Cross-posted on The Nightstand
“Now you see that that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.” — Dark Helmet, Spaceballs
Villains are the best. Not only do they get the coolest outfits, the pointiest beards, and the raised-iest eyebrows, but they add that little hint of blinding rage to any good story, the kind that makes the reader/viewer want to tear his or her own hair out until there’s nothing left but a bloody mess and a sincere regret that he or she ever decided to enter the magical world of fiction in the first place.
So here are my top three favorite villains that I could muster after five minutes of thought:
Dolores Umbridge, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
If just the mere mention of that name makes you want to vomit in fury, then you’re not alone. I hate, hate, HATE this woman. Sure, Voldemort gets all the attention (due mostly to that botched nose job, he really should sue), but Umbridge is evil incarnate. The sickly sweet voice, the infuriating smile, those GODAWFUL KITTENS. I just – agh, I can’t even write about her. I’m sorry. Excuse me while I go punch something.
Mayor Prentiss, Chaos Walking Series
If you haven’t read these books yet, go do so now. Seriously, I’ll wait.
Weren’t they awesome? Patrick Ness’s series about a boy and a girl racing for their lives across another planet (ugh, what a terrible summary – there’s so much more to it than that) is so riveting, they almost don’t need a villain. But oh man, do they have one in Mayor Prentiss. I think it’s the calmness that gets to me. This guy asserts himself with such confidence, such overwhelming coolness (and again with that brazen smile) that whenever I came across him on the page, I wanted to hurl the book to the floor and then smash it repeatedly with a hammer. You know when someone makes you so mad you want to cry? That’s Mayor Prentiss.
Benjamin Linus, Lost
Yes, I’m a Lost fan. Point and throw things if you must, but hot damn I love that show. I say love in the present tense, because for my birthday I got the entire series on DVD (it comes in a little fortress which is unbearably adorable) and as soon as a gaping, 100+ hour hole opens up in my schedule, I’m going to watch them all. Again. For like the fourth time.
Anyway, Ben. I won’t give away too much for those who haven’t seen it, but Ben is the friggin’ bomb. Is he telling the truth? Is he lying his scrawny little rat face off? Is he planning a surprise romantic dinner for me and him on the beach, complete with time-traveling bunnies? You just never know with Ben!
If I seem a little vague on these descriptions, there’s probably a reason: I apparently am not so good with the villains. Oh, the ones in my writing are fine and all, but it always seems to take me just a little bit longer to establish their motivations, create a good backstory, and give them some damn good reasons to blow up the Hoover Dam. (Okay, that doesn’t actually happen in my book…but maybe it should! *furiously calls up editor*)
But I have found that more than anything, motivation is key. One of my all-time favorite television shows is Friday Night Lights, and what I constantly marveled at was the writers’ ability to give every inherently good character a healthy dose of flaws, and every inherently “evil” character at least one solid redeeming characteristic. So there would be this one kid you’d just want to reach through the television screen and strangle, but then he’d get a faraway look in his eye and give away something about why he is the way that he is, and it would break your heart and cause you to burst into tears because, as any fan will tell you, sobbing heartily is a huge part of FNL, if not the main part. It’s a wonder it wasn’t sponsored by Kleenex.
So clearly, there are many types of villains, but the really good ones are the three-dimensional assholes that make you pause and say “Well, I guess I can see why he might have thought that stealing an entire planet’s atmosphere was a good thing after all…
…but he’s still a douche.”