This week’s top ten list features the best of the worst — check it out at the Broke and the Bookish. Gul Dukat (below) is my favorite villain, but he doesn’t appear in many books. Presented in no real order.
1. Elsevan Dupris, Roswell High (Melinda Metz)
Roswell High introduced Dupris as a sleazy tabloid journalist who effects an air of southern gentility, ambling around town with a walking stick, white suit, and straw hat while interviewing people with an oily charm. His habits of knowing a little too much about people and leering at teenage girls make him creepy enough, but he turns into the series’ second presiding villain — a sadistic religious revolutionary with a strange obsession with the 1950s, who caused the Roswell crash.
Most iconic scene: Dupris, torturing people in a replica of the Brady Bunch home while 1950s sitcoms play in the background.
Cover: Actors portraying Michael Guerin, Max Evans, and Maria DeLuca.
2. Iago, Othello (William Shakespeare)
What’s a villains list without Iago? Iago is the master villain, full of bitterness and malice who destroys lives with sinister touches and soft whispers while masquerading as an honest, good friend.
Most iconic scene: When I think of Iago, I don’t think of a particular scene as such, but of these lines: “I hate the Moor; And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets he has done my office: I know not if ‘t be true; but I, for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety.”
3. Aubrey, In the Forests of the Night (Amelia Atwater-Rhodes)
In the Forests of the Night is the story of Risika and Aubrey, two vampires with a mutual hatred spanning two centuries. Aubrey helped destroy Risika’s family when she was still Rachel, a mortal girl living in colonial New England, and he oversaw her conversion into a creature of the night. The two ripen in their powers to become the two most powerful vampires alive, though neither can long tolerate the other: Risika hates Aubrey, and only her fear of being destroyed prevents her from attacking him. When he begins to attack the few things of beauty she still enjoys as a vampire, they start toward a final confrontation.
Most iconic scene: A repeated visual of Aubrey standing in front of Risika, staring at her with cold, smug eyes and tossing a silver knife carelessly in his hands — daring her to attack him.
Cover: I believe that is Aubrey on the cover of Demon in my View, but I always imagined him as David Foley from “Blast from the Past”…but sinister and evil. I think it’s because of their dress sense. Aubrey is always described as a deliberate dresser with a particular style, and one of Foley’s suits reminded me me of this.
4. Count Olaf, A Series of Unfortunate Events (Daniel Handler)
Hilarious and sadistic. At first Count Olaf appears to want the Baudelaire fortune, but as the series progresses it appears the fortune would have just been an ancillary benefit to killing off all of his old enemies and anyone who knew about his life of dastardly plots and villainous deeds.
Most iconic scene: Olaf, stuffed in a cage and promising the kids that if they betray their mutual hosts/captors and let him out, they can be his servants once he defeats the villagers and declares the island they’re stranded on to be Olaf-land.
5. Clarence Potter, Timeline-191 series. Harry Turtledove
Potter serves as a foil to Jake Featherson, a Hitler-figure who takes over the southern confederacy during the Second Great War. (What do you mean, you have no idea what I’m talking about?) Intelligent but patriotic, Potter swallows his pride and contempt for Featherson’s beliefs and demagogic approach to gathering power because he believes Featherston can be used to restore the Confederacy to its pre-Great War glory. He becomes an intelligence officer and one of Feather’s few confidants. Potter remained likable for most of the series, but his actions in the endgame soured on me. I never liked what he fought for, but I respected him for it until he led an atomic attack on Philadelphia.
Most iconic scene: Potter planning to assassinate Featherson at a rally, and having instead to save the man’s life from an incautious socialist revolutionary to prevent chaos from ensuing.
I should note that the above image is not of Potter, but of a rebel artillery captain from the film Gettysburg, played by James Patrick Stuart. I always used his face for Potter, in part because I liked the characters. Stuart shows up immediately as the artillery commander in this clip.
6. Courtney Massengale, Once an Eagle. (Anton Myrer)
Though both Sam Damon and Courtney Massengale join the US Army at the start of the Great War, Sam earns his commission through hard work, leadership in the trenches, and persistent displays of superior character while Courtney relies on family influence to arrange a cozy job far from danger. Courtney is a political animal, a schemer, who sees war and martial prowess as a means of gaining glory and prestige: Sam just wants to keep his men alive and do good. The book follows them through to the start of the Vietnam War, when both are generals — surviving depression and another calamitous fight in their own ways. I’ve read that the military adores this book.
Most iconic scene: I haven’t read the book in four, perhaps five years, so many scenes and their details have left my mind. The introduction of Massengale sets the stage, as the snobbish lieutenant turns his nose up at bedraggled Sergeant Sam Damon and his men, fresh from the front lines of the trenches.
7. The Mule, Foundation and Empire. Isaac Asimov.
The Mule isn’t so much a villain as he is a wrench in a good man’s plans. Asimov didn’t write villains: his antagonists tended to be people whose desires and ambitions simply ran counter to those of the protagonist, and sometimes both sides made mistakes. I don’t remember the Mule as being evil, unless you count occasional mind-control as mean, but he had to be stopped for the sake of the galactic human race.
Most iconic scene: The Mule was mostly a grim spectre in Foundation and Empire, rarely showing up in person. (That the reader knew of!) There are thus few scenes with him in the book, but I first realized how good he was at getting his way when he managed to turn his prisoners into his personal bodyguard, and the ship he’d been held in irons on into a personal transport.
8. Cataline, Cataline’s Riddle. Steven Saylor; Conspirata, Robert Harris.
If you believe Cicero, Cataline ate babies for breakfast and murdered as a leisure activity. In real life, Cataline was accused of conspiring to lead an insurrection against Rome’s aristocratic elite on behalf of the plebeians, which isn’t far-fetched considering both the elite and the dispossessed were constantly trying to kill the other’s leaders and achieve supremacy. Saylor’s Catalina isn’t so much a villain as an intriguing character. Is he plotting against the Roman state? Probably. Is that a bad thing? Is Cataline wrong for wanting to strip away the authority of the aristocrats, who dissolved the people’s tribunes and have killed their every advocate?
9. Great Benefit, The Rainmaker. John Grisham.
The financial officers of Great Benefit have figured out the perfect way to make lots of money: sell cheap insurance to low-income families and automatically deny any and all claims filed to collect on that insurance. Even if their ‘customers’ could overcome their distrust of lawyers, they probably can’t afford to pay one to sue on their behalf. On the off-chance someone does sue, employees who know anything and who are willing to talk can be shut up through legal and illegal means.
The Rainmaker is the story of a young, wet-behind-the-ears law graduate who takes on a massive insurance company and exposes their methodical plan to prey on those who can’t defend themselves. It is one of my two favorite Grisham works (the other being The Last Juror), in part because profiteering corporations are a lot more likely to hurt people than a Hitler-wizard. And speaking of which…
10. The Malfoys (Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling)
Do Lucius and Draco Malfoy deserve to be considered as villains? Probably not. They’re despicable people, easy to hate, and I devoutly wished all manner of unpleasantness upon them while reading the books — but they’re just bullies who would be nothing without their support of Lord Voldemort. Today’s list isn’t just about villains, though: it’s also about degenerates. In every scene the Malfoys featured, they managed to be cruel,arrogant, petty, and obsessed by power and appearance. Every time I read the Half-Blood prince, I am astonished that Rowling manages to make me feel sorry for pathetic Draco.
Honorable Mention: Dolores Umbridge is similarly contemptible, personifying everything anyone has ever disliked about government officials or authority figures. She deserved much worse than she got.
Most iconic scene: The Malfoys were contemptible every time we saw them, but sending Hagrid to Akaban and nearly getting Buckbeat killed in Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban were particularly…mean-spirited moves. Jason Isaacs is so very good at playing contemptible characters.