Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Likeable Villain

Most good stories need a good villain. Within society today, the villain is becoming increasingly humanized. No longer are villains a purely evil force working against the heroes. Instead, villains are characters with backstories, motivations, and other characteristics. 

The Black Knight at the Kaltenberger Ritterspiele
Photo Credit: Lori Klein
Recently, it seems increasingly that the villains, or rather the antagonists, may be a more admirable character than the protagonists themselves may. However, from a Christian standpoint, it seems wrong to like the antagonist. How can I reconcile my beliefs with my appreciation for a well-written antagonist?
Some examples of sympathetic antagonists include Loki from Thor, The Avengers, and Thor 2, Rumpelstiltskin from Once Upon a Time, and the phantom from Phantom of the Opera. I am certain that these characters may be debated as to their sympathetic qualities, but I find them to be likeable characters, even though they are villains.
Of course, not all villains have some tragic backstory. Many antagonists are great because they are characters readers like to hate. Some examples of these cruel villains are King Miraz from Prince Caspian, James Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes, and Letah Drahkôn from The Alliance Series.
As a writer, I may choose my favorite villains as models for my own. Yet, I have to be careful, for often times I may like a villain simply for his despicable nature. 
From the reader's perspective, I prefer the antagonists with redemptive quality, whether or not they really have an opportunity for change. Many recent writers seem to play on the audience's expectation of hope. Viewers and readers alike may hope for characters to act one way, but they act another.
I believe there is much to learn from antagonists, not just what not to do. Within my own life, I cannot play God, for people are capable of making their own decisions no matter how many ways I wish they would act.
However, I still struggle between liking villains and maintaining good character. As a Christian, I am called to think on things that are noble, pure, and virtuous (Philippians 4:8). Therefore, appreciating the antagonist may seem like indulging sin nature. While I may not strive to act like a villain, should I appreciate any of them at all?
What are your thoughts on antagonists? Do you have one or more whom you appreciate?
Literary References: Marvel’s The Avengers, ABC Studio’s Once Upon a Time, Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian from The Chronicles of Narnia, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes collection, L. Nicodemus Lyons’ The Alliance Series, and the Holy Bible.

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