Reflections on the Modern View of Villains

From Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda.*

Although the above quote appears clever and wise, it is in fact circuitous and facile. This does not make it wrong, necessarily, but it does avoid the meaning of the proverb it seeks to replace. While it can be beneficial to approach a delicate point obliquely, it is quite another matter to dress up foul aims and desires in pretty words. This tendency to wrap wicked motives in fair attire is at the heart of the problem with the modern misunderstanding of villains.

Recently, Foxfier and I had a discussion about perennial X-Men* adversary Magneto. The Master of Magnetism has captivated audiences around the world over the years for several reasons. Having survived his imprisonment at Auschwitz during World War II, the cruelty and horror Magneto witnessed in the infamous Nazi concentration camp scarred him for life, as it exposed him to the worst side of humanity at a young age. He has carried these memories and beliefs from his initial introduction in the 1960s down to the present day.

This is the great tragedy and appeal of Magneto’s character. A brilliant man of talent who could do much good, he has instead become the thing he hates most. There is little difference between his idea of mutant supremacy and the racial superiority espoused by the Nazis. Professor Xavier’s attempts to convince him of this fact are always vociferously denied, a sign that perhaps Magneto does realize his position is the wrong one on some level, despite his protest of being “a realist” rather than the blind idealist he believes his old friend has become.

As stated previously at Song, this author has never understood the tendency of fans to fall in love with a villain who will not change his ways. I can comprehend and appreciate those who wish an antagonistic character would join the side of truth, beauty, and goodness. Hoping for a specific villain’s redemption, especially when there is ample potential for it, is a very good thing to do in and out of fiction.

What confuses this author is the belief that a fictional adversary is “awesome just the way he is.” If by this statement one were to mean that the villain is undeniably mesmerizing, capable, and frightening enough to drive the protagonist to new heights of heroism, then that is the definition of a “good” villain. Any “good” fictional enemy ought to be able to competently and believably raise the stakes in a story at the same time he forces the hero to reach greater levels of grace and strength. If he does not accomplish this goal, then the author has not done his job properly.

Magneto | Character Close Up | Marvel Comic Reading Lists

However, if by this statement one means that he esteems the bad guy simply due to his wicked behavior, this author has to wonder why. What is so interesting about being evil? In what way does it benefit the fictional world and the audience? How can it benefit the villain, who becomes less and less human the more immoral acts he commits? In short, what is it that others find so good about being bad?

It is almost impossible to avoid variations on the theme that “evil is better than good” in present-day fiction. The above quotation is just one example of this trend, as it attempts to clarify the paradox of the proverb it quotes. Evil always seeks to make those it wishes to corrupt believe they are fighting for something good or worthy. Otherwise, fewer people will support evil, which means it will be unable to grasp and hold those it seeks to devour long enough to accomplish its aims.

When someone says that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” he does not mean that any good intent of itself leads one to the netherworld. Rather, he means is that the “good intentions” espoused by adherents of iniquity are merely excuses that real life (and fictional) villains use to cloak their true motives. And these motives are, without exception, absolutely self-serving and self-centric in the extreme.

In the present era, when moral relativism is attempting to reign supreme, few novelists and storytellers are willing to admit this fact. To avoid calling a spade a spade, they circle and dance about the truth, doing their best to excuse their villains’ true motives by saying things such as “he had an abusive childhood and was carrying on that abuse,” or “she was sexually assaulted repeatedly, so it’s no wonder she snapped.” All of this ignores the fact that many more people who have endured such circumstances have not perpetrated crimes similar to those that scarred them for life. In point of fact, victims of domestic and sexual abuse largely do their best to avoid becoming abusers of any kind.

Using the above excuses to say that a villain or antagonist is “awesome just the way he/she is” is a form of moral equivalency. It equates a good, such as protecting others by permanently stopping someone bent on their destruction, with the crime of murder. There is no comparison between a Western hero’s shooting the bad guy to protect himself, a child, and/or the damsel in distress and the villain shooting an unarmed bank teller shivering in his boots. Yet today some novels and most other media like to make it appear that these acts are somehow the same egregious sin.

Movie Rob’s Genre Grandeur: Open Range (Western ...

They are not. If a man has no choice but to kill someone trying to kill him, his wife, his son, or the whole human race, then the person he dispatched is the one guilty of a crime. The man defending himself, his family, and his species is innocent of any culpability. He did not initiate the fight or seek to commit the heinous act, only to prevent it. Therefore, he is blameless while the attacker is guilty.

Due to this maelstrom of equivalency, many good villains are treated as bad or uninteresting if they lack a “sympathetic” backstory or some “clear” motivation that cloaks their evil intent. In certain cases, this critique is justified. A villain that is evil just for the sake of being evil, as the antagonists in the Captain Planet animated series were, are not good adversaries for the hero. They are caricatures; bogeymen meant to push an agenda. The bad guys in Captain Planet were not real people, anymore than Captain Planet and his entourage were believable heroes.

This does not mean, however, that a limited backstory and a straightforward motive automatically create a recipe for a bad villain. On the contrary, these two things can make a fictional enemy quite as mesmerizing, frightening, and horrible as those with detailed histories and well-articulated desires. While this seems counter-intuitive to many writers and critics today, that is only due to the fact that they and the academics who taught them have confused “simple” with “simplistic.”

Among its definitions, “simple” means “having few parts: not complex or fancy.” Simplistic, on the other hand, means “too simple: not complete or thorough enough: not treating or considering all possibilities or parts.” (Thanks, Merriam-Webster Dictionary*.) For a fictional villain, therefore, to be simple means that he is direct in his aims, pursues them in an uncomplicated manner, and is honest – i.e. straightforward – when he declares his purpose. A simplistic villain is one that does the same thing only to satisfy the message the writer is pushing. Since it is not the villain’s chosen goal, he has no choice but to be one-dimensional, “a puppet on strings” to quote the twisted version of the song in from Pinocchio* in Avengers: Age of Ultron.*

The villain of the latest My Hero Academia* film, Heroes Rising, is a good example of this. Known as Nine, this desperado has received a great deal of flak from fans since the movie released. Despite his power and the fact that he poses a very tangible threat to the teenage superheroes-in-training, many believe he is the embodiment of the one-dimensional trope. They declaim that Nine is “boring” or “flat,” complaining about his “lack of clear motivation” and the fact that we do not get to see much of his backstory during the course of the film.

You may have guessed from reading the above that this author has no such issue with the character. There are several reasons for this, but the most important one is the fact that Nine was not meant to last beyond Heroes Rising. He was made to pose a serious, believable threat to the cast of My Hero Academia for a brief time in the overarching narrative of an ongoing series. Unlike the main villain in the series, Nine did not need to have his backstory fleshed out or his motivations written in fancy cursive. He just had to present the teenage heroes with a credible risk to life and limb.

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And he succeeds perfectly. His power, skills, and drive all combine to make him a potent villain during the course of the film. This more than compensates for his lack of backstory, while his motivation is painted in fine, quick brushstrokes. He believes that the strong should lord over the weak and that the present construction of society, which treats both strong and weak as equal under the law, ought to be abolished. And he is more than willing to kill twenty teenage heroes to do just that.

For many, this straightforward motivation seems too simplistic to be believable. But just because the incentive is base does not mean it is one-dimensional; the temptation to absolute power should never be underestimated. With full possession of his Quirk, Nine could easily set himself up as a king or even a false god, giving him the power to rule over a wide swath of territory. He is strong enough to send cars miles away from his position into the air and tear apart buildings with the winds he can generate. A man with such power would be susceptible to the belief that the “rules” of decent society – such as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – ought not to apply to him.

In a perfectly fallen world, with no glimmerings of grace or hint of love, strength rules supreme. We see this fact on perfect display in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters*. All the devils in Letters are engaged in a game of using one another to further their own ends. They each claw over one another to reach a position of power and stay there, lording over and “eating” those weaker than they are.

No one in this system is ever secure or happy because there is always the potential that they will be toppled from their high position and become slaves to someone stronger. Fear, hatred, lust, pride, greed – these are the only things they know and recognize as legitimate emotions and motivations. Everything they choose to do is motivated only by selfish ambition. Whatever they can get out of each other and/or mankind, they will not hesitate to seize it, no matter who among them gets hurt.

This is what makes the philosophy of Nine and other villains like him more complex and dangerous than they first appear. These fictional adversaries do not “just” want a society where the strong rule; they want a society where they are the undisputed rulers of the strong. Where they are free to do as they please, regardless of who it harms or what it destroys. The only “love” shown in such a world would be “the basest sentimentality,” to quote The Avengers’* Loki. A passing fancy would be the sole reason for individuals in this type of society to show interest in anyone weaker or less capable than themselves.

Screwtape’s “affection” for his nephew Wormwood is a prime example of this. He does not care for Wormwood’s well-being, only his own. When his nephew fails to capture a soul for Hell, Screwtape is only too happy to “devour” him in the young Englishman’s place. The only “love” he has for him is what he can get out of him – mainly nourishment, either from someone else or from Wormwood himself.

A man who would do this same thing, and/or burn the world down just so he could rule over the ashes, is truly a dangerous villain. We don’t need to see his backstory or to have a detailed description of his motivation to recognize him as a threat and fear for the protagonists’ safety. Screwtape, Nine, and other villains like them are perfect just the way they are. Adding any more information about either of them to the narrative would overburden the story and obscure the point that true heroism puts the good of others over the good of oneself, no matter the cost to the hero (or heroine) in question.

Gifted Movie Little Girl Child Prodigy Matilda Link

If these goals seem too extravagant, consider the case of Evelyn Adler from the film Gifted.* A mathematician of great skill, Evelyn is determined to defend the thesis that solves one of the great Millennium Prize Problems in the field of mathematics. When she proves unable to accomplish the task on her own, she falls back on a secondary plan by trying to have members of her family do it for her. Both her husband and son prove unable to pursue the subject, whereas her daughter excels at math. Evelyn then forces her gifted child, Diane, to do the job she cannot. She thus brings Diane to suicide after giving birth to a daughter at the age of twenty-seven, whom she entrusts to her brother Frank (played by Chris Evans).

Throughout the film, Evelyn remains entirely dedicated to this objective. She cares less about her family’s emotional and intellectual well-being than she does about the honor of proving the solution to one of the six greatest mathematical questions of the 21st century. She willingly deprived her daughter of a normal life interacting with others and with the outside world, keeping her from being able to function in society. This is a process she is quite happy to repeat with her granddaughter, Mary, whom she did not even recognize as a blood-relation when she was born. Only when the girl proves to have her mother’s capacity for math does Evelyn show the slightest bit of interest in Mary and Frank.

Evelyn is a horrible person completely dedicated to her straightforward goal (solve one of the Millennium Problems) at the expense of others so she can win fame as the defender of the answer to the equation. She becomes progressively worse and more destructive as time goes on, pursuing a “good” end by despicable means and at a terrible cost. In many ways, she is the embodiment of the proverb at the head of this article: “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” It is also, one might add, littered with the bodies of those who have unintentionally and innocently “stood in the way” of those with “good intentions.”

From this it should be clear that, while a writer ought not to make his villains one-dimensional, neither does he need to convince himself or anyone else that they are anything less than evil. Even the redeemable adversaries who face off against heroes do not typically begin the tale as particularly nice or sympathetic people. That is what the redemption arc is for. 😉

Should your story include a villain with a straightforward, uncompromising, base desire like the one espoused by Nine, Screwtape, or Evelyn, do not try to “deepen it” or sugarcoat it, future writers. That is just an attempt to excuse his/her bad behavior. Let the villain revel in his wickedness if you must, but do not allow him to get away with excusing it. Nail him to the wall and let your heroes pound him into the bricks. They – and your readers – will thank you for it.

If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Luna and Uranus. Her short story “Death’s Shadow” will appear in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue this August. Order them today!

*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through them, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.

Need some more inspiration for straightforward villains? Try Thomas Tan’s League of Angels, Monalisa Foster’s Ravages of Honor, and Lori Janeski’s The Carter Files: Phoenix. The antagonists in these novels are sick, deranged, twisted, and far from one-dimensional. Pick them up today!

18 thoughts on “Reflections on the Modern View of Villains

  1. Great point about the difference between simple and simplistic! We can also see the Screwtape ‘ethos’ at the heart of Game of Thrones and Star Trek’s ‘Mirror Universe.’ I never heard of the movie ‘Gifted.’ I must check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great piece!

    Have you noticed how, despite the ‘a good villain must be understandable, complex, and think himself the hero’ line, the most vivid, memorable, and ‘beloved’ bad guys tend to be the ‘simple’ ones? Dracula, the Joker, Lex Luthor, Freddy Krueger, Blofeld, the Wicked Witch of the West, Maleficent, Doctor Doom, and so on; they all are pretty much just unmitigated evil. Some of them got semi-sympathetic backstories later, but only after they had made their impact.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!

      Now that you mention it, that would explain why Magneto has always struck me as a lesser villain in some ways. He doesn’t induce fear in the audience as much as pity; we know where he’s coming from, and why he refuses to acknowledge the fact that he has embraced the evil he says he is trying to overcome. That makes him misguided more than outright evil.

      Doctor Doom, on the other hand, knows what he is doing is evil and he *doesn’t care.* All the other villains on your list prefer evil to good as well. That carries more weight and impact than the villain who follows the “understandable, complex, and thinks himself the hero” line.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, in his earlier version, he didn’t have the sympathetic backstory; Magneto was just a supremacist.

        Personally, I ran across him in his heroic days as a X-man. I liked him then. I gave up on the mutants when they turned him back to a villain.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t agree with this. I’m honestly pretty troubled by this recent trend in my fellow Catholics to assume there’s a purposeful, malicious, clear-cut attempt to destroy morality and objective truth behind anything that doesn’t conform to idealistic standards of storytelling. Are there people who think good and evil are all the same thing? Yes. Do they pervade our culture? Find me an atheist or agnostic who thinks school shootings are okay because evil doesn’t exist before you answer “yes.” The issue of people wanting to excuse villains’ behavior is more often than not understandably misguided and heavily muddled by legitimate backlash against idealistic storytelling. Sometimes I see more of myself in a troubled villain than in the arrogant, powerful, problem-free hero. Is it any less legitimate of a response to think “Oh, okay, that’s how I SHOULDN’T handle my problems”? How in the world is that less profound than a story where the villain is just evil for no reason? (Yes, your description of “straightforward villains” pretty much sound like a reskinned phrasing of “evil for no reason” to me. I’m not sure where you’re seeing a difference. Human beings do not behave in… any manner at all, actually, without having believable and understandable reasons for it.) And would you honestly blame me if I got very confused by the cognitive dissonance and started to wonder why people like me were being vilified? THAT is more often than not where a desire to excuse villains’ behavior comes from–not a malicious attack on the good and the true.


    • Pardon me, but I did not say that any villain is or should be “evil for no reason.” Rather, I stated that the reason a villain chooses to do something evil *on purpose* should not be sugarcoated. As an example, the villain Nine *knows* it is wrong to violently destroy the present society of “My Hero Academia” and build a new one where he will be worshipped as a god for his power, but he chooses it anyway *because that is what he wants.* He *wants* to be worshipped and feared as a god would be because he believes his power entitles him to receive that treatment. He’s not “evil for no reason”; he’s evil because he *wants* to be evil.

      To try to excuse this desire by saying something like, “Oh, he had a rough childhood, so that’s why he chose to be evil” is erroneous at the least and malicious at the worst. It is erroneous when someone uses this statement to try to “cure” evil by human means – that is, by finding its root and “fixing it” under our own power. If that were possible we wouldn’t have need of a Savior. It is malicious to use this potential backstory (rough childhood) to make Nine seem more like a hero than the actual hero opposing him. Should someone poor who could make a living honestly *if he wanted to do so* be praised for stealing at the same time his equally poor brother goes hungry at night because he is working hard to pay for room and board for them both? The hard-working brother clearly deserves praise, unlike his thieving sibling, since the other boy could *help* him make an honest living if he chose but has *decided* to break the law for his own amusement.

      That is my main point: some people decide they want certain things (power, money, items in a store, etc.) and they are willing to break any law or kill anyone in their path simply because they stand in the way of their unjust desire. Some villains, like Magneto, are able to lie to themselves about this desire but others do not even bother. They want what they want, and if anyone – man, woman, or child – stands in their way, by accident or purposefully, they would have no qualms about removing that person from their path by the most expedient route.

      As for “believing that there is a purposeful, malicious, clear-cut attempt to destroy morality and objective truth behind anything that doesn’t conform to idealistic standards of storytelling,” this has clearly been the case across various forms of media in the modern era. The thinking behind this is that, if one can destroy the idea that good (a.k.a. God) is worth striving to meet, then the eyes of the reader will be cast down to the gutter, where Satan lays in wait. Idealism is not some starry-eyed, blind belief that all will be well in this life but that good (God) is worth pursuing at all costs, even and especially when the pursuer falters or falls.


      • None of us believe that *all* people in the modern era are part of the “purposeful, malicious, clear-cut attempt to destroy morality and objective truth.” That is statistically impossible. What we *do* believe is that a large number of people have been led astray by those who wish to “destroy morality and objective truth” through storytelling. Their adherents may not know this but that is the entire point; fool enough people for a long enough period of time, and an evil goal can be accomplished. It worked in Nazi Germany, so why wouldn’t it work here and now?

        The only way to repair such damage to the writing community and the audience is to explain the difference between right and wrong, between heroism and villainy, in such a way that it is impossible to keep fooling so many people at once. As the saying goes, “You can fool some of the people all the time and all of the people some of the time. But you can’t fool *all* the people *all* the time.” One reason why it doesn’t work on *all* the people *all* the time is because some people stand up and keep telling the truth until the lies can no longer outrun them.

        I hope this makes things at least a little clearer, both in the case of the article and the argument against affixing a complex backstory or motivation to *every* fictional villain in every tale told from the present forward. Not every villain thinks himself the hero of his own story; sometimes, the villain is quite happy playing the Devil’s advocate in a fallen world. To portray his motivation as anything less than that is to play the Devil’s game, which is a lose-lose proposition no matter how one looks at it.


      • I know it’s not okay to excuse bad choices because of extenuating circumstances. You, however, are equating any realistic portrayal of human nature as such to an anti-moralist agenda. Because of course people who do bad things want to believe that their actions are excused by extenuating circumstances—that’s just how people work. Refusing to acknowledge that is not only utterly blindness to human nature but also its own kind of evil. It’s pride. How can we expect to move people to make better decisions if we refuse to see things from their perspective? You’re making this very black-and-white by implying that it’s impossible to portray that perspective without promoting it. But that is simply not true.

        Yes, of course there’s the danger that people will come out of seeing that perspective convinced that it’s fully right. Satan can certainly use such confusion to his advantage. But the way to counter that confusion is absolutely not to paint the humans involved as mouthpieces of some grand conspiracy. I really cannot bring myself to believe that there’s an evil hivemind behind the entirety of modern fiction trying to destroy all that is good. People are doing their best. They’re trying to feel their way towards dialogue through fiction.

        It makes me think of when I was a camp counselor and we were doing a woods scavenger hunt. We had an objective, and the kids weren’t always going about it the right way—they’d run off to look at other interesting things, argue with me because they thought my rules were unfair, all kinds of things to hinder our objective. My solution was NOT to scream at them that they were all conspiring against me to openly sabotage the scavenger hunt. That would’ve been ridiculous. And it’s worth noting that I wasn’t perfect in pursuing the objective either. Sometimes the stuff they ran off to look at WAS more interesting. Sometimes my rules WERE unfair. Refusing to acknowledge that is, once again, blindness.


      • Ma’am, I do not appreciate your attempt to sidestep my answer. Once again, for the record, I do not believe *all* authors across the board are attempting to lure their readers into sin by excusing their villains’ actions. The only “evil hivemind…trying to destroy all that is good” which I know for certain exists has its residence in Hell. Many authors are simply going along to get along, acquiescing to the latest fads in order to stay employed doing what they love. Others have been led to believe that evil truly is *not* real, but that it is a social and/or religious construct meant to hold some class of men down. Still others, as you point out, are feeling their way toward the truth, slowly but surely.

        The belief that evil is a construct, however, is a fallacious ideal that has led to a misrepresentation of villains in fiction. This false view of evil has bled over to the view of real life criminals, who abuse it to get their own way. If the latter is to change at all, then there must be a requisite alteration in the way authors understand and portray evil in their fiction.

        You cite your experience as a camp counselor guiding children in a scavenger hunt to point out the importance of questioning rules and accepting the children’s creativity. Allow me to put a hypothetical case to you: suppose during one of these summer camps, you had a boy tell you another boy was bullying his younger sister by pulling her braid, calling her names, and laughing at her when she ran away crying.

        Naturally, you call the bully aside, tell him not to do that, explain why it is wrong, and add that there will be consequences if he behaves this way again. A couple of days later, though, the brother comes to you to tell you the bully has begun abusing his sister again. So you take the other boy aside, reiterate your warnings, and let him go – only to have the brother tell you the other boy is at it *again* the next day.

        Suppose your repeated warnings, admonitions, and attempts to understand the bully do not stop his malicious behavior. Finally, the older brother has enough of watching his sister be tormented, and he steps up and punches the other boy in the nose. This leads to the children’s parents being called. You now discover that the bully’s parents are a typical middle class couple who have never spanked their son once, mistreated him in anyway, or spoiled him to the point he would believe he could get away with anything. While upset that his nose is bleeding, they are more upset that he was bullying a young girl for no other reason than he thought it was fun.

        The brother and sister’s mother, a recovering drug addict struggling to provide for her children, is equally upset that her son punched the bully because now she has to deal with the social repercussions – namely the fact that this one incident will make her well-behaved son look like a troublemaker. With these extenuating circumstances illuminating their actions, which boy do you think was the true victim?


    • I’m not sidestepping anything. I think you’re greatly exaggerating the reason people want to write realistic and fleshed-out characters and the effect it has on people. Yeah, it’s led some people astray. I won’t pretend it hasn’t. But tell me exactly where you’re finding the evidence of this culture-wide übermensch revolution you’re describing. Seriously, where among the anti-racism protests of the last few months and the demands that rapists finally be held accountable for their actions are you finding a secular movement towards total anarchy of the conscience?

      I don’t know ANYONE—Catholic, atheist, agnostic, or otherwise, who would look at your addendum to my analogy and say “Oh, clearly the bully is the victim.” Probably just the perp and his parents, maybe a school board motivated by money and PR. If the world is being affected the way you describe by fiction, we’d have people lining up to protest his right to pull his sister’s hair. If you think that’s even the slightest bit realistic, either you’re spending time with horrible people or you’ve created a massive theoretical projection.

      Last year I made this video on writing villains called “Motives vs. Excuses” that gives my full perspective on this issue, if you care, but the thing that might interest you here is that I wrote this for a secular audience, so clearly I had reason to assume people would care… and the blog I referenced, the one that was talking about “people who are just plain bad” and have no chance at ever being redeemed, was written by an atheist.


      • Here’s my question: what’s wrong with both perspectives? In the original illustrated booklets for Masters Of The Universe that came with the first wave of figures Skeletor wanted to open a portal back to his realm so his people could conquer Eternia. In the stories that came with the mini-comics and the Filmation series Skeletor enjoyed being evil and saw it as his way to get ultimate power. In the 2003 remake series Keldor wanted to take over, paid for it, and was turned into Skeletor where he took on a greater sense of cruelty. In all these cases he wanted power, whether it was controlling the planet, the secrets of Castle Grayskull, or the universe. It’s somethings kids can understand as “don’t be like this guy”. We don’t need to know why he chose this path other than “he wants power and sees evil as the way to do it or he just thinks it’s fun to do evil things”.

        Compare that to the more recent origins by DC Comics and later by a tie-in comic to Masters Of The Universe: Revelation. In the DC version he was shunned for his blue skin as Randor’s adopted brother, in other words they tried to blame his evil on racism. In the Revelation tie-in, and admittedly I’m going by third party on this one because unlike the others i haven’t read it, Skeletor was a member of a race of skull-faced beings and his life kind of went to crap and that turned him to evil. (The only specific I remember is that his wife was killed but there was more than that.) Did any of this make Skeletor a better villain? No. They slapped a motivation on a character who was already a great kids show villain and a good villain period.

        I’m not against complex villains. Magneto is interesting, so is Darth Vader. I’m one of the few people who found Anakin’s fall in the prequels and Clone Wars and story problems aside it worked conceptually. However, not every villain whose motivation is “I crave power” has to have some sympathetic backstory. Kid sees how cool the mobsters look and decides he wants in. Maybe he has a reason for it. Doesn’t excuse any of the crimes he commits when achieves his goal. It can be as simple as the villain was attracted to evil whether or not he/she even thinks in moral terms of good and evil or if they outright enjoy being evil. There’s room for the complex AND the simple villain in fiction, depending on the villain’s thematic role in the story or the type of story and audience the writer is aiming for.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not sidestepping anything. I think you’re greatly exaggerating the reason people want to write fully fleshed-out characters (that is how human beings are) and the effect it has on people. It’s led some people astray, but tell me exactly where you’re finding the evidence of this great revolution. Seriously, where among all the anti-racism protests of the last few months and the demands that rapists finally be held accountable for their actions are you finding a secular movement towards total anarchy of the conscience?

    I don’t know ANYONE–Catholic, atheist, agnostic, or otherwise–who would look at your addendum to my analogy and say, “Oh, clearly the bully is the victim.” Probably just the perp and his parents, maybe a school board motivated by money and PR. If the world is being affected the way you describe by fiction, we’d have people lining up to protest his right to pull his sister’s hair. If you think that’s even the slightest bit realistic, I would seriously encourage you to spend more time in the secular world. It’s really nowhere near as awful as you’re making it out to be. (Also: what if it was discovered to be caused by abuse or a mental health issue? Of course it doesn’t deserve to be rewarded or excused… but would you argue that he shouldn’t be taken away from the abusive situation or given a therapist, either, as punishment?)


    • I’m sorry about the accidental repeated comments. My computer didn’t load them properly when I refreshed the page and it looked like you had blocked me from posting comments, so it may have gone through more than once.


  5. Pingback: Further Reflections on Evil | A Song of Joy by Caroline Furlong

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