Thursday, 19 August 2010

On Villainy

The BBC recently produced a modern take on the Sherlock Holmes stories. It's fantastic; almost everyone I know has watched it, and loved it. It's only three episodes long [with more to come next year] and I don't think I'll be spoiling the story for anyone if I tell you that in the last episode Sherlock Holmes' arch-nemesis Moriarty makes his first appearence. True to form, the mad little Scotsman has now become my favourite character. He's absolutely insane. Last week, I was talking about my intense admiration for him to my colleague [informing her that I shall henceforth be known as Tomiarty] when I was struck by the realisation that I never root for the good guys. I almost always prefer the characters I'm supposed to hate. Why do I set myself up for such disappointment? Because let's be honest, the bad guys are never going to win, but despite the tall odds, I've always found myself more attached to them.

For a long time my favourite book was Les Liaisons Dangereuses, whose protagonists the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, two bored, devious French aristocrats, amuse themselves by ruining other people's honour and reputations. They are incredibly nasty and sound like they would be too much fun on a night out. I was in awe of them and their evil games, of their heartlessness and complete lack of consideration of the consequences that befall the people they seduce.

Then I discovered Dracula, and decided I wanted him to be my new best friend. He's brutal, dark and from another time. I read this before vampires became brooding, sensitive and sexy and, while both approaches have their merits, Bram Stoker's vision is infinitely more frightening than that ginger bird in Twilight. I sympathised with him, I did. I understood his yearning for the former glory of his house, and his struggle to find a place in the modern world. The poor bloke - yes he kills people and drinks their blood, but come on, give him a break; he's got a lot on his mind.

Come to think of it, before I even knew these books existed I was devouring the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. I've lost count of how many times I've read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. My favourite part was not when Aslan is resurrected [yawn] or when the Pevensies are crowned at Cair Paravel [snore] but when the White Witch calls all the ghosts, witches and monsters to fight for her cause. It read like a list, a list of creatures I'd never even heard of before; I looked up 'incubus' in the dictionary and couldn't sleep for a week afterwards. Her insane jealousy and megalomania makes her, in my opinion, one of the best villains ever written.

I tend to find the good guys quite boring. During the Lord of the Rings trilogy I developed such a hatred of the scences with Frodo and Sam that I think I could have given Sauron a run for his money. However, this isn't always the case. Take Batman for example - he's a crimefighter, a do-gooder but I like him. I like him because he's motivated by revenge and loss. This is good - not for him, but for me. I think perhaps this is what I look for - some sort of imbalance, or motivation other than 'I want everybody to live happily ever after. All you need is love." Yes, I think that's it. Show me a character driven by the greater good or the fate of humankind and I'll tell you to jog on. Show me somebody driven by greed, power, revenge or guilt and I'll be cheering from the sidelines, albeit with the realistic assumption that I'm not on the winning team.

PS Please note that my admiration for the bad guys does not extend to reality. I don't support real evil doers, only made up ones.


  1. I've not watched the new Sherlock yet - all of my friends keep chiding me for such a sin, but I still haven't seen it!

    I hear what you're saying.

    I like a good character that's got a deeply flawed side.

    A good example is Robert Neville from I Am Legend. He's the good guy, but he's going around killing vampires from dawn until dusk, not realising that in doing this he's actually killing his former friends and neighbours, and it's hurting and scaring the ones he's leaving alive, even though they're the vampires.

  2. Tom darling, I do love your posts! I think the point you make here is really rather interesting - you like characters with depht, am I right? Oftentimes, characters are either good or bad, but in reality we are a bit of both. And naughtiness is more interesting than goodness, surely?

    Have you seen "the princess bride"? I think you'd like Inigo Montoya:) Oh, and Peer Gynt! He's a real badass:)

  3. Everyone I know from England has been telling me I HAVE to watch this series! Hmm maybe I should check it out...

    Also, I have turned you into quite the geek huh! Oh and it's totally addicting, I know exactly what you mean!

  4. I've always been fascinated by the fictional bad guys too. Or rather the fictional bad-ass guys. I agree, most of the time, the good guys are always boring.

    And sometimes even stupid.

  5. Oh, I LOVE Dangerous Liaisons. Great villain choices there.

  6. I know I posted a comment.

    It was funny and hilarious and it was all about how we should be exchanging movies all the time and how we're really best friends.


    Edward Cullen sucks monkey balls.

    Dracula is hot. And yeah, the more flawed; the better.

  7. Sherlock is BRILLIANT, fully deserving of the hyperbolic capitalisation there. The two main leads have a great (and weird) chemistry, and I simply love trying to solve the puzzles. Of course, I very rarely manage, but still, it's the vague mental flailing that counts, right?

    I've always had a soft spot for villains; going back to when I first watched Star Wars and thought that the emperor was cool. Because frying Jedi with lightning is always cool. I guess that's why the Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favourite characters of all time.

  8. @ Lady Boleyn - you're completely right about I am Legend. I liked him too. And your friends are right to give you grief for not having seen Sherlock yet. Where have you been?

    @ Alexandra - that's the one. Someone with depth, who is not either good or bad, but a bit of both. Preferably more bad than good. I haven't seen the Princess Bride, or read Peer Gynt - however the latter has been on my wishlist since I started reading your blog!

    @ Kisekae - Complete geek. 100%. I blame you entirely. Sherlock is fantastic, are you going to be able to see it in Canada? If you can, watch it. However, I've since found out the bloke who plays Moriarty is Irish, not Scottish. Oops. I'll be editing that out, I think.

    @ Gnetch - being an evil genius and bent on world domination as you are, I knew you'd have no sympathy for the good guys.

    @ Sadako - I know, it's an amazing book. I'm glad you approve of my choices, I was concerned about seeming a complete sociopath.

    @ Risha - What movies??? We should completely do this. But without your comment, I'm unsure of the context. Get that comment back, immediately. I mean it. I don't care that you're on holiday. Some things are just important, you know?

    @ LeaveSpaceBlank - haha, yes hyperbolic capitalisation is definitely required. I keep telling people that I did actually figure one bit out, but I was watching it on my own so nobody can vouch for my genius. I did say 'stars' out loud though, just in case there was anyone within hearing distance to praise me. I've never read the Count of Monte Cristo. I'll add it to my aforementioned wishlist.