5 All Time Favourite Villains

A good villain can make or break a story. One dimensional villains are so common so I like to celebrate good villains wherever I find them. This list is almost exclusively from books and I should mention that I really love pretty much any movie villain played by Gary Oldman and David Bowie but that seems to be mainly the cause of the men playing them rather than the actual villains themselves. Slight spoiler warnings for the books in question.

The Other Mother

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline goes through a hidden hallway into an apartment exactly like hers except more interesting where the Other Mother waits for her. She knows how to give Coraline everything she wants; delicious foods, attention and exciting diversions. But there is something she wants in return. And she’s creepy and scary And absolutely wonderful. And even though she’s more or less a fairytale villain, she’s still understandable. She has motivations that can be understood.

The Illustrated Man/Mr. Dark

Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes brings us Mr. Dark, the Illustrated Man. He is echoed in the Alice Cooper stage persona and many others besides. He’s deliciously dangerous, scary and downright wicked, doing depraved things to keep himself alive. While he’s long gone beyond the point of no return, I can see how he wound up there and it might be an interesting story (I haven’t read the short story collection called The Illustrated Man, so it might be touched upon there). Nonetheless, we all know people who are so afraid of death they might well go as far as Mr. Dark.

Findthee Swing

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett is one of my all time favorite books so it isn’t that surprising that it also has one of my favorite villains of all time as well. Captain Findthee Swing of the Particulars – or the Unmentionables, however you prefer – is someone who is absolutely convinced he’s doing the world good by finding criminals using the methods provided to him by phrenology and physiognomy. After the criminals are caught they are tortured until they confess to the crimes Swing and his fellow phrenologists have found them guilty of. Swing is both incredibly creepy (I’m sensing a pattern here…) and evil while not being a travesty of a villain that would be so easy to create of such a person. His motives are sort of understandable and even noble in a sense if you don’t take his methods into account. This seems to be more or less on par with other Pratchett villains, except maybe the queen of the elves but that’s another story altogether.

Mrs. Coulter

Marisa Coulter, the Magisterium’s autonomous operative in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, is a ruthless fundamentalist who’s willing to resort to any means necessary to prevent The Fall. For me True Believers have always been scary. People who are willing to claim absolute knowledge about things that cannot be proven by rational methods are necessarily loose cannons. There is no guarantee that they will not kill, torture or do other unspeakable things in their quest to keep the faith. And in fact they do. Anyone could find with only a little googling at least a dozen real people (who I’ve never met) whose actions, within the last year, have been at least as evil as Mrs. Coulter’s during the books. And, like Mrs. Coulter, they all absolutely know they are doing the right thing.

Tom Ripley

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith introduces to us the… well talented mr. Ripley. He is a small time crook, making a living by being a conman. He lies, cheats and forges his way through life until old mr. Greenleaf pays him to bring his son back home. Tom swiftly befriends young Dickie Greenleaf and progresses to murder when Dickie gets bored with him. He is the only main character on this list and for a good reason. It’s very hard to make a really good villain and even harder to make them sympathetic enough to be the main character through a whole novel, let alone several, as Highsmith has done with Ripley.

So… Who are your favourite villains?

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4 thoughts on “5 All Time Favourite Villains

  1. “People who are willing to claim absolute knowledge about things that cannot be proven by rational methods are necessarily loose cannons. There is no guarantee that they will not kill, torture or do other unspeakable things in their quest to keep the faith. And in fact they do.”
    Well, those who invented, tested and then used nuclear weapons were all considered “rational” people… so it seems rationality, whatever it could be, is no guarantee either…

    about my favourite villains, well, I tried to think to somebody, but I am unable to figure out anyone…

    1. Yes. People are capable of terrible things. I’m not saying that to do terrible things is to be religious. 🙂

      My point was mainly that True Believers are very scary to me, mainly because I don’t understand them. Even though I don’t condone the actions of the Manhattan project and Truman, I can understand why they did it. I cannot understand why a person would watch their kid dying of a treatable illness. I cannot understand why someone would think that flying a plane into a skyscraper would be a good thing but many someones did. Mrs. Coulter to me is scary in the same way that Hannibal Lecter is scary. Her evil comes from a source I cannot understand. I chose Mrs. Coulter over Hannibal Lecter because she is a more complete human being, not merely evil but conflicted by her feelings of motherhood and belief.

      1. Yes I understand your point and I agree with you. Anyway when you say: “Her evil comes from a source I cannot understand.”
        For me it’s just when we miss our source, our natural tenderness, we forget it. At the heart of our humanity there’s a natural and open tenderness which is also the base of our curiosity and creativity. This spacious openness is something we don’t recognize routinely but its potential is always there. Some people goes so far in their mental projections and inner narratives to almost completely debase themselves from this source, and this brings up all that amount of pain, tragedy and violence we see everywhere, not only in the novels.
        In respect to this, rationality becomes more a mean that an end, it’s more like the receiver than the source of the signal, if the receiver isn’t tuned with the source it will go on working anyway, it won’t stop but it will just produce an overwhelming noise, and those people who scare you just believe in that noise :_)

  2. This is a really great and interesting piece & question!

    My favourite villains change a bit during times, but some all that have made a lasting impression are:

    Randall Flagg, from Stephen King’s The Stand.(-also appears in The two towers series) I haven’t read the book, but have seen the great miniseries about it. Randall’s actor is just spot on, and the whole character is just so briliant, scary as hell even though he goes around with smiley-button on his vest.

    A new favourite of mine is The Evil Queen- Regina Mills, from Once Upon a Time -tv series. She’s the stepmother of Snow White, but everything else between them goes a lot deeper than in the original fairytale. The character is almost too sympathetic, during more than one scenes I have found myself being extremely sad for her, although still not quite being on her side.

    Tom Ripley is also a favourite of mine. 🙂

    I don’t agree about all true believers being dangerous…my cousin’s daughter is one, and she would never harm a soul.

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