Scar. Sauron. Dracula. Darth Vader. Professor Moriarty. The monster under the bed. The shadow that creeps upon the hero when he nears the end of his strength. That weird, creepy, robot-smoke-dragon-monster thing from LOST.
We all have our favourite bad guys. Whether from action movies, fairy tales, or romantic comedies there are certain characters that we love to watch as they get in the way of our heroes. We revel in their plotting and scheming, knowing that they will get what’s coming by the end.
Why do we have such a fascination with villains? I believe there are three reasons. First, they show us what would happen if we made choices that we’ve all been tempted to make. They are an exploration of the dark side that resides within us all. Secondly, they tend to be more developed and intricate than their heroic counterparts. They are motivated by a plethora of reasons to do what they do. Finally, they teach us what comes to those who embrace selfishness, greed, and evil. I want to talk through these thoughts as we explore our love for great villains.
Join the Dark Side
Each of us faces decisions each and every day. Some are of little moral importance: which shirt will I wear to work, or what cereal will I eat this morning? Yet other decisions are of a much greater moral implication: should I steal this shirt, or can I cheat on this test? There are rules, both legal and moral, that govern our world, and oftentimes these rules get in the way of our desires. Our consciences usually ensure that we colour within the lines and do as we’re told. But we don’t always want to.
We dream of sticking it to the man. Of taking what we want and driving away into the sunset (probably speeding…). And this is what villains do. They break the rules to get what they want. They kidnap the pretty girl because courting is far too bothersome. They conquer the stars because getting elected takes too much time. And somewhere, deep down inside, we all wish we could too. We live in a fallen world where good must fight against evil and sometimes we don’t want to fight it anymore.
But we live in a world of consequences, and fear of punishment can deter us from doing evil when our consciences fail to do so. In these times, we can live vicariously through our favourite villains. Shakespeare’s Iago does not let fear stop him from taking revenge on his former friend. He risks all to get what he wants. He pursues his goal with all he has.
Kneel Before My Withering Intellect and Power!
Good guys usually have one solid motivation for their actions: save the day. Now, this is a great motivation, and one I’m glad motivates our police, firefighters, doctors, and paramedics to do their jobs. But it can be fairly simple for a story. The bad guys, however, usually have a depth to their characters that draws us in.
I don’t think anyone is born evil. Circumstances must work out to create the monsters that inhabit our stories. They often start out like our heroes, but make a few wrong decisions along the way. They slowly descend into the evil that is waiting to embrace them. Their tendencies towards goodness and compassion have been overwhelmed by their ambition and greed. Several even have the best of intentions, but let the plan get in the way of human decency and empathy.
George Lucas knows how powerful a great bad guy can be. After spending three movies with Darth Vader as the villain, he created three more to tell the story of how he came to the Dark Side.
I Would Have Gotten Away With It Too…
Yet, in the end, he loses. Most of our enduring hero/villain stories end with the villain’s downfall. And for most of us, despite our love of a good villain, this feels right. I argue this is because there is something deep inside us that longs for good to win out over evil. This longing is so deep that many are comfortable in teaching this lesson to our children. Fairy tales end with the death of the monster.
I have a couple of quotes that I’ve been handed recently that sum up these thoughts:
“Fairy tales are more that true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – G. K. Chesterton
We all face our own villains, whether they be a cranky boss, an aggressive drug dealer, or the unjust actions of our society. Knowing that good can eventually win over evil not only reassures us, but strengthens us to take up our sword to fight ourselves!
“Since it is so likely that they [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. . . Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book” ~ C. S. Lewis
And so, let us honour our favourite bad guys, knowing that, in the end, they will get what’s coming to them.