Friday, October 11, 2013

October Roundtable: VILLAINS

In the spirit of Halloween, this month's roundtable focused on villains! Villains we love to hate, villains that make us yawn, things we wish we could see more of, and why there don't seem to be many ladies cast in the leading evil roles. Take a look, and then tell us your thoughts in the comments!

The First Ninja (aka Matt): So ... my all favorite villain, at the very least in kidlit, is Severus Snape. I mean, sure, yeah, he's a false antog revealed at the very end to be perhaps the story's great non-protag hero, but I don't care.
Alexandra: But Snape IS a villain in some ways. He did not act for purely loving and unselfish reasons. He was cruel. He held a HUGE grudge. He hated Harry for what he represented and didn't make an effort to get to know the son of the woman he loved.
Katy: Matt, I agree. Snape is fantastic. He's one of those antagonists who makes you question everything you think you know.
The First Ninja: He spends the vast majority of over a million words being the most hated teacher, plotter, doubter, and hater in those books, and while yes, his ultimate redemption does somewhat increase my love for him, I actually loved him long before that.
The First Ninja: Not as a person I would hang out with, or actually like, but as a love of story, I found him to be as COMPELLING as any character I had ever read. And that's kind of what it comes doens to, isnt' it?
Alexandra: I agree that Snape has lots of layers and is a great character; that being said, I'm still not sold on his "redemption." He wasn't at Godric's Hollow when Lily and James died. SIRIUS was. HAGRID was. (I know they added that into the movie, Snape being there, but it's not in the books.) Snape, whatever he did for the good side, wasn't a nice person.
The First Ninja: And RE: Snape: totally agree. He's imperfect. He's really not a villain. He's anti. And we could go into Villain VS. Antag here, if we had time, but we don't.

Alexandra: I get tired of villains going after the same thing: power, beauty, money. The thing I like about Voldy is that while yes, he's going after power and a pure wizard race, what he REALLY wants is to defeat death--which, dissected even more, is him trying to defeat his own fears (and instead feeding them by validating them over and over again). That's at the heart of everything he does.
The First Ninja: I love that point about V. That said, I don't think we can compare modern lit 1=1 with JRR, because his stuff was literally the first of its kind, and it was inspired by deadly war. I don't say that to defend the purest shores or anything, but just to point out what history does to lit.
The First Ninja: I think Harry Potter was an absolute product of the world that JRK grew up in, just as LOTR was the same.
Alexandra: Which is why it's god that JKR did not go the ultimate evil route with Voldemort. I actually love how Voldemort changes the more we "know" him and the older Harry gets--because as Harry ages, his understanding of what makes evil also matures, and so the depiction of Voldemort deepens.

Alexandra: I don't feel for LotR as deeply as some people do. Because Sauron is just EVIL. EVIL EVIL EVIL. He doesn't even have a personality, he just sort of looms there being "scary"
Katy: "Looming" is the perfect description for what he does. He doesn't have much backstory or motivation, other than the desire for power. Though, I haven't read LotR books. All my knowledge is movie based. 
The First Ninja: Well. LOTR is biblical, and the Silmarillion reveals some more info, but even then, you're still right. I do love me some Tolkien "low" villains though. Wormtongue. Saruman. Gothmag. I could go on.
Alexandra: Oh yeah, JRRT does some great lower villains. But his ultimate villain sort of pales in comparison to them! Which is funny if you think about it.
Katy: Yes, I agree, Matt. Tolkien does inner conflict well, too.
The First Ninja: Good point about Sauron, both.
The First Ninja: Althoug, I have to disagree about ultimate evil. I mean, yes, in the average story, it doesn't work, but I have zero problem with Sauron or Morgoth in Tolkien, because he actually put in the work to earn that level of biblical evil. In other words, if you're going to write satan, you better have a bible to back up how he came about.
Alexandra: Most people CAN'T write Satan, though
Alexandra: Sauron isn't my favorite villain, but no disagreement that he's done extremely well.
The First Ninja: Oh for sure. There has only been 1 Tolkien. 1 Dante.
Alexandra: Plus, what Tolkien did is show what that ultimate evil does to everyone else, as well.
The First Ninja: And I would also argue that more than just the writer's talent, it take's dedication to a singular work to craft such evil. Modern writers don't spend their lives on ONE world.
The First Ninja: They write many, and to craft a villain like Sauron and make him work takes more than that.
Alexandra: yes, Matt, agree with you re the world building. JRR made a world in which it was totally feasible to have an ultimate evil like that, and worked it in with meticulous attention to detail.

Riv: What about good female antagonists? I can't think of any good ones besides *shudders* Umbridge. I feel like there aren't enough of those.
Rebecca: Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil, if she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will.
The First Ninja: TOTES valid point Riv. If you had to guess, would you guess female ANTs or PROTs are more rare? I feel, personally that both are too missing, but I wonder if it runs deeper.
Alexandra: I almost always write female antagonists...
The First Ninja: And I never. Maybe because my own life has only known evil men?
Riv: I just started writing a woman-focused fantasy story that, Game of Thrones style, has some sly, tricky gals that are all trying to slit each others throats. (or pay someone to do it.)
Alexandra: I'm trying to think, and even books that feature female protagonists seem to feature male antagonists. I'm thinking of Alanna by Tamora Pierce, Graceling, Hunger Games,
Alexandra: What I'll be VERY surprised to see is this: a story with a male protag and a female antag. A REAL female antag. Not supporting a male antag. Not something to sort of be laughed at and flicked off like a fly. A female antag who gives that male protag a SERIOUS run for his money. Who is threatening and real and absolutely and believably could triumph over that male protag.
Riv: I'm looking at my bookshelf, and the most villanous female I see is Mab from The Iron Fey by Juliee Kagawa, and she isn't even the main villain.
Alexandra: In TITHE by Holly Black the villain is Nicnevin--and she's pretty badass. But that book never seemed to get the press I thought it should have.

YAWN-worthy villain motivations
Katy: I think POWER is generally a boring motivation for villains -- it's so common.
The First Ninja: Agree with K. I'd much prefer to read a misguided villain who does evil in his pursuit of good. This is something Doctor Who seems to come up with consistently.
Alexandra: Evil in pursuit of good is a brilliant one!
The First Ninja: Very
Alexandra: (Plus, the power thing really comes apart whenever I try to think too hard about it. Power for what purpose, exactly? What do they want to do with it once they have it? What defines power, anyway?)
Katy: The power thing reminds me of Jafar from Aladdin. You get it, and then what...?
The First Ninja: PLUS ... if you look at real power in the real world (look up The Creature From Jekyll Island if you want a hint of it) ... and you understand what such things really mean? They're pretty boring in the send of narrative.

Jessica: I loved Warner in Shatter Me because he was a villain I was simultaneously repulsed by and inexplicably attracted to. I was never sure if I was rooting against him or for him, and that made reading the book so much more fun.
Rebecca: Ooh, Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Such a love-hate relationship.
Alexandra: Spike! Heck yeah!
Alexandra: Goes from total antagonist
Rebecca: YES. I went from a love-hate relationship to in the end, just loving him.
The First Ninja: Walter White.
The First Ninja: Not to get all deep and shit, but Breaking Bad did something no story had ever done, IMHO.
The First Ninja: I will only make this brief point, which shouldn't ruin anything: at a certain point in the narrative arc, the writers seem to make this clear, concious decision, in which they swap the protag into the antog, the relationship character into the protag, and the antog into ... I don't even know, but it's brillaint, and I've never seen it done. #mustwatchtv
Katy: One of my favorite villains ever is Ty from STOLEN by Lucy Christopher. He is absolutely horrible, yet I sympathized with him so much, and by the end of the story, I was *almost* rooting for him to get what he wanted.
Katy: Like, nobody in the real world is ALL evil and nothing else, if that makes sense.
Katy: But I think the best villains are layered and complex, no matter what the genre.
Alexandra: Yes, and you can't have any sort of magical assistance in making someone purely evil (like Voldy with his horcruxes)
Katy: Yes, exactly.
Katy: I want to feel torn when I'm reading, at least a little. I want to think about all the possibilities, but if the villain is one-dimensional, he/she is too easy to root against.
The First Ninja: as writers, we have to think about conveying the same ideas within the context of the proven storyteliing conventions.
Alexandra: Matt, that's another topic I eventually want to get to! How much can you break away, and how much do you have to stay within the conventions? And how much is it POSSIBLE to break away, since we're all products of everything we've read/experienced and to a degree it's all homogenized and built atop itself
The First Ninja: As astoryteller myself, I like to think about Jungian archetypes, and how they can be reworked to fit into the world I'm crafting. Such types exist for a reason, but they don't have to always be static.
Alexandra: I think villain conventions are there for a reason, too, for a reason one of my professors went over in class when we were studying Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (This will take me a minute to type out)
Alexandra: So: in the STORY of Jekyll and Hyde, (which I talked about on the YAC blog once,) Hyde is not some kind of freaky monster. He doesn't come Hulking out of Jekyll in snarling green rage. Instead, he's this short calculating man with a nebulous sense of "wrongness" about him, but is otherwise unremarkable. In movies and pop culture representations, however, they totally Frankenstein's Monster the crap out of Hyde. My professor proposed a really interesting reason for this: because to present Hyde in a very human manner might make us viewers have to take a little bit too hard of a look into the mirror, so to speak. Putting on the monster makeup removes a degree of humanity from a villain--just like having a villain do things that a normal person probably can't conceive of doing (like murdering.) If the villain is too much LIKE us, we get uncomfortable. We don't like to look in that mirror.
Riv: That's pretty cool, actually. Personally, the more human a villain the better. I love seeing the twisted minds, the warped senses of justice.
Alexandra: In real life we don't always know whom to root for. Which I think is why we're attracted to the good vs. evil battle. We like to think we ARE good and we DO know whom to root for (sorry, can't say "for whom to root," it makes me feel like a grammar snob.) If the villain and the hero are too gray, too overlaping, the good vs evil just becomes one version of reality/circumstances vs. another.
The First Ninja: Oh, very much agree. Look at evil in humanity in general. Manson. The guy who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart. Your average everday wife murderer. These are PEOPLE who commit these crimes, and while sure, some are mad, most are pretty normal. Or at least once were.

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So...who are some of your favorite villains? Any bad guys who left you snoozing? Did we forget anyone who MUST be mentioned?


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