Sunday, February 03, 2008

I Eat Your Young

Writing, taking online classes toward an advanced degree in education, teaching, gaming, and just being me...well, I hope that explains why I am not quite the blogging dynamo I used to be. I still want to keep my hand in though. So...

I am currently teaching a literature class and we are working on character development, looking at arcs of transformation and what makes a character memorable for the reader and the writer. The students and I began talking a bit about villains, and this got me to thinking.

As a writer and as a reader there is nothing better than a powerful baddie. For me, the villain that works best is someone who has fallen. The tragedy of that character has enough pathos to keep the reader hoping for eventual redemption. Maybe the vile person in question will see the error of his ways and turn toward healing and redeeming himself with the poor protagonist whom he has been tormenting. And of course the best villains remain those who are able to allow the reader at least a sliver of empathy.

Don't worry, I'm not going to launch into a long discussion here. I like using my blog for release. Besides long blog entries, more than five hundred words, are seldom read. But to show you how my mind works, I'll just briefly outline three of my favorite villains and why I enjoy them...some of these characters may seem a tad unconventional. I present them in no particular order.

Alice Cooper. What? Alice Cooper is the stage personae of Vincent Furnier. Although the name is clearly that of a rock icon, the stage personae is something different. When Alice is on stage, he becomes a corrupt, sneering reprobate. He enjoys shocking the world and reveling in disapproval. But Alice has no idea of moderation. He is hedonism unleashed. By the middle of the concert, he takes his hedonism and perversions to the limit, engaging in necrophelia, sexual violence, madness, and murder. And then? Like morality plays of old, Alice must be punished. He is usually captured and killed ( decapitation, hanging, electrocution...). After which, he emerges in white top hat and coat, resurrected.

The Ring. For me, The Ring in "Lord of the Rings" is very much a character. It is the embodiment of corruption. It takes the sweetness of Baggins and twists it into the worst of human nature. It has a voice. You can hear it echoed in Gollum's pathetic hissings: "Yes my precious, yes...kill it, we will." Does The Ring have an identity of its own? No. It has an identity as part of each character; it is a physical representation of greed.

Dr. Doom. Okay, yes, this is a comic book figure. Forget about the film version that they created in "The Fantastic Four". Fox's pathetic attempt to create a franchise. The real Dr. Doom is a fascinating figure. He is the ruler of an Eastern European country. Running the land as a dictator, he also has a sense of responsibility for his people. He believes that ruling them with an iron hand is a form of true devotion.

Doom, wearing a mask because of a small scar that he views as a horrible imperfection, is a scientific genius. He has no super powers apart from an amazing intellect. His nemesis is Reed Richards, the head of the superhero group and the man responsible for the tiny scar that has caused him to wear a mask. Of course the mask is a metaphor and the imperfections from which he hides run far deeper.

Darth Vader is based on Doom, but next to Doom, Vader is a pale figure, bereft of the complexities that form the prideful Doom. Doom is the embodiment of the idea that I will explore in my next posting: A villain isn't a villain to himself. Doom is a hero seeking approval, constantly battling his pride and temper.

I remember after the attack on the World Trade Center, Marvel ran a comic in which their different characters dealt with their feelings of the tragedy. One panel that struck me was Dr. Doom, looking at the carnage on his television screen, a tear in his eye.

15 comments:

SQT said...

Hannibal Lecter will always be a favorite of mine. I don't think he's redeemable, or that he wants to be. But he's interesting.

SQT said...

Oh, and Kevin Spacy in "Se7en" was about as creepy as it gets. But he was a villain with a mission and I find villains who believe they have a higher calling of sorts to be the most intriguing of all.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have to admit that my favorite villain is one of my own, Kargen, from Cold in the Light. I had great empathy for him. Hmmn, maybe I shouldn't have said that out loud.

I like Dr. Doom too, and SQT, I think Harris did do much to redeem Lecter in his last book. We see a lot about Hannibal's childhood and how he was shaped, and that he was even heroic in many ways.

spyscribbler said...

Dr. Doom sounds really fleshed out and interesting. I love villians like that, ones that really believe they're doing the right thing.

Kate S said...

Seems like I always root for the villains in stories. Not sure I want to know what that says about me.

Speaking of lovable villains...
"Writing, taking online classes toward an advanced degree in education, teaching, gaming, and just being me..."

Glad to know you're just busy. I starting to worry that perhaps Wayne had staged a coup somewhere in the multiverse and we, your loyal followers, had been fooled by the Stu halogram he was projecting.

Vwriter said...

Cool post.

Lana Gramlich said...

As I'm reading the Talera cycle (by premiere author, Charles Gramlich,) at present, I must say that Vohanna's one evil b!tch.
Unfortunately the worst kinds of villains walk our streets every day.

Lana Gramlich said...

Kate; I used to root for Wile E. Coyote in the Warner Bros. cartoons. Although he never did win, I imagined he did. Not a pretty outcome for the roadrunner, I assure you.

Travis said...

I agree completely with your characterization of The Ring. Tolkien captures it so well on the page, and then Peter Jackson does a wonderful job bringing it to life on the screen.

Generally the villains that have impacted me most have been the ones with that trace of humanity to give the evil more of an emotional resonance.

This is the kind of villain I have tried to create in my poor unfinished novel.

Good luck with your busy schedule.

Christina said...

Now that I'm finally out of college, I thought that I could go back to reading for enjoyment, but it feels like I sit and read a book with questions in mind, like how does this situation work or what is it about a character that makes them enjoyable. I'd love to have a class with you.

Sphinx Ink said...

Stewart, you win the "Best Blog Entry Title" award for this month--who could resist reading the entry after seeing that title? Your topic is food for thought (pun intended). Hannibal Lecter is and likely shall remain my favorite villain: so evil, yet so elegant; so cruel, yet so understanding.

Avery said...

This post made me think (damn you, Stewart, I'm not supposed to do that), about evil and how it's exclusively a human trait. Take Jaws, for instance. It's just a shark, swimming around doing shark-y things. Yeah, he's eating people, but, that's just what sharks do when they're hungry and have no other snacks around. But, suddenly the story makes it seem like he's stalking the chief and his friends, following the boat in the hopes one will get within chomping range. He develops human traits, which elevate him from natural predator to evil-thing-that-must-be blown-up.

Donnetta Lee said...

I loved Julian Sands as "Warlock." He could be so delightfully wicked. And that wonderful voice. And that wonderful walk. No higher calling-no redeeming him. Just pure evil. And cute to boot.
Donnetta

Sidney said...

Dr. Doom is a great villain. I agre and I'm more a DC kid than Marvel.

James Burnett said...

Great post. You'd make a good law enforcement profiler.

I'm with SQT. My favorite will always be Dr. Lechter.