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, evil villain? Like, he was never a good guy just always evil? Just 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 (especially in fantasy) that there’s nothing wrong with a villain that’s just evil.
And here are some examples of them done well:
Smaug, the Hobbit.
He’s a dragon, ’nuff said. Since he’s a dragon, the reader knows he will eat anything and anyone, and that 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. But Smaug is scary.
Tolkien made him scary with mainly two things.
First, it’s how the other characters talk about him. Thorin recounts the decimation of Dale and the Mountain. The people of Laketown 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.
Hela is – well, the goddess of death. She’s about as bad as it gets. 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.
We see that she’s bad, powerful, and intelligent, (She and Odin “drowned entire civilizations in blood.” Hela killed all the Valkyrie, basically the entire Asgardian army, and destroyed Thor’s hammer.) It takes a giant lava man with a 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.
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 into that of an eternal night.”
That’s…vague. 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 with 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, except darkness. But like – what kind of darkness??? Do the Dark Elves just sunburn really easily?? Did someone destroy their native world, and they want to make a new one??? WHY???
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.
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Header Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash
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