Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Who is the Greatest Villain in Fiction?

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the greatest villain of them all?

Iago?

Ahab?

Fagin?

Voldemort?

Sauron?

Villains are just plain scarier when they only have one name, aren't they?

Who's your choice?






229 comments:

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lora96 said...

Cathy in East of Eden or Wen Fu in The Kitchen God's Wife. Although he did have two names.

Jamie said...

Definitely Hannibal...evil never looked so good!

Jenn Marie said...

Mordred. That little jerk packed a historical punch.

Alyson said...

Definitely Voldemort. We know who he is even when we do not speak his name. Because, after all, He Who Must Not Be Named did great things--terrible, yes, but great.

Goodness I'm Harry Potter deprived.

Anonymous said...

Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. I'm pretty sure he's not supposed to be a villain but no other character has ever sent chills up my spine like he does. Pure selfishness in a violent, manipulative shell. What havok did he play in such insidious ways!

Sarah W said...

Eleanor Shaw Iselin from Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate is just about the most cold-blooded character I've ever read.

What she does to her own son, and what she allows to happen to him, is monstrous and unforgiveable.

I guess that doesn't make her the greatest---just the worst, sorry . . .

Jess said...

The Grand High Witch in Roald Dahl's The Witches used to give me nightmares...then again, so did too much of Mom's attempt at green bean casserole.

Tahereh said...

DOUBLE RAINBOWS are the greatest villains of all time.

they have been known to make FULL GROWN MEN WEEP and question everything they've ever known.

also ahab is kind of legit.

Dawn said...

I have a love/hate relationship with Gretchen from Chelsea Cain's thrillers. She's like the female version of Hannibal, and in some ways, deadlier.

Anonymous said...

Wow, green bean casserole as the greatest villain!

Christopher Walken played such a psychologically evil guy that I couldn't watch him in another movie for many years until I learned that he dances.

The Borg were pretty bad too.

Villains that start with The.

(i.e., The Devil.)

Anyone or thing that could take someone's humanity or loved one is the most evil to me.

One of the worst villains is drugs.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. But...Cathy in East of Eden is pretty much the epitome of the sociopath!

Joseph Adams said...

Probably not your typical villain, but there is no character I hated more by the end of a book than Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Not so much evil as really stupid (which is its own evil, isn't it?).

Christy said...

Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca was definitely creepy. Also, the White Witch from Narnia was pure evil, and even scarier when I saw her on the big screen.

Stu Pitt said...

Judge Holden in "Blood Meridian"

Melissa Gill said...

Simon Legree is the greatest villian in fiction. In fact he was so dispicable that his brutality was partially credited with starting the American Civil War.

Vicki Schultz said...

I would have to say It is the greatest villain--both in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time (the book that got me addicted to sci-fi/fantasy) and in Stephen King's It (that scared the bejeezus out of me.)

Bluestocking Mum said...

Oh no Nathan - Bill Sykes is far more the villain than Fagin!

For me, greatest villain has to come from my greatest novel so it's Alec d'Urberville - Tess of the d'Urbevilles.

Vincent Kale said...

When I saw Iago, I immediately thought, "The parrot from Aladdin? He wasn't that bad!"

I needs to brush up on me Shakespeare.

Greatest Villain in Fiction goes to:
Dolores Umbridge, HP:Order of the Phoenix

No one character ever got under my skin more than she did. Sure Voldemort is trying to kill everyone and take over the world, blah, blah, blah.

But Umbridge's sadism, sense of propriety and the insufferable decor of her office (so much pink!) just made me squirm.

Stephen King agrees, as he "noted the success of any novel is due to a great villain, with Umbridge as the "greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter...".

Polenth said...

I like Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar from Neverwhere. They're totally evil, but also more than a little odd. It makes a change from bland evil.

Robin said...

Its a toss up between Hannibal Lector and Annie Wilkes (Misery).

But then again, there is always Satan from Paradise Lost (Milton)

E.J. Wesley said...

THE GRINCH.

the quiet one said...

humbert humbert.

i find him truly evil because he makes you feel bad for him, you actually sympathize with his cause, despicable.

ms. danvers is a great one too.

Jen Stayrook said...

Voldemort, definitely. I may be biased toward all things Harry Potter, but Voldemort has so much more dimension than any other villain. Throughout the series we see that he is more than "evil for evil's sake" but there was a process to his evil. It's a human transformation. Hannibal isn't a bad choice for this reason either, but I prefer Voldy.

Jennifer said...

lestI teach British literature and every semester my students say they hate Gertrude (from Hamlet) more than any other character they have ever read. This could be because more watch the movie than read the play and are completely grossed out when she makes out with her son, but for whatever resaon, they absolutely LOATHE her...

Heather Dixon said...

The Child-catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

and

Mr. Teatime from Terry Pratchett's Hogfather

Sarah N Fisk said...

I think the society in Unwind is one of the best villains, if you want to expand the definition of villains. So frightening because it wasn't just one person doing evil acts, it was the WHOLE society supporting them.

Also, honest Iago is awesomely bad.

Aleeza said...

no doubt it has to be, from the books that i've read, annie wilkes from stephen king's misery. she literally had me squirming at night thinking about her pure sadistic evil. eeeee. then there was mrs. danvers of rebecca. she sent chills up my spine in the scene where she's chiding the MC into jumping from the window.
two other good ones are voldemort, of course, and umbridge.

Dana said...

How about Cruella de Vil. She wanted to kill puppies to make a fir coat. Or Morgana from King Arthur.

Dave @ A Writer's Look said...

A great villain to me requires three things:

1. They threaten you mentally, not physically. A physical threat is a lot easier to deal with, it's tangible, you can respond to it. A mental threat... not so much.

2. They believe they're right or justified.

3. They do things their own way. It's one thing to be threatened with death by a serial killer, another to be threatened by being eaten.

And with that, I'd put Pennywise from Stephen King's IT near the top of the list.

1. He becomes whatever you fear. Afraid of werewolves, he becomes a werewolf. He doesn't just want to kill you physically, he wants to terrify you mentally. 'Cause you taste better. No better evidence of this than the suicide that occurs when one of the characters learns he has to go back to face It.

2. He needs to feed. If he doesn't eat, he'll die. From his perspective, it's black and white. You have to die so that he can live. And centuries of doing this have messed with his head a little.

3. He doesn't just kill children, he kills them by being what they fear the most.

And come on. He's a CLOWN.

Those things are creepy to begin with.

Aleeza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becca said...

I've never really read anything recently with a tangible villain... but since this is fiction, then I'm at least mentioning Azazel -- The Yellow-Eyed Demon. He's pure evil. He's in it all for himself, and he doesn't care who dies in the process. Top that with a great sense of humor and a personality like Jack Nicholson, and you've got yourself a great villain.

Claudie said...

Well, I know he's from a movie, but the SS Colonel Hans Landa deserves a mention here.

I'm not sure I'm qualified for this, though. I always end up rooting for villains, no matter how bad.

Joann Swanson said...

Gonna have to go with the dark man (Randall Flagg) in The Stand. M-O-O-N, that spells: any guy who can turn into a crow at will gets my vote.

Joann Swanson said...

@Dave - Pennywise was a close second for me, mainly because of the clown issue. Clowns = scary.

Matthew Rush said...

Sauron. Hands down. Besides, Ahab is more like a victim. The villain in that story is Moby the Dick.

wry wryter said...

Cancer

Brings the meanest baddest son of bitches to their knees.

and

The hunter who shot Bambi's mom. I still get nightmares. I think he died of triggerfingerdeckaphobia.

J. R. McLemore said...

The first villain to come to my mind is Chigur in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

Hannibal is my second most-feared.

otherside89girl said...

Uriah Heep. Funniest, strangest, saddest little villain I've ever met.

Michael Pickett said...

I'm going to interpret best as most interesting and vote for Ahab from Moby Dick. I mean, the guy basically wants to symbolically kill God. That's pretty messed up and oh so compelling to read (at least during the interesting parts of that massive tome).

ryan field said...

Edmund from King Lear.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Oh goodness, how am I supposed to pick the GREATEST? Satan in PARADISE LOST(and most Satan analogies, such as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia). The priest in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. I thought Broud in THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR was pretty brutal. What about Big Brother in 1984? Can we count things like that? Or characters like Briony from ATONEMENT? I sometimes think these characters are more interesting than the straight-up "I'm evil!" guys, but they seem more insidious because they aren't so obvious. I'm not sure they count as villains for our purpose, though.

D.G. Hudson said...

Erasmus OR Omnius from the DUNE novels by Frank Herbert.

Two major characters which are 'thinking machine' robots, with Erasmus effectively igniting the Machine jihad because of his actions. Truly evil is this one, as all humans are fodder for his experiments.

One word names seem to emphasize importance, or individualism, and in some cases, are intended to evoke fear, anxiety, etc.

Great question and I'm sure there will be a lot of different bad guys showing up in the comments to this post. Human and otherwise.

E. A. Provost said...

The Alien Entity in Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. You don't know what it is, where it came from or what's going to happen when it absorbs the earth, but in the meantime it's turning all the children into telekinetic zombies. I love Clarke, but I wanted to vomit when I finished reading that book. Literally, it went right to my stomach and I felt ill for several days.

Taffy said...

Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter drove me crazy. She was sadistic with a sugar-coated voice; she used other's weaknesses against them and enjoyed laughing at them; she thought she was always right. But you know what was creepiest about Umbridge to me? She liked kitties. It just did NOT fit with her personality. And she had waaayyyy too many.

Janny said...

Mrs. Danvers, definitely. We saw an English television production of REBECCA some years ago with Diana Rigg as Mrs. Danvers and all I have to do is say that name to make my daughter shudder. :-)

Tchann said...

It's not literary, but my favorite villain of all time is Rotti Largo, from Repo: The Genetic Opera. He's got his reasons, he's got a plan, he makes a promise and he never breaks it. Respectable and evil, all rolled up into one.

Tchann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Judge Holden - Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West (by Cormac McCarthy).

Chigurh is a close second. Also by McCarthy. Hmmmm. Pattern?

Mac said...

Darth Vader

D.G. Hudson said...

@E. A. Provost: Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End was the first sci-fi book I read, the one that started me reading every sci-fi book I could find.

Different impressions for different tastes, I suppose. Perhaps the age that we read these books could result in a variety of impressions.

Jessie Andersen said...

Professor Moriarty.

Robert Michael said...

I have to agree with many of the posters here that King, L'Engle, Shakespeare and Rowling do a wonderful job of bringing some of the best villians to print, theater and the movies.

But don't forget Clive Barker, HP Lovecraft, Alfred Hitchcock or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson. I am just glad that literature filled with so many "good" bad guys. What would these books be without a strong villian? What would The Stand be without Flagg or Othello be without Iago?

I shudder to think...

Stephanie Garber said...

Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter. She might not have been the main villain but that woman was so evil!

Project Savior said...

Yoda, the leader of the cult "Jedi" that formed a shadow government in "Star Wars".

Mira said...

The ones that really get me are the ones that aren't fantasy books, but real-to-life books that involve mental/physical/sexual abuse and/or torture, especially of children.

Umbridge is very well-written. But the really horrifying ones - the parents in Push (the movie Precious) or the mother/grandmother duo in Flowers in the Attic. Long-term abuse over time. I'm sure there are many, many more, but I try not to read those types of books, frankly. They totally get under my skin and freak me out.

T.M. Lunsford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T.M. Lunsford said...

As the enemy of both good and evil, Death is the greatest villain in fiction. Good people die too young and bad people live too long. In the end, death is the unknown, uncontrollable element of humanity that's inevitability is the enemy or ally of everyone.

Ganz-1 said...

Pennywise from Stephen King's IT... scared the shit out of me when I first saw the movie as a kid.

Anonymous said...

Voldemort, Umbridge, Sauron...great villains all. However, the one that has outshined and outlasted all of them in my memory is Leland Gaunt from Stephen King's Needful Things. He was so subtly insidious. Fantastic.

--Deb said...

I actually agree with Dolores Umbridge, except for the fact that she was so soundly beaten, without ever being as effective as Voldemort ... but yes, I always thought she was more evil than he was, if only because she BELIEVED SHE WAS RIGHT. She wasn't after power because she could take it like Voldemort, she was just absolutely convinced that what she was doing was right, and nothing should stop her.

Fanatics are always the scariest villains. They're not always the most "evil" characters, but they're usually the ones who strike the most fear in the hearts of others--even if their obsession is something as seemingly benign as building a cathedral (Connie Willis' "To Say Nothing of the Dog.")

Though, my own to add to this list? Gabriel from Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles. Saintly face and reputation, yet doing pure evil all the time. Deliciously terrible.

Thomas Sinclair said...

I have to go with the Bard's Iago on this. And while I want to write a lengthy essay on why, I shall curb myself.

Iago has a plan. Very early on he just wants to ruin Othello, and he goes about it.

He does it all under the guise of a friend, showing just how deceitful he can be.

He manipulates others into doing the dirty work for him.

He succeeds! He ruined the lives in that play. The hero did not overcome him in the end. Desdemona is dead, Othello murdered her, and now knows that he did so without cause. Not only that, Iago leaves an impressive body count in his wake.

Perhaps most importantly, is that when the whole mix up is revealed, Iago goes quiet on his reasons. he shuts up and stays quiet without elling anyone why he did all this. We're left with an evil and a hate that cannot be explained because the villain is evil enough to know when to shut up (a trait lacking in many a Bond villain).

Also, he survives. He's walked off the stage alive and whole. WE can all imagine he'll be put to death or imprisoned, but we don't know. He's crafty, and with the right lawyer could get away with it. All the audience is left with is speculation as to this guy's fate, with no proof of one over the other, and that gives him bragging rights to not tell what he did. Others will tell it for him.

William Jones said...

My personal favorite is Saint Dane from the Pendragon series.

Robert said...

Shout out to Double Rainbows and Annie Wilkes, but I pick the Great Depression in the Grapes of Wrath.

Stacy said...

i wad scared of Pennywise, too until I watched Tim Curry in Clue and then in Oscar. Then 'it' made me laugh. "You've got a dangling participle!"
My favorite villain of all time is still Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham! Of course, I love one liners and he's got quite a few great ones.

Peter Dudley said...

Where's the Church Lady when you need her?

I actually think Saruman and the Witch King of the Nazgul are better villains than Sauron.

The very best villain of all time, though, is the French knight on the castle wall in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!"

RBSHoo said...

Since my goal of becoming published may never happen, thus remaining fiction, I'd have to say... The Literary Agent.

I kid because I care.

I'd go with Randall Flagg from The Stand.

Honorable mention to the serial killer in Blood Work by Michael Connelly (because of his motivation, not the gore).

RJ Hipling said...

Madame Morrible and the Wizard of OZ in Gregory Maguire's "Wicked"

Alma said...

At the risk of sounding immodest, mine, mine, mine! Wait till you meet him. His name is Adair (a one word name!) May 2011.

Oobzie said...

I know it doesn't seem to fit, but i'm a fan of Richard II

Pete said...

Jessis is right - it has to be Professor Moriarty.

Scarlet Passmore said...

Well MY of course! /joke
I would have to say there are many great fiction villains. My personal favorites are the ghosts and people of Fatal Frame and Silent Hill. Because not a one of them is truly evil.
Fatal Frame 1 - Kirie, turned evil by malice when a sacrifical ritual failed because she fell in love
Fatal Frame 2 - Sae, twisted and made evil by her villages failed sacrifice of her
Fatal Frame 3 - Reika, tainted by malice and turned evil when a ritual fails and she sees the man she loves killed in front of her
Silent Hill 1 - Alessa, an innocent girl tortured to birth god
Silent Hill 2 - The protagonist, James, in a way because he finds out in the end he IS the true antagonist, having smothered his wife
Silent Hill 3 - Claudia was abused by her father and it made her want to for the birth of God to cleanse the world and usher in Paradise for ALL.
Silent Hill 4 - Walter was abandoned and twisted by the SH cult doctrine

Then for movies/books:
Darth Vader - a good guy as Anakin, seduced to the darkside to save Padme but ends up believing HE was the one who killed her.

I think the best and scariest of villains are those who you feel weird CALLING villains. They were made into what they were by other people and it really wasn't their fault!

Horserider said...

I just blogged about this on Monday! :D My number one was The Master from Doctor Who. Not sure if that counts since it's a TV show. If not, the greatest villain is Voldemort, hands down.

clindsay said...

Lecter.

Ciara said...

Mrs Danvers from Rebecca...she scared the bejesus out of me and sometimes, sometimes, when I look up and see someone standing at the window I think it's her.

February Grace said...

Didn't read all the comments yet so sorry if somebody already said this. The choice is obvious to me...

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz.

Amanda Sablan said...

Hannibal Lecter, hands down. He is precisely what every human being alive should fear the most: an intelligent vilain. Plus, what's freakier than someone who eats their victim?

Gregg Podolski said...

Hannibal the Cannibal (cool villains also have cool nicknames), despite Thomas Harris's best efforts to turn him into an anti-hero with the last two books.

Tina said...

"IT" from A Wrinkle in Time

MLGoodell said...

I have to go with Margot Macomber, from Hemingway's "Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." Self-absorbed, bullying, she has emasculated her husband. She openly cuckolds him with the safari guide, and the next day, when he gains even a modicum of courage and integrity, she "accidentally" shoots him.

Corey said...

Simon Legree, slave owners in "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

Lisa Yarde said...

It's a tossup between Iago from Othello and Pennywise from Stephen King's It. Iago brought about a lot of destruction and made Othello do things he would have never done, so he was the perfect nemesis. Pennywise scared the @#$% out of the kids in the book and me. He's a villain to remember.

Nathan Bransford said...

Re: Fagin vs. Bill Sykes, while Bill Sykes is the more evil (and scarier), Fagin is the more interesting.

Also he fit the one-name theme.

Jess Tudor said...

I agree completely with Dave @ A Writer's Look on what makes a great villain.

But I haven't read IT because I'm too scared (which means it probably should win) so I can't comment on that.

But someone who isn't just going to kill you, yes. There's more fear in living damaged than in simply dying.

Elaine AM Smith said...

Meursault

Bateman

Humbert

Maybe in the other order, or not.

R. Paramour said...

Across all media, Ukoku from Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki, hands down.

If we're talking strictly literary, it's a toss-up between Aaron from Titus Andronicus and Gmork from The Neverending Story.

Samuel D. Grey said...

My favourite villain comes from X-Men Comics, so not literature per se, but still fiction.

Magneto is a well-rounded, three-dimensional villain. A victim of the Holocaust who vowed never to allow similar atrocities to occur to his new people, "mutants". However, in doing so his anger poisoned him and he ended up becoming as bad as those he fought against, engaging in terrorism and murder to achieve his idealistic goals.

He's a villain that you know has done terrible things, but you can't help but sympathise with his reasons for doing what he does.

That's how villains should be written IMO. What's that old saying "a protagonist is only as interesting as his antagonist"?

Samuel D. Grey said...

* Also Magneto is also only a one-word name. :D

A.L. said...

Gonna have to throw my hat in with Moriarty, and the Joker. I like the way both compliment and challenge their respective heroes, making almost a symbiosis for the story while being truly compelling and terrifying people.

Sarah Scotti-Einstein said...

I am with Stu and Bryan... Judge Holden from McCarthy's Blood Meridian, hands down. In no small part because he is only partly fictional, and it is the most horrifying parts that are based in fact.

John Ross Harvey said...

Dr. John Dee from Michael Scott's Flamel series is first

Achilles from the Bean series of Ender books (Shadow titles) is 2nd

I am writing a crime novel now with a villian I hope can measure up to those.

MJR said...

I saw THE SHINING the other day on TV and I can't think of a villain creepier or more twisted than Jack Torrance...esp at the end when he's charging through the snow with the axe...

Nick said...

Wait, Ahab was the villain? I thought the whale was the enemy. I think Ahab is a pretty cool guy. Eh hunts white wales and doesn't afraid of anything.

For my money there is no greatest villain. It's like asking what a favorite movie is. I mean yeah sure I have an answer I usually give, but is it really my favorite movie when there are so many great ones or am I just saying the first movie that pops into my head? The Cowboys. Ike Clanton's gang have been done to death for a reason. (You said in fiction, not purely fictional)

Pimlicokid said...

Count Fosco in Wilkie Collins' 'Woman in White'

Balinares said...

Cthulhu. No question. He's beyond villain. Is there any other literary embodiment of evil that has permeated the popular culture as deeply?

Rick Daley said...

Hannibal Lector.

Nick said...

Also noticed several people now have mentioned Judge Holden. Oh holy freakin crap yes.

Milo James Fowler said...

The clown in The Little Engine that Could. That creep ruined the whole book for me...

TheLabRat said...

Frank CHalmers in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy has always been my favorite. He's a villain until you get to the third book; then he's just a really screwed up guy. I liked how real he was.

Nicole said...

I'm a big fan of both Acheron Hades and Jack Schitt from Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair.

Acheron is one of those truly evil psychopaths with no plan other than evil. Jack Schitt uses big business/government to accomplish his goals, which always creeped me out.

Anonymous said...

Umbridge. Voldemort knew he was evil, but Umbridge did evil in the name of good.

It makes me unbelievably sad when I think about how I'll never wait in another midnight line for a new Harry Potter book.

Timothy Fish said...

Sikes

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@Sarah Scotti-Einstein

Judge Holden was based on a real person? That really is kind of spooky.

Nick said...

Well, Judge Holden is supposedly based on a real person, but the only account of him comes from an autobiography which is pretty widely acknowledged to be unreliable and full of embellishment, so even if he was real, it's hard to tell what the author made up. And then of course McCarthy took that and just made it a million times creepier.

Lynn Oldenburg said...

Going by who scared me the most, Annie Wilkes, for sure. I've never been so tense reading a book.

But let's not discount the Vogon leader in Hitchhiker's Guide. Annie Wilkes will cut off your foot, Voldemort will kill you but at least they don't force you to listen to their poetry.

Erin McGuire said...

Cersei from Game of Thrones, anyone?

CageFightingBlogger said...

Begbie from Trainspotting or Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's Matilda. What a bitch...

Victoria Parsley said...

Hmm, Iago or Mordred. Mordred was scary, the way he took revenge. But Iago....

Ted said...

Nurse Ratched from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. Determined to use institutional power to crush the human spirit.

DG said...

JAWS

Kelly Wittmann said...

There are so many great villains that I don't think I could ever choose just one, but I do want to mention someone who hasn't been named yet (I don't think): "Carrie's" Chris Hargensen. Pure evil.

Anonymous said...

Humperdinck.

Anonymous said...

I know he's not the villain one typically thinks of when thinking of Lord of the Rings, but I would have to vote for Gollum. His motives are pretty clear, but it's always interesting to see just how far he'll go to reach his goals. And unlike Sauron, there's more of a sense that Gollum just made some mistakes that led him to become a creepy little frog-like stalker.

Second choice: Cathy Ames in East of Eden. Oh, how I despised her!

Lora T.

Brittany said...

He who must not be named. You can't even say his name!

Rebecca Hawkins said...

Ooh, from my latest readings, gotta be Mayor Prentiss from the Patrick Ness novels (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask & The Answer, Monsters of Men). The man is clever, manipulative, powerful, scary & gets in your head. Literally.

Nicole said...

I tend to like creepy cool villains that make your shoulder blades itch just thinking about their evil genious. Saladin in The Forever King is one of my favorites.

And Janoo Bai from the Far Pavilions is also evil. Considering she's a minor character without much page time, she manages to destroy the lives of most of the other characters in her pursuit of the throne.

Jen said...

Voldemort is a dirty little snake! However I'd also like to add someone I'm currently writing... He is a nasty man also known as The Collector. A serial killer of epic and evil porportions.

Ronnie said...

Randall Flagg - The Stand

Diana said...

Villians are so much more fun than heroes. And far more subtle!

Iago.
Best. Villian. Ever.

The Frisky Virgin said...

My top three:

Voldemort is certainly one of the greatest villains. Anyone who kills in order to achieve immortality is as vicious as they come.

The White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia always terrified me as a child--a world where it is always winter, but never Christmas is horrifying.

Dracula. Period. No explanation needed. I still have goosebumps from reading about the Count.

Hattie said...

One of the ones who freaked me out when I was teaching middle and high school was Mrs. Coulter from His Dark Materials trilogy. She was just plain creepy!

WonderGirl said...

Morgoth! Because he taught Sauron everything he knew.

O'Brien from Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Alwyn said...

I may just be saying this because the fantastic new BBC series is on my mind. But Professor Moriarty. The original Criminal Mastermind!

Bill said...

Iago is definitely slimy and petty, but how about Mr. O'Brien in 1984?

Marjorie said...

Simon Legree

Sam Hranac said...

Put me down with the Hannibal crowd.

Emily White said...

Dracula.

Few villains in the history of villains have been emulated as much as he has.

Melanie said...

"A great villain to me requires three things:

1. They threaten you mentally, not physically. A physical threat is a lot easier to deal with, it's tangible, you can respond to it. A mental threat... not so much.

2. They believe they're right or justified.

3. They do things their own way."

You just described my ex-boyfriend.

I also have to agree about Alec from Tess of the D'Urbervilles, although her family didn't help matters, and Angel was a big baby, so Alec had some help being villainous.

And Humbert Humbert because you don't think he's a villain for most of Lolita. Any book that makes me feel complicit in the villainy has a damn good villain.

Chuck H. said...

@Peter Dudley

I fart in your general direction.

Everyone knows that the worst villian of all time is . . . What were we talking about? Damn, I hate getting old.

Keely Hutton said...

Gollum - The Hobbit
Possessed Regan MacNeil - The Exorcist
The first book gave me nightmares as a child, the second as an adult.

Christian Yorke said...

PATRICK BATEMAN!

Best wishes,

CY

Rebecca said...

Randall Flagg is pretty high up there, partly because he had a "why not?" approach to evil that made it appealing.

But for me, it's Arnold Friend from Joyce Carol Oates' Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? Twenty years after reading it, I still get the chills just thinking about it.

swampfox said...

Everyone has good reason to nominate the villains they did. Here's a couple that haven't been mentioned:

Baron Vladimir Harkonen and The Joker.

The Day Job: A Writer's Inquiry said...

I think probably Count Rugen from Princess Bride. To thrive off of the pain of others...Seriously bad news.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I'm chiming in on Hannibal. Beyond scary.

Sheila Cull said...

In, I Know This Much Is True by Lamb, the Birdsey twins had an evil step father that I still sometimes think about. Oh sure, he had remorse at a later point in time (reminds me of men I've dated) but it didn't erase the mess that he effected when he was at the top of his game.

Lawrence said...

In a nod to this blog's color scheme, I nominate Alex of A Clockwork Orange.

Thomas Taylor said...

Mrs Tweedy from Chicken Run.

abc said...

Snipe was pretty bad, too. He had us all fooled.

Cathy from East of Eden is a great pick. Been so long since I read that one.

John Connolly comes up with some pretty scary individuals.

Darnit, I can't decide.

T. Anne said...

Hannibal or satan. Either or.

John said...

Gotta give some love to the bogeyman. He's unique to me because, in spite of being one of the best known villains of all time, there's no single iconic version of him. Whatever scares you the most, that's what he is.

Also want to shout out to Magua from Last of the Mohicans. If there's one black list you don't want to be on, it's his.

Finally, another vote for Judge Holden in Blood Meridian. After I read it for the first time, it felt like evil didn't really exist before him.

Greg Mongrain said...

I think Blofeld and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. I mean, come on, these guys were trying to take over the world.

But James Bond wouldn't let them.

John said...

Oh, and Briony Tallis from Atonement.

Nothing worse than someone who ruins lives because they think they're doing the right thing.

Cathi said...

Voldemort...definitely Voldemort. Harry let him off way too easy....

Bekki said...

The sorcerer Brandin, from Guy Gavriel Kay's TIGANA.

Destroyed an entire country and then bespelled the rest of the world so that nobody could remember the country.

Anonymous said...

Randall Flagg, or whatever he calls himself!!!

T.J. said...

Voldemort, shmoldemort. I'm going with the others that vote for Umbridge. She is the epitome of what evil looks like. Why? Because true evil looks trustworthy. True evil speaks in a kind, polite voice. True evil is irrational to others but extremely rational to itself. True evil is always trusting to itself. Dolores Umbridge defines the greatest villain in fiction.

Darin said...

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Jen P said...

Lady Macbeth.

Kelly said...

Quoted from above: "Umbridge. Voldemort knew he was evil, but Umbridge did evil in the name of good.

It makes me unbelievably sad when I think about how I'll never wait in another midnight line for a new Harry Potter book."

YES! I have read since I was old enough to speak, but I have never hated a character so much as I hated one Miss Delores Umbridge. And this comment nailed it. She wasn't evil for evil's sake and she wasn't evil because she wanted something for her own. She was evil because she thought what she was doing was RIGHT. That's the scariest kind of evil and the one that gets most people hurt and killed.

I felt Harry's isolation and frustration when dealing with her. She couldn't be reasoned with and she was in a position of authority, so she couldn't be smacked down.

Voldemort, as horrific as he was, could almost be understood. At the base of his existence was the will to survive and to defeat death. None of us would go that far, but it's something we can understand (and that in its own right makes him a great villain), but it's that character who's fighting for the establishment - a wrong, evil establishment - and doing it with an air of righteousness that makes my blood boil and scares me as well. Voldemort didn't care if he was wrong. Umbridge didn't even realize she was wrong.

She makes me angry just thinking about her! But oh how I'd hate to have to deal with her. She is, truly, a formidable foe.

Anonymous said...

He didn't creep me out in the book as much as the TV series, but Arthur Huntingdon from Anne Bronte's 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' gave me the creeps. Rupert Graves did such an excellent, playing Arthur as both the cute playboy as well as the drunk abusive husband. One of the creepiest things was how he was the kind of man that you could understand why the MC fell for him.

Shell said...

I can't be original on this one, just agree with a bunch of others.

Umbridge was much worse than Voldemort in many ways, though I think Voldy was worse before he became ALL POWERFUL.

The Joker in No Man's Land scared the liver out of me. Definitely not your children's comic book kind of guy, and possibly even scarier than in the latest movie (I haven't reread the book since the movie came out, so I can't judge for sure).

I don't read Stephen King because he's too scary, and based on what I've seen here, I'm right in that assessment and he probably deserves all the kudos he's getting. However, I do like the occasional Dean Koontz, and Junior Cain in From the Corner of His Eye is an awesome bad guy. He is truly evil, and makes me sick reading him, but he also provides comic relief. It's twisted, but it works.p

Anonymous said...

Gilbert Osmond, Portrait of a Lady. Pure evil shellacked with all that civility.
And from my kids: the other mother (coraline), Voldemort, the jacks (Graveyard Book)

Aimee said...

Benjamin Linus.
Even though he was from TV, not a book.

Dave said...

Bob Ewell of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I know I came in here for something said...

I like this question.

Pride and Prejudice offers both a straightforward bad guy -- George Wickham, abductor of young girls, slanderer of Mr. Darcy – and a subtler threat, Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine. Wickham merely wants to destroy Darcy’s chance for happiness with Lizzie by ruining her sister and making the whole family socially untouchable. (Just another day at the evil office.)

Lady Catherine is the living, breathing embodiment of the status-obsession that poisons Darcy’s relationships and makes him fear to do the one heroic thing that would really make him the gentleman he thinks he is.

Fortunately, Darcy is a good guy at heart who figures out that even 200 years ago, being a class act is less about having the right ancestors and more about whether you treat people decently.

Tori said...

Nathan-

As I was reading through the comments I felt myself agreeing with so many people...and it made me realize something. For me, there is no greatest villain because I've read so many good books that the greatest villain is whatever I'm reading at the time. Hope that makes sense.

But I can say this. Great villains
have LAYERS. If all they are is "bad" how can we relate to them? The greatest villains are the ones that could be redeemed I think. The ones where we can see things that remind us of ourselves. To me, that makes them truly creepy.

A great villain makes me think, makes me see something new about myself. A great villain makes me feel sorry that they are on the wrong path. A great villain makes me want to root for them.

I guess this doesn't really answer your question Nathen, because I could never pick just one.

What about YOU? Do you think there is a greatest villain in fiction?

Joshua Peacock said...

Morgoth!

Well maybe. I dunno.

Jim Thomsen said...

Darcy from "Pride And Prejudice," easily. Total sociopath.

Gale Martin said...

Javert from Les Miserables.

Courtney said...

I know it's from a movie...but Rasputin from Anastasia is scary.

Also, Professor Moriarty is quite probably the most intelligent, cunning, coldly logical villain out there.

But I think, despite all of their villainous characteristics, I have to go with Aunt March from LITTLE WOMEN. She has the uncanny ability to torture, dehumanize, enslave, condemn, and deprive without ever once acting unladylike. Poor Jo.

Rachel Walsh said...

Hannibal Lecter!

KSCollier-Mehl said...

Voldemort by far. Of course, I am partial to Harry Potter.

Jil said...

Lady Macbeth and Bill Sykes were both evil manipulators. I loved and pitied Heathcliffe and consider him and Ahab both obsessed but not evil.

Josin L. McQuein said...

The evilest villains aren't the obvious ones. They're the one's you'd let babysit your kid until you find out what they do for a hobby.

E. A. Provost said...

@D.G. Hudson My first was RAMA at 13 and I've read every Clarke book I could get my hands on since. I love sci-fi, but can't handle horror and I think Childhood's End crossed the line for me. The Alien is an entity that can't be fought in any way and it goes for the children first so you can't even huddle in a closet with your babies until you all get sucked into it together. How scary is that!?!

I had to stop reading Brave New World halfway through because I was having the same kind of visceral reaction but there's not a specific villain in that book. Fortunately, my high school English teacher accepted my argument for why I couldn't finish it as evidence that I had gotten the point, and gave me an A.

If Nathan is actually reading this, I would be interested in finding out if other people have had strong physical reactions to books and what those books were. Is that something a publisher would want in a book? Would it help or hinder sales?

Daniel W. Powell said...

Bible salesman Greg Stillson in The Dead Zone. He kicks a dog to death after spraying it with bleach.

Bad dude...

Jenny said...

Greatchen--The Beauty Killer in Chelsea Cain's 'Heart' novels

Jenny said...

Oops. Gretchen.

Anonymous said...

tjpfau sez:

Herman Marshall from Robertson's The Ideal Genuine Man.

He's the only villain I ever read who deep down inside was me.

My mouth still gets dry thinking about him.

Holly said...

Mrs. Carmody from "The Mist' I hated her.

Holly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashley said...

Ooh, I'm throwing my vote in for Hannibal.

I feel like I'm forgetting a good one, though.

Janiel Miller said...

The big, evil, power-hungry bad guys are always good for a nightmare. But the truly horrifying evil-dudes that keep me up at night watching over my children are the (sometimes) quiet manipulative-types who seek to gain power by destroying the spirit, the heart, or the innocence of their victims. These types have no conscience.

Bob Ewel
Umbridge
Bill Sykes
Anyone who preys on children

I don't have a bigger list because I can't give life to the truly, irredeemably evil by reading very much about them. I should have been born in another time. Or maybe on another planet. :) And this is why I tend to write humor. I'm probably going to have to do something about that though. Maybe therapy . . .

Hallowtide said...

Shakespeare's King Richard III. No contest.

D.G. Hudson said...

@E.A. Provost -- I understand where you're coming from regarding books that make you feel almost physically sick -- for me it's usually when they describe torture or mutilation -- I can't read those either. I don't remember the part you mention about the kids but I read Childhood's End long ago.

I also read all the RAMA series -- that was some setting for a story.
Also all the followup stories after 2001! (still searching for Dave & Hal)

Always nice to hear from another sci-fi reader!

MA Fat Woman said...

The Yankees in Gone with the Wind!

K. M. Walton said...

Darth Vader is the best badass in the history of badasses.

Period.

The helmet. So perfect.

The breathing. So deep and breathy.

The cape...the way he masterfully swishes it upon exiting the premises.

The wicked light saber skills.

The buried vulnerable side...sexy.

Pure badass through and through.

John Milner said...

Simple answer- Beelzebub in Bulgokov's Master and Margarita. Aside from rudimentary stimulation of sensationalism, can you comment on this- jrmprojects.blogspot.com ?

Steph Kuehn said...

The Dean O' Flunks!

Backfence said...

Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall from the Outlander series.

Anonymous said...

A few people haven't mentioned yet:

The Marquise de Merteuil - Dangerous Liaisons

Becky Sharp - Vanity Fair

Littlefinger/Varys - A Song of Ice and Fire

Michael Corleone - The Godfather

Jack Carter - Get Carter

Cody Jarrett - White Heat

Dr Frank N Furter - Rocky Horror Picture Show

Lee Woo-jin - Oldboy

Light Yagami - Deathnote

Mishil - Queen Seon Deok

Zhuge Liang - Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Stephanie Reed said...

Nellie Oleson: On the Banks of Plum Creek and others. Laura Ingalls was too nice. I would have slapped Nellie.

J.P. Kurzitza said...

Professor Moriarty broke the mold for the true "Supervillain". After all, Sherlock Holmes described him as the "Napoleon of crime". The first criminal mastermind of prose.

Steve Murgaski said...

For sheer villain psychology no one I've read can match Dostoevsky. There's a prince character in his novel The Insulted and Injured who does absolutely infuriating things to everybody. But then you read the Prince's monologues, and he understands everybody's feelings so well, and sympathizes with them. The Prince knows what it is to be young and passionate, and feel ourselves wronged; but someday we will be grown up realists like him, and see that all his actions were really for the best. Then he goes on explaining -- never justifying -- and it all sounds so reasonable. Perhaps we only think him a villain because we have our youthful ideals -- he admires those ideals -- but after all one's youth can not last forever.

He's enraging. Like any good Dostoevsky character he makes his own disturbing behavior sound all too rational.

I'd also suggest Daisy from The Great Gatsby. To me she's a more modern kind of evil. Not wicked, just self-absorbed and without any conscience.

Kari said...

Gotta pick Heathcliff...
Sauron is too abstract (since no one ever sees him), and I actually feel sorry for Voldemort..

Nancy said...

First, I would place Morgoth over Sauron on the evilness scale. Morgoth actually created (or corrupted) the Orcs.

The White Witch, yes. Voldemort, definitely. I don't read horror so I can't comment on many that have been mentioned.

However, someone suggested Heathcliff and that reminded me of another Gothic novel and a romantic hero gone terribly wrong. My vote for worst villain is Nicholas Van Ryn from Dragonwyck. He manages to seduce a young girl into loving him, kills his wife so he can marry her, and then is apparently in the middle of plans to kill her as well before he is... "dealt with." The story creeped me out as all good Gothic novels should, simply because of his malevolence.

Sandra said...

I agree with a few other readers, and the greatest villain in fiction has got to Ms. Annie Wilkes of Stephen King's Misery.

Yes, her threat was physical, as in "I'm going to take a sledge hammer to your dearly exposed ankle", but it was more mental/psychological as in "but you don't WHEN I'm going to bring the sledge hammer out or if I even will".

Her character was plain crazy (which made her unpredictable) but lucid (which made her even more of a threat). The worst aspect of her character was her willingness to play mind games - terrifying!

Kaitlyne said...

Johan from Monster by Naoki Urusawa. Awesomely scary.

Anonymous said...

Carnivale.

kathryn evans said...

The Child Catcher. Anyone who's name is proceeded with 'the' well...*shudder*.

Anonymous said...

No doubt, forever hungry.... HANNIBAL LECTOR !
Loved the ending... his stroll through the village, "meeting a friend for dinner".

Jason said...

I'd have to go with Voldemort...Sauron is undoubtedly more powerful, but from a character development standpoint, Voldemort seems so real that it's a little spooky...Rowling did a great job of making him human and not just some incarnation of evil.

Jason said...

I thought it was interesting that some people mentioned Umbrige, but I'd have to say no to that because she simply misused the office that had been given to her. She had no extraordinary power of her own.

Truly evil people don't have power simply because they've been handed a position, instead they use their power to seize offices and titles.

And power is one of the most important aspects of the super villain. My neighbor's Chihuahua is evil, but who cares?

Dave F. said...

Bernardo Gui the Inquisitor in "The Name of the Rose."

catriona said...

Edward Cullen.

Okay, bear with me here: I know he's supposed to be the romantic lead. However, even setting the gag factor aside, he has tremendous potential as a villain.

1) He's powerful. He's fast, strong, and virtually indestructible.

2) He has similarly strong allies. Edward can read minds - the people he calls family can see the future, etc. Dangerous combination.

3) Others believe in him. While this could be the trait of a true romantic hero, in Twilight it comes off as beyond creepy. Okay, the high school students are intimidated, but that's about it. Meanwhile, Bella is willing to go to the end of the earth for Edward, despite his actions being controlling and sometimes abusive. She's a sidekick if ever there was one. He's a successful villain because he isn't recognised as such.

Think about the havoc he could wreak if he ever decided to embrace his unlife as a vampire. So much untapped potential!

Hannah said...

Erik from Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera. It's hard to find a villain who's more loved, or who has had a longer life than Erik.

Steven Till said...

My choice is William Hamleigh in Pillars of the Earth.

school_of_tyrannus said...

Javert from Les Miserables is an evil, also tragic, villain. I also fear Hyde, from Jekyll and Hyde, because he is the villain in each of us.
As I child I feared Hook from Peter Pan the most--he would slay the lost boys and his own pirates without batting an eye.

Anonymous said...

Growing up from Peter Pan. Being a kid is so much better.

Scott said...

Oh, I love these! My brother and I have just been emailing back and forth "What are your top three ________ (gunfights, sci-fi movies, one-liners, etc.)

My vote has to go to Moriarty. We don't get to know him very well, but anyone that can give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money is pretty awesome.

Also whoever said Edward Cullen deserves a cookie -- that sick bloodsucker has probably psychologically damaged more females than anyone else in the world.

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