Dontcha just love a real villain?

Christine Haggerty has issued a challenge to write a blog post about literary villains, and answer five questions about your favourite. See her own choice on her blog.

1) What character is your favourite villain?
2) What makes him/her a villain?
3) What do you hate about him or her?
4) What do you love about him or her?
5) What aspect of this villain do you empathise with most?

This is a challenge I had to pick up as I find villains so much more satisfying to write about than heroes. For the reader it’s maybe different, as in the end most people want the hero to win. Where there’s a romantic element, much as we may be drawn to the bad boy or girl, if we’re honest, when it comes to happy ever after we tend not to go for baddie. There are exceptions to that rule though, as I discovered when I studied Paradise Lost for A-Level English.

There can surely be no darker devil in Judeo-Christian culture than Satan, and John Milton was a deeply religious Christian poet. Yet in Satan he created an anti-hero who had so much more charisma than puling whining Adam and so much more sense of honour and justice than the rather vague and uninteresting God, that we Catholic schoolgirls were one hundred percent behind Satan. He became our literary idol and we would have jumped over the crystal battlements for him any day of the week.

Satan is a villain because he wants power. Simple as that. And God obviously isn’t in the business of sharing. Satan was Lucifer, the brightest star in the firmament and thought himself as good as God. Well, we’re all entitled to a huge ego, aren’t we? And given Milton’s portrayal of God, the boring old man with a beard who just wants everybody in creation to thank him and sing his praises endlessly, why wouldn’t Lucifer think he could do as good a job? At one time, wanting to be the equal of God was considered a big deal and enough to set Lucifer beyond the pale. But does it make him bad?

Satan before the throne of God. God presumably taking the register.
Satan before the throne of God. God presumably taking the register.

There isn’t anything I hate about Satan, in as much as I don’t think he sets out to be any more dastardly than most rulers. It’s true, he sets out to corrupt humanity—he’s hurt, unhappy and his pride’s dented. Man is so much his inferior and yet has been given the earth to rule over. And we know what a bollix he’s made of that little job. That doesn’t mean I like Satan. He’s an evil character, he lies, he distorts and he manipulates, but he’s human, and for pre-Enlightenment Europe, as rulers go he’s nothing extraordinary.

What I love about Satan is his sense of righteousness and justice. He cries when he sees how low his companions have fallen ‘by his fault’ and he wants to make things up to them. Milton doesn’t say God shed a tear about sending his favourite archangel to live on the burning lake in the bowels of Hell. Satan is loyal to his companions and what he plans is to give them what he believes they deserve.

Satan approaching the court of Chaos. Defying some real hoodlums.
Satan approaching the court of Chaos. Defying some real hoodlums.

Satan has a lot of human characteristics. He is proud and arrogant, but he is also steadfast, strong-willed, and he is compassionate. Milton must have been torn between his religious and artistic convictions when he made Satan wipe away that tear. He made him a human being, capable of the kind of things any seventeenth century ruler was capable of, but also able to feel compassion and remorse for his followers. Milton’s Satan isn’t a dyed in the wool demon. He is just like us, the kind of hero we love to follow, tall, strong and charismatic. His crimes seem rather nebulous compared with that single teardrop, and frankly, the wimp, Adam doesn’t inspire much as a rival.

One interpretation is that Milton made Satan so attractive in the early books of Paradise Lost to allow the reader to be lured, exactly as humanity was lured, by his devilish wiles. By the end of Paradise Lost we should have seen through his likeable veneer to the wicked fiend he really is. I prefer to think that Milton had a sneaking admiration for his creation that must have given his Christian conscience severe indigestion. Like my classmates, I’m with Satan all the way.


Book review: Thumb

Thumb is like nothing I’ve read before, and I absolutely loved it. If this is steampunk, I’m a convert, but if you are already a fan, don’t expect steam-powered horses and musketeers taking potshots at airships. The atmosphere is more like the original Star Trek series, complete with polystyrene scenery and murky colour, but instead of being set in a studio, the playground is an immense dull orange wasteland littered with waste building materials, stretching thousands and thousands of miles, punctuated by wormholes stretching back millions and millions of years. This immensity is broken by man-made monuments that soar high above the clouds, secured and protected by chains and gun installations of colossal proportions, but higher, bigger, more colossal than anything imaginable is God. Or rather God’s body. For this wasteland strewn with rubbish is the table on which God is slowly but surely being constructed.

Into this vastness, in the shadow of God’s left thumb, John Collick has set his handful of characters. Each is a brilliantly-drawn, real human being, Max and Abby are both tough and hard-bitten, funny and a bit gauche, with enough of the little child searching for a lost affection to be terribly endearing. Even when the story veers from Indiana Jones type adventure to surreal horror, it never loses its tenderness and humour. The not so endearing characters are true products of an immense, impersonal world, cold and relentless as machines.

In this flat singularity, rolled out in space like a giant workbench, there seems to be nothing but machines. And, of course, God. Ever-present, too colossal to see, the carcass of God fills the world, the atmosphere and beyond. After a million years of work, God is almost complete; all he needs is his mind. The construction of God’s mind though, is proving a far more hazardous enterprise than all the rest, and not everything in the universe is happy about the idea of God’s completion.

Max and Abby find themselves at the centre of one of the most original concepts I have ever read in a fantasy story: protecting the creatures who each possess a part of God’s mind, from the villains, human and alien, who want to destroy them. To say any more would spoil the story.
This is a remarkably creative piece of writing, highly recommended to anyone who enjoys sci-fi/fantasy, steampunk, or 1960s TV space operas.

Thumb, by John Guy Collick