What makes a good villain? That is a question tons of writers and readers ask themselves. Most of them know the answer to their own question, though. We have to dislike the villain. The villain has to do something to make us loathe him. The villain obviously also has to be against the hero.
In fantasy, though, many writers make the mistake of creating a villain we can’t respect. We cannot hate the villain if we do not respect him. Take Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie for example. Captain Hook has all the potential to be a great villain: a chopped-off hand, a metal hook, a creepy name, and a sinister grin. But how many of us are scared of Captain Hook? An innumerably small amount of people would be frightened if Hook showed up in their bedroom one day. Captain James Hook is goofy. We cannot respect someone who acts immature and doesn’t actually do anything to the hero besides make empty threats and chase him all across Neverland.
The majority of people would be petrified or at least frightened if Voldemort from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter decided to join them for dinner. If we compare the physical attributes of The Dark Lord to those of Captain Hook, we see that they are very similar. Voldemort has a daunting name, a powerful wand, no nose and a twisted grin.
But even greater than the similarities between these two villains are the differences. Voldemort kills the hero’s parents which is something against the moral code; the worst thing we can find that Hook does is trap a fairy that deserves being imprisoned or worse. The Dark Lord has a gruesome past and reputation, but all we see of Hook is a frightened man lashing out after a mere boy.
We should dislike an antagonist because they do something horribly against the moral code or compete with the hero in an unfair or unkind way. We do have to admit that Hook does treat Peter unfairly; after all, Peter doesn’t deserve to have to hide all his life, but the difference between how badly J.K. Rowling’s villain and Captain Hook treat innocent people is huge.
Villains are different from heroes in many ways, perhaps in the way they dress and the way they talk, but most importantly in the decisions they make. The hero makes the choice to do what is right and when he doesn’t he gets punished. The villain, on the other hand, does the wrong thing and doesn’t get any bad consequences.
Villains are a crucial part of fantasy literature. Without a believable villain, a writer doesn’t have a believable story. Author Agnes Repplier describes villains perfectly in this quote: “A villain must be a thing of power, handled with delicacy and grace. He must be wicked enough to excite our aversion, strong enough to arouse our fear, and human enough to awaken some transient gleam of sympathy."