Villains are some of the most dynamic and entertaining literary characters. Whether they’re diabolical and cunning or brutal and horrific, we often find ourselves strangely attracted to them—unwilling to turn away even when we know we should. They’re deeply interesting, and they provide a mirror for us to view ourselves.
Over the next few months, this blog will examine four of literature’s most famous villains, exploring what makes them so effective. Each exemplifies a different aspect of the nature of evil, and while their depictions tell us much about how we view evil, our infatuation with them also tells us much about human nature.
Although this miniseries isn’t meant to imply that the selected characters are the best or greatest literary villains, it does have a few criteria for how they’re selected. The examined villains can represent something greater than their persons, but they must be actual characters, not abstract concepts (e.g. time, death). They also can’t be senselessly evil, and they must have a purpose. Finally, they don’t have to be “antagonists” in the traditional sense of the term—a few are even the headline characters of their texts!
What makes a villain interesting, and what does that mean for us? We’ll find out, grappling with temptation, ambition, power, and horror. As this miniseries will show, each can be one of the many Faces of Evil.
This is the introductory post in a miniseries on four great literary villains. The others can be found here.