I Wanna Be Evil

Yes, this is a variation on a theme.  Having told you how happy I am with Avengers’ heroes and with the idea of it as Human Wave, I must confess I find its villain… well…

Now before you throw things at me, kindly remember I didn’t see any of the setup movies.  My commenters have informed me there’s material I should see in the Thor movie, particularly the deleted scenes.  I believe them.

Also, as further excuse, I do realize that Avengers is a comic book based movie.  We’re lucky to get heroes that make – at least some – sense.  A villain who wants to rule the world is just par for the course.  Particularly a villain who wants to rule the world and is open about it.

Let’s make it clear right now that I much – MUCH – prefer this to the “tortured” villains of the seventies, victims of society or whatever it was they were, who really were the true victims and to be mourned.

Not that I blame the seventies for ruining villains in American storytelling (this, like the rare occasions in which I do prefer something Portugal does to something in the US is one of those times you should make a note.  It’s pretty rare.  Having turned eight in 1970, I hold the seventies responsible for most pathologies of literature, fashion and movie making.  Yes, I do have proof.  An age that enshrined bell bottoms was clearly a nexus of evil.  PARTICULARLY elephant bells – a style known as “looks good on none.”)

No, I think what makes most villains of American – not Loki, who, at least is genuinely villainous, if somewhat simplistic as presented in the movie – storytelling a lot of “fail” is two fold.  First, we are a nation of rejects.  Either us or our ancestors came here because we were either not wanted, not successful, or hated wherever we were.  Add to that that we are – by necessity – a society with no uniform outer (or even cultural – to the extent cookery and dress are cultural) characteristics, it’s no wonder we developed a pash for the under dog.  And it’s impossible to start telling a story with a twisty villain without starting to wonder if he’s an underdog.  What made him that way?  How come he has such a need to hurt and/or dominate?

The second reason is sitcoms.  Or perhaps pop psychology to the extent that it permeated television writing at the time Americans got a TV in every home.  Within the confines of the sitcom, which had to come back every week, with more or less the same cast, it was impossible to have a Loki who just wants to enslave humans.  Your evils had to be smaller and even your villains had to be somewhat sympathetic, so people would continue tuning in.  To this day I’m completely flabbergasted by how easily sitcom disputes are settled, by having everyone “see” why the “villain” is “doing wrong” out of misconceptions or some justifiable sense of victimhood.  As pop psychology has become discredited, the solution seems to be to make every sitcom character unbearably stupid or completely insane.  (I loved Friends which I discovered just before 9/11 and was the first sitcom I watched in decades – mostly in reruns.  Perhaps love is too strong a word.  I spent weeks after 9/11 dumbly sitting in front of the TV, alternating between the news, reruns of friends, and Buffy.  I didn’t want to think and reading was to much like thinking.  But perhaps because of that I STILL have a soft spot for the series.  However, fair is fair.  If those people existed, ALL of them should be heavily medicated, if not actually in a padded cell.)

The problem is that we tend to translate things we see regularly as “truth” in our back brain, and I think most Americans in generations – three? – that grew up with sitcoms don’t even realize that they’ve been tricked into thinking there is a definable pop-psychology reason at the back of every horrible action and nasty villain.

I’ll say this for Americans – in this case, Americans by upbringing and heritage and therefore somewhat excluding me (to the extent I wasn’t raised here.  Including me to the extent I had enough American TV and movies to have a veneer of it.) – Despite the barrage of “poor him” villains, they prefer really honest-to-goodness bad guys.  Movies in the seventies did better abroad than in the US (possibly because pop psychology and also the idea they’re victims – mostly in their own minds of the US, but I don’t have the time to go into that – are really popular over there.) and there is a reason “make my day” entered the vernacular.

Also, Heinlein, with honest to goodness villains – no?  Did you read the psychoanalysis and cure within three pages of Wormface? – was way moer popular than the “psychologically deep” stories of the present.  (There were other reasons.  I’m not saying that’s the only one.)

The thing is that we know what good villains are.  Shakespeare had a lot of good villains.  Except for Hamlet, where we’re never absolutely sure WHO the villain is and which, yes, is “deep” and possible to analyze back to front and front to back in about ten different ways, (I suspect that Shakespeare had just been given Prozac, or possibly Freud by a time-traveler.  Shud up you.  I’m an SF writer.  I can come up with this cr*p if I want to.  And yeah, Hamlet is WORTH IT in a way, but it is not [unless severely cut to eliminate ambiguity] a “popular entertainment” template.  And if ALL of Shakespeare’s plays had followed that model, we’d now be going as we do about Marlowe “Uh, I guess people really liked blood on stage.” [A lot of Marlowe’s plays follow that template, and both sides are equally unpleasant so you just want them all dead.  Something I note Shakespeare ended up giving in to in Hamlet.])

I mean, think about it… The Scottish play?  Love of power, until he is “in blood steeped so far”; do you really care what Regan and Goneril’s reasons were?  While I agree with Agatha Christie’s character in the moving finger that “they must have been twisted inside by their crazy old father” in the end, they chose their bed and MUST lie in it.

Heinlein too does not give in to the temptation to rehabilitate his villains or make their actions completely explicable.  We might understand what drives Bella Darkin, but though she’s rendered rather pathetic in the end, she’s not rehabilitated, much less made into a kind of Worthy Victim.  (For those who do not have their Heinlein at their fingertips, this is The Door Into Summer.  Yes, there are other examples.  It’s too early and I am insufficiently caffeinated.  You’ll just have to deal.)

I’ll add that using a cliched villain like Loki (well, we know he’s bad, because we know Norse Myth) is not only infinitely preferable to “everyone has his reasons” villainy because it allows you to cheer for the good guys and throw orange peels at the villain – it is preferable, also, because it saves us from that ultimate bane of inept storytelling villainy when “suddenly” an otherwise good character “goes insane” and starts being evil.  This might have receded in popularity or I might have stopped seeing so much of it because I’ve learned to pick my books better.  But there was a time I almost gave up reading mysteries because of its sister/cousin plot of “the murderer is a mass murderer who is insane.”  Usually, mind, because his childhood was so bad, creating a more sinned against than sinner thing.

But, Sarah, you say – you use the “the villain has reasons and can be rehabilitated thing” with Red Dragon in the shifters’ series and partially the horrible childhood with the Mules in the Darkship series.  Yeah, okay – Sarah drums fingers on the desk.  You, readers who exist only in my head, are entirely too mouthy, you know that? – but look, Red Dragon has been established as not the sharpest knife in the drawer in DOITD – er… well… he’s not actually so much dumb as young and terrified – I DO kill the other two guys.  And the Great Sky Dragon remains a villain throughout, if a complex villain because much of what he does is cultural.  but cultural is not the same as excusable, only explainable.  The same goes for the Mules and their lousy childhood.  While they ALL have a lousy childhood, some go on to be admirable, or close to it, and some are the scum of the Earth.  I don’t mind presenting (at least partial) explanation for villainy.  I think that makes it more satisfying, frankly.  BUT it’s never a complete explanation.  The complete explanation MUST in the end ALWAYS be volition.  The character has CHOSEN to do evil, and therefore no matter how many explanations, punishment (in various degrees) is always in order.

The opposite type of villain is ENTIRELY anti-human wave because it trivializes evil, and by doing so taints us all with its brush.  It sounds profound to say “in their circumstances, you’d have done the same” but again it is one of those false-profound pronouncements, like saying that poverty causes crime.  Many criminals are poor and MIGHT have been pushed into their path by poverty, (I maintain this is very hard to tell, because ultimately criminals lie.  And if they spy a way to make themselves sound like victims and turn moral judgement away, they WILL.  Look, I grew up in a village that was dirt poor by American standards, and where most people didn’t have keys to their doors.  My grandmother’s kitchen door was open summer and winter, and if she were out this could only be ascertained by my going in and calling her.  Now the village is infinitely richer and people have iron bars on every window.  If I had to pick a reason I’d say it was because in the sixties we didn’t KNOW we were poor. [We were better off than past generations and no one was starving.] Now they know they’re ‘poor’ in comparison to what they see in movies – particularly the glitzy movie-millionaires’ lives.  This makes the root cause of crime ENVY, not poverty.  Yes, this is my opinion.  Again, deal.)  On the other hand there must be millions of people in the world who are poor – even dirt poor – and are scrupulously honest and trustworthy.  To view poverty as the root cause of crime is to make every one of these poor but decent human beings into a villain in potentia, and, thereby, to splatter every human with evil.  To justify the villains to the extent of making them entirely understandable and “I’d be the same in the same circumstances” makes all of humanity loathsome.

So, what would be my rules for villains properly done?

1- Your villains must be evil.  I don’t mean they should come on stage twirling their moustaches (though this is effective if they are female!) and stating how evil they are, but this (a villain like Loki or Richard III in Shakespeare) is by far preferable to the softly wounded villain who can be fixed with sudden insight and who is more sinned against than sinner.  (If you find yourself thinking “root causes” drop it.)  And BOTH are preferable to the “And then the good guy went insane” villain. (If you think this is a clever, never before seen twist, you HAVE to read more.)

2- Your villains must be powerful.  Again, unless you’re doing comic books or something that echoes of it, or a send up of that type of storytelling, please stay away from “You must give me a billion dollars or I’ll destroy the world.”  If your villain doesn’t have a piranha tank, you can’t pull this off.  Remember that.  (An exception here is that it’s perfectly allowable for the villains’ henchemen to be STUPID – because, if the guy is really, openly evil – or evil enough – WHO would work for him?  Which brings us to point three.)

3- Evil is seductive.  Look, kids, the only way that Avengers could resolve the “if this guy is truly so evil, openly evil, why would good people work for him?” conundrum is the “heart shot” thing.  Mind control, in other words.  This is okay for a certain type of book, in a certain type of circumstance.  It can’t – however – be used everywhere.  And “he’s a mesmerizing speaker” is ONLY part of the explanation.  Yes, I’m going to make an argument ad Hitlerium.  Sorry.  But there it is – as memorable a speaker as he might have been or as his contemporaries convinced themselves he was (this is always hard to judge. Social pressure CAN convince people of this stuff) – he got honorable people to do what was patently evil.  He did this by SEDUCING them via their envy, their respect of authority/military authority (which was insanely well developed in Germans of the time), their resentment over WWI, and the economic instability.  He seems openly evil to us, but he didn’t to his contemporaries because he SEDUCED them.  He was one of them, and he knew where to push.  Yes, the evil has to be obvious to your readers – but your characters CAN be justifiably blinded.  If you find yourself thinking “he was mesmerized” see if you can do something better with it.  We should be able to feel the attraction of the villain.  (Again depending on the type and size of the story.)

4 – Your villain should always be as strong as your main character, then a bit more.  If your main character is good with swords, your villain should be good with swords, and knives, and have a concealed firearm somewhere about his person.  Bambi versus Godzilla is a great movie, if Bambi has gotten squished flat the first time, had some armor designed, has sharpened his teeth into points, and is back this time for Bambi Versus Godzilla, This Time It’s Serious.

5 – If your villain has serious enough problems to cause him to become a satisfyingly evil SOB, they can’t be solved by his realizing he’s done wrong.  You can – with a long series, and increments – bring him there in maybe ten, twenty – fifty? – books.  BUT then you have to ask yourself “how could he live with himself after that?” and “What form of crazy atonement must he undertake?”  And THOSE are satisfying plots.  BUT if you just pat your villain on the back and he breaks into tears and confesses his misdeeds, he’d best be two years old… or a minor henchman tool (even if he seemed to be the main villain up till then.  This is doable.)

6- Death before rehabilitation is something to put over your desk, to look at when dealing with villains, but if you MUST rehabilitate, kindly – PLEASE – remember that barring divine intervention (I’m not arguing that one) people don’t change in the space of a breath.  And even with divine intervention, (again, so not arguing) the changed villain will still have the characteristics that led him to the dark side.  If he was an intransigent enforcer for the villain, he’ll become the same for the hero – not necessarily a bad thing, mind, but he’ll be stiff and a bit doctrinaire.  This also means he can be led into temptation again, by the right villain-disguised-as-hero.

6 a) If you wish to give depth to your villain, remember most of us have the vices of our virtues.  Take me.  I’m driven (mostly insane.)  While this means I can work a lot, it means I can… work a lot, which means I’m not the best at my personal life and must be very grateful my husband and sons understand this particular insanity.  I can see someone whose virtue is, say, his moral rectitude deciding to eliminate a population that falls short of perfect.  And remember THAT while being true can serve as a screen to hide a lust for power.

7 – There MUST be a choice.  At some point, the villain decides to do what should have been patently evil to him FOR A REASON.  His reason doesn’t matter as much as his choice does.  HE/SHE CHOOSES TO BE EVIL.  (And hence, there must be punishment.  Which fits the crime.   If the crime is stealing cookies, killing the villain is probably over the top.)   For hereditary evil – say hereditary evil rulers – at some point they have to choose to CONTINUE evil.  Again, it should be obvious they chose it, they can’t just drift.  EVEN if the villain lies to himself about having a choice, there is always a choice, and it must be clear to the reader.

(As usual, of course there are SOME exceptions to these rules, and some are even good.  They just take exceptional ability to pull off and might only apply in one cave.  Also, your mileage may vary.  These are my beliefs on villains and evil.  You might prefer soft fuzzy evil that purrs, in which case you should meet my cat D’Artagnan.)

crossposted at Mad Genius Club

232 thoughts on “I Wanna Be Evil

  1. I liked Screwtape’s comment (in _Screwtape Proposes A Toast_). He comments that the Great Villains are similar to the Great Saints. Both reject the “common place ideas/actions”. If you’re going to have “Great Saints” (even with flaws) as your heroes, you need to pit them against their counterparts, Great Villains. How would Batman comics read if he only went up against simple muggers? Batman stories needs the Joker, the Riddler, etc.

    1. Dang, you beat me to it, I was going to say the same thing from Screwtape. Also, that the devils cannot create any virtues, they can only twist the existing ones, which make for some great villains.

  2. Enter Fasla (working name for fat-assed-slovenly-alien) my alien villain.
    1 – (must be evil) Fasla is evil, but only from the human perspective. Put another way, humans would consider him evil like a piece of gold masterfully crafted into an amazing work of art would consider the artist evil if the artist changed his mind and scrapped the whole piece.

  3. Since you haven’t seen the Thor movie yet, I’ll refrain from spoiling it, but you really should see it ASAP. (Would it help if I mentioned that it was directed by Kenneth Branagh?) But the reasons for Loki’s villainy are quite well explored in that movie. In a word: revenge. In several words: reclaiming what he sees as his birthright (power over other beings), which was unfairly stolen from him. It’s really well done — it explains Loki’s reasons without ever making them seem justified.

    1. Best part about the Thor movie is that I was able to deny that Loki was a villain through most of it. In mythology (not Marvel) he’s the guy who pulls a practical joke when Thor gets too full of himself. Much more of a Tony Stark character than a god-of-evil.

      1. Same here. I like Loki – the mythological Loki – and tend to see him more as the real, somewhat misunderstood hero. In Finnish mythology, the same with Louhi. She acts mostly quite honorably until the designated ‘heroes’ try to cheat her.

        Makes it hard to get into half of the modern retellings of different mythological stories, or pretty much any stories which use any mythological characters. Considering that there rarely were any gods or goddesses or whatever who were simple, or not worshipped by at least some people to whom they were the hero, I almost always get this ‘but that’s not RIGHT!’ reaction.

          1. Correction: the series is cowritten by Eric Flint and Dave Freer. Sorry Dave, don’t know how I forgot you. *Blush*.

        1. In the Japanese Manga and Anime series Mantantei Loki Ragnarok (Mythical Detective Loki), Loki is the hero. Wotan on the other hand is a real right bastard.

    2. Robin — that is how Loki sees it. It could be interperted in quite an entirely different way. Loki choose to see everything in the worst light regarding his position.

      1. Agreed. I was deliberately painting things from Loki’s point of view in my comment. My own personal point of view is that Loki’s an idiot for not (spoiler removed) when he learns that (massive spoiler removed), and that that moment is the start of his turn to villainy.

  4. Sarah, I find much to disagree with here. I think your analysis of villanny, particularly 1970s villainy must include Darth Vader. And I think that the idiotic business of the last three movies (that were made)–you know the first three movies–don’t count. Just look at Vader in SW: A New Hope. Good villain that.

    He’s a guy with a mission incompatible with your goals and he’s pursuing them ruthlessly. With a bit of force-choke thrown in to keep the followers following. I think a little “ends justify the means” can turn anyone, even a Saint into a villain. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!)

    I also recommend Gabbar Singh as a villain worthy of study. I know I’m cheating to cite 1970s Bollywood, but the antagonist in the movie Sholay is pure pull-the-wings-off-flies evil. But he does so with a purpose in mind: cement control and crush opposition to his will.

    Nevertheless, I believe contemporary storytelling has some major villain fails. The recent Sherlock series on BBC and PBS has a Moriarty who’s merely a recycled version of Dr. Who’s Master who was too childish to be taken seriously.

    I rather liked your villains in Darkship Thieves. They thought the end of living a few more decades was worthy of the means of killing those closest to them. I think selfishness is a helpful trait in creating a villain who isn’t a “noble” character. This isn’t a new problem, a lot of people think Milton goofed up by making the devil more interesting than the Lord.

    1. I have absolutely NO clue what you think you’re disagreeing with. Did I at any time say your villain couldn’t be someone with purposes different from your own? Go read the post again. It’s under “the vices of their virtues.” Star Wars — I loathe ALL the movies, uniformly and they DO pull the lame “conversion” just before Vader dies, so please, spare me.
      BUT the villain has to choose evil. What the READER/viewer KNOWS is evil, and to some extent what the character does too. Again, argument ad Hitlerium, but while Hitler might have started out thinking he was saving the Fatherland or using that to obfuscate his true purposes FROM HIMSELF, he can’t NOT have known that killing millions of people “efficiently” and using their body parts for industrial supplies was EVIL. He might have said it was justified evil. But it was evil, nonetheless, and he knew it, underneath it all.

      1. To enumerate those things with which I disagree would require a gentle line-by-line fisking that I shall probably post separately if at all. We agree about much but that does not mean we agree about all.

        I hesitate to ask, have you ever cast Cardinal Richelieu as a villain? I think he’s a perfect “ends-justify-the-means” sort of villain. The fellow who burns the witch alive to save her soul from hell is evil, but evil in a more interesting way.

        1. Steve, you really aren’t making any sense. What you said above is basically what Sarah said — and has said in other posts. Go back and read it again.

        2. I loved Charlton Heston’s Cardinal Richelieu in Richard Lester’s Three and Four Musketeers. He drew a portrait of a fascinating character. A villain from the standpoint of the Musketeers, certainly, he was more concerned about the health of France than anyone else involved.

          1. Milady was the real villain. Cardinal Richelieu was an antagonist and not evil, in my view. More the pragmatist who had to make hard choices.

            1. I dislike Richelieu as an historical figure. Look, that’s an example of doign what he thought was for the good of France, BUT serving an outsized need for power behind it. You don’t believe me, google Monsieur le Grand, and keep in mind this was his own nephew. So I vilainize him when I get a chance.

              1. I completely grant you that historically Richelieu was, well, not so charming, and he does make a great villain.

                Lester’s movies are something of their own accord.

            1. Well George MacDonald Fraser’s screen play was strong, and, yes, the cast was thoroughly up to it. Christopher Lee’s Rochefort is splendidly villainous.

              There is a marvelous moment that The Spouse drew my attention to, I believe it occurs when we first meet the royal family in Three Musketeers. Geraldine Chaplin, as Anna of Austria, is on the carousel. The people around her are being trivial, the king is blathering, Richelieu is being diplomatically manipulative and she gives a skeletal smile…it spoke volumes.

      2. I didn’t have a problem with the Vader conversion, because this was his son who was being slowly and excruciatingly murdered before his eyes. Completely different from, say, the conversion of the main bad guy in Bladerunner, where it made no sense at all.

        1. Sorry, no, I don’t know how many times I’ve quoted that whole scene for people. He isn’t human, the authorities don’t think the replicants can develop, but he slowly becomes human. He has become human when he grieves for Pris. The ending of the movie is infinitely better than the weak ending of the novel.

        2. Vader spent time trying to seduce Luke to his side — get to know the boy, get inside his head, see all the places they’re alike (because if they’re alike, then he’ll come to the Dark Side, right?). Honestly, who couldn’t see that one coming. 🙂 (Although, you know? He shouldn’t have gotten the Light Side Ghost treatment. Saving Luke was selfish, on a “all wealth is biological” “selfish genome” level. Dark Side all the way, baby! 😉 )

          1. Dark Side all the way, baby!

            Well, of course. Where else are you going to get the cookies?

            1. Where else are you going to get the cookies?

              Web sites you shouldn’t be visiting, often termed the Dark Sites.

    1. I love the Venture Brothers “Brotherhood Of Malicious Intent” and the heroes and villains constantly making reference to the charter and it’s mandates.

      1. I sold a story, Limbo The Black-Souled, where the protagonist realizes after kidnapping Xero the Warrior Babe he can close down Dark-Souled Enterprises, downsize all his minions, and save enough money to pay the Forces of Light Union dues with enough left over to hire a quirky sidekick. When asked if he’ll release Xero the Warrior Babe he says, “Nah. If I become a Hero, I won’t let it affect my lifestyle. Besides, ‘Lance, Champion of Good’ will need lots of ironed shirts.”

        1. That’s pretty good! I’ve found that the former kid/comic collector in me loves to read deconstructive novels or twists on the genre. “Soon I Will Be Invincible” by Grossman was an excellent example of looking at both sides of the coin.

    2. The Incredibles payed homage to that list when Syndrome starts to tell Mr. Incredible his plans for becoming the great superhero and then catches himself when Mr. Incredible throws something at him and he says, “Oh, ho ho! You sly dog! You got me monologuing! I can’t believe it… “

  5. While I agree with Agatha Christie’s character in the moving finger that “they must have been twisted inside by their crazy old father” in the end, they chose their bed and MUST lie in it.


    but cultural is not the same as excusable, only explainable. … The character has CHOSEN to do evil, and therefore no matter how many explanations, punishment (in various degrees) is always in order.

    While I am sure that there are reasons that Syndrome (from the Incredibles) is a villain, they do not mitigate the plain and simple fact that he is an evil villain, and one that will use a (apparently) helpless infant in attempts to obtain his twisted goal. And oh, the pay-off… 🙂

  6. I really enjoyed this post. I have enjoyed some anti-heroes, but in the long-run I miss the evil villains. I think Dean Koontz is really good at this in his horror especially his Odd series. (I love them).

    I have gotten to the end of some books and was dissatisfied that I had to forgive the villain. It is more satisfying if he (or she) either goes through an extended repentance or pays for his crime – by being killed preferably. I think that is why the end of Hamlet is so satisfying. Every is killed. There were no good characters there.


      1. Yes, but imagine finishing work on a matinee live performance of “Death of a Salesman,” and then going to see the theatrical release of “Hamlet.” Dear Lord, gimme a razor, I’m slittin’ my wrists… O_O

    1. I wonder what would happen to the Capital Punishment argument if more people linked killing off the villain in stories with the rehabilitation of felons? How would stories suck if they made Darth Vader do 500 hours of community service and take anger management classes.

      1. 500 hours of community service for all the people he killed? Not good. LOL I do like the stories when a villain turns good and then dies anyway. He still needed to be punished for past deeds. 😉

    2. Love Koontz – especially the “Fear Nothing” series – and the earlier “Watchers”.

      One thing I love is that he makes it quite clear that good or evil are CHOICES, and his evil characters fall right in line with what Sarah here talks about.

      I also love that while he shows the “bad” that technology can do, he also shows the GOOD. Watchers is an excellent study in that dichotomy, with the “bad” driven by jealousy and envy.

  7. To talk of turning an evil character into a hero we can consider the redemption of Severus Snape. Snape snapped when he had to face that his actions for evil led to the death of the woman he loved. His essential character does not seem to have changed for the better, he remained that pitiful resentful little boy all grown up. Dumbledore did not let him take the easy way out; he had to remain close to all his temptations. He spent the rest of his life paying for his wrong choices and we had seven books to find this all out.

  8. I thought that the Cybermen and (to an extent) the Daleks were scarier than the Master. Note, I’m an original series Whovian, with a small dose of 9th and 10th Doctors. The entire premise of the Cybermen has a lot of evil potential. They are the ultimate result of the quest for eternal physical life (envy, lust). Immortality comes, but at a terrible price – no emotions, no humanity left (pride). Because the Cybermen cannot reproduce themselves except through enslaving and converting others (wrath), survival at any price becomes the entire point of their existence, and they have the technology and will to do it. And there are always individuals willing to work with them, in exchange for immortality or power (pride, envy, gluttony).

  9. The last minute conversion can be satisfying, I think, if it includes something like the villain realizing that he has been stupid – like perhaps he started going the wrong way at some point but refused to see it because of his ego, and if he had been smart about things he could have reached his goals and lived to enjoy the results, with nobody able to touch him, or, if his goals were actually good but he went overboard with the end justifies the means justification that he has betrayed what he thought he was aiming for with his actions. Especially if the villain has been presented as some sort of smug it can pleasing to see him break down, and to be forced to admit that yes, he was in the wrong here, one way or another.

    But the last minute conversion should not be presented as being enough to save him from the consequences.

    I can tolerate, or even like, endings like that with Darth Vader in ‘Return of the Jedi’ for that reason, except for that damn force ghost Luke sees in the end. Now if it had been hinted that daddy would, after that, be forced to work towards his real atonement during the next couple of thousands of years, yep, that might have worked.

    1. Exactly. Mind you, I love the idea of taking he villain and redeeming him, then making him the hero of his own series where he has to SLOWLY crawl up the scale of morality against the weight of his own temptations — but if I did it, I’d start that character THERE, not with a prequel. Mostly because it would be easier to make him “character on way to redemption” than if people already know how evil he was. But that’s me.

      1. One of my “heroes” in my non written story universe was (as he puts it), a nasty character who fell into good company. [Wink]

        He was raised to be a minion of a would-be evil overlord but decided his “Master” wasn’t worthy of his service.

        While still not a “good guy” he had to flee to an area controlled by people who won’t turn him over to his former Master.

        There he learns just how twisted the world view that he was taught is and started on his “way up”.

        Even now, he has to fight the “very nasty thinking” that he was raised with.

      2. It can be done, if it’s a popular villain, with enough virtues along with his/her vices. People do evolve as they grow older, for one thing – it happens in real life all the time; a lot of young radicals become peacemakers in their old age. It would be a great story. People would be rooting for him (well, I would be. ^_^)

  10. I was going Hmmm about this, at first, until I saw where you were going (I’m so there with your numbered list), because I do like to know how people became evil. And I like to believe that people are inherently good and there are events and choices they make that turn them down the wrong path.

    But you’re objecting to the “Oh, he’s just misunderstood and then he reforms overnight” and “it wasn’t his fault,” and I’m right with you there. I love a good redemption story – there’s a reason we love Ebeneezer Scrooge – but it shouldn’t be easy, and it shouldn’t mitigate the fact that he made those choices. There needs to be some real suffering on the way back.

    To me, it all goes to a deeper trend I see in modern fiction (especially Hollywood) – no one EARNS anything anymore, heroes or villains. Everything’s handed to them. How many plots out there have the good guys just sit around and do very little, and everything just works out? (A whole lot of Speilberg movies, for one thing.) I don’t mind if a villain reforms, but they’ve got to suffer and earn redemption – and for some, death is the only redemption. I don’t want my heroes to win easily, either; I want them to work for it (one of the reasons I love Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series is that Taran really earns his status at the end, and we see it through the series when he’s finally worthy to draw a sword that nearly killed him in the first book).

    That being said, I love looking at the great villains of history; a lot of them were products of their time, when the only way to survive was to be a bigger evil than everyone else out there. Or the ones with broken brains, like serial killers (though most people with broken brains still make the right choices). Yeah, the petty evils are definitely driven by envy and selfishness, but the great ones, the murderers, the power seekers, there’s got to be some deep psychology going on. I love those kinds of villains. I love to know why they became the way they did. And, as mentioned above, Screwtape points out that the great villains have great virtues. And I’m a tad sympathetic to the sin of pride, which is behind a lot of the great ones.

    Though there’s a place for the comic book evil villain, or the supernaturally evil villain, and I have enjoyed them immensely. And I love the heroic villain who chooses death before redemption. I love that Reacher Guilt chose to die rather than knuckle under to Vetinari (much as I love Vetinari). But I can guess that Reacher Guilt had some heavy life events and some deep psychological flaws, though everything was ultimately his choice, and he would agree. Definitely a heroic villain.

    1. because I do like to know how people became evil. And I like to believe that people are inherently good and there are events and choices they make that turn them down the wrong path.

      But what if the villain is from a completely different set of moral imperatives and doesn’t care, or even acknowledge what ours are? By human standards, that would make him evil, but by the villains, all’s well.

      1. But why did they choose such terrible moral imperatives? That’s a reason for being evil, and I find it fascinating. That’s Hitler and Himmler, right there. (Both were petty little men early on, and that certainly had something to do with it. Hitler was a failed artist, and that definitely had something to do with it – artists can be some of the nastiest, most selfish people there are, and talk about broken brains. But there lots of petty nasty people who wouldn’t do what they did (though if they got a little power, who knows.))

        That isn’t mitigation, it’s just Why and How. I can even by sympathetic, in that, while I disagree with the choice, I identify with the forces behind it. (For example, I am absolutely revolted by the Columbine massacre, but I understand the thinking of the boys who did it, sad to say – speaking of how badly Odds are treated in school.)

        1. Because the villain in question isn’t of this planet. There is absolutely no reason to assume that all sentience follows the same societal mores. Our moral compass may judge his actions evil, but his may be on an entirely different compass. Thus, he’s only a villain in one direction.

          1. No, of course there isn’t, but go read Puppet Masters. In THAT case, it becomes a competition for survival, and while sentient (?) bunches of plaster who control humans might be fine and dandy in their own way, I still want them dead, because I’m human. Ditto Wormface in Have Space Suit Will Travel. It doesn’t make them non-villains.

          2. I have kind of that situation in my oldest finished novel manuscript. A pretty nasty almost world wide magical dictatorship has been mostly conquered by aliens who treat their human subjects badly, but not all that much more so than their previous masters did. There is a last unconquered continent where people have learned to live in a fairly good way among themselves while trying to keep their land free from the aliens, but that only happened because of the invasion. So the villains, besides not being villains from their point of view, also forced some humans to change from something bad into something a lot better, from the humans’ point of view. But they are still the unquestioned villains inside the story. Even if there is the risk that the human societies might very well backslide back into the previous with time if they ever manage to kick the aliens off their world (has to do with magic, and how it works with humans in this world).

            1. And maybe the biggest weakness with that story is that there is no single big bad, the main bad – the aliens as an invading species – is somewhat amorphous and fairly incomprehensible to the good guys. The most identifiable antagonist who is clearly a villain is a human who works for the aliens, and he is a fairly low level operative.

          3. Being from a different planet is no different than being from a different culture on earth. Societal mores are mostly not about good or evil, but there are still some ultimate rights that I will judge against. For instance, if you knowingly and consciously kill sentient beings for no good reason, and you know what you’re doing, and it isn’t a mistake (a la Ender’s Game) and if you have a real choice in the matter, you are evil. I do believe in judging each case separately and taking all things into account, but moral relativism is a dangerous path, in SF and even in everyday life. Saying it’s okay because someone’s culture demands it is not okay.

            Now, that being said, things are rarely that black and white. It’s the grey areas where the fun starts, particularly for story-telling, where there aren’t clear cut choices. That’s where the characters start to slide in the wrong direction, even good ones. Great fun in fiction.

            1. Interesting that you use Ender’s Game as an example… in the rest of the series he is trying to redeem himself from actions that he thought were only video games.

              1. I was thinking of the aliens who killed humans, but didn’t understand what they were doing and were horrified when they realized it. But yes, the humans were mistaken, too. That story is about tragedy, not evil.

                  1. No, they’re not. At least not at West Point. Can’t speak for Navy or Air Force. While Ender’s Game is a fine novel, it’s not terribly instructive for leaders with non-genius adult Soldiers instead of freakishly intelligent children to command.

                    1. Sorry – but I saw the reading list while I was in the Navy and yes, in 1990s the Ender’s Game was required reading if you wanted to raise in rank (enlisted). I know it wasn’t required reading for enlisted in the Navy, but I don’t know in other places. And if you think the Ender’s game is only about intelligent children then you missed the point of the story. No offense.

                    2. I thought it was funny this morning listening to a pundit bash Romney for his reading list which included “Ender’s Game” and “Battlefield Earth”. She derided sci-fi as not being able to connect with humanity if you’re concentrating on aliens. Her ignorance was unsurprising.


                    3. Good heavens. One of my husband’s bosses realized his best people were all sf/f fanatics, and after that started asking, at interviews. His explanation was that it seemed to confer “a certain limberness of mind.”

                    4. For a man of Romney’s generation it bespeaks a surprising openness of mind. When he was a boy SF was “the reading that dare not speak its name.” I believe I’ve mentioned attending the same boarding school (six years behind) Romney — reading SF was NOT a status enhancer. (This suggests that one reason for SF’s abandonment of humanity in the 70s & 80s: we fans were tired of the sneers, and how much more so were the writers.)

                      It is also a stupid argument against him, politically. Like sneering at Reagan and Eisenhower for reading Louis L’Amour. It wins no new votes and can lose the votes of the many people who have read the books.

                    5. Cyn, none taken. And yes, I understand that Ender’s Game had a lot more going on than Ender Wiggin is super smart. The psychological triad between him, Peter and Val, the dehumanizing effects of combat, the moral/psychological implications of empathetic sociopathy with regard to Ender’s ability to both understand-love someone and thus be more effective at destroying them. And this list is not exhaustive, I’m sure there are some important themes I haven’t covered. Got it.

                      Not maligning the novel at all. All I’m saying is that in three combat tours and a metric f-ton of training rotations, I’ve drawn inspiration from Heinlein, Pournelle, Kratman, Grossman, Marshall, Coyle, even Kipling and Tennyson- but Orson Scott Card, despite being a truly gifted writer, one of the greats of this century thus far, didn’t have much to say to me about war I didn’t already know before I read Ender’s Game. Again, great story, but I can’t say it contributed to my effectiveness as a combat leader.

                    6. There can be little more alien than other human cultures — particularly as we are inclined to assume so much that is not so.

                    7. I suspect the best entry to Asian history is through literature, theirs and ours. Harold Lamb was intimately familiar with the cultures of the Steppes and his “biographies” of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane are quite readable. Piers Anthony’s Steppe uses SF/F to portray that culture as well.

                      As with Western literature, the best entry point to the East might be through children’s stories. Simpler themes and lack of societal background are assumed in stories intended to communicate deep cultural values and memes. I couldn’t begin to recommend any, but will check with those family members more likely to be of use.

                    8. There is a 1992 Chinese film, The Story of Qiu Ju. When The Spouse and I watched it we could not believe that the government had allowed it to be made. We saw it as a marvelous condemnation of the strangling effect of bureaucracy, even when the individual bureaucrat might be a good man. A friend who knew China far better than we said, no, to the Chinese the message would be, ‘Don’t make waves.’

                    9. Scott M, I dunno, Battlefield Earth is ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag. But you’re right, people who turn up their nose at science fiction are douchey. Lit-bigot is a good term.

                    10. I first read Battlefield Earth when I was 14. It was the first sci-fi novel I sat down and read all the way through. Afterward, I wondered what I had filled all of my copious free time with. Previously, I had been reading all the short-story goodness in the “There WIll Be War” series. Funny enough, my mother was reading “Dianetics” at the time. I knew nothing about scientology nor did I pick up on the subtexts LRH was trying to pass through the novel. What I read at that time was just a decent sci-fi yarn and, as I’m of Scottish decent, I really dug the Scots angle. I haven’t read it since, but I did pick up the wonderfully-voiced audiobook read by Roddy McDowall a few years back. Again, regardless of the subtext I now know exists, McDowall did an exception job with that audiobook. Travolta’s movie sucked as a movie and an adaptation, not because Travolta’s a loony scientologist. It was gut-wrenchingly awful.

                    11. Justin – I have to bow to your superior experience in war. And you are right when it comes to war. 🙂 My husband who is a Vietnam War Vet prefers Heinlein.

                    12. @Sarah: Within the officer corps of the Army there is a Jock-Professor dichotomy. The perfect officer straddles both perfectly, or, perhaps more acccurately, maxes out both scores- physical and mental. Amongst officers with a higher professor score, science fiction is almost universally consumed, especially Heinlein.

                      With regard to Ender’s Game, I agree. I felt Speaker for the Dead was much the same in that theme.

                    13. @Sarah – I thought Asian culture was alien too until I lived in Japan for two years (in the Navy of course). Honor above all…. says it all… it explains why suicide is accepted when family honor is impugned. We think of individual liberties and they think of how it affects their family. And then there are the undesirables – those who are outside the society for one reason or another. Plus even their crime families are organized this way. …

                      Because we are taught about freedom and liberty, it feels like opposite to culture (which it is). They have a hard time understanding us too. –every action they take can cause harm or glory to family, business, or other ties. It puts a lot of pressure on them. I read awhile back that Japanese business men die around their 40s from heart attacks.

                    14. It might be a useful approach to Japanese culture to look at Western literature they have accepted and adapted into film. Surely these Western books resonate within their culture and thus bespeak certain commonalities?

                    15. I would suggest you could try Akira Kurosawa’s adaptions of the Scottish play, Throne of Blood (1957) and King Lear, Ran 1985. You are familiar with the original material. The way the material is differs will give you a window on the different understanding.

                    16. I should have clarified. Chinese culture baffles me way more than Japanese, but what baffles me most of all is the History. You could build a convincing alien history on China’s, particularly the further back you go.

                    17. actually Japanese LIFE makes perfect sense. It’s a bit past Portuguese culture but not far. there is a reason my best friends in my exchange student year were an English raised woman Lydia Hohol (I can’t for the life of me remember her married name. She was from Leeds. I’m putting it out there, maybe she’ll find me 😉 ) and two Japanese girls, Myiuky Takahashi and Kaore Abe. What I don’t get is the history (PARTICULARLY of China) which seems mind-bogglingly odd.

                    18. @Sarah – I had an opportunity to study modern Chinese history with a professor who had been born in China and left with his family when Mao came in power. It was very interesting in that China is a study of bureaucracy. Mao started out as a minor bureaucrat (and was a pedophile btw imo.) He was able to grab power through a Chinese concept of “right of Heaven” or something like that.

                      The opposite party to this power grab was not any better. He wanted to maintain the status quo. The Chinese emperor spent his entire life separated from the citizens… and the serf system (alive and well today btw). Your caste was determined by birth and by god. You can’t change it.

                      Although China is now considered atheist, they still abide by these types of delineations. The power is in the State and not the individual or even the family. I had the opportunity to meet Chinese citizens who had been sent to Germany for schooling. The best students who are being groomed by the State are sent to the US.

                      One of the things they told us was that anyone who was tainted with Western ideas was not welcome back. Plus children born and raised in the West even though their parents were extreme Chinese did not do well in China. Another interesting thing was that at the time I was in Germany many talented businessmen from China had left to make their way in Western countries. Also, there are a lot of different types there – races if you will. We met one genius electronics type also Chinese who was trying to find a way to stay in the West. The only reason they sent him to school (he was of the serf class) because his level of genius. They don’t believe that the serf class are intelligent.

                    19. @Sarah – not say that I know all the ins and outs or even the subtleties of Chinese culture. I do know that even in Western Chinese culture that authority is paramount … and has been for thousands of years.

                    20. I like Van Gulick’s (Sp?) Mysteries The Judge Dee stories.

                      Robert H. Van Gulik. Yes.

                      Some years ago, more than I wish to admit, I read a Judge Dee story translated from a Chinese manuscript dating to approximately 600A.D.. It was/is published by Dover. That was a strange cross cultural experience. But having read that it made one of the sequences in Heart and Soul much easier…

                    21. My copy of Harold Lamb’s Gengis Khan biography has been read so much that it starting to fall apart, so yes I would call them ‘quite readable’ 😉

                    22. Every L. Ron Hubbard book I have tried to read has made voilent contact with a wall. I just can’t get past the blatant subtext, plus I have an extreme aversion to what I call ‘the stupid comedy routine’

                    23. What was Battlefield Earth’s subtext? Granted, I haven’t read the actual book since the late 80’s, but I did buy the Roddy Mcdowall audiobook and have listened to it many times on long trips over the years. The audiobook, however well voiced, was abridged, so it’s quite possible they scrubbed the original subtext. Regardless, from what I remember of the story, I simply remember a good post-post-apocalyptic sci-fi yarn.

                    24. Ah. You mean the man and the dog routine, in Shakespeare terms. YOU know, I used to cut all those out, but then I attended another writer’s reading and found… fans love them. Now I leave them in, but they’re not usualy the main point.

                    25. Sure. When you read about the plays, you realize they often had comedy routines, COMPLETELY unrelated to the meat of the play. Some of them are in the text and somewhat related (The Grave diggers) but sometimes it just said something like “Bring in the man with the dog here.” It was a recognized comedy bit, like we might say “He slips on a banana peel.” NOTHING to do with the play, it just made an interval to help one of the actors playing both a boy and a girl (and not in the script as doing so) time to change, or something like that. At some point, as an author writes, a silly bit like that falls in. Say, the character looking for his car keys while he’s holding them. I used to cut those out to the last punctuation mark. Then I attended this signing, and it culminated years of fans of OTHER AUTHORS liking that bit. So I started letting some of them in. Mind you, these bits are still related to the plot, and in retrospect make sense — like the three guys in a car scene in Draw One In The Dark, where after a huge battle with the Forces of Evil TM Tom is happy Rafiel is going to look ridiculous in a touristy t-shirt and they’re all bantering and making jokes. I had cut it out, then I put it in. Surprisingly or not, that’s one of the readers’ favorites.

            2. Being from a different planet is no different than being from a different culture on earth.

              This is a very spiciest point of view. It assumes that the entire universe of sophont races think the same way humans do. For instance, if you posed, “Is it okay to kill intelligent beings for no good reason” to Peter F. Hamilton’s bad guy, Morning Light Mountain, it wouldn’t even understand the question because it doesn’t think like humans do, though it’s far more “intelligent” than humans in many ways.

              I’m a huge critic of moral relativism…here and now in reality…but I don’t automatically apply that to the possibilities that exist in a wide, uncharted sci-fi universe.

              1. Worth remembering that Worsel and Nadreck found many of Kinnison’s attitudes baffling.

                1. Yeah, but I never could figure out why the Palainians would side with anyone, given the pains Smith took to describe how cold and emotionless they were.

                  Velantians, on the other hand, were pretty much human in temperament, though not like modern humans who have a distaste for killing any but the most actively evil.

            3. Societal or cultural differences in the definition of evil have been going on throughout history, and are still going on today. You don’t have to look outside the species for that. Look at the various american indian tribes, many of them didn’t view torturing a captive to see how brave he was to be evil; or mutilating the corpses so they couldn’t attack them in the afterlife. The white men had a different culture however that definitly views that as evil. I can sympathize with the indians, and even understand their point of view, but I still believe what they were doing was evil.

              1. Amerindian tribes raided, fought battles — but not wars. They counted coup humiliating their enemies. Stupid vicious white man had no shame about having coup taken on them and fought military campaigns instead of having sensible battles and going back to their day jobs. Tomayto, tomahto.

                1. One of the reasons they lost, they didn’t really understand the concept of wars, at least not until much to late. Battle and raids was an important part of their life, and the main way a young man could distinguish himself. But an extended campaign was a foriegn concept to them.

                  Another reason of course was that white men had the Russian quality of quantity.

                  1. Bearcat, I think the American Indians did understand “war” of a type. Plenty of tribes (like the Sioux) moved into a new area and were willing to kill the tribes that already lived there if the other tribes didn’t “move out”. One of the “unfortunate truths” about the American Indians that many moderns never learn is that many of the tribes “migrated” into other territories and didn’t do so peacefully. They may not have “understand” war as Europe understood it but they practiced an older form of war. That of Tribal movements into other areas and forcing the other tribes out.

                    1. True, I guess I view that more as a war of opportunity, than an organized war. Of course I am generalizing, like all the tribes were the same, which is dangerous, and pretty much guarantees I am going to be wrong about some of them 😦

                    2. Bearcat, “all generalizations are incorrect, including this one”. [Wink]

                    3. They suffered from the same issue as the African tribes. I’ve talked about this somewhere (It would help if I tagged my posts) You’re absolutely right it’s NOT that they didn’t understand “war” I understand Pocahontas father ran an empire. One must cast aside the Rouseaunean noble savage fluff. No, the reason they lost wasn’t inferior weaponry or even inferior aggression (some tribes were… uh…) It was that they were VERY MUCH in the “tribalism” form of mental furniture. The problem with tribalism (still rife in large parts of the Middle East) is that it makes it impossible to image the amount of (pardon me) butthurt a nation state can bring to bear or even that it would WANT to. Much less that several nation states can descend on you and destroy you because you killed a small settlement. I have only had a cup of tea, so don’t expect names from me (yesterday before tea I was blanking out Robert E. Lee in an argument with the younger boy. I could only say Lee, and the kid thought I was talking about Lee Harvey Oswald and was ready to have me committed. Yes, we were discussing loyalty and values in American history before breakfast. Deal.) but I remember there was a famous Zulu massacre of a small white colony. UNIMAGINABLY nasty stuff. From the Zulu POV it was logical. This tribe was intruding on their territory with an offshoot. Kill the colonists, show them you meant no guff. Worst case scenario you’ll have a tribal war. They had no idea of NEWSPAPERS or of people in France feeling solidarity for people in England. Heck, they had no idea of anyone feeling solidarity outside a “tribe” — what was visited upon them was the revenge of EUROPE. They were caught with the wrong mental furniture. Not because they were noble savages. Not because they were too pure for war, but because their social structures hadn’t gone the way Europe’s had. (Shrug.) This happens whenever Europe meets tribal cultures. We also ALWAYS idealize them and make them into some sort of “true man” or “noble savage.” Humans are humans are humans, and int heir idealization of defeated enemies, Europe is more neurotic than a shaved monkey. (Though perhaps not unusual. From what I gather, Romans did the same.)

                    4. idealization of defeated enemies

                      This can serve several purposes. Start with the statement: We defeated the noble brave whosits.

                      This might be a simple affirmation: telling ourselves we were better this time, meaning this time our strategies and tactics worked, our forces succeeded and their’s did not, so we must work harder.

                      Or it could be used as a call to improvement: telling ourselves that, as the powers that be allowed us to defeat such a people, we must live in a way honor such a fallen enemy, to deserve the blessing and to be prepared for future challenges.

                      In many corners of the modern academic western world, if spoken by a representative of a nation of the west, it would be interpreted to be braggadocio of the bully who felt that might meant right and justified wholesale destruction and slaughter of …. and it is all our fault and we should be ashamed of ourselves (and disarm).

                    5. One of the things we generally didn’t understand about the Injuns was that by the time white people were coming up the Mississippi, they were dealing with a very SFnal post-apocalyptic remnant of what was actually a quite advanced civilization, with cities, very structured hierarchical government of chiefs, massive temples. Unlike the Mayans — who traded extensively with the Mississippians — they’re built their temples as earthworks, so for the next 500 years we just called them “mound builders.”

                      The civilized tribes were the survivors, and descended from the survivors, of a plague that killed as many as 19 of 20.

                    6. Interesting. No. I didn’t know this. And on this they built the “ever free” noble savage. GAH.

                      Again, humans are humans are humans.

                      I love the idea we came from the stars (or will go to the stars in the past. Shud up you) because I think what we’d found are well… humans. I for one like humans.

                    7. Charlie, I was aware that the Mayans had traded up the Mississipi, but have not seen the sources that detail the mound builder civilization (our its demise). I had heard theories that agreed with what you are saying, but wasn’t aware they were more than theories. Could you name some sources?

      2. I would say that, in this case, he is not evil, or even a villan at all. He is an enemy who must be stopped and probably killed, but he is not evil. An excelent example of this is the Posleen race in John Ringo’s Aldenata novels. They eat people, but their culture and their biology (which was modified by the real villians in the series) demands it, so the hero can kill them by the horde without hating them. I believe that a “villian” due to culture is the same thing. By all means fight him and kill him, but do not regard him as evil.

        1. Exactly. Zombies would fall into this category of enemy-not-evil, while the creator of the zombie “virus” would be the true evil.

        2. I don’t know. You’re correct it’s more of a competition than a moral judgement, but the human can judge and go “they’re scum and I want them dead” — read the last lines of Puppet Masters.

      3. But what if the villain is from a completely different set of moral imperatives and doesn’t care, or even acknowledge what ours are? By human standards, that would make him evil, but by the villains, all’s well.

        To serve humanity.

  11. Regarding “rehabilitating” the villain. It can be done but it requires a lot of work and the story usually has to pretty much be set up that way from the start. My favorite example is Prince Zuko from Avatar, the Last Airbender. What makes it work is 1) Zuko isn’t really “evil” so much as “misguided” from the start (although that trope is overused enough, but as a part of the picture it can be done well) 2) His main “goals”, what really drives him, aren’t really “evil” in themselves (primarily he wants his “honor” restored) 3) he has a counter-influence from the very beginning (from before the story begins) in his Uncle Iro (and I still miss Mako). 4) although we’re following his attempts to capture the Avatar for a lot, it soon becomes clear he’s not the “big bad” of the series after all and 5) It takes time, a lot of time, with lots of little (and not so little) things leading up to his first conversion, his backsliding from that conversion, his finding that getting what he thought he wanted wasn’t what he wanted after all, and finally becoming one of the good guys.

    Another one that I thought was fairly well done was Spike in the Buffy series but given how much darker that show was, we’re definitely into YMMV territory here.

    1. Correct on setting up from beginning. Spike… I never saw him as truly redeemed. He just happens to like humans, a bit for the meal value. He’s more of a “gray” character, I THINK.

      1. The “redemption” came very late in the series, after a major “backslide”, and recognizing it as “wrong”, provides the motivation for his quest to reclaim his human soul. The results of that are a bit marred (okay, more than a bit) because of the “mind control” from the season 7 “big bad” but he breaks that on his own and becomes one of the “good guys.”

      2. In the last episode, I picture Spike gleefully imagining what’s going to happen at the pearly gates. (It has been established in the series there is a heaven.) His record of unrestrained evil is beyond belief, granted he was possessed. And then he goes into battle at the front of God’s warriors and saves the world.

          1. Coff. RES — I know he’s hiding under his blog name, waiting for me to show him how to use the blog software (This weekend, I promise) but allow me to introduce you to Charles, a member of my old writers’ group, one of the most knowledgeable booksellers around and my kids’ closest thing to an uncle they actually grew up near. Charles, sweetie, he meant laddie, truly, he mistyped.

  12. LaTiDa – so much with which to disagree I feel positively inhabity by the God of Discord, Loki hisself.

    FIRST, pure, old-fashioned villains without explanation or justification have been present in Hollywood and novels for at least forty years. Just make the villain a businessm … ‘scuzee, pleasea; a greedy arrogant businessman. Or a conservative, or someone who believes in G-d, or a Vietnam Vet. Cardboard, cartoon, blackhatted – it don’t matter. We all KNOW businessmen are greedy, conservatives are racist homophobes, religious fanatics are intolerant … yadda-yadda-yadda. Contemporary fiction has no trouble creating villains, the villains are us (especially if you think that the TEA Party arguments are not obvious and inherent proof of racism and disrespectin’ the president, in the words of a 7th grade social studies teacher.)

    SECOND, Voldemort (or, if you prefer, Lord Whassname.) Throughout the series we are given his psychological underpinnings and can see that, each time Tom Riddle had a choice he choose … poorly. He chose to use others rather than trust in them. He chose revenge rather than forgiveness. Lots more examples but we ain’t here to discuss the Dork Lord.

    THIRD, what makes a villain is VALUES. Some villains value power over others, some value wealth (aka, power over others), some value discord for the sake of discord and some value thumbing their nose at the priorities of society. Reverting to Harry Potter, in Deathly Hallows Volly expresses his view that Harry Potter’s great weakness is that he cares about others, he isn’t willing to let others die for him. This is villain as anti-thesis of hero.

    FOURTH, villains lack a sense of proportion. Ends justify means. Deaths of millions to corner Nevada beach front is a reasonable trade-off. Self-interest trumps public interest and mass-murder and destruction of the Nakatomi Tower is a small price to pay for $600 million in bearer bonds. The true villain has the charisma of the driven, the fascination of the traffic accident: we cannot take our eyes from Hannibal Lector because of his fanaticism (well, and the director keeps the camera on him.)

    Great heroes require great villains, Superman has Luthor and Brainiac, Batman has The Joker, Captain America has the Red Skull, Thor has Loki, Holmes has Moriarity, Nero Wolfe has Arnold Zeck, The Doctor has …

    1. First, conceded, but those are BAD villains. I stopped reading The Cat Who because I KNEW the villain was whoever was successful in business, and the motives got shakier and shakier. Second — of course. You can give him reasons, you can give him motives, BUT he MUST CHOOSE. i.e. your villain is NOT an innocent victim. Third, not sure about that one. Tons of villains would MOUTH the same values the hero has, they just… go about it… upside down and twisty. Fourth — part of my view of three.

      And yet on the great villains. Again, they must be STRONGER than the hero, for a good fight.

  13. The Wicked Witch of the West, in the original film Wizard of Oz (the one in the book, too, but she’s not as awesome). West is powerful, terrifying, and totally malignant. I cannot forgive Gregory Maguire for turning her into a stereotypical victimized-minority pity whore.
    Alexander Jablokow pointed out one reason why West is particularly terrifying, especially among childrens’ media bad guys: she has no endearingly incompetent sidekicks. The Winged Monkeys and the green Cossack dudes are almost as scary as she is. If you go up against West, you’re on your own. Nobody’s going to make a convenient mistake.

  14. I’ve always felt Hamlet gets a bad rap: he’s just come back from Wittenberg, where he’s become a master of all knowledge and a supreme rationalist (remember this is when Francis Bacon was the Greatest Scientist in England and Issac Newton ran the Mint) to find his father dead. his mother married to his uncle the new King, and then in the middle of the night a ghost tells him his mother and uncle murdered his father, kill them now. I can see how he might want a little independent verification, especially since as uncle’s heir, killing him would make for a full-out mess over and above whatever moral issues he might have with murder.

    The Thane of Glamis I see as less evil than weak and henpecked.

    I disagree with characterizing Heinlein’s villains as Evil: even Wormface just thinks his race has better use for Earth than ours does. They’re the villains because what they want and what we want are irredeemably opposed.

    The thing about Heinlein, especially later on, is that he has, and knows he has, a strong idea of why what he (and we) want is virtuous and right. Armed with that, he doesn’t need to quibble about the opponents’ motivations; even if he’s compassionate in a metta sort of way toward the opponents, he still has a basis on which to continue his opposition and try to win.

    1. Okay, you might be right on “not evil” but I was using evil for “unjustified” and “Unquibbled about” It’s rather like Scott’s situation. From OUR perspective what they want is evil. They can’t be redeemed, they have to be killed. I don’t particularly care if what they want is fluffy kittens and flowers to THEIR people. I suppose I should qualify “human villains choose to do that which renders them evil” — for the others it might simply be a force of nature thing. Don’t care. I still don’t want them psychoanalyzed and justified. I want them DEAD. BTW, Card actually did do a wonderful (big of me, I know) non evil on both sides, and yet deadly encounter. I could buy his premiss. What I disdain are sloppy “and now he’s good because we told him he was bad” things.

      1. Yes, the ones I can’t stand are the ones where the villain merely has to be shown how he is hurting others, and then he repents. Blech.

      2. Yup. I think that’s what’s under your distinction between “evil” and “mustache twirling evil”. The Japanese State Shinto fascists were doing what they thoughts was right for their country — trying to establish social order at home and provide resources for an expanding economy. There are lots of reasons what they thought was a good plan wasn’t compatible with what we wanted. Once the war was over, we found ways to provide Japan with social order and an expanding economy without a fascist state at home and an imperialist foreign policy. They didn’t start out as mustache-twirlingly evil and they didn’t turn good; they had the same mix as every other human group. The Klendathu Bugs, Ender’s Buggers, Wormface, Napolean, Hitler were all understandably coherently evil.

        1. This does not explain what the Japanese soldiers did in Manchuria — the rape of Nanking anyone? And some of the Japanese human experimentation makes the Germans look small time.

          1. The rape of Nanking is the stuff of nightmares. However, China and Japan have traded atrocities before. I don’t know enough about the history to pronounce. I’d be interested if someone does.

            1. Somebody’s got to be the last one to do it the old-fashioned way…

              After WWII we Americans, in effect, took the Japanese and Germans up to the mountaintop and said, “Look, wanting to conquer the world isn’t inherently bad — in fact, it shows commendable initiative, and you showed us a lot of highly effective follow-through. It’s the methods that get you talked about. Go home, work hard and smart, get rich, and buy the frickin’ place if you want it.”

              It worked, for small enough values of “worked”. Unfortunately it also tended to reinforce the “redemption of the villain” narrative. Well, you can’t have everything.

        2. What the Japanese had was a culture that carried out the sort of orders we consider evil. That promoted the ruthless. “I was just following orders” is the excuse of men who _enjoyed_ following those orders.

          We’ve renounced the capture of territory as a reason for war _now_, but this is extremely recent. Ditto removing, one way or another, any inconvenient populations. _Now_ we trot into another country, kick out the government we don’t like, install the one we prefer(this year), train up the local police and army, fix the sewers and schools and go home. What will our descedants think of this behavior in a century or two? “What a bunch of soft idiots” or “What evil and hideous soldiers, to carry out the commands of a evil and corrupt government” is hard to say.

          1. In the dead of night, in the solitude of my heart, I’m terrified what they’ll think will be “they had flying machines? Stupid myths. We’ll never make sense of this stuff if we don’t cut out all this impossible crap. Compile what makes sense, Bob, and burn the rest.”

            1. For “impossible” substitute “heretical”, and the burning is happening in the parking lot on the front lawn of the First Church of Gaia, and I’ll buy the scenario.

              1. There’s also “Where was this Iraq place?” “Well, they say desert, so I think it’s in the Theocracy of California.” I hear the whispers in the night. They scare me.

                1. I don’t have those thoughts often, but on the rare occasion that I do, I fall back on what I call the Ezekiel defense. In Ezekiel 33, God tells the prophet Ezekiel, “I’m making you a metaphorical watchman on the walls. If a watchman sees the enemy approaching but doesn’t warn the town, it’s his fault when the town gets massacred. But if the watchman sees the enemy approaching, warns the town, and the town refuses to listen to him… they’ll still get massacred, but he’s done his duty and I won’t hold his failure against him. And you, Ezekiel, are to warn Israel how angry I am with them. I’m telling you now, they won’t listen to you — but your job isn’t to make them listen, your job is to warn them.” (My paraphrase).

                  In other words: if you give up and stop trying your best to fight ignorance, then yes, it’s fair to blame yourself (in part) for the future Dark Ages. But if you try your best and still fail, then though the Dark Ages may come, you may consider yourself absolved of guilt. One can lead fools to knowledge all day long, but nobody, not even you, can make them think.

                  1. The short form of that is usually attributed to Edmund Burke but, like so many such aphorisms cannot be precisely identified:

                    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

                    Other, better sourced Burke quotes, courtesy of Wikiquotes [ http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Edmund_Burke ] are:

                    There is, however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

                    It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the publick to be the most anxious for its welfare.

                    A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.

                    People crushed by law, have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much to hope and nothing to lose, will always be dangerous.

                    Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.

                    The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

                    Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.

                    They made and recorded a sort of institute and digest of anarchy, called the Rights of Man.

                    You can never plan the future by the past.

                    Tyrants seldom want pretexts.

                    Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to any thing but power for their relief.

                    Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

                    Neither the few nor the many have a right to act merely by their will, in any matter connected with duty, trust, engagement, or obligation.

            2. Or, you could get the “Technology Recovery Department”, where they recreate tech based on old records. I can’t remember the name of the short story that was in, though.

    2. Well, he DID have this quote from Lazarus Long:
      “Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind;
      it may give you a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill
      him, quickly and without hate.”

    3. Wormface is evil because of his utter disregard for other life. Until the hearing before the Intergalactic Tribunal, Wormfaces are merely antagonists, but when their defense makes clear that they are unable to play well with others and respect no rights but their own — THAT is when Wormface becomes villainous.

      Keep in mind that the book was written about ten years after the Nuremberg Trials and that Heinlein was probably at least familiar with the military law under debate. Wormface’s people were executed for being “racist.”

      Interesting trivia discovered while confirming minor book details at wiki:

      An amateur radio satellite, dubbed SuitSat, was launched from the International Space Station in February 2006. This was an obsolete space suit with a ham radio transmitter inside it. Since the advent of ham satellites in 1969, each has always been known as Orbital Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio – OSCAR.

      Film adaptation
      In 2010 it was announced that Star Trek writer Harry Kloor had written a script for a potential film adaptation and optioned rights to a potential film. The film is expected to come out in 2013.
      [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_Space_Suit%E2%80%94Will_Travel ]

      Harry ‘Doc’ Kloor:
      Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey
      Earth: Final Conflict (TV series) (producer – 20 episodes)

      Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey

      Godzilla: The Series
      – Competition (1999) (written by)

      Star Trek: Voyager (TV series)
      – Drone
      – Scientific Method
      – The Raven
      – Real Life

      1997 Earth: Final Conflict (TV series)
      [ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1004541/ ]

      1. Cool, but but in line with my point. The Wormfaces were rotated because they were a danger; “evil” in some absolute philosophical sense wasn’t an issue.

    4. Assuredly, Hamlet is Shakespeare’s ridiculing of the “Paul Krugmans” of his time, educated beyond their intelligence and incapable of handling reality.

      1. Well, there are several possible reads and during a rather dark period of my life, I obsessed on the play. It is a layered masterpiece and depending on how you look at it, either as ghosts don’t exist/ghosts exist but they’re demons pretending to be the dead person/ghosts exist and are the dead but they might tell the truth or not, there are multiple reads of it, including that our prince had serious problems, and his uncle was QUITE innocent of everything except jumping the gun and possibly lechery. Another read is that the uncle was actually Hamlet’s father, which… er…

        1. If I were Jorge Luis Borges I’d write a story that united all of them. Unfortunately the only thing I have in common with Borges is that he had (some) Portuguese ancestry

          1. Re:JLB
            (Johnny Carson voice) I did not know that. (end JCV)
            Anglo-Argentine (but not Mestizo) I knew, but not the Portuguese. He was for years in reisdence at UST, mere blocks from my home, and I lament that I never attended a lecture.
            Sheer brilliance, with a near-mathematical clarity and elegance of expression..

            1. Borges is a Portuguese name, and he makes a reference to it in one poem. Which means he had a double dose of the Anglo too. My part of Portugal (North, seaside — not literally, we were far enough inland it took two hours by bus, or half an hour — now — by car — to get to the sea) was where the English sent their ne’er do wells before they had an empire. And some after they had an empire. Portugal was cheap and just remote enough to make it an haven for remittance men. The house across the street from my parents, the one where my best friend lived, had been built by one such in the nineteenth century. Lovely place.

          1. Um… What collection contains it? I don’t think I’ve stumbled on it. (Not that it’s a big shock, I go through years of not reading shorts, then years of reading a lot of them. I have a lot of holes in my short fiction reading.)

            1. Oops – tongue went too far into cheekiness there. The Niven story (and title piece to the collection) is “All The Myriad Ways,” published in 1971.

              All the Myriad Ways is a collection of 14 short stories and essays by science fiction author Larry Niven, originally published in 1971.

              “All the Myriad Ways”
              “For a Foggy Night”
              “Wait it Out”
              “The Jigsaw Man”
              “Not Long Before the End”
              “Unfinished Story #1”
              “Unfinished Story #2”
              “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex”
              “Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation”
              “The Theory and Practice of Time Travel”
              “Inconstant Moon” (Made into an Outer Limits episode)
              “What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers?”
              “Becalmed in Hell”


              In the eponymous story contained within, Niven attempted to craft a response to stories featuring the many-worlds interpretation as a key plot point, taking the social implications of infinite realities to a depressing conclusion. A police detective, pondering a rash of unexplained suicides and murder-suicides occurring since the discovery of travel to parallel universes, begins to realize that if all possible choices that might be made are actually made in parallel universes, people will see their freedom of choice as meaningless. The choice not to commit suicide, or not to commit a crime, seems meaningless if one knows that in some other universe, the choice went the other way. They therefore kill themselves or commit the crime, because they abandon the sense of choice.

              The oft-discussed essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” is a humorous discussion of the difficulties Superman might encounter in trying to conceive a child with Lois Lane.
              [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_the_Myriad_Ways ]

              I had forgotten it is essentially out of print, with several of the stories recollected later. Google also revealed:

              ALL THE MYRIAD WAYS
              File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – Quick View
              ALL THE MYRIAD WAYS. LarryNiven. THERE WERE TIMELINES branching and branching, a mega-universe of universes, millions more every minute. Billions?
              [ http://poliscifi.pbworks.com/f/niven.pdf ]


              All the Myriad Ways Summary & Study Guide – Larry Niven – eNotes …
              http://www.enotes.com › Literature
              All the Myriad Ways summary and study guide with notes, essays, quotes, analysis … “All the Myriad Ways” tells of a police investigator’s effort to understand why …
              [ http://www.enotes.com/all-myriad-qn ]

              which might be of interest. I have the dead trees, of course, but it appears to be offered in ebook through various sources:

              All the Myriad Ways (9780345240842) Larry Niven | Tutorials …
              Apr 21, 2012 – Tags: All the Myriad Ways (9780345240842) Larry Niven , tutorials, pdf, ebook, torrent, downloads, rapidshare, filesonic, hotfile, megaupload, …
              [ http://welefuji.blog.com/2012/04/21/all-the-myriad-ways-9780345240842-larry-niven/ ]

              All the Myriad Ways by Larry Niven – Download pdf
              Download the Book All the Myriad Ways, Author Larry Niven In pdf.
              [ http://bookmoving.com/book/all-myriad-ways_54325.html ]

              as well as through several tumblr. sites.

              1. “What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers?” has got to be one of the greatest shorts I have ever read. At least to me, it is.

            2. You can find it in “N-Space.” (Sorry, don’t know how to underline in this reply box.)

        2. Oh yea – or there is the one that the king or even the queen killed the old king. And of course, liberal English majors like to layer it with in with the new and out with the old regime. 😉

          My read is that Hamlet’s life was already in disarray when his uncle married his mother and he was acting out… I especially get stuck on the play scene and how Hamlet humiliated Ophelia. It was not the actions of a sane person imho.

  15. Thinking of choices and evil . . . among the Navajo, there is a type of witch called a skinwalker. What makes such an individual so powerful, and so dreaded by the Navajo, is that the individual has willingly, knowingly, and of his or her own free will chosen to break the codes of Navajo life and become a skinwalker. There is nothing about “bad childhood” or “off her Prozac” or “is just misunderstood.” Skinwalkers are evil because they choose to be so, and that gives them great power in their own minds and in the minds of those around them.

    In fact, that gives me a villain idea for a story I’ve been kicking around – an Anglo lawyer (with a golum for a legal secretary) allies with a skinwalker . . .

    1. I had a Navajo foster sister who used to tell us witch and skinwalker stories. If you think the stories are scary, they are scarier from the source.

    2. It is the rejection of the values and mores of their home culture that renders them evil, just as Hannibal Lecter is evil not for cannibalism but for denying the rights of his fellows.

      Evil in this sense depends upon awareness of morality and rejection of it as inapplicable to you.

    1. Very interesting piece. I suspect from the look of the site that I would disagree with the author about many, many things (his praise of George Soros’ political funding is another clue). But while I would quibble with a couple details, I’m in overall agreement with his main thesis: that focusing entirely on the bad news has a tendency to make you bitter & cynical, and that it’s a good idea to remind yourself of the good news from time to time.

  16. I have often wondered if it would be possible for two people, best friends, to turn evil and remain best friends. I don’t mean decide together to go and commit a suicide massacre; I’m talking about a couple of guys or gals that would make the choice mentioned above and still be able to remain best of friends throughout all of their evil acts. Is it possible to maintain a friendship after becoming evil? Can it only work if you’re best friends before turning evil? Or can you meet while evil and form a friendship based on common evil tendencies? Sort of a chaotic-lawful sort of thing?

    1. Follie a deux is well known. Study the case of author Anne Perry, at least as fictionalized in “Beautiful Creatures” — there didn’t seem to be anything inherently wrong in these two women, other than that they were Odds and together they formed a poisonous entity. I’ve experienced such less than wholesome relationships, though fortunately NOT to that degree. But yes, either or both are possible. OTOH it can also go wrong (for them) like the Hitler Stalin pact.

      1. Did you mean “Heavenly Creatures”? Because while “Beautiful Creatures” also seems to be a film about two girls committing a crime (from what little I could glean from Wikipedia & IMDB), it’s not about Anne Perry.

        1. YES. I did mean Heavenly Creatures. Sorry. My kind, sharing son brought home a stomach bug, which is why everything from the post to the responses is slightly “off” today. These are the wages of living in a military town, where we get interesting viruses from sub-modern places. The one that almost killed my family in 2005 — in the sense that it kept cycling every two weeks till it finally spent itself out but cost us time and energy and… for three months or so — turned out to have been brought home by someone we eventually met. They sent him home from Afghanistan because they couldn’t fix his virus (He was actually a contractor, not an enlisted man.) his children went to the same elementary school my kids went to. This stuff doesn’t worry me when I call my GP and he goes “yeah, ‘sgoingaround. It’s a virus.” BUT it does annoy me and make me less than efficient.

          1. When we were in Panama, we not only got the military viruses, but the Panama Canal is a special place where everyone goes (merchant) so you could get a virus from China to the MidEast or even Russia. Then it is also in the jungle and has its own special problems.

            1. As much as I like this town, it’s a serious reason to move. Mind you, it’s easier since kids aren’t in the younger schools — but turns out college can be ALMOST as bad.

              1. I bet – When I became ill we left the military community to go to Nevada. I am much healthier here in the high altitude and dry air. Sometime you gotta do what you gotta. I do enjoy being in a military town though. When you have problems with your neighbor you can tell someone. LOL Here the police just say “can’t help you.”

  17. As if it’s not bad enough having to time-share my brain with Vlad (“the Impaler” for those who don’t know I write alternate history with him as the POV character), you have to go post this!

    Yes, on all these points. In many ways, I could write the same blasted story from someone else’s POV and Vlad would be the villain. He’s that close to the edge. I’ll give him this, though, he is gradually clawing his way to something we’d consider human (I’m up to my eyeballs in the day job and the sequel to Impaler, so Vlad’s point of view is particularly…. attractive. Especially when I run into really “interesting” bugs. Must remember, it’s difficult to clean blood and… stuff… out of carpet.).

    As you can tell, particularly yes on the “evil is seductive”. I never really ‘got’ the whole deal with evil being so repulsive you’d have to be out of your mind to join up. It’s that enticing whisper, the playing on the weaknesses, and gradual escalation. Being female, I’ll admit that hawt male villains do have a certain attractiveness. I’m sure it’s similar to the effect the stacked villainess has on the straight males, at least until the boobies short out the brain circuits (my husband insists this is how it works. Boobies short out the brain and leave the male human incapable of thought. I trust him on this.)

    1. Kate – I have heard about the boobie effect lol
      Oh yea – the bad boy effect for women… dreaming of six pack stomachs and tight little ***.

      1. That’s very much how Kate writes him, but with a streak of evil bastard a mile wide. (To be honest all of Kate’s good guys have that. She can’t help it.)

        1. Yes, he’s a vicious evil bastard, but he’s our vicious evil bastard is a long-standing principle.

          1. More than that, Vlad’s a vicious evil bastard who’s doing everything he can to save the vicious evil bastard part for the Enemy, and not let it hit his own people. For some reason I keep coming back to the evil bastard on the side of the angels, as it were. I’d be scared of myself if I hadn’t spent so much time in my own mind.

            1. Nasssty noisome places, minds. People dump all sorts of sewage into them and rarely wash them. It is probably a good idea to air yours out from time to time.

  18. The most frightening thing about true evil and its villains, to me, is its banality – not that the atrocities committed in mind and in deed are so awful, but that they are committed by men and women not so different from you and I. It is far more comforting to cloak evil in a twirled mustache and a great black cape, or to hurriedly dismiss them as a tortured victim under pop psychology pretenses, than to show the man beneath who willingly chose and fully believes in what he is doing, and does not care how evil it is.

    If you want a starkly illuminating and thoroughly honest look at how evil functions from the inside – what truly motivates people who have chosen to be evil, how they interact, the friendships they have, how they think and what they value… and yes, how they can be redeemed and at what great cost to themselves and those around them, I recommend Whittaker Chamber’s book “Witness”.

    It’s over in the non-fiction aisle, not that far away from the awfully repugnant attraction of the pictures of young men and women laughing, sunbathing and playing the accordion, labelled “Auschwitz, May-Dec 1944”.

    1. Hannah Arendt coined (to the best of my reccolection) the phrase “the banality of evil”, and I think there is something to it.

      For my part, Terry Pratchett summed it up when he had Granny Weatherwax define it as “treatin’ people as though they were things”.

    2. I’m in the process of reading the book “Deathlands” about the folks caught between Stalin and the Nazis, starting in 1928. It is horrifying what people will do to protect themselves or their position in a government. For a fictional version, Mikhail Sholokhov’s short story collection, “Tales from the Don” is hair-curling, in large part because he is so matter of fact about what his characters do to survive.

      1. When I was an exchange student, my best friend was from England, but her parents were Ukranian and were among people who escaped BOTH the Nazis and Stalin.

        1. The Western post-war repatriation of DPs is a blot on their escutcheon as vile as their refusal to aid the Reichstag’s fleeing Jews.

  19. One of the function of fiction is to provide test cases for how we will think about things. Not many of us will ever get to participate in a revolution, but The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress lets us imagine how we might behave if we did.

    Stories about over-the-top villains let us order our thoughts on the subject: What shall we do about Posleen, or Slugs, or Auric Goldfinger? If the story suggests that we excuse them, that’s one possible answer to how to think about it. If the writer decides they should be blown away, followed by triumphant fist-bumps and high fives among the victors, that’s another line of thinking.

    Villainy is all around. Much of it is minor or banal, and doesn’t show up on our mental radar as important. It is, though — and the most important thing about it is that villains require henchmen. A supernatural being like Loki can do it all by himself; a Hitler or a Fidel has to have assistants. We talk about real-world villains in the abstract: Stalin killed thus-and-such a number of people. Do you suppose he, himself, in his own person, ever killed a kulak? It is to laugh. People, real people, did that for him, on his orders. I really think one of the reasons Ernesto Guevara looms so large in people’s minds is that he was a “hands on” kind of guy. If an Enemy of the People needed to be raped or shot, Che was happy to volunteer — unlike his bosses, who posed nobly on their Crags of Omnipotence and Virtue, and depended on the peons to get the slaughter done.

    The really pernicious effect of “understanding the villain” is that it allows potential henchmen to excuse themselves and their participation. That’s why it’s so popular among those of leftoid tendencies. Every Leftoid ideal comes down, eventually, to New Soviet Man — kill off everybody who disagrees, and the ones remaining can live happily together ever after; that means those doing the killing can pride themselves on participating in God’s Work. (Yes, the abrupt swerve was intentional.) Stories in which there are Bad Guys who get their Just Deserts tend, indirectly, to cast doubt on the o’erweening virtue of, e.g., IRS agents who cheerfully and eagerly persecute people who disagree with the Administration — jus’ followin’ orders, y’know — and we can’t have that; it blocks the road to New Soviet Man.

    1. Dorothy Grant and Ric Locke make similar points which might be boiled down to: It ain’t Darth Vader, it’s the Imperial Stormtroopers. Or rather, the apparatchiks whose processing of paperwork enables the control of the populace.

      The EPA regulators whose regulations curtail energy generation, forcing people and businesses to pay eight times as much for electricity

      The market-clearing price for new 2015 capacity – almost all natural gas – was $136 per megawatt. That’s eight times higher than the price for 2012, which was just $16 per megawatt. In the mid-Atlantic area covering New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and DC the new price is $167 per megawatt. For the northern Ohio territory served by FirstEnergy, the price is a shocking $357 per megawatt.
      [http://www.urgentagenda.com/PERMALINKS%20VII/MAY%202012/23.COAL.HTML ]

      do far more than any black helicopter to reduce people to subservience. The regulators who deprive California farmers of vitally needed irrigation are more destructive of our crops than locusts. Yet they are faceless formless and irresistible.

      Those of us who watched the TV miniseries Holocaust in 1978 have still been unable to shake Michael Moriarity’s chilling portrait of Eric Dorf, a man who sold his soul to his career.

      But such persons make for boring novels and films.

      1. While faceless bureaucrats and tidal waves of regulations may seem boring, it is these same virtues turned vices that have given us swarms of villians to defeat in this last century alone. The viewing of people as things and ends justifying any means ranges from the cops who tell families to bring bail money in cash and then seize it as drug money to Himmler, from a Cuban general in Angola to teenage mujhadeen.

        I like a great villain, against whom a hero must work so hard and sacrifice so much that the triumph of good is a stand up and cheer moment. Many books have been tossed casually on the discard pile, or with force across the room, because the author could no t give the reader insight into what makes the villain tick without apologizing or excusing it.

    2. THANK YOU. I was trying to explain why Loki felt “thin” — and it is, of course, because he doesn’t have the layers and layers of various shades of grey, seduced, coerced, etc minions. In A Few Good Men I had to touch on that — sort of — though I didn’t delve in it, but yes — it makes things FAR more complex to write. Heinlein solved that to an extent by having loonies and Earthers.

  20. Spot on, Sarah. However, I think villains simply adapted to the times. We started getting tortured and ambiguous villains when we started getting tortured and ambiguous heroes. There is a time and place for this, but for the most part, let heroes be heroes and the villains will take care of the rest.

  21. For some good villains, I’m fond of the Avatar: the Last Airbender cartoon series; much of its strength comes from having a spread of characters. Not just a spread of different female characters with different personalities and ways of being awesome (so there is no Token Female who stands in for All That Is Woman), but for a spread of villains (many of whom are hench-villains, but I think they count). There are villains who are good people with the wrong allegiances, there are villains who are just doing their jobs, there are villains arguably coerced into it, there are villains from greed, there are villains from misunderstandings, there are warped-by-childhood villains, there are villains who redeem themselves, there are villains who are bad from childhood, there are megalomaniac villains who may or may not have been bad from childhood, there are villains who apparently turned that way between one decade and the next (and who might have redeemed himself in the end, but chose not to)…

    There are nine and sixty ways of constructing villains; YAY!
    And A:tLA gets many of them right.

    The next series, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, looks to be shaping up well — the villains have a point! Which their leader is very probably using for his own purposes, because anyone who’s read the Evil Overlord rules as closely as Amon… Well, I don’t think he’s an idealist nearly as much as he claims.

    (Disclaimer: there is no live action Airbender movie. The rumor is a lie. Also, there is only one Highlander movie.)


    Interestingly, while I grew up with an emotionally abusive sire, and am pretty sure that a lot of it came from him being waited on hand and foot as the Son His Parents Never Thought They’d Have (and what that did to his 8-years-older sister, I can guess)… I don’t view that as an excuse. (Explanation is not excuse. Choice. Free will. I believes we has it!) And because of my experiences, I am very unlikely to believe in a certain kind of “easy” redemption for villains. (The villains in A:tLA who redeem themselves… do so at great personal risk, and the follow-on comics/graphic novel short stories suggest that it’s still a pretty rocky road now and then, down the line.) I am far too aware of the “oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll never do it again” lie and how easily it is spoken. And how easily it is broken.

    (And considering how many people come to talk on Making Light when they have the occasional post about dysfunctional families? There are probably a lot of potential readers who will, if you have an easy “redemption,” throw the book at the wall. Like me.)

    1. (Explanation is not excuse. Choice. Free will. I believes we has it!)

      A very important point, and one which leads to an oft o’erlooked fact about “modern” villains.

      As I understand it, the Marxian view of History and events essentially denies Free Will. We are not in command of our destinies, we are cogs floating on the sea of events beyond our control. Great events make great men, not the other way ’bout. Therefore villains are not evil per se, they are the personification of the evil of their times. They bear no guilt, they are manipulated by forces far beyond them. Those who try to do “good” often simply make matters worse, and of those who make up the machinery of society, well, “if I don’t do it somebody else will.” “I’m irresistible you fool, you’re no exception to the rule, give in, give in.”

      From such a perspective, the villain is the one who obstructs History’s inexorable flow, the reactionary, the counter-revolutionary who gives false hope and raises false consciousness among the people, delaying achievement of our glorious future.

      Codswallop, but as the temper of the times as effective as dementors for sapping human will to resist.

      N.B., while it has been a very long time since I read the Foundation trilogy, I believe that this Marxist conceit is at its core, is the basis for the concept of psychohistory and Hari Seldon’s precept that we should delay responding until the last possible moment at which time the only possible solution will become clear.

      1. Well, fooh!!! Ah reckons the /BLOCKQUOTE thar war lacking its slash. Mah applegies fer thuh confoozing.

      2. Therefore villains are not evil per se, they are the personification of the evil of their times.

        And therefore those evil acts done by Lenin, Stalin or Che are quite excusable because the actors had no real choice and their actions were both necessary for the cause and inevitable to the times. Ugh.

  22. Bearcat you were asking about resources for the demise of civilization here from disease? Am I write? I just saw a show on Netflix (I am trying to remember it) about the Native Americans in North America. I have a problem remembering the show because of the chemo.. and I can’t seem to find the name so I apologize, but they mentioned that a large amount of Indians died from smallpox. I know that where Christopher Columbus came (one of the islands) the viruses that they brought wiped out whole tribes.

    If you are asking about civilization, Iroquois nation covered a large amount of Eastern to Midwest area and had civilization, plus communication. Mohawks were part of that nation and were also whittled down through disease and then wars. I heard an estimate (again no source… for which I am sorry about ) that between 1618-1619 90 percent of the Indians were killed by disease. (from Dobyns). Although we think that NAs were mostly tribal, there is some archeologists who went Native and discovered that tribes like the Navajo had a government. In Nevada the NAs still have tribal governments and are still under the BIA.

    Here is a pbs http://www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/variables/smallpox.html show on the subject of smallpox. Of course, PBS is not an original source.
    If this helps… you might be able to find the sources. I have lived in the West a good portion of my life and have seen some of the things that have caused problems for them on the reservations. Lots of bad things there – alcohol, suicide, and general unhappiness.

    An interesting subject I have discovered during ancestry dna testing is that a portion of the NA community who could pass, slipped into certain communities so that they could live in this new world (German and Irish). A lot of the people who have ancestors who came to the US before the 19th century have NA blood. In our family we have stories of NA blood, but I have not been able to find it. But, even though I look really Scandinavian I have certain characteristics that are from NA and not from my Scandinavian ancestors.

    The history of the NA and the West especially after the 1840s is also a part of my family’s history. Many of my family came to Utah with the Mormons. Plus Americans are more mixed than they think. My personal opinion.


    1. Some of the mound builders, part of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture, got at least as far as the Pee Dee River area in NC before they were kicked out by subsequent tribes. There is an historical archeological site and recreation in Troy N.C. which is part of N.C. State Historical Sites. Google Town Creek Indian Mound, Troy, N.C..

      And, while, yes Small Pox wrecked havoc on the NA population, it was not the only European disease that swept through to population, another import was influenza.

      1. Also — be very, very cautious about applying modern concepts to the ancients. The tribal structure does in fact allow larger groups and structures that can be thought of as “governments”, but they are very different from modern Western concepts. Even our fairly recent ancestors (the Founders, e.g.) used a very different set of definitions than we do. Prominent example: the word “nation”.

        There are many places around the world where tribal cultures achieved monumental buildings and things recognizable as cities — there’s a remarkable set of ruins in eastern Turkey that date back to well before anybody thought large settlements were possible; the civilization in the Indus River valley was not only large and complex, it survived an intervening “little ice age” without major changes — but it was still fundamentally tribal, and had the limits characteristic of a tribal society, most prominently the suppression of innovation and entrepreneurship.

        Western society is qualitatively different because the millennium of wars we happily engaged in almost totally destroyed the tribal structures of Europe; we were then free to experiment with forms of governance not dependent on tribal associations, with the United States being more or less exemplary of that set of innovations. The trouble is, we evolved as tribes, and our “feelings” are based on tribal structures, where the new European systems are intellectual constructs. People keep trying to re-create the tribal system, because it “feels right”, but it fits very badly with the new forms, and causes troubles that echo the bad experiences of Amerindian tribes interacting with European invaders/settlers.

        1. Germany is a little different to the European concept because until they were molded together by Napoleon, they were essentially tribal. Also I have been to Africa and seen tribal structures there (in the oldest forms). I think from my experience that you are right in not wanting us to descend into tribal form.

          1. One aspect about “tribal thinking” is that “tribal morals” don’t apply when dealing with those outside of your “tribe” unless the outsiders belong to a tribe that your tribe doesn’t want to offend or your tribe considers a friend.

            By the way, that relates to the old meaning of “outlaw”. An “outlaw” was outside the protection of the “law” including any argeements with other tribes. An outlaw could be killed and it wouldn’t be considered murder.

            1. Yes PPaul – Still in Africa, the word stranger means enemy. Plus they shake hands showing both hands so that each person knows there is no weapons involved. If they shake with only one hand, even today, you are in trouble.

    2. I was aware of the smallpox, but I believe Charlie was referring to something older that wiped out the mound builders, I will check out the pbs show in the evening when I have time though, thanks.

      And yes on the indians blending into the population, my grandmother often tells the story of her grandmother, who was indian. I have no idea what tribe, because she would never admit to it, she always insisted she was ‘Yankee.’ At that time being indian was looked down upon by the majority, so there were those that would never admit to it. Cherokee are the tribe that comes to mind first, because many of them are red or brown haired and can easily pass as white. I have a friend who is Cherokee and though his hair is white now it was always fairly light, and if he wouldn’t have told me I would never have guessed he was indian. Another friend of mine has a wife who is pure indian (not sure of the tribe) both her parents look the part, but she herself has light brown hair and brown eyes. On the other hand my grandpa on my mothers side constantly got union jobs as an indian (affirmative action). He had black hair, high cheekbones, and the only facial hair he could grow was a mustache, but he was pure black irish, not a drop of indian blood.
      Humans will be humans, and their personal history often changes to whatever is most advantageous at the time.

      1. Cherokee in the DNA structure are different from the other tribes in North and South American because of their mtDNA U5b2. I am also U5b2, but it is from Northern Europe. So Cherokees and Mohawks and others with this maternal DNA were able to pass more easily.

        Also, my best friend in elementary school found out when she was in her 40s that she is 1/4th Indian from one of the California tribes. Her grandmother is full Indian. The grandmother and mother kept it from everyone because during that time (1940-1960s) it was also not good to be an Indian. Plus they told everyone that the family was from Greece. They had the black hair and the white skin. They did look like they were from that part of the country.

        It has only been recently that being an Indian was good. My hairdresser who is from the Washoe tribe wanted her son to be closer to full blood. She is half herself. However, there wasn’t anyone on the reservation who she thought was worthy to be the father of her children so her boyfriend is white. She still wished for it though.


        1. Trish, the friend of mine’s wife I mentioned is also from California, but I’m not sure what tribe, and California is a big state.

          Do you think the U5b2 DNA in the Cherokees is from the Northern European fisherman that used to fish off ‘the banks’ long before Columbus ‘discovered’ the americas?

          1. @bearcat There is a possibility because they are now saying that the Vikings used to restock in the Americas. But, they think it was during the end of the last large Ice Age. Not sure because the science they are using is very new and they are trying to get more and more people to take the tests so they can figure out how the migration patterns worked.

      2. Bearcat, the Mississippian culture fell into decline (as best as can be determined) around 1350-1450, in part because of climatic shifts related to the Little Ice Age, and partly because of regional deforestation and over-consumption of local resources. Their collapse left a vacuum that disrupted peoples from the Mississippi River all the way to the Atlantic. At the same time, some sedentary groups in the southern Great Plains also vanished, in part because of long-duration drought in the 1450s. So even before Hernan De Soto cut his swath through the Southeast, or diseases began from other Spanish and northern European contacts after 1500, central North American was “in flux” so to say. The Athapaskans were also moving south about then, becoming the ancestors of the Navajo (Diné) and Apache (Diné) among others, and chasing a lot of other peoples ahead of them.

        Shephard Krech has a book called “The Ecological Indian” that remains the first place to go for an overview of what Native Peoples were doing to the landscape (and themselves) prior to 1800.

        And yes, as you may have guessed, environmental history is my day job.

        1. No, I wouldn’t have guessed because I wasn’t aware there were ANY jobs in environmental history. I’m assuming there is another job description I might be familiar with?

        2. Thank you for the reference, sounds very interesting. (Oh, so many books so little time…)

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