When I was a kid, there were certain antagonists that I loved to hate. These were the characters that, although fighting against the hero, were charismatic and quick-witted. My friends and I would dress up as the Joker (we particularly loved Heath Ledger’s version), and Anakin Skywalker, because even though we knew they were villains, they were so much fun to pretend to be.
Then, you have the true villains, the most evil, vile, atrocious characters. These are the people who are unforgivable, such as Dolores Umbridge, Hannibal Lecter, and so on. Their cruelty and ruthlessness remain in our memories long after the pages are turned and the television is switched off.
The best villains and heroes are two sides of the same coin. Both must be intelligent, powerful, vividly described, and, above all, determined. After all, every plot has a struggle that must be overcome, whether it is stopping the destruction of the world, or, from another perspective, destroying the planet in order to create a new and better society.
But, then, what separates these characters from one another? What propels the antagonist towards the wrong side of a story? Although the most successful monsters are as brilliant and memorable as the champions, there are distinct differences.
I think the dissimilarity can be found in what they’re willing to sacrifice. A true villain will want to see their plan fulfilled, because they are convinced that they are right – BUT, they will never be willing to die for their cause. A villain will claim that the realization of an ideal is their priority, but loss of life is reserved for their victims.
A hero, however, is a person who will lay down their life for the good of others. A hero has an unshakeable, dogged resolve to save the day, and it is this absolute commitment that, ultimately, helps them defeat the bad guy. Heroes are heroes because they are the epitome of selflessness, willing to give up glory, fame, and their life in order to make the world a better place.
Still, I gotta admit, I love a solid, three-dimensional villain – they are dramatic, cunning and completely fascinating. Within the realm of fantasy, the hero is only as good as the villain, and this Halloween, I’ll be enjoying both films and novels that star intriguing characters with an array of motivations.