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Friday, June 21, 2013

Who's You Favorite Villain?

Asking a reader (and writers) about their favorite characters is probably a can o' crazy you don't want to open. It's like asking a wine connoisseur about their favorite wine, or an astronomer their favorite star, or a lit major their favorite way to nap through the classics. I'll mention that the hardcover of the Complete Works of Billy Shakespeare is not comfortable as a pillow.

Ah, but asking about your favorite villain...

That's like asking a music lover what the worst song is. Please note: the answer is always "Stayin' Alive." And if you argue with me on that, you're dead to me. Mostly kidding...mostly.

A good villain is hard to pull off. I'll admit that I've always struggled with them. Simply because if they start to come alive like well-rounded character should, I desperately want them to change their ways and do the right thing. To be a good person, even though they think they're the good one.

In the current draft of The Fragile Spiral (which I'm also calling Blood and Brass now), the entire story is essentially how one of my characters slowly makes his way into darkness. With all of the pressures and hates of the world as well as personal decisions that got him there over 20 years time. The novel started out as a short story, which I had one of my Beta readers look over. At the end of it, I asked her, "Don't you feel a little sorry for the guy? Do you understand why he wound up like that?" Her answer was, "No. He was scary as hell." So I set out to tell his story in more depth, hoping that the reader would be torn between who he was before, and who he became (in all his terrifying glory) as seen through the eyes of someone close to him.

I love these types of stories. The stories about the fall. It reminds me that anyone can get there given a set of circumstances. Probably why I have a giant boner for anti-heroes too.

But enough about my characters. Here are some of my favorite book and TV baddies.

1. Gerald Tarrant, The Hunter from C.S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy:

The Hunter is possibly my favorite redemptive villainous character of all time. He essentially seals his immortality by sacrificing his own family, i.e. the wife and two kids (how can you get any more evil than that?). Almost like Dexter Morgan from Dexter, he has a code that he sticks to that keeps him from losing his soul and mind completely as he kills to live. But he's powerful, a genius, and begins in little ways to redeem himself. Helping others in small ways, rather than using or killing them. Changing the fates of nations to live and thrive rather than fall into chaos. He is complex...and terrifying.

2. The Governor from The Walking Dead (TV series, not the comics):

I was absolutely floored that actor David Morrisey could portray such a terrifying character. His character leads a town seemingly idyllic and safe against the Walkers with wit and down home southern charm. When we see glimpses of his past, we see a regular guy with a wife and daughter, working your usual uninspiring 9-5 soul crushing job. He seems like an everyman. But one that only holds onto what little tiny bit of humanity he has in order to bring his zombified daughter back to him. When that fails, his need to rule and be obeyed, to seek revenge, and to play in a world with no rules overtakes him. He's not afraid to kill friendlies, to let those who look to him for safety die...by his own hand. Even when he hunts his own lover through a shed filled with Walkers. He's seriously scary as hell.

3. Gul Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

While re-watching bits of this series on Netflix, again I was stuck with how multi-sided this character is, especially in a realm of your usual one-dimensional Trek baddies. While we see glimpses of Dukat's past as an overseer of forced labor camps, his ruthless reign over the Bajoran people, we also come to understand most of what he did was for the "good" of those beneath him. Moreover, he's quick, intelligent, sly, conniving, and supremely eloquent. But the worst (and best) part is that we see him capable of doing the right thing from time to time, before he slips back into his villainous ways. But my favorite bit of him is his obvious love for his young daughter, how he gives up everything that means anything to him--from his military position, to being exiled for her. It made him real. And scary.

4. Joffrey Baratheon (um, er, Lannister really) from Game of Thrones (books and TV show): 

While I thrive on complex and deep villains, sometimes there are villains so disgusting that you just want them to get their comeuppance in an inventively horrible way. Few villains have made me want to throw them off of a high building quite like Joffrey. He's childish, petty, spoiled, not too intelligent, a coward, and is vicious, cruel, and ridiculously sadistic. He's everything you don't want in a king. Or really in anyone you know. There are absolutely no redeeming qualities in him whatsoever. And while other despicable characters in Game of Thrones frequently tread the line between dark and light, Joffrey doesn't. Can we say psychopath on his way to serial killer and rapist? Oh, and he's your sworn liege lord. Great. Just cut off my head now. 

5. Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter:

Forget Voldemort. Professor Umbridge is terrifying in ways that a baddie bad-bad like Voldemort will never be. What's worse is that her vile ways (like physically and emotionally punishing children in inventively magical ways) are hidden behind such a nice, sweet, and charming façade. And what's even worse than that is her need for order and obedience to the rules is something that she obviously believes is best for all under her thumb. It's always worse when the bad guy (or gal) is doing it because they think it's what is in the best interest of an entire group of people. Even if she hates children. Even if her rules are so fascist-like that it makes your skin crawl.

So, who are your favorite bad guys and gals?

This topic brought to you by the Evil League of Evil's own Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, where writers from all across the globe have joined in their villainous quest to blog about a chosen topic once a month. Up next is our own Darth Gilroy Cullens over as Swords vs. Pens. Come to the dark side my pretties, and your little dog too.

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