10 Literary Villains We Love to Hate

Day and night, yin and yang; you can’t have the good without the bad, the hero without the villain. They are the characters we love to hate, and secretly – love to love. They are just so bad-ass that you can’t help but jump the good-guy ship and doggie paddle away into the darkness and trouble that lurks below. We admit we love villains, but why? 

For one, bad guys and gals are unconstrained by morality and social mores. Beyond breaking conventions, even the most basic villains have a touch of the unreal, of something so sinister and magical we can’t help but eat up. Call it an intoxicating obsession with their boundless freedom, call it Nietzche’s ‘death drive’ in action, or just call it incredible writing. Regardless of the reason, there’s something about bad guys that lures us towards them and in some cases, there’s something that would make us pick them over a hero any day of the week. 

Let’t take a look at literary villians we’d want to be: 

White Witch, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe

Image courtesy of Wikia 

The White Witch is an incredible villain mostly because her character is so estranged from every other in C.S. Lewis’s classic tale. In a book where most characters are transparent in being either good or bad, the White Witch is deceptive, her motives unclear. If she weren’t such a cruel tyrant she could easily pass as your grandma. She wears the most innocent tame color every day, she makes your favorite dessert, and she rocks her white hair. She’s the only character with an illusory look, giving her a cool factor even Aslan the Lion (the rocks star animal of any Savanna) can’t beat. 

Plus, defying all courtesies of waiting until Memorial day to wear white? Villainous indeed. 

Moby Dick, Moby Dick

Ok- not everyone thinks you’re a villain, but the men of Captain Ahab’s ship certainly do. The perks of being Moby Dick? One, you’re a whale living in the big blue sea, two you have this entire story about you (talk about stroking your ego) and three, you get to champion that whole Nature vs. Man notion that was all the rage in the age of Melville. If you’re the whale, you can consider yourself a point ahead in this tale. Nature 1, Man 0. 

Circe from The Odyssey

One bad mama jama (image courtesy of Wikimedia)

If there’s one bad-ass from Greek Mythology to know, it’s Circe. She is the original femme fatale. She comes from just about the coolest family: her dad is the sun god, mom’s an Oceanid, her sister married up to King Minos, and her brother is in possession of the golden fleece. In Homer’s Odyssey, Circe spins a massive loom and turns men into swine with the potions she brews between weaving and drugging the local lions and animals around town. She invites Odysseus and his buds over for a dinner party one night and laces the banquet with her charms, eager to turn another batch of men into pigs. Catching onto her game, Odysseus brings his own handy dandy drug, Moly, to ward of her powers. She then tries to steal his ‘manhood’ but Odysseus is too wary of her intoxicating powers and flees off to Ithaca. 

Circe is not only an independent strong-willed woman, but she literally turns dull men into pigs for leisure. She’s ridiculous and wild and we want to be her. 

Patrick Bateman, American Psycho

Cute but psycho (image courtesy of YouTube)

Aside from the killing sprees and psychological turmoil Bateman finds himself ensnared in, he’s got it made. Rockin’ bod, lavish apartment, ladies on ladies – he’s doing okay for himself. Throwing our initial material wants aside, he also just has a cool aura about him. He speaks with an eloquence and charm that our goody-two-shoes selves can only dream of emulating. Batemen could also care less about what we think about him, a personality trait we seriously lack (although we would want to care more about people than he does, but that would take away the whole ‘psycho’ element…).

Shere Khan, Jungle Book

He’s a marshmallow on the inside, though (image courtesy of Disney)

He may be despised by all but the brown nosing jackal, yet we can’t help but feel a soft spot for Shere Khan. Dubbed Lungri (the lame one) by his own mother, Shere Khan became an arrogant and power-hungry adult. But is he to blame? He endured a rough childhood with insufficient love and affection. He was just a baby when he was given his nickname, and everyone knows those formative cub years are critical to a positive sense of self. Could Shere Khan’s spiteful personality be a response to his upbringing? The Piaget in us says yes. Maybe we would rather help Shere Khan deal with his past than be him, actually…

Macbeth, Macbeth

Macbeth is a great villain not just because he’s super bad, but because he’s complex too. It’s rare that you get such insight into a villain’s head and their conscience. Macbeth, although he’s as bad as they get, taking the slimmest (and most murderous) route to power, is a man with a heavy turmoil brewing within. His battle is bravery versus virtue and the complications that follow when he tests the fates and kills his superior to gain the throne. He’s a fascinating character because he’s never really comfortable in his role as criminal.

He is a villain that defies villainous norms, breaching conventions and being bad, but also disrupting the readers’ notion of what is means to be good or bad. He acts cruelly but is remorseful for his actions. He doesn’t fit neatly into good or bad, and he’s a slippery character to try to pin down. He rebels as a villain against the internal world in the text and he rebels against the external tradition of what makes a villain.

Cruella DeVille, The One Hundred and One Dalmatians

Tyrant-chic (image courtesy of Glee) 

We can sympathize with Cruella. Having 101 Dalmatians running around can’t be easy. First and foremost they’re exceptionally difficult dogs to train, the entire book is more or less a testimony to their stubbornness. Secondly, they have terrible health problems: hip dysplasia, skin sensitivities, deafness. Can you imagine a ternary bill for 101 of these feeble creatures? Animal abuse is never warranted, of course, but we totally get her frustration. Plus, she has fabulous cutting edge style. She’s got the little black dress look nailed, a fur coat you could swim in (although we’d prefer faux), a Hepburn-style cigarette holder, and a rad hair-do to boast.

Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter

That nose though. Image courtesy of Prickly Wallpapers 

What’s in a name? For Voldemort, it’s the emblem of his power. Actually, it’s the absence of his name that’s the emblem of his power. He’s villainous to the point that his name cannot be uttered for fear of peeing your pants, and his street cred makes him completely worthy of such terror. In his younger days, he tried to kill a baby — debatably the most evil thing you could ever do. Moreover, V’s not set out to take over the world or destroy the human race (although I’m sure both would be a perk), he’s only after one thing: to kill the baby, ‘the boy that lived’ that he failed to kill on the first go-round. He’s spent countless years amassing power and scheming up ways to kill Harry, all to no avail. That’s dedication. That’s perseverance. We can admire that. 

Kurtz, Heart of Darkness

Much like Voldemort’s stature is gained in the absence of a name, Kurtz’s villainous eminence is gained in his absence in general. He doesn’t even appear in the book until about two-thirds of the way through, yet he’s all powerful from the opening chapter. So much authority without a presence is the pinnacle of power.  

Satan, Paradise Lost

Image courtesy of Exodus Books

He’s the rebel of rebels, the villain of all villains. Satan easily clinches the baddest character in literature. Biblically speaking, he’s the antithesis of all things good and warm and pure, and he’s synonymous with Hell itself. We’re not sure it gets any more villainous than that.

Who’s your favorite villain? Share it with us in the comments!

Article by Emily Roese