This week’s theme is “Top Ten Villains & Criminals”…. hmm. It’s easy to remember our favorite heroes from fiction, but what about those infamous, nasty bad guys? Well, let’s see what I can come up with. Let me know what you think!
1. Dolores Umbridge – The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
-Okay, now, I said that “Javert” (#2) was going to be my first big, bad guy; but, yeah, I was wrong. The more I think back on all of my reading, the more I solidify my belief that Dolores Jane Umbridge, the “High Inquisitor” from Harry Potter, who has pupils carve scars into their hand during detention with evil, blood-drawing quills (things like: “I shall not tell lies”) is the most vile, awful villain of all time. She is even worse, in my opinion, than the series’ main “bad dude” Lord Voldemort. Why? Umbridge is supposed to represent “good!” She is an employee of the Ministry of Magic, the wizard agency established to protect magic and non-magic folk alike, and to protect the secrets of the wizarding world. She also becomes a teacher at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, so should be trusted to protect and care for (and educate) the students – she does none of these. Her horrible little giggle, her racist/xenophobic ideals, and her general undermining of progress all get me riled up in a way that no character has ever done before.
2. Javert – Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
-This is a tricky one, because, while the reader knows that Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Les Miserables, is a good and decent man, he is, in the eyes of the law and through misrepresentations of the people around him, a criminal and an escaped convict. This is why Javert, the upstanding policeman (and, sadly, he really is – his deep need to always do what is right leads him to thinking/acting based on binaries – what is black and white – when often there are shades of grey that he is overlooking) hunts and hounds Jean Valjean throughout the story, which spans years in the characters’ lives. At times, the reader wants to reach in and smack Javert around, because he is just so prejudiced against the label of “criminal” that he cannot see beyond this to the man (or woman) who has been labeled – even if that person has gone to extraordinary measures to do good for people, to help others, to actively engage, honestly, in society, etc.
3. “Sameness” and society – The Giver by Lois Lowry
-Now, obviously, the bad guy here is an idea, but Lowry is such a masterful story-teller that this idea seems to come to life and become the antagonist character. The character-idea is so dangerous and destructive to the principles of freedom and individuality, that I cannot help but include it as one of the most powerful and scary fictional (thank goodness) villains.
4. “The Firemen” – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
-Mine is a website devoted to the love of books, the benefits of reading, and the danger of censorship, so how could I possible avoid including this awful bunch of book-burners from one of the greatest futuristic American novels of all time? The firemen of Fahrenheit 451 are charged with the job of destroying books and of preventing critical thought through reading. People get ideas from books and, similarly to the society presented in The Giver, Bradbury’s communities find ideas “scary” and dangerous – so they make every effort to eliminate them. Fortunately, the hero, Guy Montag (a former Fireman) changes allegiance and goes on a quest to defeat the Firemen and save the books!
5. February – Light Boxes by Shane Jones
-Is it the month? Is it a person? Is it a man or a woman? Does it have supernatural powers? Is it a god or a man trapped in the clouds? Is it all made up? Whoever February is, he is cruel and juvenile. He bans flight in all its forms, even those as simple as hot air balloons and paper airplanes. He smashes the little town with snow and sleet, cold and ice. He tries to break their spirits with month after endless month of February. Light Boxes is a darkly whimsical story, and the antagonist, February, is never truly explained – perhaps he’s just a lonely, sad, self-conscious little boy, scared of being discovered but, either way – he is so wicked that the town is forced to flee and begin anew again, somewhere else (after many sacrifice their lives trying to fight February). This is a short book, and the characters are not developed as much as they would be in a longer book but, still, there is a sense of something cold and bitter about February, and this is enough for me to list him! Er.. it..she..?
6. Nurse Ratched – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
-I hate this woman. I know some might want to get into a debate about the nature of this character, and how she is really just a strong female character in an all-male world, which makes her appear harsh when she is really just trying to keep control, but I will not debate you on this because you are flat out wrong! Nurse Ratched is a mean, sadistic, heartless tyrant. She runs the psychiatric ward as a one-woman dictatorship, something like we might have seen in England of the 1600s, had Mary Queen of Scots come to power instead of Elizabeth I. She is controlling, patronizing, and passive-aggressive. She toys with “niceties” only to get what she wants from the patients, which is total control. The one patient who ends up making a stand, and who is likely the least “crazy” of the bunch, is fully lobotomized – on Ratched’s orders. He was a functioning, virile, stable (though “cowboy-esque” male who is stripped of his humanity – stripped of the ability to walk, talk, feed himself or even think for himself. She represents, I think, three things: 1) the burgeoning struggle between sex and power, coming to light in the 196s; 2) the nature of power and that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”; and 3) the incredibly ineffective and dangerous conditions of mental health facilities at the time (people were performing routine lobotomies as instant-fixes, and testing LSD on unwitting patients – shock therapy, sleep deprivation, etc.)
7. Mildred – Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
-I don’t even know what to say about this character. We have all, I think, known someone like Mildred. Most of us have probably even had our very own Mildred to deal with and to overcome. She is a childish, selfish, self-absorbed person, wholly concerned with what will benefit her, even if it is completely disadvantageous or even hurtful to another person. The main character of this novel, poor Philip Carey, is inexplicably taken by dear Mildred – likely because Mildred is less than attractive and probably in frail health. This probably attracts Philip because he is deformed and can, in a way sense and relate to weakness or “otherness” in someone else. Still, Philip goes out of his way, nearly killing himself at times, to care and provide for Mildred. He devotes his time, energy, and money to providing for her – surprising her, caring for her, and, eventually, even caring for her child, another man’s daughter, as his own. Mildred is so realistic and believable -someone we all know- and this allows the hatred to really boil!
8. The Mother – A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer
-If you have read or know about this story, you probably do not even need me to explain this character, or why she is on my “top villain” list. She is easy to hate, because she is an awful, terrifying woman. Pelzer writes her so well (she is, I believe, based on his real-life mother, which makes it both easier to believe and harder to comprehend) that I almost wanted to hunt the lady down and ensure she was arrested, committed, or otherwise out of society and away from children. Why did she hate her child so much? Where did this favoritism and fawning of one child come in, while the other was left to suffer and nearly die? It is impossible for a reasonable and sane person to understand the nature of this woman, and I think that is why – when written so well – she becomes so interesting, if disturbing.
9. Peter Lomax – The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin
-This was a truly disturbing story but, as it turns out, one which happens regularly, particularly now, with the advent of internet and other impersonal communications technologies. Peter Lomax is a young, teenage boy who begins a relationship with the book’s main character, Gabriel Noone. Lomax is put into contact with Noone through their mutual publisher. It turns out that Lomax has written a powerful book about the physical and sexual abuse he endured as a child, committed by his parents and their friends. The book was sent to Noone to review – and this created a sense of brotherhood between the two, Noone as older mentor, Lomax as young prodigy/protected. As it turns out, little Peter Lomax might not be a 13-year old boy after all. Gabriel Noone seems to have been “played” for months (throughout the course of the novel) – it costs him his personal relationships, his professional standing in the literary world, and it even disrupts his work as a radio talk show host. Perhaps we are supposed to have sympathy for “Peter” at the end, but I had none. I find the people who live these lies and drag others into their webs vile and reprehensible – but Maupin wrote it brilliantly!
10. “The Clique” – Blindness by Jose Saramago
-If you have not already read this book, you should. The story is about a rapidly-spreading epidemic, seemingly contained in one city (New York? Boston?) – which causes the infected to become blind, and which seems to spread through contact or by being in close proximity to the infected. As the epidemic is beginning to spread, the government (muscled by the army) sets up a facility where the newly blind are housed, fed, able to shower and sleep, etc. Eventually, as more and more people are infected, the facility becomes over-crowded – “cliques” form between wards, and soldiers are sometimes forced to act harshly in order to keep peace (until they, too, become blind). Eventually, one “Clique” takes over the compound, and they terrorize the other groups – demanding money, personal items, and, ultimately, sex from the other groups’ women in exchange for food and water. These groups cower until, at last, rebellion and break-out become unavoidable. The descriptions of “The Clique” and their horrible actions, particularly towards the women, make for a horrifying reading experience, but it is so realistic and well-written – it is worth struggling through to get to the end.