There are much more than three types of villains I’m going to discuss in the following few blogs, but many infamous villains can be sorted into one of these categories. There’s also some overlap, and many villains can fit into more than one category.
Sympathetic villains have two subtypes, but each one has something in common. The evil acts are something that many people would do, given the situation.
The Villain Who Cares too Much
Sometimes villains are justifiably selfish in trying to protect themselves and the people they love. Due to circumstances out of their control, they have to make tough choices that have bad outcomes. Many people look at the situation and realize they would do the same thing.
A sympathetic villain might sacrifice a handful of people to save their child, or they may unknowingly commit evil acts, either out of carelessness or ignorance. The antagonist in my latest book, Tripping the Multiverse, is, at first, unaware that her actions are causing rifts in multiple universes. After she finds out, she lies and conducts dangerous experiments, attempting to undo her previous mistakes.
The Villain Who has a Good Point, Actually
Another sympathetic villain is championing a noble cause but often uses underhanded or even vile tactics. Magneto, the arch-villain from the X-Men universe, is a prime example. He’s right. The mutants are being abused and oppressed. This sympathetic villain’s hallmark is access to power and the drive to use that power as a means to an end.
Sympathetic Villain versus Antihero
Sympathetic villains and antiheroes have a lot of overlap, especially with villains who are acting justifiably selfish. The difference between the two is in character development. The antihero, eventually, makes better choices and turns towards the light, with maybe a few slip us here and there. On the other hand, at some point, the villain must purposefully make a wrong choice. Perhaps the power gets to them. Maybe they were ignorant of the consequences of their actions but chose to carry on with the knowledge that they were harming others.
Sympathetic Villains in Literature
The titular hunchback in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo is a genial, kind-hearted guy until his love for Ezmerlda drives him insane. The poor man has spent his life deformed and under the thumb of the much greater evil, Claude Frollo. Since Quasimodo committed most of his evil acts at the behest of Frollo, we can conclude that Frollo is the true monster here.
Draco Malfoy from the world of Harry Potter lived his whole life immersed in a world of people committed to Lord Voldemort. He, arguably, didn’t know the difference between right and wrong because his parents raised him in the equivalent of a twisted cult.
The Anti-Vampire coalition in Charlaine Harris’s series The Southern Vampire Mysteries (adapted into True Blood) has a point. Throughout her novels, many characters and a few groups form against vampires, citing that vampires are inherently dangerous to humans and their nature can’t be mitigated through medication. Spoilers - the anti-vampires were right.
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