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Poll: Best Villains in Literature

Madame Defarge

Madame Defarge, knitting lunatic

I knew a woman so taken with Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities that she had the character’s likeness embroidered on her own knitting bag.

The best villains are often the most memorable parts of the books I love.

They are the ones who make the stories interesting, and the ones that we want to see get their comeuppance. Most tales wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic without a heavy to provide or enhance the conflict.

Can you picture The Lord of The Rings without Sauron? Well, maybe you can, he’s mentioned a lot more often than he is interacted with.

Or 1984 without Big Brother?

Bambi (yes, there is a book) without the hunters, referred to as “He?”

Things would have gone easier in Othello if Iago hadn’t gotten so fussy and paranoid, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, while I’m sure it would still be taught in film school, probably wouldn’t be parodied as endlessly if HAL hadn’t gone nuts.

What if Clarice Starling hadn’t been able to consult Hannibal Lecter while chasing down psychos?

President Snow in The Hunger Games. (I think Vincent Cassel should play him in the movie)

General Woundwort from Watership Down

Cathy from Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Lots of critics fuss about her not being a very realistic character, but I still shiver to think about the things she did to everyone.

The Judge from Blood Meridian. (And basically everyone else in the book)

Instead of running mad with the lethal air doo-dad, what if Anton Chigurh had decided to sit on the sidelines during No Country For Old Men?

I need to stop before my fingers catch on fire. There is certainly no shortage of great, nasty characters out there.

Please fill in the blanks. Let’s stick to books today. I’ll get a movie version of this post up soon.


Psst. This blog’s RSS Feed may (or may not) help with receding hairlines.

And the book club may (or may not) help if that doesn’t work.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tony May 11, 2011, 9:50 am

    Hard to post this without a spoiler but I’ll do my best.

    Let’s say that the bad-guy from John Lanchester’s “The Debt to Pleasure” is one of the nastiest pieces of work I have met in a long time. The way you encounter him in the book just makes it all the worse.

    I could feel him inside my head for days after I finished the book.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 11, 2011, 3:09 pm

      Tony, I checked it out as soon as I read your comment. I’m about 50 pages into it. Wow.

      • Tony May 12, 2011, 1:24 am

        I hope you enjoy it! If you are into food and cooking it is a real treat but I think there is enough going on to drag most people in.

        Very dark though… 🙂

  • Your sister May 11, 2011, 2:51 pm

    The doll from your favorite book “Baby Dolly”

  • Gene May 12, 2011, 1:38 am

    Darken Rahl/Emperor Jagang from Terry Goodkind’s novels.

  • Jeroen May 12, 2011, 3:22 am

    James Lee Burke always has excellent, sinister villains. Like the neo-nazi Will Buchalter in “Dixie City Jam” and the old plantation overseer Legion in “Jolie Blon’s Bounce”.

    • Jen H May 13, 2011, 11:55 am

      Josh should do a “best sidekick in literature” post so we can nominate Clete Purcel.

      • Jeroen May 14, 2011, 8:21 am


  • Deb Schiff May 12, 2011, 7:24 am

    Hey Josh,
    Just read the long piece in the Deseret News. Glad that they included so much information. You’re doing great!

  • Gustavo May 12, 2011, 7:24 am

    Hannibal Lecter is my favorite.

    In Spanish literature, Pedro Páramo is, for me, the greatest.

    Also worth mentioning:
    Lord Voldemort.
    Bill Sikes
    Moby Dick
    I would include Jaws. It made my dreams unpleasant for a while.

  • Big Will May 12, 2011, 10:56 am

    The FBI agent from Thomas Pynchon’s “Vineland” was a real ball buster, and he ruins paradise.

    The aliens in “The Tommyknockers” are quite a curious bunch, and when they take over ‘the townspeople’ become a real nasty and villainous conglomerate.

  • Jen H May 13, 2011, 12:02 pm

    I don’t think you can really beat Cormac McCarthy’s villains, the Judge is truly evil. But there’s Mr. Dark from “Something wicked this way comes” and of course Cruella De Vil, she killed puppies!