What are the Characteristics of a Good Literary Villain?

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Image of a Literary Villain

A villain is the proverbial bad guy or evil character in a piece of literature.A villain is the proverbial bad guy or evil character in a piece of literature.Villains are an essential part of any fictional work, historical narratives, literature and films. The literary villain is the character whose negative actions spell doom for the other characters. A good literary villain can increase the excitement and dramatic appeal of the story. Contrary to the popular fairy tale portrayal of villains as evil looking creatures, good literary villains are in reality very human, which makes them believable. Otherwise they run the risk of becoming caricatures.



What are the Characteristics of a Literary Villain?

A literary villain is usually depicted as a cruel person devoted to a life of wicked and malicious actions in the plot of the literary work. As an antagonist, the villain functions as an obstacle which the hero has to overcome at various stages of the plot. A villain is a complex character steeped in amorality and evil doing for his own gain at any cost. A villain may be depicted with bizarre physical traits to make him appear truly villainous while others may appear as mere mortals but having a dark soul, capable of bringing terror and destruction by their evil actions. In the world of fantasy a good literary villain is less human and has an evil plan like that of the villain Voldemort in the Harry Potter series or the villain Sauron in Lord of the Rings.



What are some Examples of Good Literary Villains?

The Literary villains created by William Shakespeare are a legend by themselves. Iago in Othello, is a deceitful and insidious villain who ploys all the way to bring down Othello by his ruthless acts. Satan is a powerful villain in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” who wants to overthrow God as he believes himself to be more powerful and deserving of the Throne of Heaven. Long John Silver from Treasure Island is a classic  literary villain created by Robert Louis Stevenson who shows to the world the villainous ability inherent in man which is capable of doing bad things. Count Dracula of Bram Stoker’s Dracula could be termed as an ultimate villain due to his overwhelming evil and seductive power. Steerpike is portrayed as a ruthless schemer in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and stands out as a good literary villain as the readers can identify with his character though disliking him all the way.



Does the Literary Villain appeal to the readers?

A good literary villain is one who has traits which makes the readers feel that they too are humans. The villain may have many basic flaws and his intentions and actions may cause untold miseries to the others. All the same, a good literary villain is one who gains the sympathy of the readers as he behaves in that manner due to a fatal flaw inherent  in  his character. In fact he has a strong motive for his wrong action which makes him sound convincing. For instance, the character of Shakespeare’s Macbeth though villainous arouses a sense of pity, in the readers, for falling into the trap of power and wrongdoings.


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