As I started writing my Beowulf retelling back in October, I had a question about one of my antagonists.

“Can’t he just be a plain, old, evil villain? Like he was never a good guy just always evil? Actually be an evil being?”

And I decided: why not?

Now I have other antagonists, those of whom are more human and have backstories and “deeper” motives. But my feeling was that (especially in fantasy) there’s nothing wrong with a villain that’s just evil.

And here are some examples of them done well:

Smaug, the Hobbit.

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He’s a dragon. ’nuff said. Since he’s a dragon the reader knows he will eat anything and anyone, and he desires gold, jewels, and all manner of riches. Since he is a dragon we don’t really need any more motives.Yet that doesn’t mean he would be scary or convincing. But Smaug is.

Tolkien made him scary with mainly two things.

First, it’s how the other character’s talk about him. Thorin recounts the decimation of Dale and the Mountain. The people live in constant fear of Smaug, even though he hasn’t been seen in years.

Second, Smaug is no dummy. He’s smart, and figures out exactly what Bilbo is up to and decides to toy with him while he is at it.

 

Hela, Thor: Ragnarok.

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Hela is – well the goddess of death. She’s about as bad as it gets. And it’s clear in Ragnarok that she was always that bad. Her one goal in life was for Asgard to rule all worlds, with her somewhere on the top. She started out that way and ended that way.

There’s no “back story” to her motives. But her motive is believable because:

Hela is more powerful than everyone else, so of course she believes she should rule everyone.

She’s the freaking goddess of death

She is also the rightful heir to Asgard.

She also doesn’t come off tacky because:

We see that she’s bad, powerful, and intelligent. (she and Odin “drowned entire civilizations in blood”. Hela killed all the Valkyrie, and basically the entire Asgardian army, destroyed Thor’s hammer etc.). It takes a giant lava man of the big eyebrow to destroy her, and when she saw him, she knew that was her doom.

But I can’t just show some evil villains done well, I must also show – well, how it could go wrong. 

 

The Dark Elves, Thor: the Dark World.

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First off, I want to assure you that I do more than just sit around and watch Thor movies all day.

Since they’re called “Dark Elves” I guess we’re suppose to assume that they are inherently evil. Ok, we can go with that.

Except….like we don’t know anything about them? Or why they are supposed to be scary?? All we know is ” and before that there was darkness, and so lived the Dark Elves, who wanted to plunge the world in that of an eternal night.”

That’s…vague. And then in the beginning of the movie we see them defeated by the Asgardian army. Oh, I guess they’re not that powerful either.

Also, only by the Aether and the magical power of the Convergence can the Dark Elves do anything. Without those things they are back to hibernating in their floating ships.

The only terrible thing we see them do is kill Frigga, Thor’s mother. I mean they also kill Loki but he didn’t really die  (at least…not in that movie *buries face in pillow and shakes fist at Thanos*)

Most importantly, the head guy Malekith has NO PERSONALITY AT ALL. He doesn’t seem to really enjoy anything, hate anything, or want anything in particular, accept darkness. But like – what kind of darkness??? Do the Dark Elves just sun burn really easily?? Did someone destroy their native world and they want to make a new one??? WHY???

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Good chat. 

Any other thoughts? Comment below! Want to read more about Thor movies? Comment below too! Want to read about anything else? Yeah, do that too.

P.S. updated my about page, don’t forget to check it out here!

Header Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

One thought on “Villains: Why Not Just Plain Evil?

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