I enjoyed all the episodes of The Great American Read, but my favorite, hands down, was the discussion of villains and monsters, which airs next Tuesday, October 2.
I know people have found my love for literary villains a bit . . . creepy. But it’s really not! I swear! At the very least, like any good villain, I have well-developed reasons for it. 🙂
One of the comments that crops up quite a bit in this episode of The Great American Read is a not uncommon one when it comes to villains: a good villain is the hero of his/her own story. That’s not to say that the villain in question is a good guy by any stretch of the imagination, but it does mean that he/she needs more plausible motivation than just enjoying causing death and destruction and pointless mustache twirling.
Because really interesting villains really don’t go around all the time thinking that they are being so delightfully evil and congratulating themselves on their villainy. No! They, on the contrary, think that the other guy–the hero–is the villain. A great villain really does think that he or she is doing the right thing, and that’s what makes them so compelling–and frightening.
As I look at some of my favorites featured in this bracket, the unifying theme is a) the effectiveness of the villain(s) and b) their utter belief in the rightness of their respective causes. And that’s true whether it is creepy Mrs. Danvers and her mission to destroy the second Mrs. Winters in Rebecca, the mysterious agent of vengeance that drives the action in And Then There Were None, or the various villains that populate A Game of Thrones, Wuthering Heights, and Frankenstein.
You may loathe these characters, actively root against them, rage when they succeed, and cheer when they fail, but they add a very necessary component to the story. Conflict-free stories about nice people are rarely interesting. Would you have a hero without an antagonist? Would the hero be as heroic without a nasty villain standing in the way? Is the hero always so different from the villain? And this is exactly why all stories need a good villain (just don’t tell the villains I called them that.)
Do you ever root for the bad guy? Who is your favorite literary villain? Who is your most loathed literary villain? Tell us in the comments!