I’m about to start reading Horns by Joe Hill (one of the titles on the list I created earlier in the year of books I would like to read, of which I have managed to read approximately 0 so far). This interview with Hill gives an insight into his favourite horror villains, having chosen a top 5 that steers clear of some of the more obvious choices. I’m not familiar with all of them, but one that did surprise me was the selection of Abbot Enomoto, from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. Now I love David Mitchell and have read all of his novels, but found The Thousand Autumns to be my least favourite. Having read what Hill says here – how he “keeps finding new layers to the unsettling and ageless abbot” – I’m starting to look on this character in particular in a new light. He really was evil – there’s no other way to describe him. Hill confesses that this book is his “favourite novel of all time,” reading it over and over since he first discovered it, and so perhaps I too will read it again with a fresh perspective to see if my opinion changes (not that it will ever become my favourite novel of all time – another David Mitchell novel already holds that title – but perhaps my original two star rating was a little harsh).
There are a couple of characters who stand out in my mind as being particularly villainous. My earliest memory of being really scared by a nasty character would have to be The Grand High Witch from Roald Dahl’s The Witches. She terrified me with her relentless pursuit of children, and was made more frightening by the fact that not very many people seemed to know she existed, as she was always hiding in plain sight.
The character of Mrs Coulter in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Material’s trilogy is another particularly villainous one – she isn’t above targeting anyone in her quest for power, whether it be her own daughter, or the King of the Ice Bears, or anyone that stands in her way, whether human or divine. She is described by one all-knowing character as having “never from your earliest years shown a shred of compassion or sympathy or kindness without calculating how it would return to your advantage. You have tortured and killed without regret or hesitation; you have betrayed and intrigued and gloried in your treachery. You are a cess-pit of moral filth.” And although there is evidence that she does have love for her daughter, her other actions seem to make this love insignificant, as she admits herself:
“I told him I was going to betray you, and betray Lyra, and he believed me because I was corrupt and full of wickedness…. I wanted him to find no good in me and he didn’t. There is none… All I could hope was that my crimes were so monstrous that the love was no bigger than a mustard seed in the shadow of them, and I wished I’d committed even greater ones to hide it more deeply still…”
And, lastly, one more that has stuck in my memory is one real bloodthirsty, horror villain – Edgler Vess, from Dean Koontz’s Intensity. He is a relentless killer who is always on the look out for his next victims, and kills and tortures for the sheer pleasure of it.
“Power is living while others inevitably perish. Power is cool indifference to their suffering. Power is taking nourishment from the deaths of others, just as the mighty redwoods draw sustenance from the perpetual decomposition of what once lived, but lived only briefly, around them. This is also part of the philosophy of Edgler Foreman Vess.”
Who are your favourite literary villains?