Loving the Villains
Picture the emperor. Not the Japanese emperor, or the Ottoman emperor, or Constantine or any of those; no, picture the emperor in Star Wars (if you're not a fan, stick with me here, we'll get through it together). The emperor was an old man with a marred, misshapen face, cowled and nearly always in shadow and grey tones. But what strikes me most about him, is that he was never a terribly engaging character.
Now picture Darth Vader. Even if you're not a fan, you probably recognise what has become one of the most iconic villains ever written. The black helmet. The bass tones of James Earl Jones. The mysterious power of the Dark Side of the Force. And the breathing. That constant, mechanical breathing. He is wonderful, and dark, and has someone off-screen holding up a speaker playing his ominous theme music...
So what's the difference between these two? Not much on the face of it. The emperor is Vader's master, his ruler and teacher. One familiar with the movies might think, "If anything, the emperor should be a better villain than Vader, because he's even more evil!"
And there is the key.
Vader is a better villain not because of the bad in him, but because of the good in him. The emperor is flat, altogether evil, predictable in every sense not very relatable. Vader, on the other hand, is the tortured father of Luke (whom we'll talk about a bit in the next post). His body is broken: weak and vulnerable without the helmet that allows him to breathe and speak with power. He is the perpetrator of the most terrible crimes and genocides of the story up to that point, and yet in the end... well, let's just say there is a chink in his evil armour. It is that weakness in his evil that makes him great.
I have my own villains that I like more than others. The Silver Scroll's Kantor is a favourite, I think because I can't decide whether he's a villain at all. I can also see some justification for the broken psyche of the killer in Fearful, and that pulls him just a tinch from the emperor class of bad guy, toward the good. These are probably my extremes, and I work to keep the others within that range.
Bass is based on a family of my acquaintance, and doesn't have much in the way of redeeming qualities, except that we are fascinated by a billionaire, even if we're not overly motivated to hoard wealth. Sargoth (Crogmoor) is much like the emperor, but in the grand scheme of The Crogmoor Sagas, his role is more to be a part of the birth of the Darth Vader equivalent - and she's definitely a favourite!
As a reader, watch for the good in a villain, and you'll soon realise that it is the good bit (and it can be a very little bit), that really makes your favourite baddie tick.
As a writer, ensure that you like some part of your antagonist, just as you really can't get behind some aspect of your... well, I'll leave that for next week.