Monday, February 10, 2014

Villains as Protagonists [Guest Post by Danielle L. Jensen]

"Villains as Protagonists" Guest Post by Danielle L. Jensen- Author of debut YA Fantasy novel, "Stolen Songbird"

“I am determinèd to prove a villain”*  
Danielle Jensen

I adore villains. Done well, they can be my favourite part of a novel; but done poorly, I’ll be unlikely to recommend the book to my dental hygienist**. I think the fantasy genre, in particular, is guilty of creating one-dimensional villains. We are told the god/king/sorcerer is EVIL. He does BAD THINGS. He wants the protagonist to FAIL, and will never stop placing OBSTACLES in her path. But why, you ask? What’s this guy’s problem? What is he trying to accomplish? Too often, these questions are left hanging or given weak answers. The villain wants POWER. He is evil because that’s the way he is. Accept it, and move on. 

Okay… I can’t speak for everyone else, but I don’t find this sort of villain particularly compelling. It’s human nature to want to know why people do horrible things, to understand motives. When we hear about a murder on the news, we want to know why the criminal did it. The same goes for fiction, we want to understand why the villain is the way he is and why he is doing the things that he does. Which brings us to the question that was posed to me: who is your favorite villain?

I don’t like limiting myself, so I’m going to go with a type instead: Villains as Protagonists

I love them. I love cheering for the bad guy, but I’m also interested in how writers cause us to overturn all sense of morality and become sympathetic to these dark characters.

Take Dexter, for example. He’s a serial killer and a sociopath, yet you can’t help but root for him. But would you still cheer for him if you didn’t know he’d witnessed his mother’s gruesome murder as a child? If you didn’t know that he followed a code of conduct instilled in him by his father requiring his victims to be horrific criminals themselves? Would you still want him to get away with his crimes if the show was called Debra and it followed the path of a young female police detective on the trail of a serial killer who happened to be her brother? The show works because the viewer is privy to Dexter’s thoughts – he explains himself and his actions, and he does it so well that knowing the why allows us to forgive the what. 

A fantastic example of a villain as protagonist in literature is Jacqueline Carey’s The Sundering duology. It’s a typical good vs. evil fantasy, except that it’s told from evil’s point of view. Imagine The Lord of the Rings told from the point of view of the Witch-King of Angmar (leader of the Nazgûl). Then imagine that you are cheering for him, not for Frodo. The blurb asks the question: if all that is good thinks you are evil…are you? Jacqueline Carey did such an amazing job of making me want evil to succeed that I wept tears of pain at the end of the second book. 

What about you folks? Any favourite villains or anti-heroes you’d like to tell us about in the comments section?

*   My favourite villain protagonist is Shakespeare’s Richard III, but that’s an essay length post.
** Why do they ask such complicated questions when your mouth is full of dental tools?

Contact Danielle

Danielle's Debut YA Fantasy Novel
 Stolen Songbird

See Ryan's review of the novel, Here
Stolen Songbird on Goodreads Here

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