Top Ten Villains (that aren’t)


This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic invites us to identify our favorite villains. Bad they may be, but one has to admit that without them to cause trouble, most stories would not even begin — so we need to be grateful for them too.

The kind of villain I prefer, though, is not the pitch-black Dark Lord type of unrelenting evil, which is one-sided and ultimately dull. I much prefer it when seeming villains transform into something more complex, or when we’re invited to see the other side of their story, or even when one-sided goodness turns bad. Here are some of my favorites — please share yours!


Wizard Howl in Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Howl has a horrible reputation in the fairy-tale village of Market Chipping, along with his wicked-looking fire demon, but it turns out that they themselves are really the ones in danger.

The Lady in Green in The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
In this Elizabethan version of the Tam Lin legend, the Lady is the leader of the uncanny folk under the hill, and earns a grudging respect from those who fall into her hands.

Orual in Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
The jealous sister from the myth of Cupid and Psyche gets to tell her own side of the story, and thus see herself truly — not an easy task for any mortal.

Lord Vetinari, by Julie Dillon, via DeviantArt (used by permission)

Lord Vetinari in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Vetinari proves that it is possible to be so bad you’re good, with his twistedly effective rule of the city of Ankh-Morporkh.

Bastian Balthasar Bux in The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
And Bastian proves that it’s possible to be so good you’re bad, as his well-intentioned reign over the land of Fantastica almost ends in disaster.

Medraut in The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein
That’s Mordred to you, the evil bastard who brought down King Arthur. In a refreshingly original take on the much-retold legend, Wein makes us see him in a different light.

The Queen of Attolia in the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner
Another ruler who has to make some very hard choices — and choosing to love can be the most difficult of all.

Pa Twite in the Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken
Pa is a puzzle: how can he do such dreadful things, even to his own children, and yet make such beautiful music? Aiken gives a few hints, but sadly puts an abrupt end to his career before we can really understand him.

M. Coque de Noir in The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
The alchemical marriage of sun and moon, gold and silver, brings redemption even to the wicked smugglers and their leader in this enchanting tale.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone in the book by Delia Sherman
This one is brand new, and already a favorite. Who wants to move to Maine and live in a magical bookshop? Me! A (possibly) evil wizard lurking around and turning people into spiders and rats would merely be an occupational hazard.

28 thoughts on “Top Ten Villains (that aren’t)

  1. I agree, the most interesting villains are usually those who are not one note or unremittingly evil. And your list is amazing. I have heard of a couple of the books and authors but read none, so this is a great list for discovery.


  2. Lord Vetinari is such a brilliant character! He and Drumknott are such a great pair.

    I definitely also like villains who are a little more ambiguous, and maybe even cross the line between good and bad (sometimes more than once). It makes for a more compelling story, I think. 🙂


  3. ARE YOU EXCITED for the new Queen’s Thief book next May? ARE YOU ARE YOU? Cause I forgot to pay attention and I missed the announcement today, and I only discovered what was up this evening, and now I am very very excited for it.


    1. I know, I was alerted via Maureen’s tweet — it seems it’s really happening, with a cover and a release date and everything! Pinch me please.


  4. What a fun post! I have to say my favorite villains are Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. They are darkly comic and bad to the bone but even occasionally sweet. I also love Corky Laputa the deconstructionist from The Face by Dean Koontz. (Any author who can include deconstructionist philosophy in a page-turning thriller earns my admiration.)


  5. I only know Howl from your list and HE IS one anti-hero that you would love!

    I newest favorite villain, that is not really a villain is Kaz Brekker from the Six of Crows Duology (although Matthias is my fave character but Kaz is villainous and he has done unspeakable evil things)


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