I have a weakness for evil characters. I have written two novels centred around Satan, plus there is my first person narrative about a sociopathic murderer. Norman. Ya gotta luv Norman.
Although this list does include Lucifer (from Dante and elsewhere) I think it is somewhat too broad at times. I doubt Miss Havisham from Great Expectations reaches the degree worthy of evil. And poor Dracula - well, what choice do the undead really have? [DE]
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11 Most Evil Characters in Books
By Koren Zailckas
Koren Zailckas's Mother, Mother is the kind of book that keeps you up at night, and it features a mother to rival Medea or Mrs. Bates. Zailckas picked 11 of her favorite evil characters.
Evil is one of those capital-letter themes in literature. It’s right up there with Love, Death, Beauty, Friendship and Fate. Maybe that’s because Evil, like Death, catches us off guard. Sooner or later, we’re all assured a chance encounter with Evil, but we can’t predict when it’s coming for us, and we can only guess what painful form it will take.
Most of us have encountered enough real-life villains to know Evil isn’t hooved and horned. Most disturbingly, Evil comes to us in human form, and the image it first puts forth is reasonable, even charismatic. Evil arrives to the job interview with a killer resume and big talk about improving profits. It shows up to the first date with a fistful of flowers and a magnetic smile, holding open doors and saying what it senses you most want to hear.
If we recognize Evil at all, it’s usually only in retrospect, after the things we cherish have been contaminated, our energies have been depleted, our sense of self has been swapped out for paralyzing self-doubt. In the words of Zbigniew Herbert, “the proof of the existence of the monster is in its victims.” Evil blankets things in a fog of confusion, wounding you long before you feel the first painful twinges, robbing you years before you think to lock your valuables away.
These 11 baddies from books have a lot to teach us about Evil’s motivations and methodology. The tools of Evil’s trade are pretty consistent across the board: seduction, gaslighting, gossip, lies, exploiting our empathy to its advantage. But the purpose seems unclear even to Evil itself. In the end, maybe the scariest thing about villains is their total mindlessness. If we struggle to know Evil that’s because it doesn’t know itself.
Mr. Hyde, from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Evil intersperses cruelty with kindness. Almost ninety years before the Norrmalmstorg robbery that brought about the term “Stockholm Syndrome,” Robert Louis Stevenson had an uncanny understanding of the way evils bonds with its victims. What keeps people locked in dangerous relationships? It’s Evil’s changing face--the way mind games are preceded by flattery, the way discord is glossed over with promises.
The most painful thing about Evil is the duality of the feelings it inspires in us. As Jekyll says, “If each [good and evil], I told myself, could be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable...” Evil is freaky because we love and loathe it in equal parts, and we give it countless chances to redeem itself.