True villains in fiction?

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True villains in fiction?

Postby King Author » Wed May 13, 2009 3:17 pm UTC

(I'm putting this in General and not Books or Movies and TV because I'm talking about any and all forms of fiction - literature, theater, movies, television, videogames, comic books, manga, radio drama, anything.)

Spoilers for Harry Potter, Heroes, Star Trek, Final Fantasy 6 and 7 and Super Paper Mario

While wasting way too much time browsing TVTropes and reading up on various villain tropes, I realized that I couldn't think of a single example in fiction of a "true" villain, though admittedly my knowledge of all fiction doesn't amount to 0.07%. Let me explain what I mean. Voldemort was only Voldemort because he was afraid of death. Sylar is only Sylar because his mother pushed him too hard. Darth Vader was only Darth Vader because he was afraid of losing Padmé. Sephiroth was only Sephiroth because he learned he was a fake. Kefka was only Kefka because the experiments performed on him made him lose his mind. Hanibal Lecter is only Hanibal Lecter because he's a sociopath. Count Bleck was only Count Bleck because he lost his true love. Magneto is only Magneto because his experiences in the Holocaust turned him against the human race.

Do you see what I'm saying? Every Big Bad I can think of in all of fiction is only big and bad because of some trauma, or past event, or mental defect or other such thing that drove them to become evil. Furthermore, every villain I can think of including all those listed above has personality problems (overcome by fear/despair/greed/etc.). Not a single one of them is a self-actualized, healthy person. Not a single one of them is a being of self-determination, self-realization and choice; they are creatures of cruel twists of fate and unfortunate circumstances, "forced" to do what they do, in a sense, by their tragedy. I can't think of any Big Bad who is a perfectly mentally healthy person with no past trauma who simply chose their path of their own free will.

I'm certain there's examples out there, I just can't think of any. Aside from, of course, the obvious example of mythology; Ravana and Satan and various gods and goddessess that were born evil, that are inherently evil. But religion aside, I can't think of any examples of "true" villains in all of fiction who are psychologically healthy and perfectly sane; they're all ultimately disturbed or driven to their acts in some sense.

Do you know of any "true" villains? Because I'd love to read a story involving one. Or watch or listen to or whatever the medium happens to be.

And for the sake of discussion, why do you think it is that most fictitious villains are psychologically unhealthy? It's said that "good can imagine the possibility of becoming evil, but evil cannot comprehend good," but the opposite appears to be true -- writers of fiction can't seem to believe that someone could be evil by choice, that it must be because they were corrupted or traumatized by something. Good seems unable to comprehend evil, or at least unable to believe that evil could be freely chosen by a healthy, competant person.

Disclaimer: I'm using the terms good and evil for the sake of argument, let's not debate morality in this topic.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Belial » Wed May 13, 2009 3:20 pm UTC

You realize that a "self-actualized" undamaged person who just decides it would be a cool idea to murder tons of people and/or destroy the world to further their own goals.....

.......is a sociopath, and discounted by the very criteria you set up?
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Aikanaro » Wed May 13, 2009 3:25 pm UTC

Furthermore, Hannibal Lecter is arguably sane, it's just that he realized that all the little rules and niceties we live by in life only apply if we choose to let them. The same can be applied to Carcer in Pratchett's Night Watch, and potentially, to the Joker in The Dark Knight (we don't know if he had any sort of mental trauma, or was ALWAYS the way he is).

Also, are we barring Well-Intentioned Extremists? And what about Dr. Doom? Sure, he's a megalomaniac, but what about justified megalomaniacs?

EDIT: Also, Vayne Solidor in Final Fantasy 12. I think everyone can agree he's quite sane, but is willing to destroy nations full of innocents to increase the size of his own empire.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Rakysh » Wed May 13, 2009 4:00 pm UTC

I think the idea that some people are born evil, while not entirely far fetched (I don't know how you would test this. With Science? But then you would have to have an evilness scale...), is not one most people want to contemplate. Also, people who you would say are "born evil" are defined as crazy, so Belial is right.

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Ended » Wed May 13, 2009 4:01 pm UTC

King Author wrote:I can't think of any examples of "true" villains in all of fiction who are psychologically healthy and perfectly sane; they're all ultimately disturbed or driven to their acts in some sense.

Steerpike in the Gormenghast series follows something like the reverse of this. At the start he is a sane, intelligent, ruthless and Machiavellian character, which makes him something of an antihero: you cheer for him because he is clever and does whatever the hell he wants to. As far as I can recall, there's no particular trauma which forces him into this*.

However, towards the end of the series he loses rationality and deteriorates (both physically and mentally) as a result of all the horrible things he has done.

__________
* Well, there's the fact that he has no real conscience, which is really the same as Belial's objection.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Blokey » Wed May 13, 2009 4:06 pm UTC

Watchmen spoiler:
Spoiler:
Ozymandias, to an extent.


Our present actions are a result of our own personal historical contingencies. There's no platonic saturday-morning-cartoon 'evil'.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Vieto » Wed May 13, 2009 4:16 pm UTC

Lex Luther, galacticus... I'm sure galacticus hasn't had any tramma.

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Belial » Wed May 13, 2009 4:46 pm UTC

Well, Galactus is more a force of nature than a person, anyway.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby PatrickRsGhost » Wed May 13, 2009 4:55 pm UTC

Aikanaro wrote:Furthermore, Hannibal Lecter is arguably sane, it's just that he realized that all the little rules and niceties we live by in life only apply if we choose to let them. The same can be applied to Carcer in Pratchett's Night Watch, and potentially, to the Joker in The Dark Knight (we don't know if he had any sort of mental trauma, or was ALWAYS the way he is).


I seem to recall an episode of Batman the Animated Series (or it may have been the Nicholson/Keaton Batman movie) where the Joker became the Joker due to some accident at a chemical plant or some kind of factory caused by Batman, so he wouldn't count as a real villain.

As far as cartoon villains, there's Mandark from the Dexter's Laboratory series. His intentions were to have a bigger and better lab than Dexter's, and he would do anything to bring about Dexter's downfall. There was also the Gang Green Gang from Powerpuff Girls: A group of green-tinted hoodlum punks who did nothing but cause trouble. There's also Team Rocket from the Pokemon series. Their only goal was to steal Ash's Pikachu, as well as collect other Pokemon, but by stealing them from the other trainers.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Belial » Wed May 13, 2009 4:58 pm UTC

Well, any villain can be a "true" villain in the sense the OP requests if you simply fail to explicate their background and motivations at all. That tends to be where saturday morning cartoons go.

Of course, if we pretend that, since the show never tells you what they are, that they simply have no reason, justification, or motivation, then we're back at sociopathy.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Aikanaro » Wed May 13, 2009 5:50 pm UTC

PatrickRsGhost wrote:
Aikanaro wrote:Furthermore, Hannibal Lecter is arguably sane, it's just that he realized that all the little rules and niceties we live by in life only apply if we choose to let them. The same can be applied to Carcer in Pratchett's Night Watch, and potentially, to the Joker in The Dark Knight (we don't know if he had any sort of mental trauma, or was ALWAYS the way he is).

I seem to recall an episode of Batman the Animated Series (or it may have been the Nicholson/Keaton Batman movie) where the Joker became the Joker due to some accident at a chemical plant or some kind of factory caused by Batman, so he wouldn't count as a real villain.

Yeah, that's why I restricted it to the Joker from The Dark Knight. We don't know anything about his past, and for all we know, he could have given himself his scars just to have something to freak people out with. It's also worth noting that his coloration is due to makeup, not any sort of chemical accident. The other versions of the Joker did indeed fall into a vat of chemicals (I think at Axis Labs or somesuch), and thus is arguably disqualified.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby King Author » Wed May 13, 2009 5:56 pm UTC

Belial wrote:You realize that a "self-actualized" undamaged person who just decides it would be a cool idea to murder tons of people and/or destroy the world to further their own goals.....

.......is a sociopath, and discounted by the very criteria you set up?


I'm going by Maslow's conceptualization of self-actualization. He said that the process of self-actualization is the process of becoming your "true self," untainted by the influences of the culture/society you were born into and the way your parents raised you. Self-actualized people are not inherently good, virtuous or what have you. And anyway, I mean not a sociopath as in there's no defect with their brain or personality; the person is, by all objective accounts, mentally healthy. You don't have to mass murder to be a villain, though; Captain Ahab was a fantastic villain and I don't remember him killing anyone. Well, you know what I mean, not directly like "gun-to-the-head-pull-the-trigger."

Aikanaro wrote:Furthermore, Hannibal Lecter is arguably sane, it's just that he realized that all the little rules and niceties we live by in life only apply if we choose to let them.


Ah, cool, then that's exactly what I'm talking about -- someone with no mental defect, no past trauma, etc. that has turned them into something evil, someone who is by all acounts mentally healthy and capable, but simply chooses what other people call "evil."

Aikanaro wrote:The same can be applied to Carcer in Pratchett's Night Watch, and potentially, to the Joker in The Dark Knight (we don't know if he had any sort of mental trauma, or was ALWAYS the way he is).


As for Carcer, Wikipedia'd him as I haven't read Discworld and read this. "Carcer was in two minds, but instead of them being in conflict, they were in competition. He had a demon on both shoulders, urging one another on." Sounds like mental defect to me. As for the Joker, I never saw The Dark Knight but in proper Batman canon, the Joker was indeed driven to insanity by trauma (see: The Killing Joke).

Aikanaro wrote:Also, are we barring Well-Intentioned Extremists?


The implication in a well-intentioned extremist is that they don't see the error of their ways, that they're ignorant (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EvilCannotComprehendGood]) or foolish (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EvilIsDumb).

Lelouch Lamperouge, for example, is a Well-Intentioned Extremist to the T, and he's clearly got a dozen or so major issues (abandonment by his parents, megalomania, etc.)

Aikanaro wrote:And what about Dr. Doom? Sure, he's a megalomaniac, but what about justified megalomaniacs?


I'm unfamiliar with Fantastic Four mythology, but isn't Dr. Doom just super, ridiculously greedy?

Aikanaro wrote:EDIT: Also, Vayne Solidor in Final Fantasy 12. I think everyone can agree he's quite sane, but is willing to destroy nations full of innocents to increase the size of his own empire.


Also sounds like excessive greed.

Rakysh wrote:I think the idea that some people are born evil, while not entirely far fetched (I don't know how you would test this. With Science? But then you would have to have an evilness scale...), is not one most people want to contemplate.


That's why I made this topic. It seems to me that the writers of fiction don't want to even fathom the possibility that somebody could be truly, inherently evil; everyone seems so certain that evil can come only from a traumatic past, insanity or so forth.

Belial wrote:Well, any villain can be a "true" villain in the sense the OP requests if you simply fail to explicate their background and motivations at all. That tends to be where saturday morning cartoons go.

Of course, if we pretend that, since the show never tells you what they are, that they simply have no reason, justification, or motivation, then we're back at sociopathy.


Motivation and background are two different things. I'm not wondering about villains that have no motivation, I'm wondering about villains that have no background (i.e. traumatic past event, insanity, other mental defect) that caused them to "become" evil.

But you're misusing the term "sociopath." A sociopath is incapable of feeling empathy, sympathy or other such emotions. To a sociopath, other people's feelings are meaningless. So long as they get what they want, they're happy, no matter who they have to torture, murder or rape to get it. But that's mental defect; there's something wrong with their brain, and that's the only reason they're evil. If they didn't have that defect, they wouldn't be evil, so they're not "truly" evil, they're "driven" to evil by a defect with their brain.

It's entirely possible to do "evil" things without lacking a conscience, I've just never seen it in fiction.

Ah! Wait! Maybe I have. Aizen from Bleach. Technically we don't know anything about his background so it's entirely possible that he had a traumatic past event that made him evil, but I don't suspect so, and he certainly isn't psychologically impaired or defected in any way.
Spoiler:
From the way it's shaping up, he simply decided that he wanted to be God (the "Spirit King"), and reckoned that he actually stands a chance at pulling it off, so he's doing it. No psychological defect, no past trauma, he just decided he wants to be God and is going for it.
But of course, Tite Kubo has already pulled off like, twenty plot twists in Bleach, so Aizen may end up being the ultimate good guy or something. And again, admittedly, we don't know everything about his past.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby philsov » Wed May 13, 2009 5:59 pm UTC

Nurse Ratched out of One Flew Over a Cookoo's Nest is pretty true as far as villains go. There's no sob-backstory. She's just a cold evil bitch because she has the power and willingness to do so.

Edit:
It's entirely possible to do "evil" things without lacking a conscience, I've just never seen it in fiction.


Have you ever seen it in real life? I'm just looking for an example because it really sounds like you're excluding evil people based on past trauma AND lack of empathy, which leaves room for very little else, if anything at all.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby EnderSword » Wed May 13, 2009 6:14 pm UTC

I think Star wars is still a Wealth of them, although Darth Vader has a 'Fear leads to anger etc...' explanation there's other characters that don't seem to.

Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine seems to just be acting out of his own desire, with no serious traumatic defect causing it.

Darth Bane also acts for no real reason other than he believes its the right thing to do. Not right as in good, but right in the 'survival of the fittest' sense. He was perfectly aware of good and evil sides, chose the dark side with eyes open. (Actually created his own side in a way)

Jabba the Hutt as well, seemingly no real pathology there just a cruel guy.

Sauron from lord of the rings I think is similar to Emperor Palpatine, he simply loved order and wanted it to be his order.

Palpatine always struck me as #1, just evil for evil's sake. He didn't even overly care if he himself was killed as long as the Evil he created would remain in his aftermath.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby crowey » Wed May 13, 2009 6:34 pm UTC

King Author wrote:
Aikanaro wrote:Furthermore, Hannibal Lecter is arguably sane, it's just that he realized that all the little rules and niceties we live by in life only apply if we choose to let them.


Ah, cool, then that's exactly what I'm talking about -- someone with no mental defect, no past trauma, etc. that has turned them into something evil, someone who is by all acounts mentally healthy and capable, but simply chooses what other people call "evil."

Except for seeing his younger sister killed and eaten (and possibly eating some of her himself).

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Insignificant Deifaction » Wed May 13, 2009 8:01 pm UTC

Spoiler:

Three Words:
Gentleman
Johnnie
Marcone

Or, the only completely powerless villain (so far as I have read) to give Mister Dresden a run for his money.

Mr. Marcone is a gangster, Al Capone style. In the very first book Dresden got a look at his soul, and discovered that there was nothing wrong with it, except for a little blemish locked away in the back. This sort of soul is, while extremely creepy to Dresden (he calls him "tiger-souled"), completely functional and healthy. Excuse me, I need to explain: The blemish is an event that actually made him less villainous. He inherited the mob business from his father, and he made it less murderous because of a shoot-out he witnessed as a sprog in which a little girl was killed in crossfire.

Modus Operandi: Ruthlessly Efficient. Any deal you make with him you had best see through or you will die. However, if you mistreat any of his men, he will hunt you down and make you pay, typically in a lethal fashion. He is protective of his employees, therefore, far more than the typical businessman can claim to be. Further, he is not given to any classic villain's last stand freak-outs, he remains level-headed even when being dangled as werewolf bait.

So, he is not sociopathic, he is not particularly motivated by any one extreme desire (he is a businessman. Not greedy, he just does business.), he is not operating off of some traumatic stimulus. A perfectly normal human being. Who happens to be really, really evil.

Which reminds me that this guy could easily be based off of the main character of American Gangster, who narrowly avoids true villainy because he is largely doing what he does to make a better life for his family.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Ixtellor » Wed May 13, 2009 8:19 pm UTC

Seems to me like there is no causality.

Bad things happen to every person on earth. So of course BIG BADDIES are going to have bad things in their past, because... we all do.

To me its like saying BIG BADDIES all breathe oxygen therefore the oxygen caused them to become bad.


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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby tgjensen » Wed May 13, 2009 8:25 pm UTC

Well there's always Darkseid, the God of Evil.

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Kesho » Wed May 13, 2009 9:37 pm UTC

PatrickRsGhost wrote:
I seem to recall an episode of Batman the Animated Series (or it may have been the Nicholson/Keaton Batman movie) where the Joker became the Joker due to some accident at a chemical plant or some kind of factory caused by Batman, so he wouldn't count as a real villain.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBOWCaG_Pn8

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby sje46 » Wed May 13, 2009 10:07 pm UTC

Crayak from the Animorphs.
That Anton dude from No Country for no Men
The Walkin' Dude, from The Stand
Pennywise from It

Also, I'm sure there are plenty of Saturday morning cartoons and many horror movies. I don't know too much about horror movies, and I do know that many of them are evil "for a reason", like Jason was bullied, or something like that.
Belial wrote:You realize that a "self-actualized" undamaged person who just decides it would be a cool idea to murder tons of people and/or destroy the world to further their own goals.....

.......is a sociopath, and discounted by the very criteria you set up?

I disagree with leaving out sociopaths as people who are "true villians". He's contradicting himself.

Yes, antisocial personality disorder is a personality disorder. Psychologists need a term for those people who have no regard for others and live for only themselves. This doesn't mean that they aren't "really evil, just damaged". I don't know if it's years of abuse, or brain damage, or whatever that causes sociopathy, but it doesn't matter, because that is their personality. They are bad people because they don't care about anyone else but themselves.
Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is defined by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as "...a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood."

Three or more of the following are required:[1]

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

The antisocial behavior must not occur exclusively during an episode of schizophrenia or a manic episode.[3]

It says nothing about them being damaged, or them not needing to be held accountable for their actions.
The way I read the OP is "Give me some sociopaths in fiction. Just make sure they are not sociopaths".
Some sociopaths are sadists too. I don't know if that is what you are looking for. Some sadists are not sociopaths, and do eel remorse for their actions, and will choose not to do it. Sadist sociopaths are probably the worst though, but will still fail you test of them not having a disorder.
EDIT: I reread your post, OP, and I know what you are getting at. I just disagree with the idea that them having sociopathy rules them out, as that is what you are looking for.
But if you are just looking for people who are "evil" despite a trauma of some sort, that is typically a one-dimensional character you'd find in children's shows. But Hannibal did experience trauma
Spoiler:
fter three years, the Nazis are finally driven out of the countries now occupied by the Soviet Union. During their retreat, however, they destroy a Soviet tank that had stopped at the Lecter family's lodge looking for water. The explosion kills everyone but Lecter and Mischa. They survive in the cottage until six former Lithuanian militiamen, led by a Nazi collaborator named Vladis Grutas, storm and loot it. Finding no other food, they kill and cannibalize a young boy they have captured and held, chained, in the barn, and then Lecter's young sister Mischa to the despair and agony of young Hannibal who has to watch her being dragged, screaming his name, suspended in the air by her arms. Lecter is beaten with a log as he hears an axe end the life of Mischa. He blacks out and is later found wandering and mute by a Soviet tank crew that takes him back to Lecter Castle, which is now a Soviet orphanage.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Belial » Wed May 13, 2009 11:05 pm UTC

The way I read the OP is "Give me some sociopaths in fiction. Just make sure they are not sociopaths"


Likewise.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby SecondTalon » Thu May 14, 2009 12:01 am UTC

Also, the Antihero or the Dark Hero. Often just a badass as an excuse for being a badass. No childhood trauma, no emotional tics, no mental conditions - just goddamn badasses.

And boring.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby setzer777 » Thu May 14, 2009 2:07 am UTC

The Mayor from Buffy:

He's a nice guy who just happens to want to become a giant demon snake - there's no indication of trauma, he's capable of feeling empathy and affection (IMO he is at least partially genuine in his fatherly affection towards Faith).

The Endless from Sandman:

Maybe this is a stretch, but pretty much all (except maybe Death, ironically enough - and Destiny, since he doesn't really seem to have free-will anyway) do things that humans would call "evil", simply because humans are so beneath them. Not traditional villains, but Desire at least is definitely written as the villain of the story sometimes. Arguably Lucifer in the Sandman universe as well - he simply has a disagreement with God, and also shares the Endless' total disregard for human life. Because humans are so much lower than them as life forms, I don't think you can really say they are sociopaths, unless you count every human who disregards animal suffering as a sociopath.

There is a fine line between events "driving" a villain to evil (which you want to exclude from the list) and events simply leading to motivations for villains to do evil. If you exclude the latter, it seems to lead to the issue Belial raised - wanting a sociopath who isn't a sociopath. But I think that can be avoided by having someone who simply has strong motives to do evil, but isn't traumatized or psychologically destabilized by those decisions.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Vieto » Thu May 14, 2009 2:21 am UTC

Dr. Evil...

wait, he became evil because of some ordeal involving Belgian chocolates and thinking his father died. NVM.

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Numquam » Thu May 14, 2009 2:50 am UTC

Yes, all good villains have a motivation, what's the surprise there?
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby nightlina » Thu May 14, 2009 3:02 am UTC

From what I've found, evil characters who are just evil for the sake of it are generally avoided in fiction because they're one dimensional. I've read a few lectures from different authors where they state that they specifically avoid writing characters who are just inherently evil. The same goes for the opposite, too - the authors also try to avoid writing 'good' characters who are just plain good... They avoid writing them because no one in real life is like that - we all have reasons for our actions.

Maybe I'm not quite understanding what you're getting at, but it seems to me that you're looking for a character who is evil for no reason. I'm not sure if that person can exist. Every example I think of I end up dismissing (such as, that person is evil because they are jealous; that person is evil because where they come from what they're doing isn't classed as evil; that other person is evil because they enjoyed the benefits of being evil...)

I understand that it can be hard to explain something when you're just dealing with a concept. Especially if you feel it's a concept of something that doesn't currently exist. However maybe you just need to explain yourself a bit clearer. Keep it to one sentence or dot points if need be :P
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Vieto
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Vieto » Thu May 14, 2009 3:28 am UTC

do video-game villians count?

http://armorgames.com/play/2409/mastermind-world-conqueror

Now that's a true villain.

Spoiler:
He blows up the Earth at the end, for no apparent reason.

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Thu May 14, 2009 3:39 am UTC

The reason most villains in fiction don't grow up perfectly healthy and then say "Ah, well, I suppose I'd better go kill some people, that seems far more logical." is that real people generally don't. Why should they? Being a villain is a tough life, being evil tends to complicate your life, and most of us don't have an irrational, murderous dislike for our fellow men.

Actually, with that in mind, you might look into Corrupt Corporate Executives. Evil for the sake of the profit motive, or expediency, is less likely to require trauma to back it up--in the real world or in fiction. Also, look into the Well-Intentioned Extremists. You said most of them were ignorant or stupid, but some of them are quite brilliant and know exactly what they're doing. They're just extremists. Light from Death Note?
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Shivahn » Thu May 14, 2009 3:51 am UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote: Also, look into the Well-Intentioned Extremists. You said most of them were ignorant or stupid, but some of them are quite brilliant and know exactly what they're doing. They're just extremists. Light from Death Note?


Oh, like, any of the Tales games. I've only actually played Tales of Symphonia and Tales of the Abyss, but if they're indicative of the series, then all villains are well intentioned extremists. It's been a while, but I recall Tales of Symphonia's last boss was made me feel somewhat sorry for it, and if I remember Tales of the Abyss properly, you and the villain, in the end, are trying to accomplish the exact same thing through two different means, neither one accepting the other's.

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby setzer777 » Thu May 14, 2009 4:08 am UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:Actually, with that in mind, you might look into Corrupt Corporate Executives. Evil for the sake of the profit motive, or expediency, is less likely to require trauma to back it up--in the real world or in fiction. Also, look into the Well-Intentioned Extremists. You said most of them were ignorant or stupid, but some of them are quite brilliant and know exactly what they're doing. They're just extremists. Light from Death Note?


Light seems like that most of the time, and just going by his general plan he could fit the well-intentioned extremist role - but there are also plenty of indicators that he has some psychological issues: his moments of obsessing about being "god" of the new world, the fact that when his own father is dying he calmly considers whether acting distressed and making a certain request will sound plausible enough, considering murdering his own friends and family members just to avoid being caught, feeling no remorse about manipulating the emotions of a woman who is obsessed with him and planning to kill her afterwords, and of course his total breakdown when he is caught.

I think a Corrupt Corporate Executive could be a plausible and intriguing villain to meet the OP's requirements - but in practice every example I've seen has been a ridiculous caricature. I take it back - Xanatos from Gargoyles was interesting - but from I recall his corporate status was more just an explanation of his power and resources, rather than a part of his motivation.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Ginger » Thu May 14, 2009 5:05 am UTC

Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender could be argued as being both a true villain and a sympathetic/damaged villain in my opinion. Most of the time her mode of evil was fueled by a combination of self-interest and extreme nationalism. Her ultimate fate leaves questions about her moral status but I have reasons for believing that she would have continued down her path to completion if certain things had not happened to her at the worst possible times for those things to happen (I loved Azula's complex portrayal so much). Generally I think villains with motivations for what they're doing beyond just because they think it's more proper than those that believe in stereotypical heroic good are more interesting and not less real or true though.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby GoodRudeFun » Thu May 14, 2009 6:08 am UTC

The reason writers tend to keep from writing villains who are only villains because they're villains is not because it seems poorly done in a plot and one dimensional, its because it IS poorly done and one dimensional.

Of course, I'm sure a seriously talented writer could make it work, but it'd be difficult, and would probably end up not qualifying by your standards.



Though a few come close.
Spoiler:
The glass man in Unbreakable almost seems to work.
Any vampires in the buffy-verse seem to work as well, they're just evil because they're vampires and inherently evil. In the first case, it seems that his fragile state may or may not have caused his villain-ness. It could have also been his obsession with "hero's". He doesn't qualify as a "mentally healthy, self actualized individual", but he almost fits. In the second... meh, seems somewhat one dimensional to me, and dependent on the notion that one requires a soul to be good.


I think the reason you don't find what you're looking for in fiction is because you don't find it in reality. People simply don't work like that. They need a reason to do anything, even if their reason is "to do without reason", they need some sort of motivation. With out motivation, why would you do something? There's a reason motivation is something the police look for in a murder case.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Zamfir » Thu May 14, 2009 7:58 am UTC

As I kid, we used to watch a show about a baby seal and his human friends who fought an evil industrial complex that was about to kill all seals. Even as a kid, I couldn't imagine why someone would go through the trouble of building big factories on the South Pole just to kill baby seals, and I couldn't really think of an industrial process that needed baby seals hard enough to do it for profit.

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Belial » Thu May 14, 2009 11:40 am UTC

Ginger wrote:Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender could be argued as being both a true villain and a sympathetic/damaged villain in my opinion.


And basically a grade A sociopath.

I loved her portrayal, but....complete lack of empathy? Charming demeanor? Manipulation?
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Ginger » Thu May 14, 2009 11:49 am UTC

Yes, Azula could be seen that way, and in fact I figure that was likely most of her problem. Her reaction to her hallucination near the end of the series spoke of something else to me however... I think that's where the complexity comes into the picture. Was she really the monster people thought she was to the core or was there something more there? I suppose most people would say that she was because she was being such a complete sociopath for most of the series as well as most of her life according to the flashbacks. Regardless of her fleeting ambiguous moments I still believe that she would have helped to conquer the world without any regrets if Ozai hadn't been the biggest jerk of them all though. :P
Last edited by Ginger on Thu May 14, 2009 12:26 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby mrbaggins » Thu May 14, 2009 12:00 pm UTC

The Forsaken (And a good selection of the dark friends) from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.

13 people who sided with the devil for personal gain. Darkfriends are nigh innumerable common folk who want personal gain.

But I think the question is flawed, as stated, but also because of the discounting of morality. Morality is what makes someone villainous or good. With no morality there is no distinction. Everyone deals with bad things in their life, but it's the way we end up, based on our morals, that determine whether we fit with other peoples good or bad views.

2 Victims of horrible assault. One might seek retribution and start murdering assaulters they can track down. The other might become a social worker to help others.

Every character that is 'evil' is both evil because of their experiences, and has a twisted logic that can nearly justify their actions (if not totally). No-one commits evil because it's evil.

In Trigun, the main character flashes back to a scene with him (Vash), his brother (Knives), a spider and a butterfly caught in his web. Vash tries to save the butterfly by freeing it. Knives saves it by killing the spider. When asked why you would kill, Knives justifies it by saying that if the butterflies were all freed like Vash wanted, then the spiders would die a long and painful death. Thus, crushing it is preferable. Vash's morality states that all life is precious. Knives' states that all choices have a cost. Both are completely true.
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Zamfir » Thu May 14, 2009 12:32 pm UTC

mrbaggins wrote: No-one commits evil because it's evil.


I am not that sure about that. Comitting evil because someone can is not that uncommon, among the people who actually can. Recently, the relations between the US and the UAE were soured because a movie had leaked of the brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi. In it, he tortures and eventually kills a man who had done business with him, and the torture is absolutely horrible, of the burn-the-tesiticles kind. The main pleasure of such acts seems to lie in the mere fact that he can do them, and that they are evil.

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby mrbaggins » Thu May 14, 2009 12:36 pm UTC

Fair point. Do people who torture people (And enjoy doing so) do it because it's a bad thing to do and they can, or is it because of something else... like needing a dominance reinforcement, or getting off on pain?

Also, if we're looking for evidence for something in the middle east, the evidence probably doesn't exist, amirite?
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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby Zamfir » Thu May 14, 2009 12:47 pm UTC

[quote="mrbaggins"]Fair point. Do people who torture people (And enjoy doing so) do it because it's a bad thing to do and they can, or is it because of something else... like needing a dominance reinforcement, or getting off on pain?

The difference between "do it because it's a bad thing to do and they can" and "needing a dominance reinforcement" seems very, very slight to me in such cases. And getting off on the pain also seems to me very close to doing evil because it is evil. It's not as if there is a direct biological band that increases joy when the other suffers, like a kind of drug. If people enjoy watching others suffer, it is because they know that it is suffering.

What scares me about these things is that these kind of sadists are apparently not uncommon among people who grew up from birth knowing they were more or less untouchable. In Abu Dhabi, it is apparently a rather standard procedure for the police to cover up the incidents of ruling-class members who went too far. It suggests that many other people would do the same if they were raised in such an environment.

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Re: True villains in fiction?

Postby PatrickRsGhost » Thu May 14, 2009 4:55 pm UTC

I would imagine the Borg collective from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager, and the movie First Contact would be classified as a true villain. All they do is set out to conquer worlds or Federation-registered space transport vessels and assimilate the inhabitants into their collective. Besides being the dominant race or species in the universe, they really have no other motive, no cause to why they're evil, unless you want to say they're programmed that way. If so, who programmed them?
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