Often it is the hero, the main character that the reader is drawn to as for majority of stories, it is their tale we are told. But sometimes, you find a villain can be the maker of the story.
To me, a villain can be the enticing, interesting and the diverse character to the story. It is the one that you don’t often hear about until the hero goes to face them, yet, in the real world, we are constantly surrounded by death and fear.
In my personal view, a villain can sometimes make or break a story. You want a character as richly fleshed out as your hero to understand the desire to remove them from the obstacle. A writer needs to think as deeply about their villain as they do their hero as the reader needs to understand the reasoning behind it in order to route for the character. If you have a well-washed villain to play with, then a reader could question why we are following the hero when the story is dealt to be a chosen one of hero’s adventure.
Below is a mixture of villains. Some are your typical that have the power or do things for unknown reasons, but to me they are my top five because you can tell the writer thought long and hard and ensured every moment the villain is either on the page or talked about, it is well processed to make the story deeper because of their presence.
- Professor James Moriarty – The adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
I had to start with probably my top villain every created. It depends on which version you are using. Some adaptations are better than others, but all master around Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation.
James, ‘Jim’, Moriarty is a perfect example of a well thought out villain as he perfectly complements the hero, Sherlock Holmes. Whilst Sherlock is a consulting detective, Moriarty is a consulting criminal. Throughout their time on the page and on screen, the reader is shown a real insight to why Doyle had this character as the main arch nemesis of his hero.
They are almost of two same minds — they are both clever, know how to persuade people to get what they want and know how to ring circles around each other. In a way, they are both obsessed with having the other to fail, and it is an inside to show exactly what Sherlock would be like if he used his wits and intelligence to commit criminal acts rather than stop them.
My top adaptation has to be the BBC version with Andrew Scott, because it shows the insane aspect that the audience knows Sherlock has and also shows the chemistry between the two characters that is beautifully written by Doyle. It is due to the material that it’s given, as Moriarty is dropped throughout to indicate that he is an upcoming rival since many of Sherlocks cases before are informed to have been the work of Moriarty’s criminal organisation and that he wants to end Sherlock. The interaction in the story The Adventurous of the Final Problem is what makes it clear. Whilst this is his only appearance, it does not hide the impact his presence affects Sherlock — and not to mention the ending.
- Darquesse – Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
Now, unlike the others, this villain isn’t that well known unless you have read the books. So, it is a spoiler if you are intrigued to read it, but I couldn’t do a list without including her. Darquesse is often rumoured throughout the series till we meet her with the idea she is meant to destroy the world. But it isn’t until later on we learnt that it is in fact the main character Valkyrie Cain who’s true name is Darquesse. It is a beautiful way that Landy shows that there is light and dark in everyone. Valkyrie is so set to save the world and solve crimes with her partner, yet the other side of her is set to destroy everything as she doesn’t deem it worthy to exist.
When Darquesse finally makes her way onto paper, you start to see why she acts a certain way. For someone with that length of power, she believes she is a God and therefore has the right to determine what is worthy and unworthy. But it is more the interaction between Valkyrie and Darquesse that is the intrigue with this character. To see the battle someone goes through as to whether they are right or wrong, even with themselves, reflects nicely on the real world. No one has a set villain to their hero, so to see this display in a middle-grade story is definitely worth mentioning.
- Hannibal Lecture – The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Similar to Professor Moriarty, Hannibal Lecture is one of those villains that you are intrigued with the mind and their ability to achieve their crimes. Made famous by Anthony Hopkins’ adaptation, this villain had been referenced constantly in works and has become well known in its own right.
Hannibal is known as the doctor who became a cannibalism, but it is the acts he performed that makes him so intriguing, and not just because he ate humans. The idea that he is one of the most dangerous human beings alive in Harris’ novel, and yet he is used to try and understand another fellow criminal is what has his story bring depth. The interaction between him and Clarice Sterling and also Will Graham, has the intrigue because the reader soon learns it wasn’t them that was learning something about him and criminals it was him analysing them. Having been a forensic physiatrist before had the ability to bring a brilliant mind who thought thoroughly about his work as a criminal.
He is only introduced as a minor villain in Harris’ first novel, Red Dragon, but it is in the second The Silence of the Lambs that brings the readers full attention.
He is well crafted and shows the depths a mind can work if it turns to more criminal act, yet how deceiving a person can still be even though they are well known as a threat to society.
- Cersei Lannister – A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
Cersei probably feels as if she has been overdone, but how could I not include her. Martin does a perfect job since we only see her through other characters eyes for the first three books — four if you don’t include the third books’ two parts as one. When we finally get around to her perspective, her character is already established to be driven with the idea of power and loss. We know she despises her younger brother Tyrion because she believes he killed their mother since she died birthing him. When we start to see the story through her eyes, we are introduced to another element.
Cersei is driven mad with the fact that she was born a woman. She constantly names herself her father’s true son and even when Tywin has died, she is often referring to her successes as if she is still proving to him she is capable of ruling. It is a beautiful way to show what a woman had to do to make it in a man’s world. Even though she is the Queen regent, she is still undermined and is driven mad with the desire to be listened and obeyed. She schemes and does terrible things because she feels it is the only way to achieve power, something she believes she is born to have.
There are also constant references to the prophecy she had when she was a child about a younger, pretty woman coming along to destroy her. This gives another element to show why she is vicious and manipulative because she is determined for this prophecy not to happen and doesn’t realise it is her own actions why the prophecy will unfold.
Yet, even with the desire to have power, she is also driven to protect her family and her children. This makes her such a three-dimensional character that sometimes you can’t help but understand why she acts a certain way. You can’t help but love to hate her.
- The Earth – The Broken earth by N. K. Jemisin
This one is not an actual person, but an entire planet. In Jemisin’s trilogy, it is the earth that the people are fighting against as it has slowly been wiping them out.
This is a very clever take on our own issues with global warming as it is taking that concept and mixing it with fiction to create a world where the very characters are fighting against the planet they live on in order to survive. Plagued with constant horror of natural disasters, and decades where seasons go back that wipe human civilisations out, it’s almost impossible to think how could you survive if the very thing that is giving you your life is trying to end it.
No matter how hard the characters try to heal the broken earth, they are still met with constant retribution that at any moment could wipe them out. Even when the reader comes across a simple village where no harm is being done, the earth still attacks it.
This is perhaps the biggest villain of them all, as a person or a sorcerer you can try and rid yourselves of them, but in this trilogy it is not possible to do that as how can you remove the very fabric of life you are grounded on?
Also, whilst with a person, you can try and count their movements, but the earth is unpredictable. Villages that have had centuries of peace are suddenly condemned and even if the people try to run, there is nowhere safe.
The earth is given a living consciousness, and the reader is given an insight to the cause behind the need for it to rid themselves. Humans are seen as parasites, and as we do, the earth simply wants to remove it from its body.
A villain can be as important as the main hero. Those that succeed are ones that have taken the time to flesh out the character to give it a three-dimensional feel to help the reader connect. Those that are created to counteract the hero are those that often intrigue the reader, since it is an interesting form to see what could have happened to the hero if they had decided to go down another path — those are the villains I enjoy reading.