Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Top 5... Villains in Fiction

Heroes are alright I suppose.  They get the job done, they fight the good fight.  But isn't it so often the case that the villain of the piece is the more interesting character?  Here are my top 5 fictional villains, ranking from bad seed at Five to evil incarnate at One.

5. Meursault
The Outsider by Albert Camus
Existentialists may wish to have me hanged for categorising Meursault as a villain, perhaps preferring to refer to him as an anti-hero or a damaged everyman.  But my reading of the character is as follows: a feckless bureaucrat loses his mummy but still has a job and a pretty new girlfriend to live for, then throws it all away by committing a senseless murder on the beach.

4. Bill
Kill Bill, Vol.2 by Quentin Tarantino
We don't properly meet the elusive target of The Bride's rage until the concluding instalment of this kung fu saga.  And when we finally do, we already know what he is capable of, after seeing him shoot his pregnant former lover in the head, leaving her in a coma and stealing her child.  Pretty darn twisted.  Even worse is his defense: Uma Thurman's character broke his heart, so he ordered the execution of her entire wedding party.  As overreactions go, it's what one might call a "biggie".

3. Mrs Coulter
Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
She is beautiful.  She is clever.  She has a vicious, golden monkey on her shoulder.  And SPOILERS, she is our heroine Lyra's mother.  Which makes her experiments on children and other wicked deeds all the more despicable.

2. Iago
Othello by William Shakespeare
He never tells the audience why he does what he does.  His actions cause the death of practically every character in the play, and yet at its finish, when it becomes clear that he is going to be tortured (potentially to death), he simply swears to never speak again.  "I am not what I am", he declares early on in the play, a reference to his deceitful nature and an inversion of God's words in the Bible: "I am what I am."  Are we to take this to mean that Iago is, in fact, the Devil?

1. Jadis
The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia are hardly the scariest or most challenging works of children's fiction.  But the otherworldly empress Jadis, rescued by Diggory and Polly from a dying world in The Magician's Assistant, provides genuine menace in an otherwise quite jolly tale.  Once the characters are transported to the shiny new land of Narnia, Jadis becomes temptation incarnate: she offers the enchanted fruit to Diggory when they are both within the walled garden (Allegory! Allegory!) before vanishing into the wilderness, reappearing years later as the White Witch, title character and main villain of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.  By this time, she has conquered Narnia and enslaved its many magical races.  She also seems to have no qualms when it comes to corrupting children and committing vile acts of cruelty to animals (poor, poor Aslan).  And anybody who has the power to make it always winter, and yet never Christmas, is pure evil in my mind.

Some other exceptionally nasty pieces of work: The Marquise de Meurtuil (Les Liaisons Dangereuses), The Man Jack (The Graveyard Book), and almost all of the boys in Lord of the Flies.


  1. Meursault wasn't a bad guy, he was a guy who wouldn't play the game. Cos he showed no remorse, or even any motive for his crime, they killed him. They couldn't afford such dissidence to prevail.

    Iago is a great villain, but ultimately he was displaying the same murderous rage as lay dormant in his master Othello. The only difference was that Othello's rage could be explained and Iago's couldn't. The body count for each remains unaffected by that nuance however.

    marc nash

  2. I totally get that Meursault isn't a conventional villain, in that his deeds are not carried out for any particularly nefarious reason - and the case can be argued that his refusal/inability to behave as society expected makes him an anti-hero. But the same problem I've had after reading this book three times is that he has no good reason or excuse for what he does on the beach.

    I very nearly put Othello as the villain on this list and not Iago, as it takes very little to convince the seemingly noble Moor to murder the love of his life with his bare hands...


  3. oh but Meursault does have a reason. the son beating down on his neck, compounding an existential discomfort. It makes no difference to a neutral, unmotivated, designless world whether he kills the Arab or not. Except to him and the Arab and even then if he holds nothing dear in his own life, then not even to him.

  4. sorry, that should of course have read 'the sun beating down'

  5. This is what my French tutor kept trying to get across, and to an existentialist it makes perfect sense. If I'm honest, I was being a little contrary when I put Meursault on this list (Voldemort just didn't feel imaginative enough).


  6. C.S. Lewis was a brilliant writer. I'm sure glad he's on my side (christian) lol. Lewis and Alvin Plantengia are great defenders of the christian faith in the 20th-21st centry.
    And any Shakespeare villian could make the cut. Again great list.