I love villains. That’s no new confession, lots of people love villains. They love them for their style – most villains wear a lot of black and look pretty sleek. They love them for their confidence – many villains have a certainty about their capabilities, they know what they’re good at, and they’re more than happy to both prove it, and gloat about it. They love their power – villains often have this already in place by the time they become a threat, otherwise they don’t have that much to threaten with. And some just love them because they’re the perfect antithesis to the hero out to stop them, the dynamic between their opposed struggle. But these aren’t the reasons I love them, and one thing sets me apart from the hero and villain loving crowd. Something most people can’t understand, and a confession that leaves most people in the dark.
I hate heroes.
There’s a few reasons for this, but in the end, the biggest one is that they’re boring. That’s not something I can explain in one sentence, so you’re going to have to bear with me, as I know that everybody ever can think of at least one or two heroes that are definitely not, to them, boring. So in order to make this easier for everyone to understand, we need to examine the similarities between the two.
A classic heroic story is one where, after refusing their initial call to heroism, the hero (or heroine)’s life is shattered in some way which forces them to find the force which caused it, either to right the wrong, or at least prevent it from happening again. Their motivation is forced, their life direction-less without it. They lack immediate power, but instead they have will, a force stronger than any other, it seems. Skip ahead through their trials and tribulations, and many heroes, eventually, will spare the villain, and give them a chance at redemption. Noble indeed. Sometimes their foe takes it, sometimes not, but often it was the villain’s own actions which brought about their downfall, even if traced back to the fact that it was they who created the situation which spawned the hero. The moral is; crime doesn’t pay. In the end, that’s what heroic fiction boils down to: morals.
A villain can be darkly stylish, and arrogant, and powerful, but these are mere elements of the larger aspect that make them interesting. Society teaches us to be modest, not to dress out of place (as someone with bright blue hair, trust me, I know it), and that we should use our power not for our own desires, but for the betterment of all. Our villains are the opposite of these things, the counter culture, daring to be different, but then there are plenty of heroes who do these things too, now. So what separates the dark hero from the villain? Their motivation, and the power that it holds which drives them.
The hero was forced on their journey, their circumstances dictating that their life must change, and in order to make it better they must work hard to overcome the forces that changed it in the first place. Essentially, they must become powerful enough to be able to change the world back again. So what makes one pursuit of power any more ‘good’ than any other? The answer is always “The means to the end”. Harming others for your personal gain is bad, it says. You can gain power enough to change the world, so long as you do so by staying within the boundaries of ‘good’. Generally these boil down to not harming others in some way if you can help it – even if they did it first, which is where the chance of redemption comes in. Unfortunately, to me, this is why heroes are boring, and villains are fascinating.
Villains are heroes too. The difference is that they will acquire what they desire by any means. If the great orb of supreme power is guarded by peaceful vegan monks who protect it with their lives, well! On their lives be it, but the villain needs that orb, and they’ll get it somehow. If someone weaker is in the way, the villain will remove them from their way by whatever means they deem best. If someone more powerful is in the way, the villain will either work to make themselves stronger, or weaken their opponent, with the same effect. How it’s achieved isn’t important, merely that the obstacle is overcome.
This lack of morality isn’t in itself the fascinating part. What is fascinating is when you ask why. Why does the villain crave this power? Why do they need it, what is the end, but more importantly what was the beginning that drove this person to such lengths? Their motivation, whatever it may be, has become so important that it’s overrode their once humble beginnings (and we all have them, no matter how young it ends, nobody is born evil) and created in them a desire that is more powerful than the approval of society, than the consequences of taking the immoral route, and even more powerful than the sanctity of human life. What drives these people to such incredible lengths that they simply stop thinking in the same ways as everyone else?
Some want power, as our example states, but power in itself is a means to an end, and can be used morally or not. What makes them want that power so badly? In truth, the motivations are exactly the same as heroes, except they’ve gone to extreme lengths. A man’s daughter is sick, and medicine is hard to get, but he goes on a quest to get it and save his daughter’s life. Clearly, a hero. But what if he fails? What if he doesn’t get the medicine, because thugs beat him up rather than let him get the thing that he can’t afford, or isn’t allowed, only to hear that he took too long and his daughter died. Then he gets together all the other disenfranchised, all the others who aren’t allowed the things they need because of wealth or status and the lack of it, and builds an army of them to topple the state of affairs that destroyed what he loved. It’s a classic story, and often, because we empathise with their point of view, we see them as a hero. We understand why they’re doing it, and why their fight is the good fight. Even if they have to kill, sometimes, it’s necessary to make the world a better place.
A boy lives a good life, safe and protected with a loving family until one day an army comes and topples the government and those who profit from it. His father, a soldier, is killed fighting to protect his home. His mother, having lost her husband, is forced to downsize their life as she cannot earn as much as both of them could, working through her grief to provide for her child, and never recovering from the trauma such events bring. The boy, seeing the force that claimed to be trying to make the world better destroy the good in his life, grows up to view that man who’s daughter died as a villain. A man who decided that he knew what was best, and stopped at nothing to make that happen.
The road to hell is apparently paved with good intentions, but what made him a villain was that he damaged others lives in order to bring about his desires. But perhaps there was no other way to make the world he saw in his dreams? Maybe in order to make it a reality, he needed to sacrifice the happiness of some others, and perhaps he felt racked with guilt at the cost he needed to pay. Maybe he revelled in it, grinning at the thought of those who killed his daughter suffering as both she, and he, had. It makes no difference to the boy. The result is the same.
To me, heroes are boring because they lack the drive to bring about their desires at any cost. They imagine a better world, but when faced with an option that fulfils it, but at a moral cost, they turn away. They don’t necessarily give up, but they don’t believe in their goal more than their morals. Many heroes are forced through some form of sacrifice which makes their goal obtainable, but villains too sacrifice for their goals. Most sacrifice their place in their society, often because they believe it to be wrong and so stand against it, along with many of the people they once called their own. They sacrifice their own morals, because they believe their goal is worth more than the code of ethics held by one person. Since a person’s beliefs forge their self, do villains not sacrifice themselves in the pursuit of their goal? Some are taken by madness, but what need to they have for the standard definition of sanity when they are wholly focussed on the outcome? Some even trade their soul with some evil deity in exchange for the power to enact their will, and thus sacrifice their very humanity! Not a viable option in reality, but an interesting metaphor nonetheless.
Villains are the heroes that believe in their cause more than they believe in any one person, including themselves. What shapes this extremism is what’s fascinating. But in order to highlight that extremism you need those who’re fixed on their moral compass, else there is no white to contrast the black, and since morality is colour blind we can’t tell which side they’re meant to be on. Unfortunately, it makes heroic fiction a bitch to write, and often, to read, yet I need to in order to get to those delicious villains. What a pain.
No, wait! All I need to do is watch the news instead. Problem solved, no heroes there.