Villains We Hate To Love (Part 2)

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“I am Loki, of Asgard and I am burdened with glorious purpose…You WILL kneel before me!”

Yeah, yeah. I know they’re the ‘bad guys’. I KNOW, all right? Sheesh, stop shouting. It’s just…why did they have to be so darn awesome? The fact is, some villains are too cool for school, and although we know we’re supposed to hate them, we end up loving them instead. I’m not talking about ‘grey’ villains, ones who have redeemable qualities, who deserve understanding even if ultimately they still do All The Wrong Things. I’m talking about characters who are clearly bad to the core, but who we can’t help adoring anyway.

An example is Scar from Disney’s The Lion King. It’s hard to find a villain as delicious as Scar, voiced by the amazing Jeremy Irons. His particular brand of suave yet petty nastiness blew everyone away when the movie first came out. Scar telling Simba that his surprise is “To die for”? *shivers*

I haven’t seen the Lion King musical. But if we were casting Scar nowadays, he would have to be played by Tom Hiddleston. And speaking of Tom: Loki, in Marvel’s The Avengers. We’re supposed to dislike him – rather intensely, I imagine – but come on, that’s hardly fair! The character’s quiet yet supreme arrogance is played so beautifully by Hiddleston that Loki quickly emerged as one of the highlights of the star-studded movie.

Another character I can’t help rather liking is Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter. In part, perhaps, because on-screen she’s played by the inimitable Helena Bonham Carter. But book Bellatrix is also fabulous. She definitely fits in the ‘hate to love’ camp. I think, with Bellatrix, the attraction is her completely unapologetic devotion to evil. She’s not just old Voldy’s right hand lady, she truly enjoys being horrible. With crazed giggling pleasure.

I think it’s easier to find ‘bad guys’ that we love on TV and in movies, than in books. In visual media, a dashing portrayal by a charismatic actor can be enough to make us fall for a villain, however heinous their crimes. (Hannibal Lecter, I’m looking at you.) In books, once an author starts adding charm and depth to an evil character, that character risks ending up in the ‘grey morality’ zone, where we know they’re bad but we understand their motivations and sympathize with them. Which is not really what I’m looking for here: I’m going for characters we KNOW are evil, but can’t help falling for anyway.

Take CW’s Supernatural, for instance. Over the show’s 12 seasons, the audience has embraced outright evil characters such as demon Crowley, played by Mark Sheppard, and Lucifer himself, played primarily by Mark Pellegrino. Both characters are fan favorites, and Sheppard and Pellegrino are for sure the reason behind this. In Arrow, also a CW show, recurring character Malcolm Merlyn is a slippery, self-centered jerk. But actor John Barrowman consistently woos the audience, over and over.

Sometimes I wonder what it’s like for an author or show creator when a villain suddenly takes off as a fan favorite. I imagine it goes something like this:

Fans on Twitter, Tumblr, etc: WE LOVE THIS CHARACTER.

Creators: No, they’re actually the villain, you’re not supposed to like them.

Fans: LOVE.

Creators: I don’t think you understand, see, they’re bad?

Fans: *Fan art everywhere. Make a million gifs. Write thousands of words of fan fiction.*

Creators: But…

Fans: Looooovvvveeeeeee………………..

 

 

 

 

Villains We Love To Hate (Part 1)

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A few great villains from my bookshelf

What makes The Ultimate Villain™? Now, I’m not necessarily talking about the Big Bad in a story; for instance, we all know the Emperor is the puppet master behind everything in Star Wars. (Gaaasp, spoiler alert!) But the Ultimate Villain in the original trilogy isn’t the Emperor, it’s Vader, with the all-black ensemble and the heavy masked breathing. He’s the one on all the t-shirts, the one who sells the action figures and LEGO kits. True, he had his moment of redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi, but for the majority of screen time in the trilogy, he was fabulously and unapologetically evil.

Darth Vader got me thinking about some of my favorite screen and page villains, and what makes them so fun to hate. In Vader’s case, I think his utter calm and coldness, allied with the distancing his black outfit, gloved hands, and mask produce, makes him a frightening on-screen presence from the moment he appears in New Hope showing off his Force choke.

The Narnia series was my childhood passion, and you don’t get any nastier than the witches that C.S. Lewis came up with. The scene in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe where the White Witch throws Edmund into her dungeon was one I always found chilling: Edmund trusted her (okay, he was also partially bewitched. And an idiot), and she treats him worse than dirt until he’s eventually rescued. The Green Lady in the Silver Chair was also a great villain, with her poisonous sweetness and terrible hidden schemes.

Like Star Wars, the Harry Potter series is another where side villains are often more compelling than the Big Bad, Lord Voldemort himself. Take Dolores Umbridge, for instance. (No, really, please take her, she terrifies me!) She’s tremendously effective as a villain, I think perhaps because most of us have come across that particular brand of petty nastiness at some point in our lives. A schoolteacher, a supervisor at work, an authority figure. Not someone with the power of life or death over us, just someone who can make our lives acutely miserable if they choose. The Harry Potter books have many ‘evil’ characters who we can’t help but understand, at least a little (there’s no way NOT to feel sorry for Draco Malfoy by the end of the series!), but Umbridge certainly isn’t one of those. And oh, boy, do we love to hate her.

Children’s and teen books do this sort of irredeemably nasty character very well (look at Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s Matilda, or President Snow from The Hunger Games), but even in adult fiction, you can’t have a decent fantasy or sci fi novel without a great villain. Or villains, plural. Sauron may have been the Big Bad in The Lord of the Rings, but I always particularly loathed Saruman for his backstabbing, tree-slaying, self-centered behavior. The sequence where the ents take down his fortress will always have me cheering wildly, no matter how many times I read it.

I know the trend nowadays is to have villains that readers/viewers can understand, with tragic backstories and deeper motivations that place them in a sort of moral grey zone, rather than the old-fashioned black-or-white of older stories. And I’m all for that, don’t get me wrong. It makes for a hugely compelling story. But sometimes it’s just so fun to be handed a character we’re unabashedly allowed to love to hate. So authors, producers, creators: grey zone your villains as much as you like, but please, please, please toss us an Umbridge every now and then? Go on. You know you want to.

What’s Your Character Watching?

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Someone asked me what my Heart Blade character Alex’s favorite TV show would be, and I immediately answered Star Wars Rebels. Because clearly when you’re an immortal vampire knight who’s taken a vow to never drink blood you’re going to be all about the Jedi, right?

Of course, I immediately thought, “Blog post!” So here it is: what shows all the Heart Blade characters like to watch.

Alex is a Star Wars Rebels fan. Kanan Jarrus is his favorite character. He’s also partial to Arrow and The Flash. He once met Stephen Amell at a convention and has the photo to prove it.

Camille loves sports. She’s a Packers fan and never misses a NHL game, especially if the Canadiens are playing. She owns all seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD and has been known to quote lines from the show.

Diana likes to escape into Once Upon a Time. She’s also a Glee fan and has all the show songs on her playlist. She plays them loud to drown out the memory of her victims’ screams.

Rose never misses an episode of Supernatural. She’s cooled down on the show a little now she knows demons and vampires actually exist, but she can’t stay away from Sam, Dean, and Cas.

Ash loves Agents of SHIELD. He’s hoping they bring Bobbi back. She reminds him of his mom. He thought Agent Carter was really cool and doesn’t get why the network cancelled it.

Del will watch everything and anything. She’s fascinated by human TV shows and feels that with her memory loss she has a lot to make up for. One of her favorite characters is Arya Stark from Game of Thrones.

Jude always tells everyone that TV shows are a waste of time. But secretly he DVRs all the Reign episodes and then marathons them all at one go over a weekend with masses of pizza and junk food.

Dan likes The Walking Dead, even though Alex teases him mercilessly about it. He feels there is something marvelously simple about a world where all humans have to fear are zombies and each other.

Deacon says he only watches sports. But anyone who frequents his house knows he always has one of those home improvement or real estate shows on in the background. He’s mildly obsessed with Tiny House Nation.

What TV shows would your favorite characters watch? Let me know in the comments!

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Saturday Sweethearts: page and screen darlings

I started watching Season 1 of MTV’s Teen Wolf this week because #curious, and because I’m twelve years old inside (I’m always telling people that and somehow they never believe me!). I may already be hooked on the show (okay, I’m hooked), and it’s mostly because of Dylan O’Brien’s work as ‘Stiles’ Stilinski.

His character is sweet and funny, and is responsible for some absolutely laugh out loud moments. Seriously. It’s been a while since I’ve actually laughed out loud at a show like that (and yes, I know it’s technically a drama or something, but STILES!).

Me being me, and a writer-type person, I’ve been trying to pick apart what I find so appealing about his character, and of course that made me think about other funny, sweet, and slightly quirky characters who brighten up the stories they live in. Here are some of my page-and-screen favorites.

Leo Valdez (Heroes of Olympus series, Rick Riordan)

I’m a huge fan of Riordan’s work (my kids know I get first dibs on all the new books) and he has a lot of fantastic characters. But Leo’s been one of my faves since he first waltzed onto the page in The Lost Hero. He’s intelligent, talented, and fiercely loyal. He’s also a wise-cracking prankster who uses humor as a shield and a weapon, and who broke my heart over and over for doggedly keeping going with a smile while feeling small and ignored inside. SERIES SPOILER: a quiet and heartfelt thank you to Rick for series ending reasons.

Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling)

There’s no writing about sweet and quirky without mentioning Luna. She’s practically the poster child for it, and my top HP character too. Like Leo, she’s fiercely loyal to her friends. And also like Leo, she keeps on going with a smile even if inside she must be sad and lonely – because seriously, the amount of bullying and derision she comes up against in the series is gut-wrenching. But Luna remains true to Luna, and she refuses to bow to peer pressure and convention, remaining an adorable ray of sunshine. She IS her name: ethereal and moonstruck, blessed with a huge heart and lots of love to give.

Waldo Butters (The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher)

I love Butters. He makes me smile every single time he appears. He started out geekily sweet and earnest, equal parts terrified and fascinated by Harry Dresden and the supernatural world. He’s grown since then, maturing and becoming more powerful and at ease, but he’s still essentially Butters and he still makes me smile. Also, have you READ Skin Game? (Been there, bought the t-shirt. Literally. See photo below.) Go, Butters!

Verity Price (InCryptid series, Seanan McGuire)

Verity isn’t the sidekick or wacky best friend – the usual suspects for this sort of character description. She’s the Big Main Character. But she definitely falls under the banner of sweet, funny, and quirky. She cracks me up with her running commentary on everything from ballroom dancing to her sex life. (What?! I can like characters with sex lives. Just because I have Leo and Luna on my list doesn’t mean I’m ACTUALLY twelve.) She’s also a darling who would do anything to save her friends. And although she’s a kick-ass warrior with a weapons collection to rival that of many fictional assassins, she still manages to get herself into situations that are as hilarious as they are dangerous.

Francisco ‘Cisco’ Ramon (The Flash, CW)

Cisco cracks me up. It’s that sweet and slightly dorky grin of achievement every time he comes up with a new name for a villain. It’s that adorable never-give-up optimism of his. It’s his insistence at playing fashion designer for every hero on Flash and Arrow, and being so incredibly proud of his costumes. It’s…pretty much everything about one of my fave characters on a show FULL of fave characters. (I love them all. I want to hug them all and buy them puppies.) Cisco is such a nice guy, it actually breaks my heart a little whenever he has a sad or frowny moment. (And then I want to buy him MORE puppies.)

‘Stiles’ Stilinsky (Teen Wolf, MTV)

The new kid on my list. He’s supposed to be the sidekick, but in Season 1 at least, he steals the show. (“Why is it starting to feel like you’re Batman and I’m Robin? I don’t wanna be Robin all the time!” S1E3) His one-liners are hilarious, and so is his brain-mouth-disconnect-blurt-everything-out style dialogue, but it goes beyond that. He’s extremely loyal, and always ready to drop everything to help out his best friend, or anyone else who asks for help, even if he doesn’t actually like them. He’s a genuinely nice guy. And yes, I’m insanely jealous of the scriptwriters for coming up with this character!

Beast Boy (Teen Titans, 2003 version, CN)

I miss this show. I miss this show A LOT. Sorry Teen Titans Go!, but no. Just No. Nice try, but you’ll never be that glorious 2003-2006 version. All the characters in Teen Titans were great, but Beast Boy was my darling. He was sweetness incarnate, with an extra side of goofy and adorable. Seriously, did anyone NOT like Beast Boy in this show? In fact, I’d settle for a new show that’s just Beast Boy going around being nice to people as he turns into different animals. Can that be a thing? Please?

 

These are just a few of my book and screen darlings. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

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Butters (Dresden Files) t-shirt from the Worldbuilders store