There’s been quite a bit of discussion on the Interwebs about villains since The Avengers hit the screen. All the ladies who like the bad boys took up with Loki, who is one of those perfectly flawed characters—a combination of a natural tendency toward mischief and bad personal circumstances made him who he is: a villain.
It doesn’t hurt that Loki is personified through Tom Hiddleston, who is both talented and good-looking, with the added benefit of a silken voice and British accent. (Yes, I’m one of those girls. What’s it to you?)
The running joke seems to be villains are irredeemable unless they are good looking. It’s an interesting joke, since I’ve always had a soft spot for villains. Not because they are “misunderstood” or victimized, but because they are essential not only to a good story, but also the rise and triumph of the heroes.
Fellow blogger John K. Patterson tweeted this morning about how some people dislike the orcs and goblins in Tolkien’s stories because they have no redeeming qualities. I replied, respectfully disagreeing with these detractors. They have many excellent qualities, like unquestioning loyalty to their leader and a surprisingly apt army (both organized and well-managed).
It’s not that they don’t have morals. It’s just that they have evil morals.
There are several kinds of villains. The first and most simplistic are the “naturally evil” creatures, like orcs or demons or something. They are evil because that’s just how they were created. Then, you have the grow-into-a-villain types like Loki, who are hypersensitive to slights and may have been unstable to begin with. Lastly, you have the good guy who just up and switches sides, like Saruman, due to lust for power or the loss of hope.
In my brain, there’s no such thing as a misunderstood villain. I understand them perfectly. I know exactly why Loki thinks he’s justified, and on a certain level, I sympathize. He could have been a great guy had he avoided that pesky psychotic break.
Saruman was a great guy—leader of the good wizards—until he got greedy.
And why are we hating on the orcs? I mean, they’re uglier than sin itself, but that isn’t really their fault. They were created to be bad, and we’re always preaching ‘to thine own self be true.’ If we’re going to look for redeeming qualities, here, it’s that orcs love to be bad, and they are good at it.
If you can’t find a redeeming quality in the villain, then find one in their purpose. Without the villain, our precious heroes would never have the chance to shine. They wouldn’t be heroes—they would just be ordinary people, living regular lives. Without the potential for evil, there is no reason to cultivate good.
No villains means no conflict. No conflict means no story. No story means no entertainment. I mean, can you imagine how boring it would be to hear about Frodo’s life in The Shire? Hobbits aren’t exactly an exciting bunch. They eat, sleep, smoke and garden as far as I can tell. Woo frickin’ hoo, you guys.
And, allow me to point out, that every good guy is someone’s villain.
Evil is a matter of perspective.