Villains, Scoundrels, Sinners and Thieves – The Bad Guys of Books

Whether a bit of a rouge or criminally psychotic books give us loads of character’s with less than stellar track records,  here are my 5 personal favourite literary scoundrels (take that description with a pinch of salt in reference to some of these) because let’s face it we all love a bad guy to hate! In no particular order by the way, oh and also SPOILER alert (although these aren’t new so if I spoil anything I hold that you’re entirely responsible):

1. Dracula from Bram Stoker’s Dracula


On a literary level I can’t say that this book is a writing style which I particularly love, I don’t think it is particularly well written, it isn’t that I dislike epistolary format, it can be a powerful tool (see The Color Purple for a phenomenal example).  But that is by the by it gave us Count Dracula,  a monster so vivid and powerful that he is nigh on universally known.  Of course now the vampire thing has been, done to death (ba dum tiss) but Dracula was new.  We see him slowly, suck (literally) the life out of Lucy and Mina.


Best Bit:  We can see Dracula’s power and influence in many ways perhaps through his control and manipulation of Renfield but for me it has to be the fate of  The Demeter.  The way the tension builds throughout the log, is for me perhaps one of the instances in which the style of the book works.   The way the tension, the fear and paranoia of the crew and the terror that Dracula when only felt as a presence exudes perfectly encapsulates the author’s intent.

On 13 July passed Cape Matapan.  Crew dissatisfied about something.  Seemed scared, but would not speak out.

On 14 July was somewhat anxious about crew…Mate could not make oout what was wrong;they only told him there was something, and crossed themselves….

On 17 July, yesterday, one of the men, Olgaren, came to my cabin, and in an awestruck way confided to me that he thought there was a strange man aboard the ship…He was in a panic of superstitious fear, and I am afraid the panic may spread…

30 July….Only self and mate and two hands left to work ship.

1 August…We seem to be drifting to some terrible doom.

2 August…One more gone. Lord, help us!….only God can guide us in the fog, which seems to move with us; and God seems to have deserted us.

2. Severus Snape from The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling

Now I know that the obvious choice from this series is Voldemort, (yeah I’m brave, not afraid to say/type his name) but the tragedy of Snape makes his a far better character for me.  Throughout the series we are never quite sure if he is truly bad, acting bad or a combination of the both.  When we find out the truth it hits like a brick wall.  Ok, I’m going to say it, I was devastated when he died and we learned the truth, learned that he had only done all he had done because he loved Lily, but was there any need to be so mean?  He could have done it in a fatherly, kindly uncle, loveable rouge way (Ok yes Sirius, oh how I loved Sirius Black) but he chose to do it in a manipulative, hate filled and vindictive way.  Well, despite all of his malicious and seemingly evil actions he turned out to be a good guy in the end, he was just a bit of a dick about it.

Best Bit:  I have to say I’m not sure on this one, anyone?

3. Ursula Monkton from The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman’s writing brings us the wonderfully realised Ursula Monkton, from a fabric creature of another reality right on the edge of our own, to a child’s nanny brought back by the unfortunate narrator.  I was with the narrator the whole time, feeling everything he felt, utterly horrified by the influence which Ursula was exorcising upon his family.  The scene in which she influences his own father to drown him is particularly harrowing and heart wrenching in equal measure, I wanted to reach in and save him myself.

Best Bit: This was a hard one, there are so many wonderfully descriptive and beautifully realised scenes, seriously if you haven’t read this get on it, it’s only a short one and Gaiman’s writing is magical. I’ve gone with our first meeting with Ursula.

Something came through the woods, above our heads.  I glanced up, saw something brown and furry, but flat, like a huge rug, flapping and curling at the edges, and at the front of the rug, a mouth, filled with dozens of tiny sharp teeth, facing down,  It flapped and floated above us, and then it was gone.

4. Mr and Mrs Twit from The Twits by Roald Dahl

Let’s face it, when it comes to Dahl there are any number of contenders for best villain, The Witches, the aunts in James and the Giant Peach, the farmers in the Fantastic Mr Fox, the Trunchbull in Matilda, I could go on. But for me it has to be the twits, not villains per se but the glee with which they torment each other is fantastically villainous. The utter venom and vitriol they display towards each other is hilarious. And as has been stated a million times being spoken too in such a way by an author as a child was wonderful. Dahl made me want to read.

Best Bit: Again hard to pick just one here, the tricks they play on each other are rather sensational.  My personal favourite, mainly as the thought of this happening to me as a child was vomit inducing.

The next day, to pay Mr Twit back for the frog trick, Mrs Twit sneaked out to the garden and dug up some worms.  She chose big long ones and put them in a tin and carried the tin back to the house under her apron.

At one o’clock, she cooked spaghetti for lunch and she mixed the worms in with the spaghetti, but only on her husband’s plate…

Mr Twit started eating, twisting the long tomato-covered strings around his fork and shovelling them into his mouth…

‘Because it was worms!’ cried Mrs Twit, clapping her hands and stamping her feet on the floor and rocking with horrible laughter.

5. Beloved from Beloved by Toni Morrison


Another for both the tragic and beautifully written categories.  I read this book as part of my undergraduate degree, I don’t remember what module it was studied as part of, but I remember the book, I remember Beloved and that is the mark of a good book, a great book and a great character, they stay with you.  Beloved, seductive and charming, the personification of a malevolent spirit of a murdered child, who returns and rips Sethe’s family apart.  Utterly terrifying, transfixing and again gorgeously realised.  The whole premise is terrifying, we believe Beloved, to be the spirit of the dead baby that Sethe murdered under tragic circumstances, who according to Paul D acts sick, seems sick, like a dead person? But doesn’t look sick, looks new and shiny, like a baby?  Her name itself a reference to the epitaph on the baby’s grave which merely states Beloved.  Watching her influence and effect upon 124 and the characters within, Paul D, Denver and Sethe is mesmerising.

Best Bit: The description of Beloved as physically big, getting bigger, as we reach the climax of the novel, is an outward sign of her inward control and manipulation of the situation, of Sethe.

 When once or twice Sethe tried to assert herself-be the unquestioned mother whose word was law and who knew what was best -Beloved slammed things, wiped the table clean of plates, threw salt on the floor, broke a windowpane.

She was not like them, she was wild game,….

They grew tired, and even Beloved, who was getting bigger, seemed nevertheless as exhausted as they were…

Beloved nor Sethe seemed to care what the next day might bring.

Wow I’ve really waffled there, I was thinking it would be a 5 minute thing, list the bad guys ease myself in to this whole blog thing with a simple post.  But I got caught up in researching and re-reading and falling in love with books and character’s all over again.

Honourable mentions, Patrick Bateman, the criminally insane American Psycho, Miss Havisham, again like Dahl, even more so in fact, we could spend a week discussing the wonderful and varied villains created by Charles Dickens, the men of The Color Purple (more tragedy) tragic products of their environment and Big Brother, a fiction within a fiction a figurehead of surveillance.  In all honesty I could probably go on for weeks, bad guys make great characters that we all love to read and really allow an author to go to town with their imagination.  So who have I missed?  Who would you put up there?

I can think of a million more already and writing this post has made me realise that I seem to have a bit of a penchant for the tragic figure, I always did get called an Emo!


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