Hello, friends! I hope you’re all reading something wonderful this week! 🙂
Today I’ll be talking about some of my favorite literary villains, antagonists, all the characters I most love to hate!
Spoiler Warning for the content below: most of the entries in this list are obvious villains, but a few could reveal twists. Possible spoilers for the following books: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (although I feel like anyone who gives a damn about that book has read it by now, right?), Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
- Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter
What villain list would be complete without “Dear Bellatrix, who likes to play with her food before she eats it?” Bellatrix is just the epitome of a fun villain; she is gleeful and unrepentant, an overgrown child with a vicious streak and frightening skill. She is responsible for the deaths of some of the most beloved characters in the Harry Potter universe, and is also the only known person to ever make Molly Weasley use the word “bitch.”
- Jason Dessen, Dark Matter
There are a lot of interesting things about Dark Matter, but pitting the protagonist against another version of himself makes the top of the list. “Overcome your double” is certainly not a new theme for science fiction, Dark Matter brings an interesting twist to it with the countless Jasons who make it back home only to find themselves one of many. Dark Matter grapples with issues of identity and worthiness. What makes us root for our POV Jason as opposed to any of the others who make their way back home?
- Amy Elliot-Dunne, Gone Girl
Part of what makes Amy such an interesting antagonist is the amount of time we spend in her head, rather than watching her from the sidelines as her unfortunate husband does. Amy feels 100% justified in everything she does, but more than that, she seems to think that any reasonable woman, with all the relevant information, would agree with her. Amy is not personable, and sees zero reason why she ever should be. (“She’s easy to like. I’ve never understood why that’s considered a compliment – that just anyone could like you.”) Amy’s dark and nasty side is, in her mind, a badge of honor; it makes her brave and more authentic… and any woman who doesn’t embrace some inner dark side is lying to herself, desperate to be liked by men, pathetic. Amy scares the hell out of me because she seems to think that, deep down, everyone else is just like her.
- Serena Joy, The Handmaid’s Tale
There’s something delicious about watching Serena Joy navigate the world she helped to create, knowing she must be suffocating in it. She spent her pre-Gilead days advocating for women to stay home, raising children, being proper, submissive wives. “Her speeches were about the sanctity of the home, about how women should stay home. Serena Joy didn’t do this herself, she made speeches instead, but she presented this failure of hers as a sacrifice she was making for the good of all.” Now that she’s been forced to follow her own advice, Serena seems tense and unhappy. She is resentful and jealous of Offred, despite the fact that Offred is clearly the last person benefiting from their arrangement.
- The Beldam (Other Mother), Coraline
Coraline is such a delightfully creepy children’s book, and The Beldam is the driving force behind all of it. To draw Coraline in, she weaves a captivating world and a cast of characters comprised of more interesting versions of Coraline’s real-life neighbors. The whole world takes on the feel of an off-tilt circus performance; there is beauty and color, but an underlying aura of menace takes over very early in the story, when the Beldam tries to convince Coraline to sew buttons over her eyes so she can stay with her forever. She keeps the ghosts of her prior victims trapped in her world, unable to escape even in death. The Beldam is honestly creepier than the villains in a lot of adult horror stories.
- Cersei Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire
“She never forgets a slight, real or imagined. She takes caution for cowardice and dissent for defiance. And she is greedy. Greedy for power, for honour, for love.”
I adore Cersei. She is a complete mess and a horrendous person, but she makes sense to me. I love getting into her head in her POV chapters. She is as ruthless as a man would be expected to be in her society, and deeply resentful about the fact that being a woman makes it somehow inherently more scandalous. She loves her family… although in the case of her brother, perhaps a bit too much. Her moral compass is her family, and she will protect them at any cost, by any means.
- Szeth, The Stormlight Archive
The Assassin in White is an interesting figure. He is working under the orders of others, bound to obey whomever is holding his Oathstone, and deeply conflicted about his actions. It is interesting to watch him struggle to cope with what he is doing, going so far as to blame his victims for their own deaths as well as his suffering; if they were strong enough to stand up to him, or smart enough to hide from him, none of this would be happening. Szeth slowly loses his grip on reality as he is overcome with grief over his own actions and hopelessness. Revelations later on in the story push him even more over the edge.
- Inan, Children of Blood and Bone
Inan is the prince of Orïsha, ordered by his tyrannical father to hunt down Zélie, our main protagonist. This is another antagonist dealing with intense internal conflict. He finds himself being drawn to Zélie despite his orders to bring her to his father. To further complicate matters, he feels magic stirring within himself. Inan’s desperation to destroy magic in Orïsha forever grows with his fear of being discovered for what he truly is.
- Hinzelmann, American Gods
Hinzelmann is a kobold, one of the “old gods” in American Gods. Kobolds are creatures from Germanic lore, household spirits which are not necessarily malicious, but can become so if not adequately appeased. Hinzelmann, in an age of waning respect for the old gods has been hiding out in a small town called Lakeside, feeding of the deaths of children. In return for the sacrifices of children, Hinzelmann brings good luck and prosperity to the town, which is in an otherwise downtrodden region.
Hinzelmann, like most of the old gods in American Gods, is a really interesting mixture of existing lore and Neil Gaiman’s personal spin. Each of the old gods has been changed in America, whether it be through the simple passage of time or through desperation borne of a lack of worshipers and waning power.
- Elphaba, Wicked
Does this entry count as cheating? Yes, the Wicked Witch of the West is traditionally a villain, but in this story she’s our protagonist. I’m always a sucker for a fractured fairy tale, and Wicked is one of my favorites. I know the book has very mixed reviews; you love it or you hate it. Personally, I loved watching Gregory Maguire turn the land of Oz on its head, changing Elphaba from a one-dimensional wicked witch to an animal rights activist and political agitator. Wicked throws away any black and white notions of good and evil, and shows us the vulnerable young girl who became the Wicked Witch of the West.