters you have to laugh at because he's such a dandy.

In truth, if you want to do a proper study off all the villain types, you can probably read Brian Jacques' Redwall series. I think that through all the books, he used every type of villain imaginable.

I hope you all enjoyed reading about these villians and I hope this might help some aspiring writers. I'd like to give a big thank you to Mara for helping me with this as well!

Slainte, Hazel


  1. Wow! You ladies really did a great job helping us categorize villains. I think my favorite is still the attractive, mysterious villain. He is always a perfect choice for a romantic adventure or a mystery with a female protagonist. She'll trust him (only a little if she is paying close attention), and her hero has an adversary to fight with for his girl's honor and usually her life.

  2. Yes, I like that ploy as well ;) You could almost out female villains into that category, because those poor lads very rarely see them coming =(