This post is written in anticipation of my upcoming takeover of Facebook’s Fantasy and Science-Fiction Readers lounge today (5/1) from 2-4pm est.
World-burning, mayhem- causing villains can be fun, but the best antagonists are the ones who are multifaceted. My favorite antagonists are the ones who have understandable motives and sympathetic plights. There are also villains you love to hate, perhaps because they get away with it, or maybe because they’re only villains to one group of people and heroes to everyone else. Great antagonists and villains live in gray areas where the readers decide right and wrong for themselves.
Here are some of my favorite villains and antagonists from literature and why I love them:
Javert from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Javert holds the reasonable belief that the law must be followed. Javert came by his hatred for rule-breaking honestly, having been born in prison to criminal parents. His rigid legalism puts him at odds with the protagonist Jean Valjean, who breaks the law out of desperation. When Javert discovers that Valjean is both a criminal and a virtuous person, he is unable to reconcile his cognitive dissonance. Javert is the epitome of a sympathetic villain. There’s not much to like about him, and pursuit of Valjean is frustrating, but it’s easy to understand his point of view.
The Comedian from Watchmen by Alan Moore
On the other end of the spectrum from the overly responsible Javert is the vile, abusive Comedian (Edward Blake). The Comedian’s murder is the graphic novel’s inciting incident, and the more I read about him, the more I was tempted to say “good riddance.” But, he’s a “Captain America” flavored hero to most of the world. His public heroics are undeniable, and his horrors are hidden to everyone but those who know him best. In a story full of villains, this caustic lowlife stands out.
Long John Silver from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Is there any villain more heinous than the betrayer? Long John Silver looks like a miscreant, with his missing leg and a squawking parrot perched on his shoulder. But, his seemingly kind nature and lowly position as the ship’s cook puts Jim the cabin boy at ease, until Silver orchestrates a mutiny and turns on Jim in a shocking display of treachery. The most villainous aspect of Silver is his capacity to be a good person, as he demonstrates with Jim before the mutiny. He doesn’t have to be malicious. Silver could be a light-hearted “gentleman of fortune;” instead, he’s a black-hearted pirate.
Bartleby from “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville
Bartleby’s catchphrase “I prefer not to” may be the most infuriating line in all of literature. The short story’s unnamed protagonist hires Bartleby as a scrivener for his law office, on the glowing recommendation from a colleague. The suggestion was a trick to get Bartleby off his hands as the scrivener “prefers not to” do any work, with no explanation for his disinclination. Bartleby is a blank slate sort of antagonist because I can see myself in his shoes. Who hasn’t “preferred not to” at some point during their career? Maybe Bartleby is burnt out, or tired of being exploited. Or, perhaps he’s never done any work and found a villainous way to shirk his way through life.
Great antagonists can be so much more than mustache twirlers with a plan for world domination. They can be just as exciting and compelling as the protagonists. You may even find yourself rooting for them, you scoundrel. Who are some of your favorite antagonists?
Today I’m writing, on request, about the long and illustrious history of spoons. To clear things up, spoons are distinctly different from shovels, which are larger and used to move dirt and debris short distances. People use spoons to shovel food into their mouths.
No one knows who invented the spoon, since they’ve been around since the Paleolithic era. I think we can assume that a Paleolithic cave lady, tired of having berry stains on her hands, created the first spoon.
The word spoon was derived from the Greek and Latin term for a spiral snail shell; so most ancient spoons were scoops full of snail guts. During the 1st Century, Romans classed-up spoons by adding a handle, creating the spoon form that lives on today.
Only rich people could afford spoons up until the 14th Century, which brought about the saying, “Born with a spoon in his mouth.” This was later replaced by the saying, “Born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” when the use of pewter made cheap spoons available to the masses.
Spoons have not always been used for good. From the 1890s to the 1920s the
Silver Souvenir Spoon company produced a line of stereotyped and, in some cases, racist spoons. These spoons underwent diversity training and now they’re much more sensitive to today’s multicultural environment.
Modern spoons come in dozens of forms such as tea, iced tea, soup, table, dessert, grapefruit, caviar, slotted, and absinthe. The world’s largest spoon is located in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in Minnesota. This massive spoon is 52 feet long and it’s used as a bridge across a small pond. The whimsical sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen placed a giant cherry fountain on the tip of the spoon.
From its grubby beginnings as a crusty snail shell to the glamor of caviar and absinthe, the spoon has made an impact on all of our lives. If you’re ever in doubt, try to eat your soup with a knife.
“Only the spoon knows what is stirring in the pot.” - Italian Proverb