This week’s prompt is all about villains. The best, the worst, the creepiest and the most lovable. So twirl that moustache and give me your best evil laugh. We’re doing this.
NOTE: My favourite villains are listed here in no particular order, because you can’t expect me to choose one over any other. I’m all about fairness, and they’re all fabulous(ly awful) in their own way.
“I never wanted the throne. I only ever wanted to be your equal!” – Loki (Thor, Marvel Cinematic Universe)
… But I’m totally opening with one of the most fabulous ones. He’s had many incarnations (quite literally?), but Tom Hiddleston’s turn as the God of Mischief in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a work of Shakespearean art, and it all began with some brotherly love/hate. I’m not tired of it, and I doubt I ever will be. Kneel.
“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” – The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Another cinematic interpretation of another (n)ever-changing classic villain, and this one may have far fewer redeeming qualities but he’s got just as much intriguing charm. If you like them openly, gleefully, unrepentantly psychotic, the Joker’s your man. Just keep an eye out for mislaid pencils.
“You can’t get something for nothing, you know.” – Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Quite possibly my all-time favourite despite what I said in the opening bit, if only because I’ve loved the sea witch since I was a kid. She’s devious, she’s ambitious, she’s got pipes like you wouldn’t believe – and deep down I suspect she’s always been full of rage.
Backstory isn’t something that’s afforded to Disney villains in any great amount, let’s be real – but there’s so much more to the sea witch than her cartoon incarnation showed us. If you want an interpretation that’s layered in more grey (and soaked in more blood), try Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series. If you love the sea witch, I dare you not to fall for the Luidaeg. Or be terrified by her. Or both.
“But screw your courage to the sticking place/ And we’ll not fail.” – Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, William Shakespeare)
One of my favourite Shakespeare plays, and quite possibly the mother of all grimdark stories. I’m generally not a fan of this subgenre but Macbeth has always fascinated me, not so much because of its titular king-killer but because of the woman who whispers in his ear. She might fall to madness, but Lady Macbeth’s poisonous ambition – not to mention her acceptance of her own darker nature – make her the one to write about, for me.
“All Eli had to do was smile. All Victor had to do was lie. Both proved frighteningly effective.” – Vicious (V.E. Schwab)
Cheating a little bit here because I’m including two characters in one spot on the list. Though this is probably fitting, because Eli Cardale (or Eli Ever, as he’d prefer) and Victor Vale are one deeply messed up package deal, in a way. I’m always interested to read a story that doesn’t put a clear dividing line between Hero and Villain, with its protagonists. Neither of these men are heroic in any kind of true sense; they’re both entirely too self-absorbed – and self-righteous. They aren’t admirable; they’re frightening. Yet somehow they both remain compelling, and if I admire anything it’s Schwab’s refusal to make either one the hero.
And now there’s finally a sequel! Yay!
“What worries me, Billy, is how your poor mother is going to take this.” – Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest)
Officially my choice for Worst Nurse Ever, and a character who has a permanent place on this list whether I’m focusing on SF/F or not because holy hell, she is evil.
Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel takes an unflinching look at institutional processes, in particular those concerning psychiatric patients. The hospital in which it’s set is a prison hospital, so we’re not simply dealing with helpless victims, though some of the patients are committed voluntarily. The head nurse has to be someone capable of dealing with potentially violent criminals, and so we get Nurse Ratched. But is she so cold, shrewd and merciless because her job made her that way, or does she hold her position because of those qualities? There’s no clear answer, but one does not earn a place in literary/film history for nothing, and while the novel may not be without its problems, it definitely gave us a villain for the ages. I still get chills when I think about her.
“Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.” – Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)
Awful mother. Terrible queen. Fantastic tyrant, and A+ villain.
Cersei Lannister has always refused to allow patriarchy to break her, but let’s not hand her a feminist crown just yet. Her driving need for control of herself, and of her family’s safety and security (as the most powerful family in the Seven Kingdoms, naturally), compel her to ever more loathsome heights of tyranny while – because? – everyone who was ever close to her meets one violent end or another. Cersei is another example of the kind of villainy I can appreciate, even while I hate the villain; her world undoubtedly made her what she is, but that world can’t make someone like Cersei Lannister without something to work with in the first place. She is a woman of steel, but it’s the (blackened, twisted) heart beneath that really makes her such a memorable character.
“I’m not finished yet. Not by any measure.” – Milady de Winter (The Three Musketeers)
There have been so many versions of the original novel by Alexandre Dumas over the years that it’s likely no two people will have the same favourite (personally I’ll go with the 2014-2016 BBC adaptation), but for all that I love our four swashbuckling boys, it’s the women I treasure most, and if we’re talking about villains then I had to give Milady de Winter her due.
Like Cersei Lannister before her, Milady is arguably a product of her environment, and of the treatment she receives at the hands of men – but you can’t build something from nothing, and she’s got more than enough conviction to stand out as a villain to be reckoned with. Love her or hate her, but you can’t ignore her, and it would be a bad idea to try.
“Oh dear, what an awkward situation. I had hoped it was merely due to some oversight.” – Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)
OK, look. If you’re the ruler of a fairytale kingdom and there’s a notoriously powerful, notoriously malicious sorceress in residence, and then you have a kid and throw a party and decide to invite every single body in the damn kingdom except the one who can crush you with magic, it’s pretty much your own fault if she gets upset about it.
Maleficent is evil, no question – but I love her anyway. My heart is just dark enough to appreciate a badass sorceress when I see one, and like I said, I can’t really blame her for feeling snubbed and taking revenge. Sure, it was a bit much to take her hurt feelings out on a kid, but this is classic fairy tale territory. If one’s villainy isn’t overblown and dark as hell, is it really a fairy tale?
So! Those are my choices, at least until someone writes something/I read something new and that earns a spot on the list, heh. Feel free to share your picks and comment on mine below. Is there someone you feel like I left out, or that I should perhaps read about…? Recommendations are always welcome, so have at it!