Book Meme 2012
Question 3: Best Villain
Difficult! Difficult! There are many good ones abroad in fiction. To complicate matters, there is the highly subjective nature of “best.” Only an hour’s consideration, though, supplied my ready answer. Best, for me, does not mean the most interesting, the most terrifying, the most unusual or my favorite. Best means the most effective antagonist, one that lingers in the mind of the characters and the readers, the antagonist that haunts us even after they are gone. Of the many contenders, two stand out to me, and I will allow them to share the throne. If a vicious villain battle ensues, it will choose the victor for me, and be highly entertaining to boot!
Beware of spoilers, for I shall not hold back.
from Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
This woman is one of the best villains of all time simply because she is already dead. If you are unfamiliar with the book named for her, then I should clarify that Rebecca is not an Undead. Oh no, she is far too villainous for that! She is, quite simply, Dead.
The protagonist of the tale is pitted, not against the woman herself, but against the memory of her. A master manipulator while she lived, Rebecca’s reputation survives with very few knowing her true character. Rebecca’s weapons against the protagonist consist of the dead woman’s servants and friends and, most of all, the protagonist’s own imagination. Rebecca is beyond reach of reprisal; she cannot be stopped, she cannot be fought, she simply hovers over her rival in memory and in doing so, nearly destroys her.
How terrifying to fight the perfection of the dead. The protagonist does not even think it is right to fight such a paragon of femininity and refinement. Her imaginings almost destroy her marriage and her life. But is that all? No indeed.
Maxim, the protagonist’s husband and Rebecca’s widower, was always the true target of Rebecca’s wrath, and the protagonist is merely a weapon to be used against him. To the end, Rebecca manipulated affairs so completely that the mechanism of her revenge moves forward like clockwork. That, my ladies and gentlemen, is villainy. To reach from beyond the grave, without even reaching, in order to destroy your enemies and rivals with the workings of their own minds and emotions.
from Watership Down, by Richard Adams
Yet another bunny. If I fail to finish this post, you can be sure he has torn out my throat for being so impudent as to call him a “bunny.” The death-rabbit from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is, perhaps, the General’s puny cousin. Beware.
This leporid of doom hails from Watership Down. If he were human, or an ogre, or a dragon, he could hardly be more terrifying. If I saw this hare, I would flee. He is large for his species (if you have ever met a hare, you will know that they are not small to begin with), ruthlessly ferocious, and insane. As his title denotes, though, his insanity is of a very orderly nature, up to military standards.
General Woundwort is driven by fear. Fear makes him very strong. He controls the colony, of which he is the head-hare, with repressive efficiency, supported by a military of his own making. Strength is the primary qualification for leadership and greatness. Power… power to defend and to control is, to the General, the highest virtue.
“Safety” is everything, and freedom is dangerous. No one leaves. No one really lives. But they are “safe.”
When a handful of hares do escape, through the machination of Hazel’s band, the General’s hitherto controlled insanity explodes. Even his devoted followers hesitate at the sight of his manic, obsessive pursuit of his enemies. He is driven as if his world will come crashing down should this small band defy him in peace.
His end is befitting one of the greatest villains of all time. No one sees him die.
He walks from the field of deadly battle, straight into legend, and his name becomes synonymous with fear on the downs.
This is the rabbit of nightmares.
Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:
1. Motley Crew
10. Packing Lightly