Villains can make or break a book. I’ve heard it said they’re especially important for sequels, when we want to see the heroes tested by something harder and from a new angle.
The ones I find most interesting are the ones who get inside protagonists, playing off an insecurity. It might be that they trigger an especially strong fear or hatred. It might be that they trigger tenderness at the same time, making the hero and reader unsure how to react.
5. Gwendolen Chant
(Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones)
It’s hard to list all the reasons why Gwendolen is so memorable without giving away major twists from Charmed Life. Suffice to say that she’s able to make Cat squirm in very interesting ways. She is a powerful foe, but it’s the way that she uses her power that create images and conflicts.
The picture above is kind of a spoiler already. Those who’ve read the novel will get the significance of the match. Those who haven’t read the novel, should.
4. The Other Mother
(Coraline by Neil Gaiman)
Gaiman has talked about how parents are often more creeped out by Coraline than children are. There’s just something incredibly disturbing about having the villain be a loving mother with buttons for eyes.
The Other Mother is perfectly designed to fit into what Coraline thinks she wants. She’s tempting because we all understand the want for love, and terrifying because we see there’s something off about what she’s offering.
She’s also difficult to vanquish, and even when it seems like Coraline is safe from her, she isn’t. The Other Mother breaks the usual rules of Magic Door Stories, by refusing to stay only in her world.
(Silverwing Trilogy by Kenneth Oppel)
Goth is a gigantic, fervently-zealous, cannibal monster who escaped from a zoo. Are you scared yet? Because that’s terrifying!
He’s a good match against Shade who is the runt of his litter, an especially small bat. Compared to humans, Goth might not be so bad, but on the scale of bats he’s a huge. There are several moments when Shade fantasizes about being as strong as the cannibal.
I’ve said before that I don’t like generic evil, and I don’t think Goth qualifies as that. He is an embodiment of fear and death, but he’s also manipulative and plays on Shade’s uncertainties, trying to rip him apart from his friends, and his hope.
2. Dolores Umbridge
(Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling)
We’ve seen this one before…
so who took #1?
1. Long John Silver
(Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson)
Long John Silver is not only an iconic character–the crutch, the parrot, the grin–he also gets deep inside Jim Hawkins.
Early in the novel, Silver is a father figure to Hawkins. This is a hugely important part of the relationship that isn’t always done well in adaptations. Long John Silver is cutthroat, but he’s also jovial. And Hawkins looks up to him.
A lot of Silver’s power comes from physical prowess, but it’s also from charisma. And it’s not just the other pirates that follow him. Readers do as well, to the point that we share Hawkins’s grim hope and relief that Silver escapes with money.
My personal fondness for the character is cemented by Tim Curry’s portrayal in Muppet Treasure Island. I would love to post his final scene, but that would be a spoiler, and I can’t find it on youtube anyway.
Instead, I’ll leave you with this…
Next week, I’ll tackle one of the most common questions that writers get asked: “Where do you get your ideas?”