Villains within Villains

I’ve noticed that alot of the best stories have what I call, “Villains within villains.” What do I mean by this? Think about something like StarWars. Darth Vader is the villain, he’s evil, seems to have a personal vendetta against dear old Kinobi and has no problem choking poor unsuspecting minions from a distance. Yet even Darth Vader has a master. The Sith Lord Palpatine. It is Palpatine that masters the plans to build a Death Star, pervert the Jedi and take over the galaxy. Vader is redeemable, Palpatine is not. The Sith Lord falls to a painful death in the reactor of the very weapon he wished to control the galaxy with. Sweet justice.

Or take Lord Of The Rings. The back story to this is that at first Sauron served an even more evil lord, Melkor. Melkor is locked up in the Silmarillion while Sauron is given a second chance. Only when Sauron truly rises to the position Melkor once ruled does he become the ultimate villain, utterly corrupt and unredeemable. I say unredeemable only in the sense that the characters in the story do not try to redeem him, they count him as unadulterated evil. Just like Palpatine.

What helps them reach this status? They don’t just oppose good but they pervert it. I had an email conversation about this with my friend Derek, a fellow author. I mentioned that I had once heard Stephen King say he didn’t like modern horror. When asked what he meant about this he went on to explain that he personally felt he could write a good horror novel because he understood what goodness was. He believed that many modern people did not understand that and so struggled to write something quite as compelling. I don’t know if he really said these words and I will not argue whether they are right or wrong but whatever the case they did lead me down a rabbit path that helped me think through how true evil is more than just bad.

Badness generally opposes the good. The Nazgul oppose the free people’s of Middle Earth, Darth Vader opposes the freedom fighters of the Republic. Evil does more than this, it perverts it. Melkor in the Silmarillion leads a third of the Valar and Maier against Eru’s wishes, he perverts their intended purpose to that of something selfish and much more deadly. Palpatine took a young boys sadness of his mothers death and didn’t just oppose Annakin but perverted him – persuaded him to join the dark side and be used as his most potent weapon to wipe out the Jedi.

A dragon in the Forgotten Tails doesn’t just mesmerize Tristan and cause him to kill a stranger but that stranger ends up being his sister, something truly despicable. I want to keep this in mind as I pen my villains. There may be some that are dangerous but ultimately redeemable while others will be evil incarnate, able to twist and change the good for the bad.

I’m interested: have you seen this concept at work anywhere in the books you read? What are your thoughts?

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