A villain (sometimes, the "heavy") is an "evil" character in a story, whether a historical narrative or, especially, a work of fiction. The villain usually is the antagonist, the character who tends to have a negative effect on other characters. A female villain is sometimes called a villainess (often to differentiate her from a male villain). Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines villain as "a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel; or a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot. In an interview seen on the DVD release of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Ricardo Montalban says that he realized early in his career that the best type of villain does not see himself as villainous. He may do villainous things, but the character feels that he is doing them for righteous reasons. Likewise, with heroes, Montalban said he always tried to find a flaw in the character because no one is completely good or completely evil. He then compared Khan to this, saying that while Khan had a rather distorted view of reality and therefore comes the villainous acts, he still feels that his acts of vengeance against Captain Kirk is a noble cause because of the death of his wife whom he loved dearly.
of the word is probably Middle English villein
from Old French villain
, in turn from Late Latin villanus
, meaning serf
, someone who is bound to the soil of a villa
, which is to say, worked on the equivalent of a plantation
in late Antiquity, in Italy or Gaul. It meant a person of less than knightly status, and so came to mean a person who was not chivalrous
; because many unchivalrous acts, such as treachery or rape, are villainous in the modern sense, and because the word was used as a term of abuse, it took on its modern meaning.
Folk and fairy tales
Vladimir Propp, in his analysis of the Russian fairy tales, concluded that a fairy tale had only eight dramatis personae, of which one was the villain, and his analysis has been widely applied to non-Russian tales. The actions that fell into a villain's sphere were:
- a story-initiating villainy, where the villain caused harm to the hero or his family,
- a conflict between the hero and the villain, either a fight or other competition
- pursuing the hero after he has succeeded in winning the fight or obtaining something from the villain.
None of these acts must necessarily occur in a fairy tale, but when they occurred, the character that performed them was the villain. The villain therefore could appear twice: once in the opening of the story, and a second time as the person sought out by the hero.
When a character performed only these acts, the character was a pure villain. Various villains also perform other functions in a fairy tale; a witch who fought the hero and ran away, which let the hero follow her, was also performing the task of "guidance" and thus acting as a helper.
The functions could also be spread out among several characters. If a dragon acted as the villain but was killed by the hero, another character -- such as the dragon's sisters -- might take on the role of the villain and pursue the hero.
Two other characters could appear in roles that are villainous in the more general sense. One is the false hero; this character is always villainous, presenting a false claim to be the hero that must be rebutted for the happy ending. Among these characters are Cinderella's stepsisters, chopping off parts of their feet to fit on the shoe. Another character, the dispatcher, sends a hero on his quest. This may be an innocent request, to fulfill a legitimate need, but the dispatcher may also, villainously, lie to send a character on a quest in hopes of being rid of him.
The villainous foil
In fiction, villains commonly function in the dual role of adversary and foil to the story's heroes. In their role as adversary, the villain serves as an obstacle the hero must struggle to overcome. In their role as foil, the villain exemplifies characteristics that are diametrically opposed to those of the hero, creating a contrast distinguishing heroic traits from villainous ones.
Others point out that many acts of villains have a hint of wish-fulfillment fantasy, which makes some people identify with them as characters more strongly than with the heroes. Because of this, a convincing villain must be given a characterization that makes his or her motive for doing wrong convincing, as well as being a worthy adversary to the hero. As put by film critic Roger Ebert: "Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph."
The Evil Genius
The Evil Genius
is an archetype
or even a caricature
that is a recurring staple in certain genres
of fiction, particularly comic books
, spy fiction
, video games
, action films
. The evil genius serves as a common adversary and foil of the hero
Note that, as mentioned above, a villain's disposition towards evil distinguishes them from an antagonist. For example, Javert in Les Miserables is an antagonist: he opposes the hero, but does so by such means and under such pretexts as not to become entirely odious to the reader. Note also that a villain may repent, be redeemed, or become in league with the hero. Sometimes, a villain may even appear as the protagonist of a story, while the hero who opposes them may be the antagonist.
- Anti-villain – Basically the opposite of an anti-hero. While the anti-hero often fights on the protagonist's team, but with selfish or morally questionable motives, the anti-villain plays a villain's game, but for what's at least in his eyes a noble cause. They may be personally more noble or heroic than an anti-hero but the means to achieve their ends are often considered immoral, unjust, even evil. Sometimes they may simply be a villain with gentlemanly qualities or a code of honor or some sense of justice. Anti-villains will occasionally side with their rivals (usually the protagonist) if a greater threat than himself comes or it is in both of their best interests. Often also considered "grey" characters due to their moral ambiguity. The main difference between anti-villains and anti-heroes is in their intentions. Despite pursuing aims that can be considered noble and/or heroic, anti-villains are still considered the antagonists of the story due to their ruthless and evil actions, despite the sympathetic qualities or good intentions that they possess. Anti-heroes may exhibit qualities that are more selfish or ruthless than anti-villains, but they remain in the "hero" category because they are theoretically considered to have a goal that is admirable. Anti-villains and anti-heroes may sometimes overlap, depending on what their ultimate objectives are considered to be. Examples of popular anti-villains include:
- Archenemy – The principal enemy of the hero. The reason why the particular villain stands out more than the rest varies; they may be the hero's strongest enemy, be the complete antithesis to the hero, have strong connections with their hero's past, pose the greatest threat, have caused the hero a great deal of suffering or loss, or may be the most recurring villain. Examples of Archenemy:
- Dark Lord – a villain of near-omnipotence in his realm, who seeks to utterly dominate the world; he is often depicted as a diabolical force, and may, indeed, be more a force than a personality, and often personifies evil itself. The effects of his rule often assert malign effects on the land as well as his subjects. Besides his usual magical abilities, he often controls great armies. Most Dark Lords are male, except in parody. Example of popular Dark Lords:
- Evil twin – a character which is identical or almost identical to the hero, but is evil instead of good. Examples of Evil Twin:
- Femme fatale – a beautiful, seductive but ultimately villainous woman who uses the malign power of her sexuality in order to ensnare the hapless hero into danger. Examples of femme fatale:
- Mad scientist – a scientist-villain or villain-scientist, a figure who represents the dangers of science in the wrong hands or abused for harmful purposes. Can easily be confused with Evil Genius. Examples of Mad scientists:
- Supervillain – a villain who displays special powers, skills or equipment powerful enough to be a typically serious challenge to a superhero. Like the superhero, the supervillain will often utilize colorful costumes and gimmicks that make them easily recognizable to readers. Example of supervillain:
- Tragic villain – a character who, although acting for primarily "evil" or selfish goals, is either not in full control of their actions or emotions, therefore the reader can sympathize for them. These villains can face a crisis of conscience in which they submit to doing evil. These villains often have confused morals believing that they are doing good when in fact they are doing evil. Examples of these include:
- Trickster – often more of an annoying nuisance than a fearsome or dangerous enemy, a trickster may take many forms, from a con man to a mischievous imp. Adventures with trickster type villains tend to be light and comedic and the hero typically finds a way to defeat them non-violently. Sometimes there may be a lesson learned from the trickster, even if unintentional. Examples include:
- Lackey, henchman, minion, or toady – a minor villain who takes orders. Examples include:
- Secondary Villain – Often not very evil or competent. They are usually not as smart as they think they are and often are not ruthless enough to harm or murder. They are typically motivated by greed or vanity and are often not taken very seriously as a threat. They are not always criminals and sometimes may be guilty of nothing more than trying to win by cheating. They may serve as placeholders until the true villain appears. They may also reform and join the hero as comic relief characters. Examples include:
- Alternately, secondary villains may be the 'right hand man' for a powerful villain. Evil being what it is, loyalty is often in question and the character will likely attempt to take power for themself if the opportunity arises. Examples include:
- Zawacki's humorous look at the concept of a villain:
- Neil Zawacki So You've Decided to be Evil. Dark Sites. (2001). .
- Neil Zawacki (2003). How to Be a Villain: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans, and More!!!. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0811846660.
- Neil Zawacki (2004). The Villain's Guide to Better Living. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0811856666.