I was just involved in a Facebook event for Kindle Scout winners, and one of the questions posed by the moderator asked who our favorite villain was. My answer, without hesitation, was Hannibal Lecter, from Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs.
There are many books with evil characters wielding plenty of blood and gore, American Psycho by Bret Eason Ellis, for one, but, in my opinion, nothing compares to the German SS officer in William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, who commits the purest, most evil act I’ve ever read or witnessed.
As I mentioned, antagonists don’t have to be villains. They’re opponents, backstabbers, traitors, but they aren’t necessarily evil. The Hollywood classic, All About Eve,
There’s a long line of antiheroes both in books and in movies. Some are good guys doing bad things for the sake of country, a lover, or himself. Rick Blaine in Casablanca is my idea of a perfect antihero. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside.
Unfortunately, present-day equivalents are few. All the antiheroes these days, especially in movies, are comic book or dystopian characters come to life: Batman, Mad Max, Wolverine, Iron Man, and the characters of X-Men. The lack of originality in films and novels may be because producers and publishers feel safe regurgitating what’s worked in the recent past rather than take chances with something risky. It has fallen to indies, both in publishing and film making, to forge new paths.
Here are a few you might consider defining and where I believe the line starts to blur. Are the following antiheroes, Antagonists, or Downright Villains? Some are clearer than others.
Oskar Schindler: Nazi, war profiteer, complex and conflicted. Hero, villain, antihero?
Contrast Oskar with Amon Goeth in the same book. Definitely a villain.
Salieri vs. Mozart—Opponent/antagonist, or was he a villain too?
There’s no doubt we root for antiheroes. Why? Because they usually fight for the little guy. If they fight evil, they’re definitely heroes. If they take their quest too far, does that turn them into villains?
Who are your favorite villains, antagonists, or antiheroes in novels or on film/TV? Why? Have you written one you love? I have.
Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.