Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl at the start of this year. This week’s prompt was Best Villains! Now, I do like a good villain as they often make or break a book or series. I had to narrow it down to just books (specifically, prose) because I think TV shows/movies and comic books could constitute their own lists. I also wanted to focus on ‘best’ villains in the sense of villains you really hate or fear, as opposed to love to hate, because, well, that could be a whole new list too.
10. Serena McBee, Phobos Series
A megalomaniac with zero feeling or thought for the lives of others Serena McBee is a new villain to me and she winds me the hell up. A case study in the power of public opinion and beloved by millions, Serena is truly twisted and manipulative from the young adults she sacrificed to her greed to the daughter she caged and hid from the world eventually driving her to drug addiction. Though Serena can be somewhat cartoonish and nonsensical (she would benefit far more if her show was a success that did not end in tragedy) her falseness is incredibly grating and infuriating for any reader.
9. Valentine Morgenstern, The Mortal Instruments
Of the two villains of the Mortal Instruments series, I find Valentine is most certainly the better. Where Johnathan’s villainy seems to stem purely from an “I is a demon so I is evil” point of view, with little reasoning or true depth, Valentine is a monster that doesn’t even realise it. He has what I call ‘the Hitler factor’: leadership and charisma that allow him to win the unwavering loyalty of his followers are some of the most formidable weapons in his arsenal and his long-term goal of peace on Earth and a new age for Shadowhunters sounds okay, until he tells you the part where he plans to achieve it through mass genocide and fascism. Valentine transcends the cliché trope of ‘father of the heroine being the villain’ and his monstrosity is only exacerbated by his complete ignorance of it.
8. Innovative Online Industries, Ready Player One
Ugh. This one is pretty simple. Though this organisations villainy is channelled through one main spokesperson, Nolan Sorrento, the company’s drive and motivation for pursuing Halliday’s egg – against his explicit dying wish that it not fall into the conglomerate’s hands – is purely monetary and corporate. The OASIS is a poisonous creation in my opinion, and elitism and indecently high charges to use it would likely be a good kerb to making people enjoy the real world with real people, but a dying wish is a dying wish and desecrating that in the way IOI do in the book sucks.
7. Briony Tallis, Atonement
Up until this point in this list I have been struggling to not use expletives and this is the real test because oh my lord, does Briony Tallis test my patience. Yes, she was a child with an incredibly overactive imagination. Yes, she probably thought she was doing the right thing. But – an innocent man dies because she (and her pathetic accomplice Lola) momentarily decided to forget lying was wrong and ruined not one or two but three lives in the process. She had numerous occasions over the following years to remedy this error, but chose not to for her own benefit. Then, the real kicker, she writes a book years after it can do any good whatsoever to excuse herself from the guilt. She gets to live her life, happily then writes a bit down and dies thinking she’d redeemed – thinking she’s atoned. No.
She is a villain in this story because the whole point of a villain is that they do explicable acts to further their own agenda and Briony sacrificed an innocent man, her innocent sister and all that loved them for the sake of her living the orderly, quiet life she felt she deserved.
6. George Wickham, Pride and Prejudice
Ah, the master deceiver with little to no respect for women – we meet again. Wickham, as his named suggests, is wicked. And more depressingly, he kind of wins here. With most villains we get the satisfaction of seeing them lose except he doesn’t really, does he? He gets his debts paid with Darcy money as he always wished, a respectable marriage (though tarnished a bit by how it happens) and a wife promiscuous and dim enough to sate is desires when he feels like being faithful and ignorant to not notice when he doesn’t. He’s masterful enough to nearly fool Lizzy, which is a feat and a real shame all at the same time.
5. Gérard De Villefort, The Count of Monte Cristo
There are a lot of villains in this tale of revenge, not least of all Danglers, the engineer of the initial crime, but while most of the men who destroyed Edmond’s life live in fear of reprisal and remember their sin forever …Villefort doesn’t. He continues his long and very successful life considering himself an upstanding member of society and almost entirely forgets the man he climbed over and threw to the wolves to get it. When his life begins t fall apart it takes him an embarrassingly long time to understand why and it makes me so angry because he then has the nerve to try and make Edmond feel guilty about his campaign for revenge afterward. Uh, no, I think you’ll find you brought this on yourself.
4. Madame Defarge, A Tale of Two Cities
The more bloodthirsty and cruel half of the Defarge’s is a tricky one. Whilst you’re lamenting and mourning the losses of Lucie and Dr. Manette and Charles, it’s hard to blame her for her nature and opinion. This period of French history is dark and drowning in blood and corruption, with more fictional and actual false imprisonments than you can shake a stick at – from Les Miserables to the aforementioned Count of Monte Cristo – but the seemingly merciless revolutionists that created these victims were victims once themselves. So, as I condemn Madame Defarge for Charles and Syndey and Lucie and the rest, I also pity her.
3. Count Olaf, A Series of Unfortunate Events
I first encountered Count Olaf in the Netflix adaption of this classic children’s series and, portrayed by the fantastic Neil Patrick Harris, found him positively loathsome. Swinging from dimness to the point of utter stupidity to malicious cunning in that of a heartbeat he is certainly a villain that keeps you on your toes and – as the series’ name suggests – he has the unfortunate habit of coming out on top more often than you’d like. What’s most annoying about him however, is that his success is not even particularly attributed to adept skillset but usually to the unwittingly helpful adults surrounding him and the Baudelaire orphans that aid him continually. I also think that his clever hiding place in this children’s untraditional classic masks much of his true villainy in a way that dulls your response. In the very first book he attempts to legitimately marry his adopted 13 year old daughter, which anyone (except the blissfully ignorant children who usually read this series) knows entails consummation.
This means that alongside Olaf’s many crimes including, but not limited to, fraud, theft, murder and impersonating a member of the aristocracy we can add paedophilia (see above GIF). The mention of this particular crime, thankfully for the innocence of children everywhere, was a reality of the world they were spared as they battle through 13 books of neglect, abuse, slave-labour, serial killers and the deaths of the Baudelaire parents and their children’s many, many subsequent caregivers.
2. Joffrey Baratheon, A Song of Ice and Fire
Do I even need to get started on this dude? I mean I know your mummy and daddy were twins but your siblings aren’t that bad.
1. Dolores Umbridge, Harry Potter
Don’t get me wrong, Voldemort is pretty scary and everything but I never feared or hated him the way I did Umbridge and personally, I think it was because she was realistic and frightening obstacle on Harry’s long road to victory. Think about it. How many noseless, skeletal, soul-splitting wizards are you likely to encounter in your life? If you’re anything like me the response to that is probably ‘eh, 1 or 2 at most’. However, there are many people in the world like Dolores Umbridge – from her tyrannical alter ego, willing to commit genocide and sacrifice people to her insatiable thirst for political power and influence to her emotionally and physically abusive, controlling and sickening teaching methods where she preaches her own ignorance and lies as fact, there are too many Dolores Umbridge’s in the world.
And the worst part? She gets away with it. Voldemort dies. She continues to work for the Ministry for Magic. She maintains her place of power. She survives the Battle of Hogwarts and she is still a manipulative and toxic feature in the magical world long after Harry, Ron and Hermione leave school to bring their own children into it.
Who do you think are some of the best bookish villains? Any on here you disagree with? Don’t forget to post your Top Ten Tuesday links in the comments!
Until next time!