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fiction books villains

40 of the Best Villains in Literature

*insert evil laugh here.

Villains are the best. We may not love them in our lives, but they’re often the best part of our literature—on account of their clear power, their refusal of social norms, and most importantly, their ability to make stories happen. After all, if everyone was always nice and good and honest all the time, literature probably wouldn’t even exist.

To that end, below are a few of my favorites from the wide world of literary villainy. But what exactly does “best” mean when it comes to bad guys (and gals)? Well, it might mean any number of things here: most actually terrifying, or most compelling, or most well-written, or most secretly beloved by readers who know they are supposed to be rooting for the white hats but just can’t help it. It simply depends on the villain. Think of these as  noteworthy  villains, if it clarifies things.

This is not an exhaustive list, of course, and you are more than invited to nominate your own favorite evildoers in the comments section. By the way, for those of you who think that great books can be spoiled—some of them might be below. After all, the most villainous often take quite a few pages to fully reveal themselves.

quicksand tanizaki

The brilliance of Mitsuko (and the brilliance of this novel) is such that, even by the end, you’re not sure how much to despise her. She is such an expert manipulator, such a re-threader of the truth, that she is able to seduce everyone in her path (read: not only Sonoko but Sonoko’s husband) and get them to like it. Including the reader, of course. In the end, Sonoko is still so devoted to her that the grand tragedy of her life is the fact that Mitsu did not allow her to die alongside her.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

Because the very worst villain is . . . get this . . . actually inside you. Also, you just fell asleep one time and when you woke up it was your evil id and not you? We’ve heard that one before. (So has Buffy.)

The Children of Men, P. D. James

Sure, Xan is also a villain in this novel. But the real, big-picture villain, the thing that causes everything to dissolve, and people to start christening their kittens and pushing them around in prams, has to be the global disease that left all the men on earth infertile.

jaws benchley

A villain so villainous that (with the help of Steven Spielberg) it spawned a wave of shark paranoia among beach-goers. In fact, Benchley, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, was so horrified at the cultural response to his work that he became a shark conservationist later in life.

The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein

Take, take, take. This kid is the actual worst.

"The Final Problem," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A criminal mastermind— “the Napoleon of Crime,” as Holmes puts it—and the only person to ever give the good consulting detective any real trouble (other than himself). Though after countless adaptations, we now think of Moriarty as Holmes’s main enemy, Doyle really only invented him as a means to kill his hero, and he isn’t otherwise prominent in the series. Moriarty has become bigger than Moriarty.

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

The housekeeper so devoted to her dead ex-mistress that she’s determined to keep her memory alive—by goading her boss’s new wife to jump out of the window to her death. That’s one way to do it, I suppose.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

You could argue that it’s Harry who corrupts Dorian, and James who stalks and tries to murder him, but the  real  source of all this young hedonist’s problems is his own self-obsession. Sometimes I like to think about what this novel would be like if someone wrote it today, with Dorian as a social media star. . .

David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

Few villains are quite so aggressively ugly as Uriah Heep (even the name! Dickens did not go in much for subtlety). When we first meet him, he is described as a “cadaverous” man, “who had hardly any eyebrows, and no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown, so unsheltered and unshaded, that I remember wondering how he went to sleep. He was high-shouldered and bony; dressed in decent black, with a white wisp of a neckcloth; buttoned up to the throat; and had a long, lank, skeleton hand.” Some Dickens scholars apparently think that Heep was based on Hans Christian Andersen, in which case, mega burn—unless Andersen was into heavy metal .

The Witches, Roald Dahl

As “the most evil woman in creation,” she is on a mission to torture and kill as many children as possible, and often uses murder as a focusing device in meetings. She’s also kind of brilliant—I mean, murdering children by turning them into animals their parents want to exterminate? I have to say, that’s smart.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck

Cathy Ames is cold as ice—a sociopath who had to learn as a child how to mimic feelings to get by—but soon also learns how easy it is to manipulate, destroy lives, and murder people to amuse herself. Apparently all this is available to her because of her remarkable beauty. In the end, she has a single feeling of remorse and promptly kills herself.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

That’s right, I said it. Mired in self-pity! Sullen and annoying! Dresses up as a gypsy to mess with Jane’s mind! Keeps his first wife locked in the attic! Thinks he can marry a nice girl like Jane anyway! Gaslights her constantly! Whatever.

The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood

In Atwood’s retelling of the Grimm fairy tale “The Robber Bridegroom,” an evil temptress named Zenia steals the partners of three women (among many, one presumes). Roz, Charis, and Tony, however, use their mutual hurt and hatred to form a friendship—and unpack the many lies and revisions of herself Zenia has offered to each of them. But I can’t really put it better than Lorrie Moore did in a 1993 review of the novel:

Oddly, for all her inscrutable evil, Zenia is what drives this book: she is impossibly, fantastically bad. She is pure theater, pure plot. She is Richard III with breast implants. She is Iago in a miniskirt. She manipulates and exploits all the vanities and childhood scars of her friends (wounds left by neglectful mothers, an abusive uncle, absent dads); she grabs at intimacies and worms her way into their comfortable lives, then starts swinging a pickax. She mobilizes all the wily and beguiling art of seduction and ingratiation, which she has been able to use on men, and she directs it at women as well. She is an autoimmune disorder. She is viral, self-mutating, opportunistic (the narrative discusses her in conjunction with AIDS, salmonella and warts). She is a “man-eater” run amok. Roz thinks: “Women don’t want all the men eaten up by man-eaters; they want a few left over so they can eat some themselves.”

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray

A cynical, manipulative, intelligent beauty with many artistic talents and a premium can-do attitude at her disposal. You’ve never met a more dedicated hustler. By the end, the novel seems to judge her pretty harshly—but I’ve always loved her.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt

Oh, Henry—brooding, brilliant, bone-tired Henry. Some in the Lit Hub office argued that it was Julian who was the real villain in Donna Tartt’s classic novel of murder and declension, but I give Henry more credit than that. His villainy is in his carefulness, his coldness, his self-preservation at all costs. He is terrifying because we all know him—or someone who could oh-so-easily slide into his long overcoat, one winter’s night.

Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton

Isn’t it awesome? We can just make dinosaurs! There is no foreseeable problem with this. We can totally handle it.

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

Here’s another novel with multiple candidates for Supreme Villain—should it be the Binewski parents, who purposefully poison themselves and their children in order to populate their freak show? Or should it be Mary Lick, a sort of modern millionaire version of Snow White’s Evil Queen, who pays pretty women to disfigure themselves? I think we have to go with Arturo the Aqua Boy, the beflippered narcissist who grows into a cult leader, encouraging his followers to slowly pare away their body parts in a search for “purity.” (But for the record, it’s all of the above.)

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

It’s true that the monster is the murderer in Shelley’s classic novel—and also, you know, a monster—but it’s Dr. Frankenstein who decided he had to play God and build a creature in his own image without thought to the possible ramifications! Shelley treats him as a tragic figure, but that only makes him a much more interesting villain.

The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris

Made iconic by Anthony Hopkins, of course, but made brilliant and terrifying—a serial killing psychiatrist cannibal, come on—by Thomas Harris. “They don’t have a name for what he is.” Also, he has six fingers—though they’re on his left hand, so it couldn’t have been him who killed Mr. Montoya. Still, it puts him in rare company.

Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

Did you think the villain was the whale? The villain is not the whale—it’s the megalomaniac at the helm.

macbeth book cover

The villainess of choice for every man who has ever claimed his wife made him do it. But I’ve always found Lady Macbeth more interesting than Macbeth himself—she’s the brains behind the operation, not to mention the ambition. Her sleepwalking scene is one of the best and most famous of all of Shakespeare’s plays. Even this makes me shiver:

Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why, then, ’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?—Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.

The Woman in the Dunes, Kobo Abe

It may be the devious villagers who trick the poor etymologist into the sand pit, but it is the sand itself that is the main antagonist in this slim and wonderful novel. The sand that keeps coming, and must be shoveled back. The sand that constantly threatens to swallow everything: first the man, then the woman, then the village—though one assumes the villagers would replace him before that happened. Sand.

Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

In everyone’s favorite horror novel about America in the ’50s, onetime bohemians Frank and April Wheeler move to the ‘burbs, and find it. . . extremely stifling. But it’s not the suburbs exactly but the Wheelers’ inability to understand one another, their fear, their creeping, cumulative despair, that are the forces of destruction here.

“The book was widely read as an antisuburban novel, and that disappointed me,” Yates said in a 1972 interview .

The Wheelers may have thought the suburbs were to blame for all their problems, but I meant it to be implicit in the text that that was their delusion, their problem, not mine. . . I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs—a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price, as exemplified politically in the Eisenhower administration and the Joe McCarthy witch-hunts. Anyway, a great many Americans were deeply disturbed by all that—felt it to be an outright betrayal of our best and bravest revolutionary spirit—and that was the spirit I tried to embody in the character of April Wheeler. I meant the title to suggest that the revolutionary road of 1776 had come to something very much like a dead end in the fifties.

Never Mind, Edward St. Aubyn

Fathers don’t get much worse than David Melrose: cruel, brutal, and snobbish, a man who enjoyed humiliating his wife, who raped his young son, and who seemed to doom all those close to him to a life of pain. You could also argue that the British Aristocracy is the villain in the Patrick Melrose books, but . . . David is definitely worse (if slightly less all-encompassing).

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith

Here’s a villain you can’t help but root for—I mean, sort of. You feel his pain as he tries to insinuate himself into the life of the man he so admires (and perhaps loves), and as he is first welcomed and then pushed away. Less so when he murders his beloved and assumes his identity—but somehow, as you read, you find yourself holding your breath around every corner, hoping he will escape yet again.

Kindred, Octavia Butler

As slaveowners go, Rufus isn’t the worst (his father might rank) but he isn’t the best, either. He’s selfish and ignorant, and (like most men of the time) a brutal racist and misogynist, who doesn’t mind raping women as long as they act like they like it. Actually, the fact that he thinks he’s better than his father actually makes him worse. That said, the real antagonist in this novel might actually be the unknown and unexplained force that keeps transporting Dana from her good life in 1976 California to a Maryland slave plantation in 1815. What’s that about?

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey

Big Nurse rules the patients of the asylum ward with an iron fist. She is addicted to order and power, and can be quite cruel in commanding it. In comes McMurphy, our hero, who wants to undercut her. He does undercut her, in fact, a number of times—but when he goes too far, she has him lobotomized. The end! I know Ratched is meant to be evil, and it’s supposed to be depressing that she wins, but I can’t help but sort of like the fact that after a man chokes her half to death and rips off her shirt in an attempt to humiliate her (because no one with breasts can have power, you see!), she simply has him put down.

The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner

Who is  really  the villain in Rachel Kushner’s most recent novel? It can’t be Romy; serving a life sentence for killing a man who was stalking her. It can’t be the man himself, who didn’t quite understand what he was doing. It can’t be any of the prisoners, nor any of the guards in particular. Nor is this a book with no villain, because the pulsing sense of injustice is too great. It is the whole thing, every aspect, of the American prison system—meant to catch you and bleed you and keep you and bring you back—that is the true villain in this novel (and often, in real life).

1984, George Orwell

Of course it’s O’Brien who does most of the dirty work—but it’s Big Brother (be he actual person or nebulous invented concept) that really, um, oversees the evil here.

American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

He’s a shallow, narcissistic, greedy investment banker, and also a racist, a misogynist, an anti-Semite and a homophobe, and also a sadist and a murderer and a cannibal and Huey Lewis devotee. He’s also weirdly pathetic. Can’t really get any worse than that as a person—but as a character, he’s endlessly entertaining.

The Autumn of the Patriarch, Gabriel García Márquez

It’s José Ignacio Saenz de la Barra who is the most bloodthirsty, but the unnamed General (of the Universe) who is the most compelling villain in this novel: an impossibly long-lived tyrant who has borderline-magical control over the populace, and even the landscape, whose roses open early because, tired of darkness, he has declared the time changed; who sells away the sea to the Americans. He is desperately unhappy; he considers himself a god. Luckily, we get to spend almost the entire novel within his twisting brain.

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

The genius of old Hum is how compelling he is—that is, despite the horrible thing he spends the entire novel doing (kidnapping a young girl whose mother he has murdered, driving her around the country and coaxing her into sexual acts, self-flagellating and self-congratulating in equal measure), you are charmed by him, half-convinced, even, by his grand old speeches about Eros and the power of language. In the end, of course, no amount of fancy prose style is enough to make you forget that he’s a murderer and worse, but for this reader, it’s pure pleasure getting there.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

The slave-hunting Ridgeway, Whitehead writes, “was six and a half feet tall, with the square face and thick neck of a hammer. He maintained a serene comportment at all times but generated a threatening atmosphere, like a thunderhead that seems far away but then is suddenly overhead with a loud violence.” He’s a little more interesting and intelligent than a simple brute—in part due to that sidekick of his—which only makes him more frightening as a character. Tom Hardy is a shoo-in for the adaptation .

Misery, Stephen King

Listen: Annie Wilkes is a fan. She’s a big fan. She  loves  Paul Sheldon’s novels about Misery Chastain, and she is devastated to discover—after rescuing Sheldon from a car wreck—that he has killed off her beloved character. Things do not then go well for Paul, because as it turns out, Annie is already a seasoned serial killer who is very handy (read: murderous) with household objects.

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

The government that has taken control of America in the world of Atwood’s classic dystopia is a fundamentalist theocracy whose leaders have eliminated the boundary between church and state—and worse, have twisted religious principles and political power in an attempt to utterly subjugate all women, erasing their identities and allowing them to exist only so far as they may be of use to the state. It is super fucked up and exactly what I worry about in a country where fundamentalists have any among of political power.

jemisin fifth season

It’s pretty hard to fight back when the thing you’re fighting is the earth itself, which punishes those who walk upon it with extreme, years-long “seasons” of dramatic and deadly climate change. Ah, Evil Earth!

Othello, William Shakespeare

The worst villain is the one who knows you best—the one you might even love. The scariest motive is the lack of one—what Coleridge called Iago’s “motiveless malignity.” The most interesting villain is the one who has even more lines than the titular hero. He is a fantastic villain, a dangerous trickster, whose character has stumped (and intrigued) critics for centuries.

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

Possibly the most terrifying character in modern literature (or any literature?), Glanton’s deputy is over six feet tall and completely hairless. More importantly, despite the fact that he might be a genius, he inflicts senseless and remorseless violence wherever he goes. The man murders (and, it is suggested, rapes) children and throws puppies to their doom. He might actually be the devil—or simply evil itself.  He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.

Beloved, Toni Morrison

This entire novel is based on a single idea: that a loving mother might murder her baby daughter to save her from life as a slave. Sure, the slavers are bad (and the schoolteacher is particularly chilling). Sure, you could make an argument that the vengeful spirit Beloved’s presence is destructive, splintering further an already fractured family. But these are only symptoms, in this the Great American Novel, of the Great American Sin.

The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri

The obligatory first place in the scheme of literary evildoers: Satan himself. Though honestly, as depictions of the devil go, Dante’s is somewhat less than fearsome—not least because he too must suffer all the pains and indignities of Hell, tortured and torturing, crying from all six of his eyes as he chomps on Judas Iscariot.

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Emily Temple

Emily Temple

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The greatest villains of literature: best literary villains revealed

These are the ultimate bad folks in print.

The greatest villains of literature: best literary villains revealed

To have a hero, you need a villain. And in the annals of literary history, there have been some downright scoundrels, to put it mildly - as this best literary villains guide showcases.

No deed is too dark, no action too despicable for this list of utter reprobates.

We've selected 40 of the very worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) literary villains of all time.

You should feel very very glad that these dastardly characters are confined to the pages of the books that contain them.

If we've missed any vile villains, let us know in the comments below.

The best villains in literature

The best villains in literature

1 . Judge Holden (Blood Meridian)

Author: Cormac McCarthy

Judge Holden is, apparently, a real, historical figure, though evidence is minimal. After reading Blood Meridian, we'd suggest that we hope he was entirely made-up, seeing as Holden is the devil incarnate, leading a pack of criminals into robbery, rape and murder, throwing in a touch of paedophilia along the way. A seven-foot monster, with pale white skin, McCarthy paints him as almost supernatural in ability, but also in badness. A true villain of the peace in every way.

The best villains in literature

2 . Sauron (Lord Of The Rings)

Author: JRR Tolkien

Tyrannical ring bearer Sauron's insatiable lust for power provides the foundation for his villainy in the Lord of The Rings trilogy. Desperately seeking the tenth ring in order to bind the magical power that surrounds it, Sauron will stop at nothing to achieve his evil goal, including torturing the little critter Gollum to find the missing ring's whereabouts. He's the all-seeing eye and a source of true evil and villainy to the arbiters of good.

The best villains in literature

3 . Professor Moriarty (The Final Problem)

Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

The good detective's arch-nemesis ruled the criminal underground of London and this evil mastermind was one of the few who actually rivaled Sherlock's intellectual capacity. Ruthless, vindictive and remorseless, he will stop at nothing to destroy Sherlock. One critic has epitomised Moriarty as "crime itself", whilst Sherlock himself describes him as the "Napoleon of Crime."

The best villains in literature

4 . Hannibal Lecter (Red Dragon)

Author: Thomas Harris

Not only a psychotic murderer, Hannibal Lecter took it one more step too far by sinking his teeth into cannibalism. Having been consulted as a psychiatrist by the FBI on a series of murders, Lecter helps agent Will Graham through the case before revealing that it was him who committed the crimes. Following a lengthy incarceration in a mental facility, Lecter is approached by Graham to catch another culprit by the name of the Tooth Fairy; Lecter finds him and leads the murderer to Graham's home, with an order to kill him and his family.

The best villains in literature

5 . Randall Flagg (The Stand)

Author: Stephen King

Any character whose face would "make small children crash their trikes into board fences and then run wailing to their mommies with stake-shaped splinters sticking out of their knees", surely deserves credit as one of the greatest villains. Following a plague that has killed most of the population, Flagg tries to reinstate a certain civilisation run on tyranny and brute force, using crucifixion, dismemberment and other instruments of terror to punish those who are disloyal.

The best villains in literature

6 . Count Dracula (Dracula)

Author: Bram Stoker

Vampire lovers of late might contest this one, but Count Dracula is the ultimate blood-sucking villain. Different from traditional Eastern European vampires, Dracula's charm is what makes him all the more villainous; enticing victims by seducing them, only to inflict a fatal bite.

The best villains in literature

7 . Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest)

Author: Ken Kesey

A true monster of a woman, Nurse Ratched is every hospital nightmare rolled into one ultra-villainous character. Ruling over a mental institution with absolute power, she uses fear, humiliation and brutality to abuse her vulnerable patients - at least, until Randle McMurphy arrives. Next time you have a slightly cold, unfriendly nurse remember - it could be a whole lot worse.

The best villains in literature

8 . Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)

Author: Rudyard Kipling

He had a tough start in life, being born with a crippled leg, and given a derogatory nickname by his own mother ("Lungri - the lame one"), but that doesn't excuse Shere Khan becoming the villainous creature that he did. Scheming to disrupt the Wolf Pack and claim the life of young Mowgli, this evil tiger will stop at nothing to obtain his prey. A tough upbringing is no excuse you know (his Dad was probably quite nice).

The best villains in literature

9 . Napoleon (Animal Farm)

Author: George Orwell

Just to start things off, this little piggy's character is based on Joseph Stalin. Ruling with an iron trotter, Napoleon ousts fellow pig leader Snowball and subsequently takes over the animal's uprising as the President of Animal Farm, eventually turning his leadership into a dictatorship. His tyranny knows no bounds, as he initiates a wave of terror, in which he orders the deaths of several animals on the farm after coercing them into 'confessions' of wrongdoing.

The best villains in literature

10 . Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter)

Author: J.K. Rowling

Years: 1997-2007

A foe so fearsome that people are scared to say his name out loud. 'You-Know-Who', 'The Dark Lord' and 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named' are some of his more snappy nicknames, but we shouldn't joke, for Rowling herself described him as "the most evil wizard for hundreds and hundreds of years" - that's pretty evil. Harry Potter's nemesis and a psychopath with a skull-like face, red eyes and snake-like slits for nostrils, he's unlikely to win any beauty contests: a vile and villainous creature all round.

The best villains in literature

11 . Annie Wilkes (Misery)

Mentally unstable Annie takes Paul Sheldon in after he breaks both his legs in an accident. As the writer of her favourite novels, Wilkes' reveals a psychotic obsession for him and his books, taking him hostage, subjecting him to psychological and physical torture and forcing him to write his latest novel how she wants it. It's also revealed that she's an infamous serial killer. She stabs a state trooper with a wooden cross and runs him over with a lawnmower, after having chopped Sheldon's foot off with an axe, setting it alight with a blowtorch.

The best villains in literature

12 . Iago (Othello)

Author: William Shakespeare

Iago, the scoundrel, hates Othello so much that he tricks him into believing that his wife is having an affair with his Lieutenant. The sneaky devil plans a vendetta against him, driving Othello to kill his own wife. Noted as one of Shakespeare's most sinister villains, Iago possesses carefully nurtured qualities of deception and manipulation. You might not shake in terror if you met him in a dark alley, but if you've wronged him, you'd pay.

The best villains in literature

13 . Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)

Author: Bret Easton Ellis

To call Patrick Bateman a villain is probably underplaying it a little. A wealthy and successful investment banker yes - but also a violent psychopath, whose hobbies include drug addiction, murder, rape, cannibalism, mutilation and necrophilism. Of course, whether or not any of the violent acts described actually happen or are just figments of his own imagination is open to debate, but this is his story and he is the undisputed villain of it, so in he goes to the list.

The best villains in literature

14 . The White Witch (The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe)

Author: CS Lewis

Well, she actually killed Christmas. In the land of Narnia, where the snow always falls, The White Witch prevents Christmas from coming. Strike one. She banished all sense of happiness and hope. Strike two. She turns her enemies into stone. Strike three. On top of that, she's generally quite dispassionate, cruel and uses her magic to terrorise her enemies. Cold and heartless; most definitely one of the most fearsome "children's" baddies ever.

The best villains in literature

15 . Agatha Trunchbull (Matilda)

Author: Roald Dahl

Children's books get all the best villains, and Roald Dahl created more than most. The worst of a despicable bunch is Mrs Agatha Trunchbull, headmistress of Crunchem Hall Elementary School. A cruel sadist who hates children (ideal for a teacher), tortures them in a glass-and-nail-filled cupboard known as "The Chokey" and torments her nicest member of staff, Ms Honey, Trunchbull is a true bully, and a fantastic villain.

The best villains in literature

16 . Satan (Paradise Lost)

Author: John Milton

The ultimate villain in literature, Milton's continuation of the Biblical figure is a depiction of maleficence at its darkest. The self-indulgent fallen angel aims to destroy, embarking on a vendetta against his creator. He's the basis of evil upon which we have founded our opinion of villainy on so is fully deserving of a place on this list.

The best villains in literature

17 . Alec D'Urberville (Tess Of The D'Urbervilles)

Author: Thomas Hardy

“I was born bad, and I have lived bad, and I shall die bad, in all probability.” Evidence: he takes a liking to innocent, country bumpkin Tess, entices her into his home and forcibly steals her virginity in the mist, branding her impure. He then manipulates her into thinking her one true love isn't returning to her. But it's fine because Tess gets her own back in the end. Doesn't make him any less of a bastard though.

The best villains in literature

18 . Long John Silver (Treasure Island)

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

One legged pirate Long John Silver was the first man to instil fear in Captain Flint. A manipulative and fearful pirate, Silver gains the trust of protagonist Jim Hawkins, only to reveal himself to be the leader of a mutiny, planning to murder the ship's officers once the treasure is found. Jim catches Silver murdering Tom, one of the crew's loyal seaman. Gives pirates a bad, if not rather fitting, name.

The best villains in literature

19 . Captain Hook (Peter Pan And Wendy)

Author: JM Barrie

He's got a hook for a hand, he's a pirate, and he hates Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. There you go. Apparently, he's also apparently the only man who Long John Silver ever feared. He loathes Peter Pan for hacking off his hand and feeding it to a crocodile, as well as for Peter and the Lost Boy's innate moral goodness. He captures Wendy, challenging Peter Pan to a final duel. He gets an ending that is well and truly deserved.

The best villains in literature

20 . Mr Dark (Something Wicked This Way Comes)

Author: Ray Bradbury

The dark and evil villain of Ray Bradbury's fantastical classic, Mr Dark specialises in luring vulnerable souls into joining the carnival - something which is nowhere near as fun as it sounds. He bears tattoos on his body, one for every victim, and cannot abide positivity or affection. To be honest, we really should have guessed that he wasn't a good guy from the name.

The best villains in literature

21 . Nils Bjurman (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)

Author: Stieg Larsson

This guy could possibly be one of the worst (or best) modern super villains. After the guardian of Lisbeth Sander becomes seriously ill, Nils Bjurman is assigned as her new guardian. He is a sexual sadist who manipulates Lisbeth, only allowing her access to her funds if she performs sexual acts. After a horrific rape scene (which Lisbeth tapes as collateral), Lisbeth gets her own back by tattooing "I'm a sadistic rapist pig" on his stomach. A loathsome villain at his best.

The best villains in literature

22 . Cathy Ames (East Of Eden)

Author: John Steinbeck

Described in the novel as a "psychic monster", and having a "malformed soul", it's safe to say that Cathy Ames is a high-ranking villain. From a young age, it is clear that Cathy is sexually depraved, causing harm to anyone she holds a relationship with. She manipulates men by using her promiscuity and sexual identity against them; she accuses two young boys of raping her as well as leading her Latin professor to suicide with her wily ways. Perhaps one of the worst events is Cathy's attempt at a primitive abortion using knitting needles. When she fails and gives birth to two sons, she feels nothing for them. She poisons her beneficiary and turns her brothel into a sadistic sex den.

The best villains in literature

23 . Richard III (Richard III)

In his opening speech, Richard III says it himself: "I am determined to prove a villain //And hate the idle pleasures of these days." And a villain he does prove. The hunchback whose jealousy of his brother's accession to the throne leads to a plot to have his brother, Clarence, conducted to the Tower of London; he orders two murderers to kill Clarence in the tower. Throughout the play he openly outlines his evil intentions and shows no remorse.

The best villains in literature

24 . Grendel (Beowulf)

Author: Unknown

The mythical villain of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, Grendel is commonly regarded as a monster, and a descendent of the first Biblical murderer, Cain. He is feared by all except the hero Beowulf - and quite right too, seemingly being a big fan of killing and eating anyone he finds in the mead-hall of Heorot. For that reason alone, he must be ranked as one of the greatest villains of all: if you can't feel safe in a mead-hall, then you can't feel safe anywhere. I'm sure he blames his genes, but it's no excuse Mr. Grendel.

The best villains in literature

25 . Humbert Humbert (Lolita)

Author: Vladimir Nabokov

Humbert, the narrator of Lolita, uses wordplay and humour in his writing, whilst also seemingly expressing regret for many of his actions, but the fact remains that he is a paedophile, taking the young 12-year-old Dolores, aka Lolita, and leading her into a life of abuse at his hands. Nabokov's genius lies in making us almost sympathise with him - but he remains a undisputed villain.

The best villains in literature

26 . Milo Minderbinder (Catch-22)

Artist: Joseph Heller

An unashamed mercenary, who cares only for himself, and his own profit, Milo Minderbinder is a tremendous literary villain. He will stop at nothing to achieve monetary gain, playing the black market, and working on both sides during the Second World War; even when it involves actions that will kill his own countrymen. Utterly immoral, and utterly committed to pure capitalism, Minderbender only answers to himself and his god: money.

The best villains in literature

27 . Kevin (We Need To Talk About Kevin)

Author: Lionel Shriver

That Kevin is the sociopath behind a school massacre should be evidence enough for his villainy. He also hates his mother, manipulates a girl into gouging her eczema affected skin, and it's implied that he is behind an accident in which his sister loses an eye. Not exactly the makings of a President. His remorselessness is eerie as his mother visits him in prison, trying to understand why he killed all those children. His lack of justification is chilling - a testament to his truly villainous qualities.

The best villains in literature

28 . Medea (Medea)

Author: Euripides

Year: 431BC

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Despite leaving her own barbarian people in order to marry Jason, a Greek, then saving him from a dragon, he has decided to leave her to marry a royal princess. Typical man - leave when a better offer comes along. She then proceeds to go on a truly murderous rampage, with Jason's new spouse, together with his new father-in-law being poisoned. The coup de gras comes when, in order to hurt Jason even more, she kills their own children. Think twice before cheating people. Think twice.

The best villains in literature

29 . Svidrigailov (Crime And Punishment)

Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This guy is an evil force to be reckoned with. The protagonist's theory of the ubermensch is realised in Svidrigailov; he is the epitome of selfishness. Aside from adultery, he's also revealed to be a child molester, and even attempts to rape Dounia. He incites the suicide of a fifteen year old deaf girl as well as one of his servants, and is thought to have poisoned his own wife. Bad man.

The best villains in literature

30 . Norman Bates (Psycho)

Author: Robert Bloch

A woman is found dead in Bates' apartment. Bates is convinced it is his mother, but it is revealed that Mrs Bates committed suicide years earlier, taking her lover with her. In actual fact, Bates' villainy is revealed in a dark secret: he was the one who killed his mother and her lover. His dissociative personality disorder causes him to assume the identity of his mother, Norma, who was the one who murdered Mary. Here's the kicker: he stole and preserved her corpse, dressed up in her clothes and spoke to himself in her voice. Psycho indeed.

The best villains in literature

31 . The Wicked Witch Of The West (The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz)

Author: L. Frank Baum

No-one knows the backstory of The Wicked Witch of the West, or her co-conspirators, The Wicked Witch of the South and the Wicked Witch of the East - maybe they were all bullied at school - but they were definitely witches, and definitely wicked. Old, dry, and wizened, she tries to thwart our heroes with plagues of wolves, crows, bees and soldiers, but to no avail. And she even hits Toto the dog with her umbrella. Now that's unforgivable.

The best villains in literature

32 . Uriah Heep (David Copperfield)

Author: Charles Dickens

Another of Dickens' dastardly villains, Uriah Heep is perhaps the most cloying of all of them, being patronising and insincere whilst using manipulation to hide his true motivation: pure greed. Employing blackmail, fraud and treachery to gain control of the Wickfield Fortune, Heep's character is so ubiquitous that paragons of virtue such as Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson have been compared to him. A vile villain from the master of vile villains.

The best villains in literature

33 . Bill Sykes (Oliver Twist)

A cruel and vicious man, a criminal and murderer, Sykes' lawless behaviour leads him into a life of destitution and immorality, taking up with a prostitute and carrying out petty crimes. Despite Nancy's love for him, Sykes brutally murders her when he thinks she has betrayed him. The murder is especially graphic and gruesome, especially for a Dickens novel.

The best villains in literature

34 . Cruella De Vil (The Hundred And One Dalmations)

Author: Dodie Smith

We'll cut straight to the chase here: Ms de Vil kidnaps puppies in order to skin them and use their fur. And not just any puppies: really cute spotty puppies. And if that's not enough for the internet to implode, she also abuses her Persian cat and drowns kittens. Do you need any more evidence? No. Case closed.

The best villains in literature

35 . He (Bambi, A Life In The Woods)

Author: Felix Salten

Oh yes, we haven't forgotten. The single, saddest event of everyone's childhood (bar not getting that Lego Pirate Ship for Christmas) was the moment when Bambi's mother got shot. Therefore, the un-named 'He' who committed the most unforgivable crime in literary history, must rank as one of the greatest villains of all time. No, we're not crying; it's just been raining on our faces.

The best villains in literature

36 . Simon Legree (Uncle Tom's Cabin)

Author: Harriet Beacher Stowe

Vicious slave owner Simon Legree exhibits a remorseless, inhuman cruelty, as he brutally beats Tom after he refuses to whip a fellow slave. He despises Tom for his religious faith and tries his best to break him, although Tom refuses to succumb to his terror. He sexually manipulates slaves Cassey and Emmeline, and eventually orders Tom to be whipped to death because of his religion.

The best villains in literature

37 . Mephistopholes (Doctor Faustus)

Author: Christopher Marlowe

A demonic figure from German folklore, put into literature by Marlowe, Mephistopholes is a servant of Lucifer, charged with collecting the souls of the damned. When Faustus decides to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for Mephistopoles' supernatural powers, he does initially try to dissuade him from making the trade; however, he doesn't try too hard to change Faustus' mind and, is thoroughly useless to him once the trade has been made. Evil, untrustworthy, Lucifer's mate: he definitely deserves his place in the villainous hall of fame.

The best villains in literature

38 . Blofeld (Thunderball)

Author: Ian Fleming

Break Bond down into its constituent elements and what have you got? The girls, the gadgets, the Martinis and most importantly, the villains. Fleming created so many fantastic rogues that it's hard to pick one, but we're going with the devilish Ernst Stavro Blofeld, an evil genius, "number 1" and head of SPECTRE. The, erm, poster boy for all supervillains since - yes, including Dr. Evil - and he comes with his own cat to manically stroke.

The best villains in literature

39 . Henry Crawford (Mansfield Park)

Author: Jane Austen

The list would not be complete without a true love rat, and they come no finer than Henry Crawford. Wealthy and flamboyant, he cuts a swathe through the women of Mansfield Park and, just when it seems that he might be a decent man, loses patience and attempts to elope with a married woman - certainly not the done thing in Austen's world. A rogue and a cad and a beastly villain.

The best villains in literature

40 . Pinkie Brown (Brighton Rock)

Author: Graham Greene

Pinkie is a character that believes himself to be "pure evil", and we're probably not going to dispute that with him. A violent sociopath, who carries out horrific acts of murder and abuse with seemingly no remorse. Feared by members of his own gang -and all this at the age of 17. He hates women and has no friends. Anyone going to say he's not a great villain? We thought not.

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The 50 greatest horror villains in fiction

A list of blood-curdling book antagonists, from bloodsuckers to sea-monsters, cannibals to serial killers, vengeful ghosts to politicians.

Mutilate a pumpkin, carve a pentagram on the floor: it's Halloween, the one time of year we get to celebrate the darker side of things. 

But what is it about great villains that we adore so much? Simply: vice is a hell of a lot more glamorous than ordinary, boring, bed-by-nine virtue. 

Maybe it has something to do with the sheer variety of devilry that we find so alluring – the monsters under the bed, the serial killers at the window, the beasts that lurk inside our darkest fears. Or, to mutilate Anna Karenina 's famous principle: all saints are alike; each sinner sins in its own way. 

But how do you choose a favourite? Well, we couldn't, so we chose 50 instead. Happy Halloween.

1. Big Brother

2. judge holden.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Seven-feet tall, bald as a pebble and as remorseless as Death himself, The Judge might be the most terrifying character in literature. He never sleeps, dances and fiddles with the gusto of a man half his age and murders children. He's an albino enigma and the physical embodiment of eternal war. Basically Moby Dick in cowboy boots.

3. The boy with the scissors

The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson (2012)

In this gorgeous children's book about the beauty of memory and dealing with death, a little girl loves her string of paper dolls. Until, that is, a little boy comes along with a pair of scissors and – snip, snip – chops them into pieces. Don't let his rosy cheeks and rainbow scarf fool you: he's pure evil, Death made flesh... he'd might as well be dressed in a black hood and cloak.

4. Count Dracula

5. pennywise.

IT by Stephen King (1986)

The homicidal harlequin of Hell himself – Stephen King's dream clown with the “clotted, chuckling voice” who invites children to “float” in the sewers with him. And by “float” he means he'll drag them to his subterranean lair where he'll feast on their fear until they're face-down in dirty water.

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

Ayoola is the eponymous sister who carries a knife in her handbag “the way other women carry tampons.” And let's just say she doesn't use it to carve her name in trees. She is beautiful, too, with a body, literally, to die for (“a figure eight — like a Coca-Cola bottle”). And she manipulates her sister Korede into helping her hide the bodies of the boyfriends she remorselessly kills.

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

Recently freed from slavery, Sethe moves into a house that is “full of a baby's venom.” The baby in question, is the one Sethe killed 18 years earlier to save her from the life she escaped. Now, that baby is back to haunt Sethe in the form of a young woman who inveigles herself into Sethe's mind, breathing her “lively spite” through the house – a literal manifestation of Sethe's grief and the horrors of slavery.

9. Captain Ahab

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

You thought the giant whale was the villain? No, the real evil in Melville's masterpiece seethes deep within the man who wants to kill him. Fuelled by toxic vengeance for the white leviathan that took his leg, Captain Ahab's only love in life is hatred – for the whale, for dry land and, above all, for himself.

10. Tyler Durden

11. the sea witch.

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen (1837)

Looking for everlasting love? Simple, just pop down to the bottom of the sea and the Sea Witch will see you right. The only catch? She'll cut out your tongue; give you legs that cause you unimaginable pain when you walk; and, if you fail to win the love of a dreamboat prince, you'll die of a broken heart and dissolve excruciatingly into sea foam.

12. Hannibal Lecter

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris (1981)

The cannibal king of literature. The emperor of anthropophagy. The gourmand of gastro-murder. Hannibal Lecter is never satisfied with merely killing you; his savagery is far too sophisticated. No, he must sautee your brains and pair your liver with “fava beans and a fine chianti”. That, or just convice you to kill yourself with his psychiatric powers.

13. Hill House

14. the birds.

The Birds by Daphne du Maurier (1952)

The birds don't need weapons to kill you – they were born with beaks, bills, nebs and mandibles. If they were capable of complex emotions you'd call them angry. But they're not capable of complex emotions, they're driven only by an ineffable compulsion to peck you to death because you're a human and they are birds – a vast and emotionless horde of blood-lusting birds.

15. Patrick Bateman

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis (1991)

He's the ginning face of Wall Street, a monster with a gold-trim business card; far less turned on by “mergers and acquisitions” than he is by “murders and executions”. Shudderingly remote from human life and driven by an unquenchable lust for blood and sexual power, Bateman pleasures in turning murder into art, and our stomachs to mush.

16. Edward Rochester

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

Dorian Gray is an unquestionably awful guy – certainly not the type you'd want to visit your first Chinese opium den with. But vanity is the real villain in Wilde's classic. And once Gray drinks from vanity's cup, it bleeds through his soul like red wine on a wedding dress.

18. Mephistopheles

Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlow (1592)

The Devil's messenger, Hell's keeper of secrets and, more importantly, its contracts. You want everything you ever dreamed of in life? Sure, he can arrange that for a small price. That price, of course, being your body and soul, consigned to the fires of Hell for the rest of eternity.

19. The Grand High Witch

20. norman bates.

Psycho by Robert Bloch (1959)

He's a psychotic serial killer who dresses up as his dead mother and murders people thinking he is her. And as if that weren't creepy enough, he keeps her mummified corpse in his motel for company.

21. The Silver House

White is for Witching  by Helen Oyeyemi (2006)

The notion of a haunted - or haunting - house has been a crucial part of female-written gothic literature since it emerged in the late 18th century. But Helen Oyeyemi gave it a fresh lick of paint in 2009 with her chilling coming-of-age novel. The Silver House causes its residents to behave uncannily, it's true, but Oyeyemi deftly shows that there are just as many very real horrors lurking outside its walls, too.

22. Humbert Humbert

23. sadako yamamura.

Ring by Koji Suzuki (1991)

She's the vengeful ghost of a psychic girl brutally murdered by her father and left to rot at the bottom of a well. But her psychic powers cannot be curbed by something so trifling as death. So she returns in the form of a cursed video tape to wreak vengeance on all humanity. Once watched, the tape will kill you in seven days... unless you pass it on to someone else.

24. Cruella De Vil

The Hundred and One Dalmatians   by Dodie Smith (1956)

If you were scared by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – about a deranged killer who wears the skin of his victims on his face – imagine how dogs must feel about Cruella de Vil. The embodiment of sloth and greed, she is selfish, spoiled and has a volcanic temper... and her sole purpose in life is to skin dogs and wear them as couture.

25. The White Witch

The Chronicles Of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (1950-1956)

She can hear your thoughts, turn dissenters to ice, control the seasons and her cackle carries on the wind like an untreatable airborne virus. But you're still not convinced of her sheer purity of evil, consider this: she cancelled Christmas. Need I go on?

26. The Woman in Black

27. tom ripley.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)

The real horror inside Tom Ripley is that he's so polite, likeable and charmingly starry-eyed, you find yourself willing him to succeed in his campaign of remorseless manipulation, murder and identity-theft.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003)

A psychopathic misanthrope of the highest order, Kevin is a morality vacuum who hates his mother, goads a girl with eczema into gouging her own skin, and possibly behind the "accident" that left his sister without an eye. Then he massacres a group of children after luring them in his school's gym. If there were ever an argument that some people are just born evil, Kevin is it.

29. Nurse Ratched

30. steerpike.

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (1946)

Calm, calculating and driven only by his own self-interest, he creeps about the crumbling corridors of Gormanghast castle manipulating and murdering his way to the top. As one character observes when she looks into his eyes: “Close-set nostrils they were, not so much eyes as narrow tunnels through which the night was pouring.” The original worm-tongue of duplicity, and one of the creepiest baddies in fiction.

31. Agatha Trunchbull

Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)

A headteacher who hates children? There are plenty of those in the real world, but none who hates them so much that she denies having ever been one herself. And certainly none who takes such pleasure in publicly humiliating her wards, throwing them over fences for wearing pigtails or force-feeding them cake in assembly is, in Dahl's words, "more like an eccentric and rather bloodthirsty follower of the stag-hounds than the headmistress of a nice school for children".

32. Richard III

33. simon legree.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe (1852)

Literature is not short of monstrous slave owners, but Simon Legree is down there with the worst of them. He is as happy to have an enslaved person whipped to death for believing in God as he is to spur an unbroken horse refusing a saddle. He is a sexual predator and a violent sadist – one of the vilest characters in all literature.

34. Aunt Lydia

The Handmaid's Tale  and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (1985 and 2019)

Few figures in The Handmaid's Tale are more ruthlessly terrifying than Aunt Lydia, the imperious instructor who brainwashes, manipulates and tortures handmaids into obedience. But what makes her truly horrifying is not just her cruelty, but also her gender: a woman (a former family court judge, no less) indoctrinating other women into sexual servitude under Gilead's violently patriarchal new world order.

35. Cthulhu

36. rufus weylin.

Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

He's a slaveowner with a conscience, which only makes him more despicable. Rufus Weylin is petulant, needy and selfish – a pathetic mysoginist who craves the love of his enslaved people but also doesn't mind raping them so long as the pretend they enjoy it.

37. Mr. Dark

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1962)

Mr. Dark will grant you your wildest dreams in return only for your soul to fuel his sinister travelling carnival where laughter goes to die. Want to be young again? Sure, you just have to ride his creaky merry-go-round backwards, to the tune of the funeral march, to take a year off your age with every revolution. The only catch: you must live in a child's body with the mind of an old person forever. But his covenants are bespoke, and he'll find the payment that best fits your needs.

38. Mr. Hyde

Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974)

She's the teeth of the sea, the monster of the deep blue, the hulking mass of murderous flesh that will rise silently from the dark and tear you limb from limb because that's just what evolution has hardwired her to do. The book (and the subsequent movie franchise) caused Benchley such guilt over the shark stigma he spawned that he became a shark conservationist in later life.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkein (1954)

If you've ever lost your wedding ring down the kitchen sink, you have an idea how of Sauron felt. The all-powerful necromancer is what happens when Big Brother gets a little too obsessed with jewellery, and will stop at nothing to get his bling back. Of course, anything's easier to find when you have an all-seeing eye that “pierces cloud, shadow, earth, and flesh”. And plugholes, presumably.

41. Alec D'Urberville

42. pinkie brown.

Brighton Rock by Grahame Green (1938)

A teetotal 17-year-old Catholic gang leader who roams wind-swept Brighton armed with a razor blade, a bottle of acid and a hatred for all humanity (especially women), Pinkie is the embodiment of pure evil – the Devil with a baby face.

43. Joe Goldberg

You by Caroline Kepnes (2014)

A truly dedicated villain grabs you by the throat and tightens his grip page by page. Joe Goldberg is that villain, a stomach-turningly vile manifestation of unconscionable evil and sexual predation. He is a psychopath and a misogynist who sees women only as the sum total of their sexual organs. He hates women, while also wanting to possess them entirely. That, of course, starts with stalking and ends in kidnap, imprisonment and murder.

44. The Crocodile

45. the demon headmaster.

The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross (1982-present)

A headteacher who wears sunglasses can mean one of two things: he's either desperately hungover, or he's a megalomaniacal alien warlord who uses his glowing green eyes to hypnotise his victims in his bid to take over the world. Either way, the sunglasses are a definite red flag.

46. Maynard Spencer

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (2019)

The cruelty inflicted on the students at the nightmarish Nickel Academy comes from nearly every aspect of life at the school – and every aspect of that life is controlled by Maynard Spencer, its abusive, manipulative superintendent.

47. Merricat Blackwood

48. the woman in white.

Pine by Francine Toon (2020)

Perhaps the strangest thing about the woman in white that haunts Pine is the fact you quite want her to return. The ethereal presence at the heart of Francine Toon's debut novel leaves the feeling of kisses, an animal smell and precious trinkets for her loved ones. But who is she, and why is she there?

49. Grendel

Beowulf (unknown)

Perhaps only one so terrifying could prove so ripe for reinvention. More than a millennium on from Beowulf's publication and the fearsome monster at its core continues to provide inspiration. Contemporary illustrations may prompt comparisons to the Gruffalo, but be careful - mess with Grendel and face his mother, an arguably more terrifying presence.

50. Victor Frankenstein

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It’s a tale as old as time — the hero slays the beast, the wicked queen falls to her death, the damsel in distress is saved by the knight in shining armor. but what if we want to see things from the perspective of the beast or wicked queen these books turn the classic tale on its head and dare us to see the world through the eyes of those we call “evil.”.

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fiction books villains

8 Books Where Villains Turn Into Heroes

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Anmol is the founder of Perspective Magazine, an online publication that explores feminism in South Asia. She has a BA History from LSE and hopes to work for women’s rights in Pakistan, where she currently resides. Anmol is an avid reader, animal lover and a big talker once you get to know her. If she could, she’d hide herself in a room full of books and chai and forever be happy. [email protected]

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fiction books villains

Gotham City is torn apart by the war between Batman and the Joker. Ready to take it to the next level, The Joker recruits the flaming sword-wielding knight Azrael to create their version of heaven on Earth while exposing hidden Wayne family secrets. Batman and his estranged allies can stop them—but the distrust between them runs deep. Sean Murphy reimagines the Batman mythos in Batman: Curse of the White Knight . This hardcover collection features the groundbreaking series and the Batman: White Knight Presents Von Freeze one-shot written by Murphy and illustrated by legendary comics artist Klaus Janson.

Who doesn’t love a good redemption arc? There’s always something to be said for seeing villains turn into heroes in our favourite stories. After all, most of us find an escape in our favourite stories. And when things get bad, letting ourselves believe that there is some good worth waiting for, a happy ending for even the most hopeless of characters, can be a good way to take a break from reality.

I think the term villain itself can be understood in so many ways. Especially with something as diverse as books and stories, where characters can take any form and go down any path. While the villains in fairytales and superhero books are much clearer, I think we all can agree that villains aren’t always conventionally bad. And sometimes, perspective means everything. Which is why the characters you’ll see in the list below aren’t all your run-of-the-mill weapon-holding evil villains. They embody the word in different ways and explore different ‘evils’ depending on the world they exist in. Some are misunderstood. Others are villainised on purpose – but all of them somehow find their way towards better ends.

fiction books villains

Professor Azur – Three Daughters Of Eve

Elif Shafak’s Three Daughters of Eve is quite a deep read in itself, but the development of Professor Azur’s character is perhaps the most intriguing. Introduced by a mere picture, the Professor is first shown to be the centre of a decade old controversy that had him lose his job over allegations of assault. Even in flashbacks, many see him as coldhearted and rude – with one student even making it a goal to destroy him. It is only at the very end it is revealed that it former student Peri’s failure to show up at his trial is what leads to his conviction.

Azur’s story in many ways is more about being villainised than being a villain. But as the importance of optics and the power of rumours shows us – both can be equally damning. Nevertheless, when Peri decides to revisit her past over 10 years later we see he is not quite the villain the whole world thinks him to be.

fiction books villains

Sasha – This House Of Clay And Water

This House of Clay and Water is a book that depicts character arcs in a much more contextualised way. I wanted to add this book and Sasha’s character in particular because of the way her journey from villain to hero is highly relative to the society she lives in. Sasha is initially everything a woman is not allowed to be in Pakistani society. Her sexual promiscuity and preference for social life over being a doting mother make her the villain in the lives of all those around her.

Yet as tragedy rips the ground from beneath her feet we see her turn to a much more accepted persona as it is her friend who now takes the ‘dark’ path. Sasha’s journey is one of extremes. She leaps from one end of the spectrum to the other. Yet the fact that one is more clearly villainised than the other is an indication of how easy it is to switch around what such stark labels mean depending on who says them and where and when they are used.

fiction books villains

Black Adam – DC Comics

In contrast to the journeys of the previous two characters is DC’s Black Adam. There’s only so much conversation that can happen around villainous journeys without some good old fashioned supervillains anyway.

Black Adam first appeared in the 1970s as one of the archenemies of Captain Marvel. Initially a corrupted ancient predecessor of Captain Marvel whose only goal is to bring down the Marvel family, Black Adam was soon reformed into somewhat of an antihero. In separating himself from the murderous Theo Adam, Black Adam is able to take on somewhat of a redemption arc.

Shylock – The Merchant Of Venice

Who can forget Shylock’s heartwrenching speech in Shakespeare’s famous The Merchant Of Venice . What started off as a character that was clearly made out to be the villain as a reflection of antisemitic beliefs at the time was completely turned around at his speech. Whether or not he really becomes a hero in the literal sense of the word is up for debate, but we definitely see a different side to the character that was previously quite one dimensional.

Instead of the cruel, harsh businessman he is first shown to be, Shylock now becomes a lot more human and particularly by the end when he is forced to give up all he has – including his religion – audiences can sympathise with even some of his worse actions as being forced by necessity rather than choice.

fiction books villains

Falcon (Sam Wilson) – Marvel Comics

What is initially a happy childhood turns sour when young Sam Wilson encounters racism as a young teen and loses both his parents to murder. His experiences leave him jaded. Wilson adopts an alternate persona, “Snap” Wilson, as a professional gang member.

His tryst with the dark side comes to an end on Exile Island where Red Skull fuses him with Redwing, a falcon Wilson befriends, and makes him forget his past as “Snap”. Even though he is befriended by Captain America and helps him on his mission, some might argue that this was not when he truly became a hero. Rather it was when his memories returned but he chose to stay on the side of good that he really embodied his hero self.

fiction books villains

Ebenezer Scrooge – A Christmas Carol

There’s hardly a child around who isn’t familiar with the mean old Ebenezer Scrooge. Of course some may find it hard to accept Scrooge’s turn of character as fully genuine. Mostly because it only comes about because the literal Grim Reaper knocks on his door and gives him an ultimatum.

But I suppose in some ways it does show us that it’s never too late to turn over a new leaf, and there’s always a little hero in everyone.

fiction books villains

Frankenstein’s Monster – Frankenstein

I suppose in this case most of the villainry of the character comes from the title of monster itself. And yes he wreaks havoc and destruction, but is that destruction intentional or is just because he knows nothing else? His villainy is his revenge against Frankenstein when he is shunned by human society. He embarks on a journey to destroy everything his creator holds dear.

However, at the end, he does eventually learn kindness and even French. He greatest desire is to find love and acceptance and much of his journey towards being somewhat of a hero has come from many seeing the monster as a metaphor for the evils of a society that shuns him rather than being the monster himself.

fiction books villains

Deadpool – Marvel Comics

Perhaps Marvel’s most controversial lead character, Deadpool is neither good nor evil. He was first depicted as a supervillain in The New Mutants and later issues of X-Force . Much of his changing history and persona comes from the fact that he suffers from a mental condition that leaves him unable to remember his past.

His disassociation with his past is mainly what allows him to blur the lines between good and bad, which can be taken as an indication that holding on to our past can often be limiting for our growth into better people.

I wanted to chose unconventional villains because the concepts of heroism and villainy aren’t as black and white as children’s stories would have us believe. The journeys that these ‘villains’ explore that turn them into ‘heroes’ are all vastly different from each other. Yet each says the same thing. We can choose to grow and change no matter how difficult. How we do it is dependent on who we are and who we want to be.

fiction books villains

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The 16 Books Most Commonly Stolen from High School Libraries

20 Books With Villain Protagonists

fiction books villains

I must confess, I love books with villain protagonists . There's just something about having an evil — or, at least, not good — main character that I can really relate to. Because who doesn't get tired of reading about some Goody Two-Shoes Mary Sue running the show, amirite?

Writing good villains — and by "good," I mean evil and conniving — isn't easy. There are tons of trope pitfalls you can break your ankle in. I'm a fan of the Magnificent Bastard , myself, but it's just a short hop over to the Villain Sue , especially if you let your antagonist talk too much .

Those problems don't disappear when your book has a villain protagonist, but you're far less likely to write a terrible bad guy when he's your main character. Bonus points if he's your narrator. And 50 points to Slytherin if you make him a Complete Monster and subject us to his internal musings. Because, seriously, there's nothing like getting inside the head of a fantastically irredeemable character.

Whether you want a write a great antagonist or just read about some villainous main characters, the books on this list are a great place to start. Once you're finished here, be sure to share your favorite books with villain protagonists on Twitter .

1. You by Caroline Kepnes

fiction books villains

Protagonist Joe Goldberg glides swiftly into obsession as he positions himself to become an aspiring writer's new boyfriend. One Goodreads reviewer called You , "an insane, obsessive and manipulative romance from the perspective of a charming psychopath."

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2. The Young Elites by Marie Lu

fiction books villains

Heroine Adelina's talents have been suppressed for far too long. Now she's out to master them, but to do so, she must risk succumbing to the darkness within herself.

3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

fiction books villains

Pedophile Humbert Humbert narrates Vladimir Nabokov's most famous novel , in which he is convinced that his victim — the titular 12-year-old, Lolita — has seduced him.

4. Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

fiction books villains

Quentin P. has one goal : to create the ultimate sex slave. He's tried and failed many times, but he's getting better. And he always keeps souvenirs...

5. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

fiction books villains

Set in the mid-19th century American West, Blood Meridian follows a group of mercenaries who collect the scalps of local Apache and sell them for $100 each.

6. The Hound of the D'Urbervilles by Kim Newman

fiction books villains

Kim Newman's Professor Moriarty Series follows Sherlock Holmes' nemesis as he solves mysteries with the help of his constant compatriot, Colonel Moran.

7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

fiction books villains

For those who haven't read Gillian Flynn's breakout hit , or seen the film adaptation, I'll limit myself to this comment: the victim isn't one.

8. The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

fiction books villains

When he started working on The Prague Cemetery , Umberto Eco set out to make the most unlikable protagonist possible. He succeeded.

9. Grunts by Mary Gentle

fiction books villains

If you've ever read a fantasy novel and wondered why orcs are always the bad guys, Mary Gentle's Grunts is here to tell the other side of the story.

10. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

fiction books villains

This 1996 title from Chuck Palahniuk centers on the chaotically evil Tyler Durden: a sadistic anarchist who loves destroying people's lives for his own selfish gains.

11. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

fiction books villains

The Talented Mr. Ripley is sort of like The Great Gatsby , if F. Scott Fitzgerald's tragic hero were replaced with his evil twin.

12. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

fiction books villains

American Psycho narrator Patrick Bateman enjoys torturing and killing people, particularly women, just for shits and giggles. If you've seen the 2000 film starring Christian Bale, you know what to expect here.

13. The Catherine de Medici Trilogy by Jean Plaidy

fiction books villains

Jean Plaidy's Catherine de Medici Trilogy begins with Madame Serpent . The historical fiction series centers on the Queen Regent of France, who is distrusted by many and feared by most.

14. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

fiction books villains

If you've seen the X-rated film adaptation starring Malcolm McDowell, you know you're in for a bit of the old ultraviolence. Trust me when I say this, however: Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange is much more extreme than the 1971 movie.

15. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

fiction books villains

Ah, the Byronic hero Heathcliff . Is there anyone more romantic? Um, yeah. Everyone who isn't a pseudo-incestuous rapist, for starters.

16. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

fiction books villains

Victor Frankenstein is pretty close to being a Complete Monster. He creates life, then casts his son away, leaving him to fend for himself in a world that cannot possibly understand him. When his creation asks for a companion, Victor fashions one, only to destroy her body in front of her intended.

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17. Blubber by Judy Blume

fiction books villains

Narrator Linda joins her best friends as they mercilessly subject their classmate to physical and psychological torment in Judy Blume's Blubber .

18. Apt Pupil by Stephen King

fiction books villains

Todd Bowden knows his neighbor is a former Nazi who now lives in hiding. He doesn't want to turn the old man in, however. Todd wants to learn .

19. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

fiction books villains

Agatha Christie's classic murder mystery centers on a group of people lured to an old house for the night. As their housemates begin to disappear and die, the survivors realize that none of them has a spotless past.

20. Richard III by William Shakespeare

fiction books villains

So the real life Richard III probably wasn't a bad guy, but Shakespeare's version of him certainly is. The Bard casts the legendary king as a Machiavellian anti-hero in his 1592 play.

Image: Am Psycho Productions

fiction books villains

Trending Post : Books Made Into Movies

Imagination Soup

12 Best Villains in Children’s Books

This post may contain affiliate links.

Mwahahaaaa! The best villains can really make a great children’s book.  Oh sure, it’s great to have a hero who models virtue and courage, but the villains are often the most exciting and memorable characters.  What would Charlie and the Chocolate Factory be without the outrageously spoiled Veruca Salt, or without gluttonous Augustus Gloop?  In a word: BORING!

Yes, villain characters are creepy, sly, and revolting, so why am I recommending your kids read them?

Note: written in 2012 by educator, mom, and “education diva,” Ruth Spivak, with updates and revisions by Melissa Taylor.

Why Kids Need Villain Characters

1.  Villains teach children important lessons about coping with evil in our world. A lot to be learned from the effects of villains on other characters, and from the heroes who fight them.

a-  Absolute power corrupts absolutely. (Darth Vader?)

b- Even the most intimidating bully is weak at heart. (Real life!)

 c- Friendship, persistence, and honesty triumph over evil. ( One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest )

2. Villains are incredibly motivating for reluctant readers. Great villains add elements of humor and adventure that up the excitement in a book. I love it when kids rally with the hero for the downfall of the ridiculous villain.

The Best Villains in Children’s Books

From the biggest brats to the worst dictators, here are some of my favorite books with great villains for kids from ages 3-13.

Best Villains: AGES 3 and Up

fiction books villains

DARTH VADER : ( Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex) You don’t even need to love Star Wars to love this book. The narrator wants to find out if Darth Vader is scared of anything. But, nothing will scare Darth Vader. Except, one thing…


Read them to your kids, again and again.  The language, characters, and plot have survived the test of time for a reason.

I LOVE the villains in these two fairy tale stories:

The Best Villains in Children's Books


The Best Villains in Children's Books

Best Villains: Ages 6 and Up

The sinister and the funny.   At this age, kids can really begin to appreciate dark humor. Here are a few villains to laugh at:

The Best Villains in Children's Books

Best Villains: Age 9 and Up

Of course, not all the best villains in children’s books are funny. You already know the worst “bad guy” of middle-grade fiction, someone who is not redeemable at all…He Who Shall Not Be Named, Lord Voldemort.

best villains in children's books

DOLORES UMBRIDGE ( Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.) We love to hate Dolores Umbridge, she’s a meanie. And she is also a villain with a fantastic pinked-up outfit . ( Halloween or World Book Day costume idea!?)


fiction books villains

THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST ( The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum) You may know the wicked witch from the movies but it’s also a book– a really good book! This bad guy witch lady is horrible and mean and everything you’d want in a villain.

Best Villains: Ages 13+ and Up

fiction books villains

SAURON ( The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien) Of all the villain characters, Sauron is the worst, evilest, power-hungry villain of them all.

villains in children's books

So, the next time you’re looking for a book your kids will love, think evil!   Some of the meanest, baddest villains around are the ticket for motivation, great discussions, and education.

Do you or your kids have a favorite villain?

the best villains in children's books


fairy tales

Melissa Taylor, MA, is the creator of Imagination Soup. She's a mother, former teacher & literacy trainer, and freelance education writer. She writes Imagination Soup and freelances for publications online and in print, including Penguin Random House's Brightly website, USA Today Health, Adobe Education, Colorado Parent, and Parenting. She is passionate about matching kids with books that they'll love.

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I absolutely adore this post!!!! Nothing beats the classic fairy tale villians, though there are many that come close. You’ve got me thinking now which one would be my favorites!

Thanks Tif! Another favourite villain is Quilp from Charles Dickens’ Olde Curiosity Shoppe. I wouldn’t recommend that for kids under 13, though. Do you still have the Fairy Tale Challenge? I just noticed it on your site. Looks like fun!

Thanks Rachelle. That’s a pretty sophisticated kind of conversation to be having with a 3 year old, I’m impressed! Just hopped on to TinkerLab. I really like your creative projects! I will definitely be visiting regularly for some inspiration.

What a fun post! My 3 year old and I like to talk about how every good story has a “problem” that needs to be resolved, and the villan is often at the heart of the matter. Ruth, thanks for doing all this research and pulling all these dark characters out of the woodwork for us to enjoy (and hate).

This is very interesting blog and for sure, we will be happy to read it. Thanks that you shared. I love this link up… Good thing you post such valuable information like this. So thanks for hosting!

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Best Villains in Fantasy and Science Fiction

October 23, 2018 Lark_Bookwyrm Top Ten Tuesday 15

fiction books villains

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl . The meme was originally the brainchild of  The Broke and the Bookish . This week’s topic is Top Ten Villains.

This week’s TTT topic is  Villains.  Since Halloween is just over a week, I decided to go with the scariest villains, but at the bottom, I also added a few of my favorite complex and interesting villains… the ones I secretly like, or at least feel conflicted about.

Scariest Villains

fiction books villains

Sauron (Lord of the Rings)  is essentially the devil; he’s a vastly overpowered being who seems to exist for the sole purpose of being evil and seeking dominion over, well, everything. There’s no complexity to Sauron; he is frightening merely because of his immense power and impersonal evil.

fiction books villains

Voldemort (Harry Potter)  has a little more complexity, partly because he has more of a backstory (OK, to be fair, Sauron has a backstory if you read  The Silmarillion , but most people don’t) and partly because he’s human, and therefore his motivations are easier to understand. Abandoned by his Muggle father and orphaned by his mother’s death, he grows up in an orphanage, unloved and emotionally neglected…and probably bullied by older children in the orphanage. But it’s clear that he is bad from an early age; by the time Dumbledore encounters the 10- or 11-year-old Tom Riddle, he is already stealing and playing nasty magical tricks on other children. (Given the character of his wizarding family, the Gaunts, Rowling seems to imply that there’s at least some genetic predisposition toward evil… nature  and  nurture, if you will. This conclusion grows stronger when you contrast Harry and Voldemort, who have similar childhood experiences but choose very different paths, Voldemort because of his experiences and Harry despite them.) Nonetheless, Voldemort, like Sauron, is something of a stock Dark Lord; his sole focus is his own power and immortality, and he enjoys the pain and death of others. There is no hope of redemption for Voldemort; he stands as the embodiment of Evil.

fiction books villains

The Ringwraiths / the Nazgul (Lord of the Rings)  are terrifying because they evoke our fears of the undead. They seem to exude a miasma of fear and despair; they are (mostly) unkillable; they are implacable and untiring huntsmen. They remind me variously of ghosts, revenants, and the huntsmen of the Wild Hunt. It’s their inhumanity that makes them so frightening, despite or perhaps because of the fact that they were once human.

fiction books villains

The Chandrian (The Kingkiller Chronicle) are scary because they are mysterious, because they appear to be demigods or at least near-immortal, and because they are cruel. Most folk think of them as imaginary bogeymen, tales to frighten children with, but the reader knows better… without knowing very much at all. Two very long books into the series, we can only guess at what and who the Chandrian, are based on stories and myths and a few glimpses of them. And we still have no idea whether Kvothe will encounter them again, nor if he will triumph if he does… though so far, the latter doesn’t seem likely.

fiction books villains

Prof. Umbridge (Harry Potter)  is the exception in this gallery of scary villains. She is frightening not because of the ways in which she isn’t human, but because of her her ordinaryness. Umbridge’s villainy stems from her arrogance, the petty pleasure she derives from having power over others, and her belief that the ends justify the means. Initially, her allegiance is to the Ministry, and her goal is to increase its power as a means of maintaining order; she sees Dumbledore, Harry, and their supporters as a threat. She seems to neither notice nor care that her methods and those of the Ministry become ever more similar to those of Voldemort. “Power corrupts,” as the saying goes, and Umbridge is a prime example: the more power she wields, the more she craves, and the more openly nasty and cruel she becomes… yet she persists in believing herself justified in the actions she takes. She is clearly based on the ordinary people who carried out atrocities under Hitler and other despots, and a chilling reminder of the dangers of authoritarianism and the abandonment of principles and common human decency in order to further the ends of the state (or of its head.)

fiction books villains

The Shadows (Babylon 5)  are another creepy, heavily overpowered villain—in this case, an entire race of them. One of the First Ones, the oldest races in the universe, they operate on the principles of social Darwinism: the weak die, the strong survive. To quote the Bab5 wiki, “The Shadows embrace chaos as the defining characteristic of their race and the supreme force of the universe.” They encourage conflict between the younger races (humans, Narn, Centauri, Minbari, and others), often working through thralls (beings they have taken over, or who agree to their influence.) Spiderlike in appearance, the Shadows’ spider-shaped organic spaceships are terrifyingly powerful, but their ability to control and manipulate individuals and whole worlds is even more frightening.

fiction books villains

The Borg (Star Trek)  frighten me because of their implacable drive to “assimilate” all intelligent species they encounter. Where human beings think in terms of either coexistence, conquest, or annihilation, the Borg want to turn everyone and everything into Borg. Borg collectives are essentially hive-minds; all individuality is subsumed and the assimilated being becomes, essentially, an ant or a bee, with no sense of “I” and no individual needs, desires, or drives. The threat posed by the Borg is the loss of self, and of everything that makes us human; to me that is more terrifying than pain or death.

fiction books villains

IT ( A Wrinkle in Time ) is much like the Borg in IT’s drive to impose order through removing individuality. IT—a disembodied, telepathic brain—rules the planet of Camazotz and forces everyone into conformity, physical as well as mental… and makes them “happy” to be thus controlled.  This is mind control and loss of individual agency taken to the extreme; it’s also a thinly-veiled portrait of Communist dictatorships as perceived by the author. (The closest example today would be North Korea.) IT is less scary than the Borg mainly because  Wrinkle is a children’s book, but unlike  Star Trek’s  Borg, it is not defeated. Meg is able to break her little brother free through love, but she isn’t able to defeat IT; though Meg and Charles Wallace escape, Camazotz is still firmly under IT’s control.

Most Interesting Villains

I didn’t want to leave this topic without quickly referencing some of the more interesting villains I’ve come across—villains whose complexity and, in a few cases, likableness make them much more rounded characters.

Loki (Marvel’s Avenger films & MCU) Loki is a trickster; you never quite know whether he’s against you or for you. Add to that the fact that he’s charming (particularly as played by Tom Hiddleston) and that his relationship with Thor is a normal sibling love-hate-rivalry taken to the  nth  power, and Loki makes a very complex and compelling villain. Or antihero, depending on the movie.

Zuko (Avatar)  has one of the best redemption arcs I’ve encountered, despite the fact that he’s a teenage villain in a children’s animated TV show. He starts out arrogantly convinced of his own and the Fire Nation’s superiority, and completely determined to find and kill the Avatar to restore his honor, lost in a duel with his own father. Over the course of the show’s three seasons, we see how he became so driven, the ways in which his father’s cruelty shaped him, and the slow eroding of his arrogance and dawning of compassion and humanity, influenced by both his uncle Iroh (whom I love)  and his encounters with ordinary people of other nations.

Magneto (Marvel’s X-Men  films & MCU)  Marvel has given us a lot of Magneto’s backstory, both in the comics and onscreen, and it’s a tragic one. It’s no wonder that he rejects the idea of co-existence with ordinary humans, and works to empower mutants at their expense; his own experiences lead him to expect nothing but cruelty, loss, and exploitation from “normal” people. He’s not evil for the sake of being evil, like a Sauron or a Voldemort; he’s driven by his own pain and the belief that mutants will never be accepted as equals by ordinary humans, so why should they even try? Somehow he and Prof. X manage to be friends even when they are enemies, each convinced that he is right and the other is wrong, but unwilling to cut ties entirely. And Magneto is (mostly) loyal and supportive to those who follow him. In short, it’s very hard to see him as “just” a villain; he’s a complicated man for whom you can feel compassion even when you think he’s wrong.

Gol Dukat   ( Star Trek: Deep Space 9 )  is conniving, self-serving, self-justifying, a tyrant, and a bigot. The former military ruler of Cardassian-occupied Bajor, he was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Bajorans. He’s also sometimes charming, a father who loves his half-Bajoran daughter despite his bigotry, and a patriot, though his loyalty to Cardassia leads him to do some pretty despicable things. And occasionally, he is a useful ally, as long as you don’t trust him too much or turn your back on him. In short, Dukat is complex enough that you can’t simply hate him, because as soon as you do, he’ll do something or say something that makes you feel sympathetic… until the next time he does or says something terrible.

Garack   ( Star Trek: Deep Space 9 ) ST: DS9 abounds in complicate, messy, very human characters. (Even the aliens are often human in character, if not appearance.) And the Cardassians seem to be a favorite source. Elim Garack is a Cardassian exile working as a tailor on the DS9 space station. He is also, you come to suspect and eventually know, a former (and perhaps current) spy, one of the best in Cardassia’s feared intelligence service, the Obsidian Order. He wears a harmless, congenial persona aboard the space station, but underneath is someone much more complex, with hints of a dark, even sinister side. He sometimes helps the Federation or specific members of it, but it’s never quite clear what his motives are nor where his loyalties lie. Federation doctor and resident genius Julian Bashir becomes his friend and something of a protege, but even Julian isn’t entirely sure how much to trust Garack. To be honest, I rather like him, and put him in the “villain” category with reservations; I’m not really sure he belongs there anymore, though he certainly did during the Cardassian occupation.

Villain I’m Most Conflicted About

Darth Vader / Anakin Skywalker . I debated which list to Vader on the list. I mean, he’s  the  iconic villain of my generation, but… well, he’s scary but not invincible, and he’s somewhat complex but not that sympathetic, at least in my eyes. He has a sad backstory, I’ll grant you. (We could have a whole discussion about what sort of “good” people would take a child away from his mother and leave the mother in slavery and expect the child to be fine with that…yes, I’m looking at you, Obi-wan.) But he also makes some bad choices even before he turns to the dark side of the Force. And his so-called redemption really doesn’t work for me. Vader did all these horrible things—participated or at least acquiesced in the destruction of at least one planet, killed his former mentor, and tried multiple times to corrupt or kill his son—but then suddenly when Luke gives himself up and says he “feels the good in [Vader]”, Vader changes his mind, switches back to the Light side, and kills the Emperor. It just doesn’t ring true. There’s no real reason given for him to change so abruptly. We don’t see any self-searching, and there’s very little to indicate he’s having any second thoughts before that time. In fact, at one point he wants to coopt Luke so they can overthrow the Emperor and take the power for themselves (read: for Vader himself.)  Even as he is dying, Vader doesn’t express any real regret or repentence for his actions or his choices. In what way is he actually “redeemed”? Saving Luke and killing the Emperor, no matter how self-sacrificing that action was, can’t make up for all the people Vader killed and tortured. The Star Wars universe doesn’t appear to have a theology that grants absolution for repented sins (which, as I said, he doesn’t repent onscreen, anyway.) So by what right or grace is Anakin/Vader able to become a Force ghost beside the likes of Obi-wan and Yoda?

Who would you choose for a Best or Scariest Villains list, or a Most Interesting Villains list?

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15 Responses to “Best Villains in Fantasy and Science Fiction”

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Love your list. The Nazgul are very creepy… as creepy as the Dementors in Harry Potter. 🙂

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The similarity, plus the fact that I already had two HP villains on my list, are what kept the Dementors off my list. 🙂

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Sauron and the Ringwraiths *nods* I love how creepy the Ringwraiths are! And Sauron I think is so compelling because we don’t see him physically, at least not much. In fact, in the films, when he DOES appear in flashbacks it actually takes away from the mystique, for me.

I love your thoughts on Darth Vader, and mostly agree, although I would say two things that for me make it more plausible (his return to the Light side, as it were). The first is when he meets Luke in the Endor base and they have a conversation… at one point Vader says “it’s too late for me,son” or something to that effect. I think? It’s been a while. The stormtroopers lead Luke out and we see Vader contemplating.I like to think he’s very conflicted there. 🙂

The other point is when he tells Luke to tell Leia “he was right” about Vader. In other words, that there was still good in him. Still, your point about it being very abrupt is true. It very much could have been developed better. 🙂 And yes those possibly redemptive moments certainly pale in comparison to the horrible things he’s done, the destruction of Alderaan, etc. It is problematic. 🙂

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Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer

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Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

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Great post. I love that you included IT from A Wrinkle in Time. Books of My Heart

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This is a great post – villains I’d to add to your list – Queen Jadis of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe who is prepared to see everyone die before she will relinquish her bleak power; Mr Teatime from The Hogfather – while many of Pratchett’s villains have a redeming aspect, Teatime hasn’t; and the worst of all – the Vogons from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who destroyed Earth to an administrative schedule even though they were aware there was sentient life there…

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Aj @ Read All The Things!

Thank you, Aj! Yes, I agree with you there.

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Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts

He’s interesting, yes, but he’s also a rather typical Evil Villain type. Umbridge’s ability to justify her desire for control over others and her enjoyment of their pain, so that she doesn’t realize or acknowledge that she has done horrible things… I find that more chilling, in a way, perhap because it’s more common in real life. I mean, we’ve all met people like Umbridge, who would be nastier and more sadistic if they thought they could get away with it.

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Suzanne @ The Bookish Libra

Great list! I didn’t do the TTT this week since I was traveling, but if I had, quite a few of these would have made my list as well.

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Umbridge is definitely the scarier of the Potter bad guys. She doesn’t have a Higher Purpose for her actions, she’s just utterly convinced that her bigoted ways are the right ones.

Yes, that’s exactly why Umbridge creeps me out. She’s much more like real people than Voldemort is. Reading about her makes me a lot warier of real people who exhibit that kind of bigotry, because if they get power, they may abuse it in similar ways.

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The Creepiest Monsters and Villains From Classic Sci-Fi and Fantasy Short Stories

These bloodcurdling monsters and villains have made a huge impact on pop culture and the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

A silhouette of a hooded figure appears to watch a cloud of red smoke

  • Photo Credit: Elti Meshau / Unsplash

We all love—or love to hate—a good villain. There’s nothing better in a story than a truly unscrupulous villain or an absolutely horrific monster. The history of literature and film are full of unforgettable villains and creatures, from Grendel, the monster that struggled with Beowulf, up through Darth Vader. 

However, we tend to associate great villains and monsters with more epic tales, like those contained in novels or series. These tend to give us more villains and more time to get to know them, to see how they work and what they’re capable of. Sometimes, though, a short story can leave us with a villain just as unforgettable as any longer work, as you’ll find in these classic stories (most of them from the so-called golden age of sci-fi and fantasy).

11 of the Most Compelling Villains from Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books

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Thulsa Doom, “The Cat and the Skull”

While most of us probably know Thulsa Doom best for his appearance as the villain in the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian , where he was played by James Earl Jones, that version of the character actually more closely resembles a different Conan villain named Thoth-Amon. 

The original Thulsa Doom first appeared in the 1928 short story “Delcardes’ Cat,” which was later renamed “The Cat and the Skull,” and which didn’t actually see print until many years after the death of author Robert E. Howard. In spite of this, Thulsa Doom, with his face “like a bare white skull, in whose eye sockets flamed livid fire” set the prototype for any number of other undead sorcerers who have plagued fantasy stories ever since.

Cover of Robert E. Howard's complete works featuring Conan the Barbarian

Althol, “Sticks”

If Thulsa Doom set the stage for countless undead spellcasters, the nefarious Althol of Karl Edward Wagner's British Fantasy Award-winning short story is one of the most recognizable, even among people who have never read the tale itself. We first meet this lich of a villain when our protagonist encounters him in the basement of a secluded house. 

Of course, Althol, with his caved-in skull from the story’s unforgettable opening segment, isn’t the only memorable part of “Sticks,” which was first published in the March 1974 issue of Whispers . The eponymous lattices of interconnected sticks, inspired by the art of classic weird-fiction illustrator Lee Brown Coye, have been cited as influences on everything from The Blair Witch Project to True Detective .

Described by P. Schuyler Miller as “probably the most unforgettable story ever published in Unknown ,” a popular science fiction magazine of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Theodore Sturgeon’s 1940 short story “It!” has the unusual distinction of creating from whole cloth a new type of monster. The story describes a monster made of muck and slime that forms around a human skeleton – an idea that would later be put to use for such classic comic book heroes as Swamp Thing and Man-Thing, among others. It is in Sturgeon’s short story, however, that the muck monster finds its … roots, shall we say?

20 of the Most Fascinating Sea Monsters from Mythology and Fantasy Fiction

The Coeurl, “Black Destroyer”

Originally published in 1939 and later reworked into the novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle , “Black Destroyer” by A. E. van Vogt has a unique legacy. Not only did the monster from the story—an intelligent, cat-like creature called a Coeurl that feeds on id—quite possibly inspire the creation of the displacer beast in Dungeons & Dragons, but the story has also been cited as a precursor to the Alien movie franchise . 

In fact, van Vogt saw so much resemblance between the Coeurl of his story and the xenomorph of Alien that he took 20th Century Fox to court, collecting some $50,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

Cover of 'The Voyage of the Space Beagle' by A.E. van Vogt

AM, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”

Author Harlan Ellison famously received a settlement of his own after allegations that his scripts for the Outer Limits episodes “Demon with a Glass Hand” and/or “Soldier” were the basis for the film Terminator . However, one of Ellison’s most famous short stories could also be credited with possibly inspiring at least one aspect of that movie franchise. 

The massive, self-aware supercomputer known as the Allied Mastercomputer, later the Adaptive Manipulator and, eventually, the Aggressive Menace and then just AM, could easily be seen as a precursor of Skynet, the supercomputer that wipes out most of humanity in the  Terminator series. 

In “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” AM is more successful even than Skynet, destroying all but a handful of humans who survive wholly at AM’s pleasure, so it can torment them in an underground housing development.

American Cryptids: Famous and Fantastical Creatures From 5 U.S. States

Nyarlathotep, “Nyarlathotep”

Reworked constantly by both Lovecraft himself and later writers, the dark figure known as Nyarlathotep first appeared in H. P. Lovecraft’s 1920 prose poem of the same name. It subsequently made new manifestations in such Lovecraft stories as The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and “The Haunter of the Dark.” 

Most of Lovecraft’s antagonists tend to be monstrous entities from beyond space and time—and there are hints that Nyarlathotep, himself, is no different, acting as perhaps a harbinger of those same entities. However, the charismatic Nyarlathotep, who is described in his first appearance as resembling an Egyptian pharaoh of old, at least feels more like a human villain than such inscrutable figures as Cthulhu or Azathoth.

The Eyes, “I Am the Doorway”

Stephen King may be best known as a horror writer, but several of his most unforgettable stories are also tinged with science fiction . One of these is “I Am the Doorway,” originally published in 1971, which chronicles an astronaut who returns from a disastrous mission to Venus. 

Upon the astronaut’s return, he begins to develop eyes on his hands, through which some alien intelligence is watching our world with sinister intent. Eventually, this intelligence is able to affect his actions, causing him to commit abominable murders. Though he holds the force at bay for some time, even going so far as dousing his hands in gasoline and setting them on fire, the story ends with him preparing to take his own life as a “ring of twelve golden eyes” have appeared in his chest.

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10 Menacing Characters from Sci-Fi We Never Want to Meet

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PEOPLE's Best New Books to Read in November 2023 — From Mark Harmon’s WWII History to Jeff Tweedy’s Non-Fiction Stories

Cozy up with PEOPLE's picks for the best new books of November 2023

Love against odds, music to live by, and an indomitable student's journey — here are PEOPLE's picks for the best new books of November 2023.

Ghosts of Honolulu by Mark Harmon and Leon Carroll Jr.

Harper Select

The NCIS star teamed up with the show 's technical advisor — and former NCIS special agent — to write a story straight out of the police procedural. This riveting account of American and Japanese intelligence agents details the moral conflict many Japanese American officers faced at war time, as well as the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), which impacted the real-life NCIS.

Above the Salt by Katherine Vaz

Flatiron Books

As children on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the 1850s, John and Mary form a magnetic bond. Religious persecution forces them to flee, but they meet again as immigrants in Illinois, and their paths continue to cross and diverge through America's convulsive history, from the Civil War to the Jazz Age. Will their love prevail? Vaz explores the complexities of duty, passion and sacrifice in an engrossing narrative that celebrates life's abiding beauty. — Robin Micheli

World Within a Song by Jeff Tweedy

The Wilco frontman delves into his inspiring relationship with music through 50 songs (from "Gloria" to "Free Bird") and adds heart-wrenching memories of childhood friendship, gun-wielding tour bus drivers and more. If life's a movie, Tweedy's has a pretty great soundtrack. — Theo Munger

Class by Stephanie Land

Atria/One Signal Publishers

In this sequel to the mega-selling Maid , single mom Land struggles to fulfill her lifelong dream of getting an MFA to build a writing career, even as she battles poverty and — worse — people's judgement that she's being self-indulgent and impractical. Raw and inspiring. — Caroline Leavitt 

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Valeria Luiselli.

‘A feeling of total freedom’: Valeria Luiselli welcomes chance to lock her fiction away in the Future Library

The Booker-nominated Mexican author will be the next writer to donate a work to the 100-year art project

Author Valeria Luiselli’s next manuscript will remain a secret – sealed, unpublished and unread – until the year 2114.

The Mexican author, whose books include The Story of My Teeth and Lost Children Archive, has been selected as the 10th author to contribute to the Future Library , a project run by artist Katie Paterson which invites acclaimed writers to submit new work to be stored away for decades.

Margaret Atwood, Ocean Vuong and Tsitsi Dangarembga are among the authors who have contributed to the project so far. All the works will be published in an anthology in 2114, 100 years after the project began in 2014.

Luiselli told the Guardian that she was “moved” by the invitation to contribute, and “very interested” in how the project “reshapes or forces me to rearticulate my relationship to writing”.

Born in Mexico City, she grew up in South Korea, South Africa and India. Her five books include the Booker-nominated novel Lost Children Archive and Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions , which won the American book award in 2018. The following year she was awarded a MacArthur fellowship, also known as a “genius grant”.

The writer was already familiar with Paterson’s work when she received the invitation; she had found the artist’s audio recordings of a melting glacier “beautiful”. She later came across Paterson’s map documenting the locations of dead stars. “All of her work seems to speak so thoughtfully about our relationship to time, and time at a scale that is unreachable to us in some way or the other,” Luiselli said.

Each year, the contributing author passes their work to Paterson at a handover ceremony in Oslo’s Nordmarka forest, where 1,000 trees were planted as part of the project. In 2114, the anthology will be printed on paper from those trees.

Luiselli said that the project brings a “feeling of total freedom”. “This is a piece that no one I know will read – maybe my baby daughter, because she’s two, and she would be 93 – so it could be. But other than her, I don’t know anyone that would read it. So there’s a freedom in that.

“But then at the same time as freedom, there is an enormous responsibility, because it feels like a piece of archive of the past, which is my present, that will be trying to speak to what is now for me the future, and I would like that future archive to be meaningful, to say something of right now to the people then. How to do that responsibly is important to me. So this coexistence of a sense of freedom and responsibility is one that I’m really interested in exploring as I move through the piece.”

Luiselli’s text will be stored with the others in a specially designed room in the Deichman Bjørvika public library in Oslo, which was built using trees that were cut down in Nordmarka forest before the new seedlings were planted.

David Mitchell preparing to lodge his manuscript in Oslo, 2022.

“Blending fiction and nonfiction, Valeria Luiselli’s work explores themes of identity, migration and the permeability of geographic borders,” said Paterson. “Through compelling storytelling, she explores humanitarian crises such as the diaspora of children seeking asylum, posing profound questions on displacement and belonging. Luiselli’s work is a cry for compassion and empathy, and we welcome her to Future Library for our milestone 10th year.”

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Luiselli “always” writes by hand before typing up her work on a computer, and she asked the Future Library team if she could turn in a handwritten work, to which they said yes. “I’m looking forward to working on a manuscript without a feeling of ‘final version’ that the computer gives me,” said the writer.

Alongside Luiselli, Atwood, Vuong and Dangarembga, the other authors who have contributed works so far are David Mitchell, Sjón, Elif Shafak, Han Kang, Karl Ove Knausgård, and Judith Schalansky.

Looking forward, Luiselli is keenly aware of the world’s “fragility” – “it is so clear that things can fall apart” – but she said she feels a “responsibility in hope”. “I feel like it’s a very political thing to hope. It forces us to look forward and imagine a livable world, a possible world, even maybe a beautiful world, and then gear our actions towards that.”

“I would like to write from a space of hope and desire and imagination,” she said. “It’s just a more fertile ground.”

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