This one deserves a little setup. First off, “favorite” is a very awkward word in this case. Approaching the topic of villains, favorite is often not the way I’d like it put. More like most effective villains. Or even “worst” in the sense that they’re very nasty. A couple of these, favorite might be okay, but there are definitely levels to these choices that I’ll be explaining as I go through.
Also, this topic was shockingly hard. It made me realize that I don’t read a lot of things that focus much on the villainy. If they do, then the character becomes so gray to me that they no longer read as a total villain. See A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin for lots of examples of this. Or sometimes the villains in my favorite books are monsters, and I wasn’t sure if that should count. Basically my thought process this week was pretty particular, and I obsess too much. Now let’s get started! Oh, and some spoilers ahead, too.
5. Dodge from Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Dodge starts as the monster under the bed. Then evolves into the bad kid next door, the unpredictable kind that makes you squirm every time he’s left alone with one of our main characters. Then something fantastic happens near the latter half of the series, and he gets a ton of backstory and character depth that you didn’t see coming. Like any great comic book villain, suddenly what’s happened to him becomes tragic. Hill went above and beyond in making Dodge both terrible and magnetic, and he’s one of the reasons this series is a must read.
4. Randall Flagg from The Stand/The Eyes of the Dragon/The Dark Tower by Stephen King. This is one of those times when favorite tastes sour in my mouth, because if anything I love to hate him. He’s arguably the most twisted and real-seeming villain King has ever written. Crimson King, eat your heart out. He’s powerful and mysterious, but he’s also fallible, often due to his monstrous ego. Some of the biggest events in the King-verse, he’s there working his evil machinations. Most disturbing of all, he’s charming. People want to follow him. He’s seductive, and nothing makes a villain more horrifying to me than that.
3. Amy Dunne from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Those spoilers I warned about? Right here. Though I think the cat is mostly out of the bag with this one. For the first half of the book, we’re under the impression that Amy is a victim. Then the second half slams into us like a truck, and we’re left with our jaws on our chests as she explains her evil plan and how perfectly it went. She’s a murderer and a mastermind, a complete sociopath who sees only her own gain and catalogues every slight against her in painstaking detail. She uses the basic, female stereotypes that permeate the media to handily win her way wherever she wants to be. You almost have to admire it, which is so gross of me to say but is a testament to incredible writing.
2. Roland Croninger from Swan Song by Robert McCammon. When we first encounter Roland, he’s a somewhat dark-minded kid obsessed with a computer game. Nothing new there really. Then the unthinkable happens, and America has been struck by nuclear war. In the ensuing fallout, Roland sees himself as a knight from his favorite game. He’s determined to serve his king and prove himself courageous. His actions are ignoble but fueled by an unnerving sense of honor and rightness, turning him into the definition of lawful evil. It becomes clear throughout the course of the book that of all the ne’er-do-wells in his army, including the man who outranks him, he’s the most deadly and effective. Again, he’s awful, but McCammon gives him so much time and thought that he’s a blast to follow.
1. Francis Dollarhyde from Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Some might say Hannibal Lecter, for his style and charm. Some might say Jame Gumb for his creepiness and the way his character was molded from some of the most notorious real-life killers in history. But I say Francis. Because his backstory is tragic. His life is sad. His delusions are terrifying and depressing. For a time, his heart isn’t entirely corrupted, and it makes his ultimate choices even more heartbreaking and awful. Before Harris was making Hannibal a character that was hard to hate, he created Francis, who defines why you would cringe away but also feel sympathy for a character. In Francis, he creates this perfect portal into pathological evil, stares right into its heart, and dares to show us the goodness that could be, making for a perfect, villainous tragedy.
There you have it! Thank you for reading, and as always, happy geeking!
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