MordorAs I’m not reading as quickly as I’d like, I don’t have a review for you all. That means I had to think about something on which I could discuss. I gave it some time, and as I was thinking about another project I’m taking on (super-secret, big possibilities), I started thinking about villains.  I did a blog on villains a while back, but then I realized, I’m not actually a big fan of villains.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a good conflict, but stick with me. I went back and thought about my favorite books of all time. Only one of them has any arguable main villains.

Beowulf: One might argue this has villains, and it does. But Beowulf fights several. To my recollection (and I’ll admit it’s been a long while) none of them have very complex back stories. Oh, there’s some information, but ultimately, they’re either the fodder Beowulf cuts through or the thing that finally takes him down. Grendel is the most discussed, but he’s dispatched fairly quickly in the book.

What Men Live By, by Leo Tolstoy: I promise you, there was no bad guy.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson: So here we come to the “yes there was a villain” argument. Look, Ruin was the main antagonist. But Vin takes him on, and that’s that. Ruin wasn’t a mortal. He was this larger than life force that Vin had to elevate herself to take on (and I think there’s something there).

Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: Again, the Dark One was the overall threat.  Some may argue Ishamael was the “villain” of that story, but I simply don’t see it that way.

The Dragon Riders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey:  No villain. A threat, a lager than life threat, but no villain.

This led me to an assertion. Great Books Need Great Villains.  I think not. These are my five favorite books of all time, and the reason I love them has nothing to do with the villains. Do I think a great villain can make a book great? Yes, but I don’t think they’re mandatory. It really dawned on me as I was thinking about who my favorite villains are. The fact of the matter is I don’t have any. I’m actively sitting here thinking about books and who the MC faces in each of them, and I can’t even name one. Comics are different in that regard, but comics are meant to run for years, so you need a cast of villains to change things up.

BobsGreatestMistakeI’ve said this a bunch of times, give me proactive, sympathetic characters, and I’m probably going to love your story. I’m less invested as a reader to see if they’re proactive because they have to defeat evil or because they have to beat this one particular antagonist. That’s window dressing for me. Bob and Caught both have villains. I certainly hope they’re enjoyable villains, but I don’t mind a world where the heroes are the ones with whom my readers connect.

So this post, short but interesting, leads to a question. Where do you sit in relationship to villains? I understand the value of compelling villains. What I’m asking is do you only invest in stories that have a great villain? Compare your favorite books ever to this question. Tell me the villain of your favorite book or series. I’m honestly curious to know what you think.

Thanks for reading,

V/R
Matt

12 thoughts on “I’ve Learned I’m Not Big on Villains: Reflecting on Bad Guys

  1. Many movies and Tv-shows depend on their villains. But regarding books you might be right. Though, Mephisto and Grandadmiral Thrawn a great literary villains. And I always liked Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane since here the villain is the protagonist of the stories.

    But did you notice how many villains are professors or have a PhD degee? The academic world is full of dangers!

    😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thrawn was awesome, but even then I’d challenge someone to tell me what his arc was? His motivation was clear, but did he develop? Again, I LOVE Thrawn, but I think it’s a fair question.

      I have noticed that the better educated one is, the more likely they are to try and end the world. Doesn’t speak much for education.

      I think you’re right. Short form stuff, visual media, demands a great villain. However, I don’t know that it demands a villain with an arc. Thoughts?

      Like

  2. My favourite villian is Malek out of the lost symbol by Dan Brown. The way he’s been written up Dan is amazing. He’s suave, kind, Ladies man, knowledgeable and good disguising his intentions. Then once unleased he’s this giant bald tattooed murdering psychopath who just wants to unleash hell on the world 😂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s on my list. I could try and get it done for the weekend but I’m at work if not then definitely next week. I will put it to the top of the list. He is honestly the best villian ever. At one point I was rooting for him even though i knew Langdon would prevail.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I won’t argue Darth. I am trying to find great literary villains though. I realized comics and movies need good villains, but I’m not seeing a lot of books I LOVED that had villains, let a lone good ones. I’m just wondering if I’m alone in that.

      I’d argue Darth was the greatest villain ever. I wonder who would dispute that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love a good villain, but they don’ make or break the story in even my favorite novels. The Redwall series always had a compelling villain whom the hero had to defeat – each book adhered to the Hero’s Journey archetype pretty closely. But I don’t remember the villains; I remember the heroes.

    Some of my other favorite books are not about antagonistic conflict at all: The Stranger is a strong example. What this book is, is emotive and thought-provoking. I think in stories with great antagonistic conflict, the villain is the manifestation of moralistic ambiguity. We love great villains because they challenge our world-view, convincingly, like the Joker in The Dark Knight. The Stranger still presents this challenge, but not through the eyes of a villain; it is the main character’s own perception of the world around him which challenges us.

    So I agree with you. Villains are not necessary to make a story great; they’re a tool used to challenge the reader’s beliefs. Great question!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Stranger. Who’s that by? I want to say Koontz, but I might be thinking of Strangers. I believe a great villain can ADD, but I don’t think it’s a must, and I haven’t found anyone yet who disagrees.

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

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