Bookish Thoughts: My Love of Villains

Bookish Thoughts: My Love of Villains

Bookish Thoughts: My Love of Villains

Alright kids, let’s talk about one of my favorite topics in stories: villains. I absolutely love them.

But not just because they’re evil and give me plenty of inspiration for my world domination plans – I love their back-stories.

To me, there is something absolutely fascinating about learning why a person is moved to commit the crimes he or she does. What pushes them over the edge to do something they know should not be done? Why do it again and again, even after they have been caught once? As someone who pretty much always follows the rules, I can’t help but wonder what experiences, desires, and choices led to a person doing something wrong. (Because I never believe a person is just evil to be evil. Something made them that way.)

The Young Elites by Marie LuOf course, I feel like this whole villain back-story thing is quite hard to do, and isn’t always delivered like I’d want it to be. The two main examples that come to mind? The Young Elites and Maleficent. Both stories (a book and a movie) I went into with loads of excitement – YAY VILLAINS! But, unfortunately, I was ultimately disappointed by both. It’s not that I thought either were horrible stories – I was intrigued by some of the characters and the magic in The Young Elite, and Maleficent was quite beautiful in its storytelling – but neither of them actually portrayed villains in my point of view. I don’t want to get too deep into why incase someone hasn’t read/watched either, but let’s just say neither really did things for the wrong reasons, in my opinion. (Further explanations in the spoiler tags!)

View Spoiler »

Breaking BadFor me, my favorite villain back-stories are those that take a good person and ultimately break them through horrible experiences, lack of needs being met, wrong choices, etc. My two favorite examples of villains (or the two that came to mind while writing this post) are Walter White and Darth Vader. Walter White is, hands down, one of my favorite characters of all time. In Breaking Bad, he is this chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with lung cancer and turns to cooking crystal meth in order to pay his bills and secure a future for his family. This show is perfect (if you haven’t seen it, I don’t think we can talk), because not only do you see White’s gradual transformation from this law-abiding classroom teacher to a law-breaking murderous meth cook, but you understand why he did it. His diagnosis, his low-paying job, his skills, his desires – he went down this path because he thought it was the best thing, and yet on the way he lost any morals he had and became this crazy, cold bastard because that’s what was needed to survive. (Seriously, it’s so good. I think I need a re-watch.)

Star Wars Episode IIIAnd Darth Vader? Do I even have to talk about him? I know people hate on the newer Star Wars films because of Jar Jar Binks and whatnot, but I always really liked it. I really believed that Annikin would make the bad decisions that he did based on what he was going through, and that he would ultimately break. Love makes people do crazy things. (I actually do plan on re-watching the Star Wars movies though, just to see if it delivers as much as it does in my head still. :P)

In the end, it all comes down to this: These characters do bad things, and know that what they are doing is wrong in other’s eyes, but continue to do them because their life has brought them to that point. In their mind, their actions are justifiable. And that is why I love learning their stories.

Oh, but wait, there’s one more thing I want to talk about in regards to villains. One more reason I find them fascinating.

I feel like everyone has the potential to slip into being a villain. Especially in YA. Think about a lot of the YA stories we read – many have this sense of pre-determined heroic-ness. Like, it’s fate that certain characters are going to be good in life because of a prophecy, gift, etc. They’re destined to be heroes. And they often do. But what about those characters who aren’t fated for good things? What about those characters who are really negatively impacted by their missing or neglectful parents, who try so hard to succeed but constantly fail, who can only find friends within those that do bad things? Sure, many of those characters will turn out well like the rest of us, but surely as teenagers it’d be likely that some would make the wrong choice, that some would do things to meet needs they feel are missing, that some would think being bad is their only option… And while some would recover, others wouldn’t.

Of course, while I love villains and feel like they should be present in YA, I feel like I don’t see a whole lot. Or not a whole that are MCs. I asked bloggers for their favorite villains (see below) and many mentioned characters that weren’t the MC. I want to see the MC be a villain! While there are some pretty epic villains in YA books today (I love you Darkling!!), I hate that they’re getting relegated as this mysterious opposite force. Give me their story. Give me their Pov. Give me their evilness. That would make me one happy reader.

Your turn! Do you love villains? Why? Have any villain recommendations (esp with villains being MC!)? Let me know what you think!


Read 37 comments

  1. Nope, I hate villains. Some times I can understand how they became the way they are, but I just don’t like them. A MC needs to have likeable qualities and I never really like the villains. The only time I’m ever really conflicted when it comes to a villain, is if they are really funny. I’ll still dislike them, but the humour will soften it a bit, for me.

    I may be risking our friendship with what I’m about to say…but, I don’t like the sound of Walter White. I haven’t watched Breaking Bad, but I think he would annoy me. Still friends?

    I don’t mind novellas from the villains POV so much, but I wouldn’t like a whole book from their POV. I think I would just be annoyed the whole time reading. Sorry. :D :P

    • Yeah, we definitely can’t be friends.

      To me, villains are still human, and every villain always has a reason for what they’re doing. It may not be justifiable or okay, but it’s there. It reminds me of some movie trailer I remember watching a couple of years ago (I never saw the movie). A dad took a gun into a hospital and like held everyone hostage in there in order to force them to take care of his son (because we don’t have free health, you know). In our society, that person would be considered a villain because he’s threatening people’s lives, acting selfish, and breaking the law. But though he is a villain, you can understand his desperation and what led him to do what he did, no matter how wrong it was. I find that fascinating.

      Of course, I don’t like it in real life, especially because tons of people use religion as their excuse to do bad things. But I do think it’s fascinating in literature. To each their own though. We’re different in many ways.

  2. That’s a very interesting post, Asti. I’m actually quite interested in villains and their backstories too, and I would love to read more books from their POV. I’ve been racking my brain for a while trying to think of a good book that I read which had a villain MC, but I’m really struggling, so I probably haven’t read that many… The only one I can really think of at the moment is Artemis Fowl, even though I’m not entirely sure he fully qualifies as a villain throughout the whole series, but he certainly starts off like one (I mean, kidnapping faeries? Not exactly hero stuff).

    I agree with you, even more than books just saying “Here’s your hero, here’s your villain, these are their backstories. Enjoy.”, I wish there were more stories out there that challenged the pre-established roles of heroes and villains, and how easy it can be to slip into becoming a villain and how hard it is to come back after making some pretty serious mistakes. That’s definitely something I would love to read about!

    • Ooh, I’ll have to look into Artemis Fowl. I’ve heard of it but never actually checked to see what it was about.

      And yes, I agree with that as well! I think there are many good people who can fall into doing bad things, and many bad people who grow to redeem themselves later on. I would love to see more characters in the gray area, or ones who move between the two extremes!

  3. I’m so with you on the spoilers for Maleficent Asti, like, seriously, how is that a backstory, you want rich, you want big stories, twisted, dangerous characters, you want badness evilness, gah! When you were talking about villains who become villains because of things that’s happened, because they can see the hero getting all the attention, there’s one in the Starcrossed series by Josephine Angelini that you just watch change and morph into this person who just wants something, or someone to appreciate and understand him, and yeah, he’s a good type of villian me thinks. Sucha great post though Asti!<3

  4. I think my favourite kind of villain is the ones who think they’re doing something good, and maybe they are, but whatever their goal is just happens to conflict with the protagonist’s goal. The first time I remember encountering a villain like that was Gwenhwyfar in The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. She believes she’s doing good works, but to many of the main characters she just looks like a religious fanatic who needs to be stopped. It’s not hard to see her point of view, and it would have been a completely different book if she was the main character instead of Morgaine.

  5. Excellent post, Asti! When I first started reading this I was all, “How dare you?! Maleficent was AMAZING!”, which I thought it was. I LOVED getting the back story we got, and I thought it was so in keeping with the original Disney cartoon. But, when I read on, I can see what you mean. Maleficent for me was amazing, but she wasn’t a true villain in the sense that she’s redeemable, in fact someone else becomes the true villain. I think I often struggle with “real” villains, because it’s so much darker than someone acting out for being wronged. It’s less understandable. And when I was reading the end of your post, I remembered a movie with Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson called Unbreakable. Have you seen it? You’d love it I think. Basically, without giving it away, Jackson says a great line in it, “Now that we know who you are, I know who I am. I’m not a mistake! It all makes sense! In a comic, you know how you can tell who the arch-villain’s going to be? He’s the exact opposite of the hero. And most times they’re friends, like you and me! I should’ve known way back when… You know why, David? Because of the kids. They called me Mr Glass.”

    • Oh yes, I definitely understand the love for Maleficent and don’t think it was a BAD movie – it just wasn’t the movie I expected (or wanted). I actually thought Angelina Jolie did an amazing job playing Maleficent and enjoyed the twist on the story, it just left my desires for a tortured villainous enemy unfulfilled, haha.

      I just googled Unbreakable and no, I don’t think I’ve seen it. It is on Netflix though, so I will definitely give it a go when I get a chance. (Need to finish watching season three of House of Cards first! XP) That quote you shared has left me quite intrigued!

  6. I love this post! It’s fun getting to learn about your favorite (and least favorite) villains, since they’re obviously a hot topic for you. Although now, I feel like I need to go watch Breaking Bad immediately or you’re going to disband our friendship. >_<

    • Wait, we’re still friends? I’m pretty sure I disowned you already…

      haha, just kidding. I DO recommend Breaking Bad though! I have a love/hate relationship with Walter White and an absolutely love/love relationship with Jesse. I SO want to rewatch that series now. So much goodness.

  7. Villains are used in books to keep the story real, to keep the MC on their toes, to bring conflict, to incite a reaction (good or bad) on others. There are types of villains, the ones that you end up loving (like the Gray man in the Raven Cycle), the ones that you violently hate (like the Bane in the Elemental series ), and even some that you understand (like Voldemort or Darth Vader).

    Oh, btw – I haven’t watch Breaking Bad, but hubby just did while he was recuperating from surgery :)

  8. I like villains but I don’t like it when authors try to write a villain story and then it ends up to be a list of excuses. Maybe the only one I like is the Shatter Me novella, destroy me. I wasn’t expecting some hardcore villain stuff so I was alright with it.

    However, with a book like Fairest, I was completely interested. Marissa didn’t hold back at all and in my opinion, that’s what I think a villain is. She showed the human side to Levana [the jealousy, the anger] but then used those nasty emotions to drive Levana to do some crazy things. That’s what makes a villain, IMO.

    • I think there are a variety of villains, just like there are a variety of heroes. Some DO have excuses, understandable reasons why they commit their crimes, and others are just nasty. I actually like learning about them all. It’s fascinating to me. (Though either way, I always want them to seem real. I do think the fact that Meyer showed the human side to Levana through her cruelty was still really important, even if it wasn’t enough for some readers to like her.)

  9. Marie said the next book in The Young Elites will be a lot darker, and I hope it delivers! TYE seems like the backstory only, and I want to see her decline into villainy in the next book. And I haven’t watched either of the shows (yes, I really have never watched Star Wars), so my favorite villain would have to be Victor and Eli in Vicious. Both are villains in their own ways, and it’s just delicious.

    • Ah yes, Victor and Eli are definitely a good example. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t mention them in this post. Maybe because they’re not so obviously villains? Like both do bad things, but they sort of fall in this gray area? Of course, that makes them all the more irresistible!

      I’m so split when it comes to reading The Rose Society! I personally didn’t like TYE so feel like it’d be a waste of my time to continue on with the series (just because there’s so many others I’m in the middle of), but I was super-intrigued by the characters introduced at the end of TYE and the promise of the sequel being a lot darker gets me excited. Decisions, decisions!

  10. Beautiful post Asti!
    I am utterly captivated by villains.I personally believe that everyone has a reason to do something,so if someone is acting villainous and intentionally hurting people and forgetting morals,there must be a reason for them to do so.
    I love myself some villain backstories.I love how J.K.Rowling portrayed Voldemort as a villain.He was evil and beyond redemption,but when you look at his childhood,we can see a boy who was craving attention.That desire for attention made him an adult who wanted to dominate the wizarding world so that he can get the attention he wanted.That didn’t make me sympathize with him,but still,I wa able to understand him as a character.
    Villains with character depth are the best villains.

    • Yes, I agree! I always feel like there is SOME reason why people become villains, even if they aren’t always obvious or justifiable. And I like that you bring up Rowling’s books. I think one of my favorite things about the HP series is not even the obvious villain, Voldemort, but the character in the gray area, Snape. I love how she left you guessing his alliance throughout the series. He did some bad things, but he had his reasons, and it’s puts the reader in an uncomfortable spot of not knowing. I think that can be a thing with villains too – sometimes you just don’t know which way they really fall. And that excites me!

  11. OK, you seriously need to watch Babylon 5. Let me warn you: the production value is not the best ( + made in the 90’s) and you might spend most of the first season uncertain. But TRUST ME, once it starts getting into all the twisty turns and introducing villains and turning people into villains I think you would love it!

  12. For me, villains are by far the most interesting part of a story, both in a book and a movie/series. Like you said, because of the back story, for one – you want to understand why they turned out the way that they did, and why they feel justified to commit their crimes. Secondly, I just find them more fascinating as a character. Especially when you look at villains such as Moriarty in Sherlock and The Master in Doctor Who – they’re hilarious, and crazy, and they’re that sort of “happy psychotic”, which is so great to see. I love a good villain with charisma.

    • Oooh yes, I didn’t really touch on those types of villains, but they’re definitely amazing to learn about too. (Another reason why I love villains – they’re so diverse!) There’s something super disturbing about a villain with charm – it’s like you know with that charm they have the power to lead an army, and that makes them all the more troublesome. Love it!

  13. I don’t specifically like villains, but I do share your enjoyment of learning where a character comes from. I think this is probably more important and often more interesting and complex for villains though, so perhaps I do also especially like villains! Unfortunately, I think they’re less likely to have a believable backstory than a “good” character, perhaps because I’m more willing to accept someone being good just because than I am someone being evil just because. What an interesting thing to think about!

    • I think for me it is a lot of what you said in that second sentence – villains can often be a bit more interesting and complex, because something big usually has had to happen to make them go against the fray and learning what that event was can often be shocking. Without those types of catalysts, those big events in their lives or those missing pieces of themselves that they try to fill through their evil actions, they might not have never turned against the tide. It’s fascinating to me!

  14. I’m totally with you—I LOVE a good villain! Personally, I think a good, complex villain makes the story. I can’t actually say I’m ever rooting for universally good characters, to be honest,—there has to be SOME moral ambiguity there to make it more interesting. I think V.E. Schwab’s Vicious is the perfect example of that: nobody is the quintessential good guy, and nobody started out as a bad guy either—it’s the internal struggle and twisted personalities that make this book amazing.
    Basically, this post speaks to me :)

  15. I love villains! They’re usually my favorite characters for all the reasons you stated and more. We actually just had a debate about what makes a good villain in my almost-writing group (it’s a very well established writing group; I just don’t have time and didn’t click with them well). One of the reasons the villain is almost always my favorite character is because they, by definition, are the character that actually DRIVES the plot. Your antagonist, by definition, is the character that actually forces things to happen, and usually that also drives the main character to develop. So villains are awesome!

  16. Interesting post. Personally, I’m a big fan of villains. Done well, they’re often my favourite characters. Always have been – I used to cheer for the evil witches and things when taken to pantomimes as a kid!

    Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials is probably my personal best example of a truly awful – but still sympathetic and believable – villain. I really love characters that tread a fine line between villain and love interest too, like Julian in the Forbidden Game. I haven’t read the Young Elites – tempted to give it a whirl if it explores this sort of theme, even if, as you suggest, it doesn’t quite pull it off.

    I don’t know whether or not you’re a fan of full-blown fantasy, but I recently read Prince of Thorns, which does a great job of having the main character be an utterly awful person, striking a neat balance between explaining but never excusing their actions.

    Serious anti-heroines are definitely something I’m starting to play with in my own writing nowadays.

  17. I LOVE THIS POST! I agree 100%, I like to read and understand the villain more. We focus on the heroes but what pushes people to commit horrors? I want to know! I love that Voldemort got a bit of a back story though I wish he got a bigger one.

  18. I think books with complex villains are the best! To me, it’s always interesting because there’s good and bad in the world, but then there’s also gray — and any of us can find ourselves in that area at some point due to our circumstances or our choices. In the end, what ultimately makes a villain real and interesting (to me) is to make sure the reasons for what they’re doing are more than just that they’re “evil” or “bad”.

  19. I LOVE THIS POST, ASTI. Villains are, hands-down, my absolute favourite characters to explore in writing and reading. In Frozen Hearts, my upcoming book, I had such a fun time playing around with the characters (and by the way, one of the two villains does have a POV role, which was pretty much the coolest thing EVER to write). One of the biggest struggles is the parallel between the MC and the villain – their motivations, hopes, and fears so alike, and yet one went down the wrong path and one is struggling not to.

    It’s a tough line to walk, though – how do you make your villains horrible, and yet still understandable? I think that might be why so many writers shy away from it (and why we have a saddening lack of YA villain-centred books today).

  20. I’m generally not a fan of the villains but you make a great point about Maleficent. Instead of digging more into the villain they made her much kinder and less of a villain at all. Yes, she acted out of anger but she had good reasons to be angry. And she didn’t get stuck in that anger. She got through it and into compassion and kindness and villains don’t do that.

    I tell my nephews – villains are the ones who use their anger to hurt someone else. Especially someone not connected to why they’re angry at all. The difference between the hero and the villain is that heroes don’t hurt people when they get angry.

    It’s interesting though, because it’s really hard not to sympathize a villain right into not being a villain at all. The Shatter Me series has a pretty great villain but as soon as you learn their back story it humanizes them and, like Maleficent, they start making good choices and you’re totally on their side. I feel like something like Breaking Bad or the Sopranos is more of an anti-hero where they’re not a good person but you still understand them and root for them. If Walter really was a villain in the story, wouldn’t he be the one you want to lose the fight? What’s the difference between a villain and an anti-hero? I don’t know! You’ve totally just made me have to think about that :)

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