At CrimeReads: NINE OF THE MOST UNFORGETTABLE ANTAGONISTS IN FICTION
Sure, I’ll bite! Go ahead, who are the most unforgettable antagonists in fiction?
Before looking at the list given in the linked post, I should probably mention that (a) I’m not always that interested in the antagonist; and (b) actually, one of the tropes I like best is the fairly rare antagonist-to-ally trope. That requires an antagonist who isn’t a terrible person; eg, Inspector Ronsarde is a great antagonist for Nicholas Valiarde in The Death of the Necromancer. The real enemy in that book is, of course, the necromancer. He is not nearly as interesting or fun to read about as Ronsarde. All the scenes I’ve bookmarked in that novel involve Ronsarde and Nicholas interacting.
Also, I think I probably often prefer depersonalized antagonists, like the environment itself, rather than a bad guy.
So maybe I’m not the very best person to think about making a list of great antagonists! Even so, if I tried for a list of great antagonists, I wouldn’t stop short at nine! No matter who is on this list, I’m going to feel compelled to try to come up with one more memorable antagonist in order to bring that list to a nice, even ten.
Now, to be memorable, it seems to me an antagonist who is a person needs to be interesting in some way. That lets out evil antagonists like, say, Sauron, who really is not at all interesting. Dangerous, sure, but not interesting. Saruman is more interesting than Sauron, though that doesn’t mean he’s interesting — it’s not a high bar.
A more interesting antagonist … let me see … all right, how about General Woundwort in Watership Down? He’s evil, no question, but you can sympathize with what he was trying to do as he created a totalitarian society and crushed his people beneath his iron paw.
So that’s my pick for a memorable antagonist! I bet that is not one of the ones on this list from Crime Reads, but let’s see …
1) Rebecca, from the book by DuMaurier. Okay, that’s fair.
2) The Storm, from The Perfect Storm. All right! That’s a great choice. Glad to see they’re picking some depersonalized antagonists. We could undoubtedly do a top ten list just with examples of Nature As The Antagonist. No shortage of outstanding examples, that’s for sure. I’ve never read The Perfect Storm, but I bet I would like it.
3) Cujo. Oh, no no no. No.
Listen, you cannot pick a sick dog as a great antagonist. How can anybody not feel sorry for the dog? Also, the protagonist — can’t remember her name — is such a wimp! I’m getting angry again just thinking about this book. Put me in that car and I could handle that dog, I don’t care how big he was. Poor Cujo! I wouldn’t have wanted to kill him, but I would have done it. And so would you. A reasonably intelligent, able-bodied adult human with all the time in the world and everything in the car to work with could absolutely kill a big SICK dog who has already been weakened by the disease and thirst.
I’m inclined to be done with this list right now.
You know what, I’m going to just poke around for a minute …
Okay, here is a different list about antagonists:
That’s more like it! Let’s focus on SFF and see about picking out some antagonists. Since the post is about villains, there won’t be any Nature-as-Antagonist, which is too bad, but with any luck we won’t be seeing Cujo again either, so there’s pluses and minuses.
Here in this post, we have … let me see … Scott Lynch, Helen Lowe, Howard Andrew Jones, and twelve others pick out some of their favorite villains in SFF. (There are so many authors who contributed to this post, I’m just naming the ones I’ve read stuff by.)
Oh ho, we do get Nature As Antagonist! — here’s someone, Shaun Duke, picking out “nature” in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I’ve read that one! It’s the one where McCarthy plays with punctuation. Very literary. Very dark. There is a tiny, tiny glimmer of light in the darkness, right at the end, or that book would be unendurable. It almost is anyway.
Anyway, glad to see Nature As Antagonist. Plenty of post-apocalyptic novels where that’s a feature.
Hah! LB Gale picks various others AND General Woundwort from Watership Down! Good for her.
Ah, Helen Lowe picks out Galadan in GGK’s Fionavar trilogy. I should have thought of him! Great choice! I love the little redemption arc he gets right at the end.
I’ll be darned, here’s something you don’t see every day — Ian Sales is picking out an antagonist from The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley. I always think of Varley when I think of authors who are all but forgotten today, but should absolutely be brought back into the public eye. Though this title isn’t my favorite of his and I have to admit I do not remember the antagonist at all.
All right, I’ll stop there — lots (lots!) more at the linked post.
I’ll end by saying that my favorite villain from my own books remains Lelienne from The City in the Lake. She’s really creepy and honestly quite inhuman. It’s like you know she has motivations, but they are so weird it’s hard to decide what they might be. Or that’s how I think about her, anyway.
If you’ve got a favorite villain (or other antagonist) from one of my books or any SFF novel, or both, drop some names in the comments!