Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is All About the Villains.
I started this as a Top Ten Tuesday post, but, well, it got away from me and turned into a sort of discussion of types of villains.
Villains tend to fall into categories, so that’s how I’ve identified and arranged them. (The categories are my own.) Of course there’s some overlap; where it’s really obvious, I’ve listed the villain in two categories. Also, SPOILER ALERT! Not all villains are obvious from the outset, so some of these names constitute spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the movie.
The Trusted Traitor
A schemer who plots secretly to take over the kingdom/galaxy/whatever (and sometimes succeeds). This villain is driven by ambition and is cold and calculating, but can feign loyalty, friendship, and/or patriotism.
- Saruman and Wormtongue (The Lord of the Rings) [above, Saruman, with Gandalf]
- Palpatine (Star Wars)
- Lord Orthallen (the Alberich and Arrows trilogies by Mercedes Lackey)
The Ruthless Tyrant
While the Trusted Traitor can move into this category once they achieve power, there are notable villains whose intent is obvious early on. They often appear rational at first, but may descend into megalomania madness as their power grows.
- Voldemort (Harry Potter) [above]
- Adolph Hitler (real life, and any number of novels and series set during WWII)
- The White Witch (The Chronicles of Narnia)
The Dark Lord
Inhumanly evil, this villain revels in death and destruction. Essentially, he (or rarely, she) is a literary symbol for the devil or the ultimate evil. . . which can make these villains less interesting as characters than some of their counterparts. Voldemort is an exception precisely because he falls between the Dark Lord and the more human Ruthless Tyrant. The White Witch could arguably be considered a Dark Lord, in that Lewis clearly set her in opposition to Aslan, his allegorical Christ. But the White Witch rules as much through cold and ice as through death, and her realm is not visually dark; in that, she’s more like Andersen’s Snow Queen.
- Sauron (The Lord of the Rings) [above]
- Voldemort (Harry Potter)
- Arawn (the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander)
The Inexorable Hordes
These villains are multitudinous, relentless, often emotionless or hive-minded, and apparently unstoppable. They usually see human beings as nothing more than vermin or insects to be exterminated or assimilated.
- the Borg (Star Trek)
- the Cauldron-born (the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander)
- the orcs (Lord of the Rings) [above]
- the buggers (Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card)
- the Cylons (Battlestar Galactica, especially the reboot)
- the Hivers (The Rowan, Damia’s Children, and the remaining books in The Tower and the Hive series)
- the Dementors (Harry Potter)
The Self-Righteous Villain
This is the ordinary person who convinces themself they are right or justified in doing vile or heinous things. It’s the “for the greater good” or “for your own good” justification, and it’s chilling precisely because these are ordinary people who become seduced by “the ends justify the means” argument.
- Dolores Umbridge; and to a lesser extent Ministers of Magic Cornelius Fudge and Rufus Scrimgeour (Harry Potter) [Umbridge, above]
There has to be something deeply wrong in anyone who kills time and again, particularly for twisted psychological reasons rather than for more mundane motives like jealousy, money or power. I find that so chilling that I have a hard time reading books about serial killers, at least if they go too deeply into the killer’s mindset.
- the killer from Energized (the Tidewater series by Mary Behre)
- the killer from The Language of Bees and God of the Hive (the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King)
The Mysterious Villain with Overwhelming Magical Powers
Obviously, many of the villains above also have significant, even overwhelming magical powers. But then there are the ones who, at least for a time, are also mysterious, their identity or their goals (or both) unknown. They differ from the Trusted Traitor in that they aren’t hiding behind a trusted mask.
- Darth Vader (Star Wars) [above]
- the Chandrian (the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss)
- the Ringwraiths (Lord of the Rings)
Those are some of the villains I find particularly chilling. What about you?
I love the way you split this up. And I completely agree – Villains come in all types. In some ways the Delores Umbridge type is the worst for me, because they think they are doing good. Great post!
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I agree; I find Umbridge a more interesting and in some ways a more chilling character than Voldemort, and my hatred for her is visceral.
Great list, if you like creepy hords try Jim Butcher’s series Codex Alera.
I didn’t say I liked them! Actually, they scare me. *nods* My daughter has been reading the Codex Alera, but I think I’ll start with the Dresden Files.
Great breakdown! I like Trusted Traitors because the author can really make you squirm as you agonize over when (if) the protagonists will realize their peril. 🙂 Saruman and Wormtongue are such great examples. And Palpatine- such a great villain! The self righteous are perhaps the most chilling, I think, because like you said they believe in what they’re doing.
Love the Darth Vader and Ringwraiths examples too. I like the mysterious villains. 🙂
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The Trusted Traitor is one I love to hate. And yes, I think the self-righteous villains are the most chilling, precisely because they’re the kind most of us are likely to encounter in real life, and because they don’t see that they’re evil. Glad you enjoyed the post!
I just love a good villain. They can really make a book! Harry Potter had some great and different ones!
ShootingStarsMag recently posted…Touching Down by Nicole Williams Excerpt Reveal
Great villains are a hallmark of great fantasy, I think. 🙂
Fantastic breakdown of the villains Lark. Dolores Umbridge ugh..that women made me so angry.
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Thanks, Kimba! Me too. I think everyone hates Umbridge. She’s despicable.
Charlie @ Girl of 1000 Wonders
Great post! I love how you broke up characters into categories!