Literary Villains We Love To Hate

What characters do you love to hate?Villain_woman_fire

I came across this post on the 50 Greatest Villains in Literature, and was able to identify several of my favourites in the list. It got me thinking–what makes us hate villains, and what makes us love them?

Villains must be motivated to do the things they do. Motivations might include:

  • Greed: The desire for money, possessions, or some other superficial thing
  • Revenge: Wanting to get back at someone for past wrongs
  • Power: A thirst for control over something or someone
  • Agenda: Religious or political motivations
  • Insanity: The inability to see he or she is doing wrong, or a skewed view of reality
  • Natural urges: In the case of an animal (ex: Shere Khan from The Jungle Book), the natural urge to hunt and kill; survival of the fittest
  • Supernatural urges: In the case of vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts–motivations that are beyond the realm of reality

Villains can be aware they are doing evil, but not necessarily. In fact, they may see themselves as the “good guys,” especially in the cases of insanity, or political/religious agenda.

We usually hate villains because they oppose the main characters’ goals. Generally, it’s the main character we want to see triumph.

There may be a good reason we hate them, but there are actually more reasons we love them. We love them because:

  1. They bring conflict to the story. The White Witch from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe wants to rule Narnia. Her goals oppose the main characters’ goals, and thus drive the main conflict. Stories aren’t stories without conflict.
  2. Their actions increase suspense. Hannibal Lecter from Red Dragon is unpredictable. His keeps us on the edge of our seats, wondering what he’ll do next.
  3. They can make us sympathize with them. Fagin from Oliver Twist is a villain, but his human characteristics make us less critical of him than the seemingly all-evil Bill Sikes.

Perhaps my favourite villain of all time is Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events. He’s over-the-top wicked, he’s greedy, and he’s hilarious. In fact, his actions drive the plot that runs through the entire series of books.

But, I also love more subtle villainy, such as that of Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. His character dupes everyone into thinking he’s a gentleman, whilst he attempts to ruin the reputations of two underage girls. And, he makes Mr. Darcy look like a jerk while he’s at it.

Who are your favourite villains from literature, and why? Do you prefer those with realistic characteristics, exaggerated characteristics, or both?

Photo Credit

Suzannah Windsor Freeman writes and teaches in Canada and Australia (but never at the same time). Pop over to Write It Sideways for more great writing tips, or follow her on Twitter.


If you liked this article, please help spread the news on the following sites:

  • Bump It
  • Blend It
  • Bookmark on Delicious
  • Stumble It
  • Float This
  • Reddit This
  • Share on FriendFeed
  • Clip to Evernote