This is something I posted a while back over on another blog as part of a tour, but it’s always fun to give things an airing a little while later – and who doesn’t love a Top 10 list? There’s a lot of heroes in my books who turn out to be villains, or at the very least, an anti-hero. So without further ado, here’s my Top 10 Literary Villains (Or Maybe Anti-Heroes).
- Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights
There’s an argument that Heathcliff isn’t always a villain – he’s maybe the villain on this list who is most a product of his circumstances. He is a tortured soul, thanks to Catherine, but I just can’t forgive how he later twists Catherine’s daughter into a cold, distant person like himself. But, there’s something of the hero in him at the start of the book, so I can’t condemn him completely as a villain.
- Marquise de Merteuil from Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Seductive, witty and charming, the Marquise also plots what is a horrific downfall in a young woman’s life, ending with her eventual disgrace, the death of Valmont, and the Marquise’s own disgrace. There’s a calculated, cold edge to her words in the book (which is made up of letters between the two main characters) that comes through even in her charming moments, and always leaves me with a shudder along my spine.
- O’Brien from Nineteen Eighty-Four
A villain who lives up to the backstabbing nature of one, O’Brien is first portrayed as a good person, one rebelling against the Inner Party, when in fact, he’s completely on their side. With a determined calculation, he easily weaves Winston and Julia into their own demise, eventually ending in breaking Winston’s spirit. And what could be more evil than breaking down the inner psyche of a person?
- Cruella de Vil from The Hundred and One Dalmatians
This woman was the stuff of nightmares for me as a child. Surely there can’t be anything more evil than seeing puppies, and instead of wanting to cuddle them, wondering if you can get matching gloves out of them after making the coat? Aside from her obvious cruelty and nastiness to those around her, Cruella just can’t be forgiven for wanting to commit a monstrous act against innocent animals.
- Long John Silver from Treasure Island
A mixture of father-figure and cutthroat pirate, this is another character who flits that line between good guy and bad guy. There’s something likeable about him at the start of the book; taking a young boy under his wing, doling out worldly advice while whistling down mast-lines. But in the end, like all the characters on this list, he shows a darker side and shows that bad guys finish last.
- Patrick Batemen from American Psycho
Here’s a villain…who might not be a villain. We have no idea, thanks to the psychotic mind-set and hallucinations that Patrick suffers from, but there’s no doubt that his mind is at least villainous. A shallow, modern version of a villain, this character brings to light all the bad traits that most of us have at one point or another experienced – greed, envy, the list goes on.
- Moriarty from The Final Problem by Arthur Conan Doyle
No list would be complete without the ‘Napoleon of crime’. The somewhat chilling aspect of Moriarty is that he was based off real-life villains (most notably Adam Worth), giving him an edge of something we might see every day on the news. This is a criminal mastermind, who while an absolute bad guy, you can’t help but admire for his intelligence and skill. Although he actually only appears in one book, you can’t mention Sherlock Holmes without remembering this nemesis.
- Mr Hyde from The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
What I love most about this villain is that while he actually has a physical appearance in the novel, he is also a clever metaphor for the duality of all people – a ‘good’ side and a ‘bad’ side. Over the course of the novel, Dr Jekyll actually tries to cease becoming Mr Hyde, but his efforts are fruitless, again showing how difficult it is to stop being a monster once you become one. A great villain in a great book, and one of the best images to describe humanity.
- Bill Sykes from Oliver Twist
The drunk, abusive, murderer of prostitutes-with-a-heart-of-gold only misses out being number one on this list by one place. This villain gets a scathing description in Dickens’ novel, and there’s little to no redeeming features about him. A gritty look at the actual kinds of people who hung out in dark alleyways during the Victorian period, he’s a villain that reminds us of a gloomy and frightening past that wasn’t actually fictional at the time this book was written.
- Claudius from Hamlet
Let’s see…murders his own brother by poison to gain a throne, then marries his brother’s widow and then plots to murder his nephew. That’s pretty damn evil. The unfurling of this villain throughout Shakespeare’s play starts with him shown as a pretty decent king – until Hamlet’s ghost appears. His motives become clear, and his only remorse is private, sealing his fate. His villainy also famously ends in pretty much everyone but a dog called Tom and a maid picking berries in the garden ending up dead, as the poison gets a thorough splashing over young Hamlet and his mother.
So there’s my list! Even as I wrote this, I thought of a lot more, and I’m not even decided on the positioning of each one. So who have I missed out that you would put in the list? Who are your greatest book villains?