#1/ They were born with the silver tongue.
Well, first there was the serpent in Eden. Then there were the witches in Macbeth, who led a brave man into a mess of his own-making with their self-fulfilling prophecies, and the priest Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Iago in Othello who make the heroes turn against their own beloveds. Oh, these wily abettors, with all their slippery lies and their crafty gift of the gab. Let’s also not forget those serial killers in literature and on screen, who keep us on the edge of our seats as they persuade many a victim into their parlour and there onwards to an early grave.
#2/ Their motives remain hidden, and therefore, more ominous.
Sunday is not the name of a week. In The Man Who Was Thursday, Sunday is the head of a shady organization bent upon anarchy. Thursday is the under-cover police officer who has a mad-paced race to stop Sunday’s nefarious plans and prove that Order will always wins over Chaos. Except… Sunday turns out to be something else.
#3/ They are omniscient.
Like Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’ arch nemesis, these villains are everywhere. They have spies in the elitist and most secretive organizations, in the underground, in the police, in the government. There is nothing hidden from them, and this only makes them more difficult to defeat. Imagine what a master criminal mind they make, and if only they could have put it to good use.
#4/ They are deluded they are doing Good.
There is rarely a villain worse than the one who thinks his evil actions are intended for the Good of the people, or even their loved ones. Kilgrave from Jessica Jones is one such character; right till the end, he thinks his coercive, intrusive mind-raping actions are justified because Jessica is his true love and all’s well that ends well. And if you've read Jane Eyre, you will remember St. John Rivers, the missionary who was so very noble, but his sternness, sense of importance and inhuman emotional control made him completely unbearable.
#5/ They could have been redeemed, and sometimes, you want to pity them.
The villain from the Korean drama, Liar Game, is twisted. He is conducting a psychological experiment on reality TV, and as the manipulative, must-be-insane evil genius TV host, this villain is truly matchless. When his real motives come to light in the climax of the drama, you are disturbed, you grieve for the reasons he turned out this way, you pity him. You wonder if he can redeem himself in the next season of the TV show.
#6/ They can be unpredictable, and two-faced. Literally.
Sometimes, they have to make a choice between a an evil act and a good one. They’ll keep you on your toes, wondering what they’ll do next or whose side they’ll take. Loki is one example that comes to mind. Another’s Coyote, in Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series. And then there is that whole dissociative identity/ multiple personality disorder shenanigans, with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Gollum from Lord of the Rings, and Norman Bates from Psycho leading the parade. Which choice will finally be made? Which personality will finally take over?
#7/ Sometimes, their presence speaks louder than words.
They may not have raised a finger at the hero, yet their mere presence in the room is like a dark cloud. You are more terrified of their silence and their stillness than any action that any other character may decide to take. You know who I’m speaking about. That Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, you just know her knitting is weaving trouble all around. Or the Raven King from Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, who has disappeared from England and taken all the magic out with him, yet his legend persists, and it’s downright hair-raising.
#8/ They really just want to survive.
They’ll say, I only wanted to survive. And in a weird sad way, it sort of makes sense. Ask Sher Khan from The Jungle Book, who wants food, and who better than a hate human cub. Or even Count Vlad, Dracula, who is stuck permanently in this human realm and needs blood to live on – so obviously, he needs to crawl down walls and bite human women (why only human women?) to death.
#9/ They crave world domination.
This one’s a no-brainer. We all know Voldemort. We have seen his dark but fascinating evolution from Tom Marvolo Riddle to the Dark Lord in the Harry Potter series. From what I have read about J.K. Rowling, Voldemort’s mission for pureblood supremacy is mirrored against Hitler’s agenda of genocide. And then there’s Sauron from Lord of the Rings, and Darth Vader. If ever there was ambition, these villains have it.
#10/ They thrive on torture.
Er, have you seen Game of Thrones? Have you seen Ramsay Bolton torturing Reek? Or Nils Bjurman in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Phew. Enough said.
So, which villains have been most loathsome for you?