As February begins, so shall I.
What is evil? Is it just the opposite of good? But what is good? Isn’t this all in the eye of the beholder?
Evil is complicated and simple. How is this possible? Well, let me pose a question: Would a man who kills a child be considered evil? Oh, most definitely. BUT DETAILS! The child was merely a demon in disguise bent on eating the world’s population of kittens/puppies/bunnies (depending on your cute preference). So is the man’s act good now? What if the child didn’t KNOW he was a demon in disguise and was a sleeper agent of the demon armada, and for all intensive purposes wouldn’t become demonic until the child’s eighth birthday, but for all intents and purposes was a normal child until midnight on that particular date, and the man kills him before then because the demon will be unstoppable when it’s eight years old?!!
Well, damn. That’s confusing. Sure, he saved the souls of <insert whatever cute animal you picked>s everywhere, but to do so involved the death of a child ignorant of his future.
That’s the fun (hear me out) of evil. It’s the difference between that evil kid at the end of “Pet Sematary” and… well, that same kid but at the beginning of “Pet Sematary.” Subtle differences.
So what does this mean for you?
Well, your antagonist might need to be evil.
I’m not talking that your main character thinks that what their adversary is doing is wrong while the adversary thinks they’re doing something for the sake of good. I’m talking about your foe burning down a village because they think the screams are hilarious. The bad guy kills Mufasa to become king. Your antagonist opens a portal to an alternate dimension for the sake of wiping out all of humanity to usher in a new age of darkness while he receives ultimate power for doing so (but will probably be killed immediately, as is the usual fate of people opening portals to realms for the promise of power. You’d think they’d learn).
Evil comes in levels, is what I’m trying to say. You with me?
Most will argue that “evil for the sake of evil” is unreasonable. That your villain needs depth and motivation and a “Why is he evil?” Well, this argument brings up many good points. Everyone likes the tragic villain that was twisted into the dark entity they are today. One of my favorite villains, Dracula, is a very good example. But I’m not talking of the Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s famous book. Oddly enough, I speak of the Dracula from the 1992 Coppola Film (where he was played by Gary Oldman). In the Dracula is a monster seeking to move his place of power from Transylvania to London where he obsesses over Keanu Reeve’s girlfriend, the chick from Beetlejuice. So, yeah. It’s just like the book except for one little thing: Dracula’s humanity. If you’ve never seen it, at least check out the intro *coughyoutubecough*. His girl is dead and damned, and he renounces his faith to become damned for revenge. In the original novel, he just seems to be evil because… I don’t know. He’s bored. Probably. It’s been a while since I read it.
So we have a tragic hero of a villain. Cursed, he plans on destroying all of humanity, because salvation is impossible for him. Most would agree that that could be considered a “good” villain.
But what about “evil for evil’s sake?” Are there any good villains who just seek to destroy? Ones that aren’t warped and twisted from the path of righteousness but started off 100% total bastard?
You bet there are.
And it’s not The Devil. I know, right? You’d think HE would be evil all the time. But he’s already a fallen angel. So he has a tragic backstory (and a good one, too, if you’ve slogged through “Paradise Lost” (and don’t get mad that I said “Slogged.” It’s not an easy read)).
A good villain is one that you can find sympathy for. Someone that an audience kind of likes when he’s on screen (or page). The Lord Ruler of the Mistborn Books (by Brandon Sanderson) seems evil at first. And he is. Totally. But then you find out WHY he did things the way he did and he falls on the side of “Well, he did small evil to prevent BIG evil.” Much like my kiddie-demon murder example (SAVE THE PUPPIES/KITTENS/OTTERS/ETC!!).
A great villain, though? A great villain is one that you HATE. A great villain is someone that, not only do you want your protagonist to succeed, you want this villain to pay for what they’ve done with every fiber of your being. A great villain is one that makes you shocked that someone could do that to a human being, and no humanity can be given to make them right.
Who is my “great villain?” Who did I immediately say “Oh, he better not win a damn thing!”?
The Grey King from “The Lies of Locke Lamora” (Scott Lynch). He does something very reprehensible to a character that I instantly liked. No spoilers, but it’s good. They even give him a small tragic backstory, and it made me say “Nope. Don’t care. Hope he dies in a fire.”
And again, I tangent. Even THEN he’s still not “Evil for the sake of evil.”
This is harder than I thought.
So who, ultimately, fits that criteria?
The Dark One from Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan and, more recently, Brandon Sanderson). At the moment of its creation, the Dark One was the embodiment of all that is wrong and hateful (and chaotic), and imprisoned. No backstory. Just *poof* “Hi I’m evil immediately!” *Prison*
…total cop out, right?
But It is the best one I can think of after stalling for so long (and I capitalize “It” so I don’t have to type “The Dark One” a billion times, and I’m pretty sure It’s genderless). So what does It do as a villain? Corrupts the male half of magic. Unleashes famine through an extended winter, then an extended summer. Infests and spoils food merely by EXISTING. Ultimate goal? Destroy all of reality as soon as It’s free.
Evil for evil’s sake. And a good villain. Not a great one, but good.
So do not think that evil is simple. Evil is complex. Evil is malevolent. Evil is dark and twisted. But Evil is also human.
I’ll discuss that more later. I’ve rambled too long.
What are some of your favorite villains?