Everyone loves a hero or heroine, literature is full of them: dashing, intellectual, brave, morally unabashed. They exist to save the day and it must be very rewarding to walk that righteous path. We celebrate when they inevitably win, a happy ending – Hurrah! But a small part of me has to admit I can’t resist a good villain.
Every much-loved hero requires an arch enemy. Call it balance, call it yin and yang, but where would Sherlock Holmes be without Moriarty? Harry Potter would be bored to tears without he who has no name chasing him down, and The Wizard of Oz, or The Emerald City as the book was originally titled (L.Frank Baum) would simply not be the same if Dorothy had no witches to squash / melt with a bucket of water. Captain Hook, from Peter Pan and Wendy (JM Barrie) is another character we like to boo and hiss at. His hook can cause untold damage and he spends his life trying to eradicate the ever-youthful Peter Pan (if I’m honest I find him a little annoying too, anyone that sprightly is bound to be irritating). Some villains have an icy veneer that can chill you to the core, The White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (CS Lewis) is majestic and beautifully cruel, and her kingdom is as cold as her heart.
Then you have stories that produce two very different villains, such as Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens). I can’t help but have a soft-spot for the crafty Fagin. Yes, he’s a lowlife thief and a swindler, he’s dirty and would probably sell his own Mama for a shilling, but you know behind the ragged deceit there’s a half decent bloke looking out for a bunch of orphans, willing them to “be back soon.”
Now, on the other side of the coin you have Bill “no redeeming qualities what-so-ever” Sykes. Yuk! There’s a nasty villain for you. The epitome of evil, Sykes is foul to poor Oliver (along with everyone else), right from the off. Everyone is afraid of him and in the end, it’s his faithful dog Bullseye and loyal girlfriend Nancy that cop it. No-one sheds a tear when he ends up swinging from a girder. Although we despise old Sykes, Oliver Twist would not be the classic it is without his infamous presence.
Not all villains take human form either. Shere Khan, the tiger of The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling), is refreshingly ruthless and callous. He has one simple objective – to devour the man cub Mowgli. He has no hidden agenda, no sad background story that makes you have a little bit of sympathy for the poor old tiger. Similarly, Jaws (Peter Benchley) is straightforward in his quest to cause havoc and bloodshed, the great big ocean and tasty swimmers are all he needs to instil fear and panic amongst readers. I still have fleeting moments of alarm when swimming in the sea myself. Last year in exotic Weston (I was lucky the sea was far enough in to swim), I had an irrational feeling that a big grey monster was lurking inches below me ready to tear off my leg. Yes, it’s crazy, Weston is hardly known for its Great Whites, but that is the all-consuming power of a literary masterpiece and a villain that is able to get into your head.
Villains are everywhere. Dark and brooding, they lurk in the pages of a good book, enticing you to follow them into depravity, willing you to go along with their mischievous acts and cunning ways. And while I screw my nose up at their wickedness, I marvel at their audacity and I guiltily relish walking in their despicable shoes. The villain of the piece often has some of the less gracious traits we all desperately try and keep under wraps. They are willing to showcase the guises that we try to hide away. Lies, deceit, betrayal, the ability to be nasty without a care, it all comes naturally and a little bit of me envies that sense of freedom they must feel. If they want something, they simply take it.
The villain is often just as (if not more) memorable than the hero. They often add the pizzazz and fire the story needs to make it one to remember. Of course, it’s right that the hero usually wins the day, but I will always have a thirst to get to know the baddie too. Let’s just call it a guilty pleasure!
Emma Challoner-Miles is a busy wife, mum, teaching assistant and freelance writer. When she isn’t cooking tea, making phonics fun, or glued to the laptop she can be found walking Roy – her adorable, but slightly crazy Border Collie, reading (anything and everything, dreaming of a life in the sun, and drinking wine (anything and everything).