Behind every great hero is a dastardly villain. Or an evil genius, manic scientist, cackling wizard, power hungry tyrant, displaced witch, or a jealous subordinate pursuing a path of revenge.
“[Moriarty] is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order.” An excerpt from the short story The Final Problem. Ah Moriarty, the mastermind created to kill the brilliant Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty is a professor by day, kingpin of a worldwide criminal gang by night, and a cold blooded scientific thinker all the time. For being the smartest villain ever faced by Holmes, little is actually revealed about Moriarty. All we know is that he does not like it when his plans are foiled and has no problems murdering in cold blood to mete out his revenge. What is great about Moriarty is that he is the reverse of Holmes. Both he and Holmes are brilliant geniuses but have extremely different motivations. Holmes uses his intellect to solve crime because he is bored and enjoys being the best. Moriarty uses his intellect for much more shady reasons and views Holmes as an impediment to his schemes. Doyle wrote Moriarty in order to kill Holmes, but the public did not approve of the death. So Holmes survived and Moriarty dies. However, he lives on as the greatest adversary to the world’s greatest detective.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Bantam, 1986, ISBN 9780553328257
“Why don’t you go? We none of us want you. He doesn’t want you, he never did. He can’t forget her. He wants to be alone in the house again, with her. It’s you that ought to be lying there in the church crypt, not her. It’s you who ought to be dead, not Mrs. de Winter.” Mrs. Danvers is the head housekeeper at Manderley and despises the new Mrs. De Winter. Mrs. Danvers was a part of Rebecca’s life since Rebecca was about twelve. She came with Rebecca to Manderley as her personal maid and eventually, became the head housekeeper. When Rebecca died, Max de Winter let Mrs. Danvers have complete control over Manderley. She is described as being tall, gaunt, dressed completely in black, and possessing a white skull face. Her motive is to keep Rebecca’s memory alive forever in the halls of Manderley. To this end, she is constantly creeping through dark passages, spying through windows, keeping her eye on the keyhole, and putting her ear to the door. Also, she constantly berates the new Mrs. de Winter and even tries to talk her into committing suicide. She had a complicated and creepy relationship with Rebecca. Everything revealed about Rebecca comes from the biased view of Mrs. Danvers. Most of the novel hints at a darker history between Danvers and Rebecca, but never explains any of the intrigue. Rebecca is a masterpiece of gothic thrills and Mrs. Danvers is a perfect gothic villain.
Rebecca, William Morrow Paperbacks, 2006, ISBN 9780380730407
“So will I turn her virtue into pitch, And out of her own goodness make the net That shall enmesh them all.” And no, this is not about the parrot from Aladdin. Iago is a deceitful liar who convinces everyone that he is their friend while he secretly plots their destruction. Hidden behind his smiles and jokes, Iago’s mind is working double time to take down his supposed oppressors. He is extremely obsessive, takes delight in manipulating others, and wreaking havoc in other’s lives. He never has a clear reason for his consuming jealousy of Othello, but jealousy drives his actions. The play never reveals his motivations, besides revenge for a perceived slight when Othello passes him over for the post of Lieutenant. When Cassio is promoted to Lieutenant, Iago embarks on a mission to destroy Othello and Cassio with a complicated web of lies. Except Iago does not commit all his dirty work; instead he corrupts/recruits Roderigo to do all the dirty work. Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona, his wife, is having an affair with Cassio. By the end, Iago has driven everyone mad with jealousy. No one can weave a spell of deception quite like Shakespeare. Iago is one of the most memorable Shakespearian villains because he seems so honest but is actually a borderline sociopath.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, 1997, ISBN 9781853268953
“I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?” Jadis, the white witch, is the beautiful and cruel villain who declared herself the Queen of Narnia. Due to her will, Narnia is trapped in an unending winter but no Christmas. Any and all rebels are swiftly and brutally silenced. She is a half-giant, half-genie from the wasted world of Charn. Her secret police, headed by the wolf Fenris Ulf, helps her keep the people of Narnia forcefully subservient. All of her actions are driven by a fear that Aslan will return and crown four human beings. Legend says that these four humans, two girls and two boys, will destroy her once and for all. Jadis is such a great villain because she is not what she appears. She looks human, but is not and this undermines her right to rule. Only the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve have the right to govern Narnia, and Jadis is not a Daughter of Eve. Instead, she merely manipulates her appearance to look human. Her skin is described as pale and cold, nearly lifeless. Also, she lacks the normal spectrum of human emotion. The only emotion she ever shows is anger. Jadis is an integral part of the morality of Narnia; she is the foil to Aslan. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe it is revealed that Jadis cannot force people to obey her. However, the most frightening thing about Jadis is that she can manipulate and influence any seeds of evil lying dormant within a person’s psyche.
The Chronicles of Narnia, HarperCollins, 2010, ISBN 9780061992889
“This is the Master-ring, the One Ring to rule them all. This is the One Ring that he lost many ages ago, to the great weakening of his power. He greatly desires it – but he must not get it.” By the time the events in The Lord of the Rings occur, Sauron is nothing more than an evil all seeing eye. His mortal body has been destroyed and all that’s left is his dark soul, which manifests as a yellow eye. All he wants is total power and will stop at nothing to achieve his dream of total domination. He is the single source of evil in the trilogy; all the other villains are manipulated by him. The one Ring will grant him unending and total power over the people of Middle Earth. Also, he really wants revenge on the elves and the Valar for defeating him during the great battle at the end of the 2nd Age. He corrupts Saruman with promises of power and sends his armies out without provocation in search of the Ring. Sauron represents pure and corruptive evil. He answers to no one and has allowed his quest for power to erode his humanity. In the end he is not killed, only dealt such a severe blow that it is unlikely he will ever be able to once more rise from the shadows.
The Lord of the Rings, Mariner Books, 1999, ISBN 9780395974681