These are the villains that had us screaming at our books in frustration. Whether sinister, comical or all-out evil, these bad guys made us root for our heroes all the more.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Gene Wilder as Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein. Artwork by Ssava
Readers of Mary Shelley’s iconic horror novel Frankenstein may struggle to know who the real villain of the story is. While Frankenstein’s monster commits some truly grisly crimes—including strangling Frankenstein's fiancée—who is really at fault: the monster, or the man who created him?
Victor Frankenstein’s hubris, in trying to play god and bring life to the earth, is undoubtedly the source of his downfall but was ignorance his biggest crime? Victor struggles desperately to do what "no man has ever done", forgetting, of course, that it’s something procreation has acheived since the dawn of time.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
The release of American Psycho in 1991 shocked the world. Some countries still find the book so horrifying that they will only sell it shrink-wrapped.
The psychopathic Patrick Bateman is a terrible person. Lost in his own consumerist fantasy of success and status, he’s a murderous, cocaine-snorting yuppie who makes deals by day and embarks on increasingly twisted murder sprees by night.
It’s the detached and cold nature of Bateman’s narration, particularly through the unflinching murder scenes, that make him so detestable. Bateman never looks away, and neither can the reader. Bateman is disturbing because he manages to commit seriously nauseating crimes, but carry on with his life wholly unsuspected. He’s a villain hiding in plain sight.
Is it a coincidence that Bateman is one letter away from Batman, another playboy living a very different life by night? That brings us onto…
Batman created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson
The Joker has had the comic book world on the edge of their seats for nearly 70 years. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight brought the ultimate comic book baddie to a new generation and The Joker returned to our screens (this time played by Jared Leto) along with his girlfriend, fellow-supervillain Harley Quinn, in 2016's Suicide Squad. This villain is clearly a firm favourite in contemporary culture.
The Joker’s twisted sense of humour is what makes him such a powerful villain. Supremely intelligent, he is consumed by his obsession with Batman and the rational order he represents, the antithesis of the Joker’s own warped anarchy.
Read more: What on earth is Suicide Squad?
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Mrs Coulter as played by Nicole Kidman in 2007's The Golden Compass adaptation. Image via Entertainment Film
The sophisticated Mrs Coulter is one of the scariest villains of Philip Pullman’s much loved His Dark Materials trilogy. In her "scientific" efforts to split children from their daemons (an incredibly painful and psychologically damaging process), the glamorous Mrs Coulter is the antithesis of everything our fiery young hero, Lyra, represents.
Mrs Coulter brilliantly fuses the fairytale archetypes of stepmothers, fairy godmothers and wicked witches in one character. The combined effect of this is made all the more menacing when it’s revealed that (spoiler) she’s actually Lyra’s biological mother. It’s this intimate relation to Lyra that elevates Mrs Coulter from antagonist to a truly memorable villain. She’s scary because her evilness is so close to home, because she embodies the monster as the mother.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Four legs good, two legs bad! George Orwell’s dystopian take down of Stalinist Russia features some of the most dastardly characters in all literature, made even more villainous by their connection with their real-life counterparts.
Napoleon, based on Joseph Stalin himself, is a ferocious boar with a reputation for getting his own way. From humble beginnings as a common farm pig, Napoleon claws his way to the top of the farm hierarchy, culminating in his final disturbing transformation into the farmer, Mr Jones.
Perhaps the moment that ultimately confirmed his villainy was when he betrayed the trusty workhorse Boxer, whose loyal mottos included “Napoleon is always right”, by targeting him in the farm’s Great Purge.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Louise Fletcher plays Nurse Ratched in an Oscar-winning performance. Image via One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The ultimate battle-axe nurse, Nurse Ratched’s unspeakable crimes throughout One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest place her firmly amongst literature’s most hateful characters.
"Big Nurse" reigns over her psychiatric ward with sadistic glee and her treatment of the depressed Billy Bibbit is impossible to read without your blood pressure rising.
She's also made her mark on the film world. Louise Fletcher won an Oscar for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched in 1975 and she was later named the 5th greatest villain in film history by the American Film Institute.
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
As portrayed by Iwan Rheon in the HBO series. Image via HBO
In both the books and HBO television adaptation, few characters have been so universally hated as the ruthless Ramsey Bolton.
Almost a pantomime villain in his propensity for utter, irredeemable evil, Ramsey Bolton—an embittered bastard of a noble house—counts murder, torture and savage dog hunts amongst his favourite past times.
Unpredictable and seemingly unafraid of anything, it was his treatment of Theon Greyjoy that earmarked him as one of George R. R. Martin's greatest bad guys, perhaps even overtaking Joffrey Baratheon for the place of most-hated character.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Austen had a gift for writing characters her fans loved to read but would hate to meet in real life. The vulgar Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Pride and Prejudice is a perfect example of this.
Aunt to the brooding Mr Darcy, Lady de Bourgh presides over the intimidating Rosings—a fine house in Kent. She takes an intense disliking to the novel’s heroine, Lizzie Bennett, on the basis of her family connections, lack of accomplishments and the rumours of her engagement to Darcy, who she had always expected to marry her own daughter.
De Bourgh’s cutting speech (“you will be censured, slighted and despised by everyone”) places De Bourgh the most despised of all Austen’s baddies for trifling with the affairs of her most loved heroine.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Ask any child about the villains that scare them and the brawny headteacher Miss Trunchbull will come up time and time again. She’s that awful breed of grownup—the teacher who hates children. Indeed, she loathes her pupils so much that she denies ever having been a child herself.
Trunchbull rules her school with an iron fist, threatening any misbehaving children with the dreaded "chokey". The chokey is a tall cupboard, so narrow that once inside you cannot sit or squat. The walls are coated with broken glass and nails that ensure wobbling children receive an extra spike. Terrifying.
She’s been known to dole out her harsh punishments for crimes as innocent as wearing pigtails or eating a slice of cake. The discipline that poor Bruce Bogtrotter faces will remain in the imaginations of Dahl’s readers long after turning the final page.
Roald Dahl is a genius when it comes to bringing children’s worst nightmares to the page, he describes this hateful character as, “more like an eccentric and rather bloodthirsty follower of the stag-hounds than the headmistress of a nice school for children.”
Read more: 10 Roald Dahl moments to inspire generations
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Despite playing second fiddle to the ultimate villain of the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort, Dolores Umbridge undoubtedly takes the title of the most-hated character of the entire franchise.
Perhaps the reason for this is just how familiar Umbridge’s brand of evil is. Unlike Voldemort, who swishes around in demonic black capes if indeed he takes human form at all, she hides her malice beneath a simpering façade of pastel fluffy jumpers and kitten-patterned crockery.
Her brutal punishments include a twist on writing lines—students are forced to use a magic quill that cuts the back of their hands, meaning they write in their own blood. Harry Potter himself is subjected to this particular detention, forced to write "I must not tell lies" until the words forge a bloody scar on the back of his hand.
Stephen King, creator of some of the most chilling horrors in all literature, called J.K. Rowling’s Umbridge “the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter”. He also referred to the books as “one series not just for the decade, but for the ages.” You can read his hand-written review of the book here.
Which literary villain makes your blood boil? Let us know in the comments
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