Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ruining lives with a smile and a wink

I’m a big fan of fictional villains. After all, the best measure of the protagonist’s heroism is how he or she holds up against the bad guys. So, the harder the villain makes the life of the hero, the more appreciation I have for them.

In my opinion, the scariest villains are not the dark, rage-filled ones who fly off the handle at the least provocation. No, the ones who stick with me are the bad guys who carry out their evil with a calm, jovial demeanor.

Roomie and I have watched the Buffy series many a time. The show is chock full of wonderfully flawed heroes, anti-heroes, and villains. But the Big Bad who creeped me out the most? The Mayor, Season 3. Why? Because he was the always so freaking cheerful. Never before have I gotten a chill from hearing someone say, “There’s nothing uncool about healthy teeth and bones.”

Heebie. Jeebies. 

And for me, Voldemort was not the worst villain of the Harry Potter series. Sure, he was rotten straight down to his fragmented core. But, I never hated him even a fraction as much as I loathed Delores Umbridge. In fact, I can’t think of any other character to which I’ve ever had such a viscerally negative reaction. Why? Because she wrought her evil with an air of moral superiority and a giggle. She justified her diabolical actions with the line that it was for everyone else’s good. And she took away the one true haven our hero had.

Basically, her character served its purpose beautifully.

While I’m pretty sure I will always feel a rising rage when I get to a page where she’s mentioned – or when Imelda Staunton (who is probably a delightful woman, in real life) does that high pitched throat clearing – I am as invested in how her story ends as I am in how Harry’s does. And that’s what I want.

I want an emotional response to these characters. I want to care about their journey. When I reach that epic conclusion, I not only want to be happy the hero won, I want to be happy the villain lost. Because that’s a story I’ll remember.

So, I’ll keep looking for the character who smiles, lauds the health benefits of a glass of milk, cuts out the heart of the person he’s talking to, and calmly laments how difficult it will be to get the small blood stain out of his favorite tie. The character who dresses demurely, speaks softly, lays a comforting hand on the shoulder of a sad friend, ruins the lives of innocents, and brews herself a lovely cup of tea.

And I will be awash with warm and fuzzies when they reach their Crappily Ever After.

How about everyone else? What makes a villain memorable to you?

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