Defining a Villain

Mr. Auric Goldfinger… widely regarded to be the best Bond villain, although not my personal favorite.

A brief glimpse into how my Borg-like mind works… recently I thought of making a list of my favorite Bond villains, but I’ve only sat through nine Bond films in their entirety (Goldeneye made me mad enough to turn it off within 20 minutes). But it gave me the idea to do a post about villains, and what makes one. And what doesn’t. No matter what the AFI’s Top 100 Heroes & Villains list says, the shark in Jaws is not a villain (the real villain of Jaws is clearly capitalism– just kidding!– sort of).

I’m getting ahead of myself.

The ever-faithful Oxford English Dictionary defines “villain” thusly: Originally, a low-born base-minded rustic; a man of ignoble ideas or instincts; in later use, an unprincipled or depraved scoundrel; a man naturally disposed to base or criminal actions, or deeply involved in the commission of disgraceful crimes (“villain, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 3 April 2017).

Class still plays a big part into the hero vs villain dynamic (a lot of heroes were born with a silver spoon and villains tend to have built up their empires from the ground, especially in comic books), but “villain” doesn’t necessarily mean lower-class anymore. So let’s throw that part of the definition out.

More interesting is that the definition of villain is very gendered… a villain is a “man” pretty much every time. I had to scroll all the way down the OED’s page to find a note that says the definition applies to womyn as well. My spelling, not theirs. But obviously, anyone of any gender can be a villain. And probably some of the first villains kids encounter were female: the witch from Hansel and Gretel, the step-mother in Cinderella, the queen from Snow White, Professor Umbridge…. But the male villain is still what most people associate with the title. Googling “top movie villains” as I write, I see one female villain– Annie Wilkes from Misery. It takes a couple clicks to get to Nurse Ratched, Alex Forrest, and the Wicked Witch of the West. (Disclaimer– Google is changeable, but  my point is still valid.)

The rest of the definition concerns being unprincipled, depraved, and association with crime. The “crime” part of the definition is interesting, and certainly many villains are associated with it. Returning to the James Bond example, SPECTRE is obligingly clear about their motives (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion is their anagram). It’s even a little too on-the-nose.

The definition of crime itself is a knotty one. After all, as the memes point out… slavery was legal. And O’Brien from 1984 is a horrifying villain, but everything he does is legal and encouraged under Big Brother’s regime.

So it seems being “unprincipled” and “depraved” are the best ways to determine a villain. It’s still a bit knotty there, but then you can have a “straight-edge” villain who still has people messily murdered as a point of pride. Or the villain might not kill anybody, but still causes pain just because they can (which shows a lack of principles).

And of course, a chilling smile or laugh always helps. But it is almost overdone, so not a requirement.


Preview of Ashes: A Fairy Tale

I'm new to this graphics thing.

I’m new to this graphics thing.

I’m not dead.  But since it’s summer and my research isn’t going so well, I’ve been working more seriously on my second novel.  It’s to be called Ashes: A Fairy Tale.

It will be a frame-story narrative, broken up by shorter episodes that are based in other fairy tales, such as the Pied Piper, Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood.

Speaking of which, here is a preview of my re-imagining of that fairy tale… re-titled “Wolf Eyes.”


Emma ran through the snowy forest, not bothering to try to be quiet.  She knew her tracks in the snow would give her away to her Count and his dogs.  Clutching the stolen silver in her arms, she cursed her luck.  Her confederate had betrayed her—told the steward, who in turn alerted the Count.

She could hear the hounds barking even now, trying to find her trail.  And if they caught her… God only knew what they would do to her.  She wondered if she dared ask Him for protection—she was a thief.  But her Count was cruel to everyone in his household, family or servant.  Liberal with the switch and with his affections— she could not stay with him.  But she couldn’t manage on her own.  And he could spare fifty times the worth of what she had managed to grab without a squeeze.

The daylight was dying.  Even through the clouds that was obvious.  She slowed her run because she could feel the cold cutting through her chest like a knife.  Walking, she could breathe more easily.

One of the dogs howled in the distance, and she nearly dropped her sack of coin.  Emma began to run again, but tripped on a root hidden under the snow and fell, cutting her face.  Cursing and trying not to cry, she sat up and tried to gather as much of her silver as she could.  The dogs were making more noise now, and the men shouted with them.

Blood dropped into the snow as she staggered to her feet.  She felt slightly dizzy and could not now stop the tears that tore at her eyes.  Salt ran into her cut, and she had to lean against the cold trunk of a tree until the pain was manageable.

They would catch her, Emma realized.  If she did not die here in the woods, she would face the Count’s wrath when they took her back to his castle.  In tears, she raised her head and looked into two glowing canine red eyes just visible in the snow ahead.

She gasped in terror, and they disappeared.  A moment later the noise of the hunt ceased.  A deafening silence settled in the air, replacing the baying and shouting.  Emma shivered and gingerly touched the cut on her face.  Her fingers came back scarlet, and she sucked the blood off them, knowing she had to keep moving.