Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Villains, Essay by Sabrina Klein
Villain. It’s a word that is used to describe criminals, those who are evil, and sometimes by one side to describe the other. It wasn’t always that way until about 1822… previously it used to mean a person in a village who was free from their feudal lord. So what is a villain? We can generate countless adjectives, bad, nefarious, evil, maniacal, cruel, vicious, sadistic, vile, terrible, insidious, and naughty, among other words used. Is this character all that is the antithesis of the hero or do they have something in common? Or is it the one that the reader chooses to root against for some personal reason? Villains are made the same way any other character is made. They have parents-or some beginning, likes and dislikes, goals, and a driving force behind their personality- a history. They are people… not objects or motives without personality. It’s not necessarily their motives that are in the limelight but their methodology on route to their objectives.
Just because the character opposes the hero isn’t enough. They must have an agenda, a purpose of their own. ‘Muwhahahahaha’ isn’t a villain, its several syllables strung together. Neither is the mushy efficacious super-genius, or the miscreant individual who drinks revenge like fish drink water. Villains don’t exist just to make life harder for the hero. They must be three-dimensional or the hero is afflicted by the same two-dimensionalism because there is no real threat to his person or his cause. Your hero is only as glorious as your villain is wretched. Doing things for the sake of evil isn’t good enough there has to be a motive, even within the insane mind there is a motive. Villain is a matter of perspective. Often the villain thinks that he or she is doing the right thing, but are they?
Truth is, if the reader doesn’t hate, despise, and/or want the villain dead more than anything… the writer hasn’t done their job. Fear, that’s a good one too, and it been a LONG time since I have seen a villain that was truly frightening. Gore doesn’t a villain make-animals are gory, beasts of limited understanding are gory just because there is blood and guts it’s not scary. Alternatively, a villain that is afraid of a larger villain. There is a food chain among the evil, and there is always a bigger fish with sharper teeth and there always will be. Often I think too much is revealed about a villain, as human nature is to fear what they don’t understand, and/or fear the unknown. If the villains true nature is unknown it can be frightening. Moreover, if the nature of their actions is unknown it can also create apprehension.
So now to get personal about it. Why is it that everyone insists on creating these mushy villains? Bad guys that scream syllables and continue on their way as if the hero is but a nuisance are flat. If the hero is a nuisance then the writer better prove to me the villain is a LARGE pain, and the story shouldn’t be from the hero’s point of view. It should be about the villain. Villains are not two-dimensional beings they are real….just as much as the hero is real. Villains that you see are not always the true villain of the story often times there is a motivation behind the evil. People don’t do things just to do them. Something always pushes for a reaction, desire for something, revenge, power, and object of their craving. For example, Shere Kahn goes after Mowgli because he wants to eat him for being in his forest (in the most basic sense); it’s about a desire for dominance within the villain’s lands. It’s also the portrayal of that evil that a villain should enjoy what they are doing, especially if it’s in. Occasionally, if the villain is doing something vile to the villain that disgusts him show it. Say that torture disgusts the villain, offends his higher sensibilities, there is a reason-why didn’t we know it nor have some clue beforehand. If he is willing to push past his own morals to obtain his objective then it must mean a great deal to him, why? He/ she has a reason flush it out.
Make a villain with substance please. If you don’t it’s an insult to your hero. Because your hero is laughable, he has nothing to fight because your villain has no substance. ‘Muwhahahahahaha doesn’t a villain make’ neither does revenge for the sake of revenge, or power because he is a power hungry mongrel. There is a reason he seeks power or revenge, find it, use it, define him/ her with it. Make your reader sympathize just a little with the villain, it humanizes them makes them reachable, redeemable, and connectable. People want to see redemption. It’s human nature for people love and hope-use the villain to take it away and then use the hero to take it back. What makes it more fun is later making them understand that he isn’t redeemable, and then proving it making them hate the villain all over again.
Villains have a converse relationship with the hero of the story, and it is their methods that continually define them- not the results of their actions, regardless of how complex you make them. For example; Lord Darkness from the movie Legend (1984) wants to destroy sunlight to rule the world, but he feels that he must corrupt the soul of the princess to do it to truly feel complete. How does he do it? He makes her do it for him, and that is far more sinister than forcing her to do evil acts to make her like it. He uses persuasion, manipulation, and intelligence. His methods are what make him what he is, not just his personality or what he is. He is a demon, and by all standards of point of view that in itself makes him evil, but so is Hellboy, it is his actions and methods that help define him as evil.
Voldemort, now there is a classic villain. He wants power, but he has seized the methods by which to insure his success himself (horcruxes). His minions are just that minions, and in each instance it is his methodology that he puts forward. Not simply his desire world domination, power, or magical cleansing. Truly it is his nemesis that is important to speak of here because he has two. That’s right you heard me two. Harry Potter of course being the first, but Dumbledore is the second and original nemesis. They are in many capacities equal in power if not knowledge. The power base shifts Dumbledore holds power and knowledge as advantages initially, and then knowledge is his only visible advantage later on. Harry becomes Voldemort’s nemesis as a baby and doesn’t have power or knowledge until much later. Yet what Harry lacks in knowledge he makes up for in determination a determination that matches Voldemort’s, and is fueled by revenge. This is important. There must usually be something that is in balance between the villain and the hero. Balance for Harry and Voldemort is determination but for Dumbledore and Voldemort its sheer magical power.
As for villains that in my opinion really are rather worthless we have all run into them. They are forgettable, worthless, and don’t stand out except for the moment we encounter them perplexed as to ‘and why isn’t this idiot defeated yet?’. Villains are the worlds-your world’s most memorable individuals, with the exception of your heroes. When you ask someone for a worthless villain, lame villain, stupid villain they think for a moment because they have to remember him/her unless the villain has become hated for the fact that they are just that horrible at their job. I have a few that make me mad and I will name them.
Jareth from the film Labyrinth. He poses no threat to Sara. The only thing he hangs over her head is turning her brother into a goblin, and he sends “the cleaners” after her after she escapes from the oubliette. Hs minions are worse than he is. Most people remember him for the music added by the actor, who did a wonderful job with a character that could have been much better.
There is another type of villain, villains that deserve mention but are forgotten because the heroes they fight are worthless. Often times we are frustrated with them and then ignore the story because the hero is somehow unworthy of the victory because the author lets them win. It’s the same response when you play a game and someone let’s you win, the satisfaction of winning loses its luster, feeling hollow. Gargamel from The Smurfs, Purple Pie man from Strawberry Shortcake, and Hook from Peter Pan (Disney Version).