Are villains just misunderstood heroes?


Welcome to May, lovely readers, and welcome to a new theme here on AO&R. This month we’ve decided to take on villains and I’m going to kick that off with a chat about the awesome craze of villains getting their own story.

We all know that any good villain is just a poor misunderstood soul, right? Bad guys (Dr Evil excepted) don’t think they’re the bad guy. They have their own agenda, which they run to because they believe it’s right. All of their dastardly actions have reasons and these baddies are just people, merely heroes flipped on their heads so that they’re the only ones who think of themselves as heroes. But what if we flipped it back the other way, looking at the story from a whole different angle? What if the villain was actually a hero? Great idea! Let’s take a look how easy it is to turn things around.

(spoiler alert for Wicked, Maleficent, and Jesus Christ Superstar)

The Wicked Witch of the West is a mean, green hag who chases poor Dorothy across Oz until she catches the young girl, who she then imprisons before trying to steal the child’s magical shoes. Yep, she’s a villain alright. But … what if the Witch, let’s call her Elphaba, enchanted a pair of beautiful ruby slippers for her disabled sister, allowing the other woman to walk. Amazing! In blew a whole house and landed on Elphaba’s beloved sister, squashing her to death and leaving her red shoes free for the taking by a little girl. Suddenly our witch doesn’t sound so horrid.

The Wicked Witch of the West as portrayed in the Wizard of Oz.

Then there’s Maleficent, the horrible witch (there’s that word again) who curses Princess Auroa, so that a pinprick to her finger after she turns sixteen will send her into a deep slumber. Wow, these witches sure are mean! But … what if Maleficent was actually a poor wronged soul, who’d been betrayed by her one true love in the name of fear and personal advancement? Would she be so horrid then or would we feel a little sorry for her?

Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Photo credit https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32836217

 

Then there’s Judas, who betrayed Jesus by dobbing him in to Herod ultimately leading to Jesus’ crucifixion. What if that same man was worried about his friend’s recent actions and only went to the king because he feared his mate was now at risk of doing harm instead of the good they’d always preached together? Would we then have some understanding for misunderstood Judas?

Yes, I am taking all of my references from musicals / Disney. Thanks for noticing. 🙂

My point is this: a good hero needs a goal; something they want to achieve. And to make this believable they need a motivation for reaching the goal. If we give these attributes to our villains too then they become the hero of their own stories.

If you’re interested in reading books that turn villains upside down I recommend; Fairest by Marissa Meyer: A story from the perspective of Snow White’s evil stepmother. Never Never by Brianna Shrum: A Peter Pan retelling from Hook’s perspective. The Mists of Avalon: A King Arthur retelling from Morgaine (and some others) perspective.

Have you read any books that make the reader view a villain as a hero?


Stacey Nash loves musicals almost as much as she loves a good villain. She’s even written a few herself. To find out more about Stacey’s books or to connect with her on social media (where she tries not to only talk about bad guys and broadway), check out these places: www.stacey-nash.com, instagram, twitter, facebook.

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2 Comments

  1. I really liked Jacqueline Carey’s “The Sundering” duology. which takes the Lord of the Rings trope and turns it on its head. I hated Gandalf so much by the end of it!

    From memory, in Wicked, the shoes were given to Elphaba’s sister by her father and basically represented all of the favouritism Elphie had grown up with. Nessa was the favourite daughter and Elpie was trash. Nessa got pretty shoes and Elphie got told to look after her sister. Poor Elphie. 😦

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  2. The question is, however, how to give villains a reason for their deeds without becoming cliche. I’ve read a lot of criticism on the internet about the whole scorned-lover/jealous-sibling etc motivation for villains that readers and writers alike think lacks imagination. How do you create a good villain backstory/motivation without relying on tropes and expectations? Surely, there is something more psychological to a villain than what just has happened to them – and that’s what truly separates villains and heroes.

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