There’s nothing like a great villain to make a great hero. After all, a hero is defined by his or her own willingness to defend what they value against any threat. The worse the threat, the greater the heroism. An effective villain has to be many things — powerful, intelligent and devious enough to pose a real threat. They also have to be truly wicked, even evil — the sympathetic villain or anti-hero is a completely different matter, one that we can discuss another time.
The Wicked Witch of the West
She is the most frightening villain in The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L Frank Baum. A squat old witch with a single eye, she rules Winkie Country. She is a tyrant, greedy for more power. She is motivated by sheer avarice, going to any lengths to gain the magical silver shoes that will increase her powers. She makes Dorothy a slave and tries to starve the Cowardly Lion to death. A nasty, selfish piece of work, all in all.
The eponymous villain of Bram Stoker’s pioneering vampire novel, Dracula is a nobleman who feeds on the blood of the innocent so that he can live forever and preserve his youth. He delights in corrupting the innocent and loves to prey on the young, the helpless and the beautiful. He kills without mercy. Not content with feeding on a few victims here and there, he is bent on nothing less than world domination. It takes Professor Van Helsing and his friends all their ingenuity and stamina to face this ancient, ruthless warrior and monster.
Sherlock Holmes calls him ‘the Napoleon of crime’, referring to the 18th century French general who conquered most of Europe and crowned himself Emperor. He actually appears very sparingly in Conan Doyle’s stories, featuring only in two of them. He is rarely seen by the narrator, Watson. This elusiveness only increases the mystique of this puppet master of international crime, the greatest villain Holmes has gone up against. This fascinating villain is given a more detailed treatment in novels and movies based on the original stories.
The Other Mother
She is the villain in Neil Gaiman’s book Coraline. She waits in a world behind a hidden door in Coraline’s house. She seems to be everything Coraline’s mother is not — attentive, active around the house. Yet, she has sinister buttons for eyes. And she has evil plans — she will take in a child, but she has to sew buttons onto their eyes, just like her own. When Coraline tries to escape, she finds that the Other Mother made her own parents disappear! The Other Mother is a deceiver who picks on small children, lulling them with pampering and treats before trapping them in a nightmarish fate.
Pennywise the Clown
The villain of Stephen King’s novel It, Pennywise too picks on children, luring them with colourful balloons and then brutally finishing them off. He is actually one of the forms taken by a strange, demonic creature who kills children and adults in the town of Derry once every thirty years. When his killing season comes, his reign of terror seems impossible to stop. He can control people’s minds and make them go insane. The appearance of a clown and the tendency to attack children makes him a horrific figure, even if you leave his awful supernatural background aside.
The arch-villain of the Harry Potter series of books is so wicked that even his name cannot be uttered safely! (He is to be referred to as He-who-must-not-be named) He is absolutely ruthless and has a lot of blood on his hands. He is greedy for power and wants to rule the world of wizards and the realm of muggles. He commands some nasty troops and is the killer of Harry’s parents. Harry and his friends have their work cut out to become powerful enough to take on this dark wizard. He is the stuff of nightmares for a whole generation who grew up reading JK Rowling’s books.
In horror stories of HP Lovecraft, Cthulhu is an inhuman creature — half squid, half human, with wings. He slumbers deep under the Pacific Ocean, but when the stars align and nameless cults invoke his name, he rises from the waves to bring chaos and destruction. Most terrifying of all, Cthulhu is the high priest of terrible old gods who lurk in spaces between the stars and care nothing for the human race. It’s best to just let him sleep!