The basis of almost every book, movie, or video game is this: you have a hero, generally some sort of underdog, who has to overcome some sort of evil, usually represented in the physical form of a villain. This hero has to go through many trials and tribulations whilst the villain thwarts them at every turn. Eventually, the hero overcomes and the villain is defeated.
The hero is sculpted to make you relate to them in most cases. A good person, someone who has faced adversity, who is fighting for what is right. The villain is designed to be someone that a reader, player, or watcher can despise. Someone who says and does things that make your heart turn against them, but these villains almost always have followers of their own, people who believe in their cause and their vision.
While we might find reasons to side with the hero, we must attempt to remember that those who side with the villains have their reasons too. That’s what empathy was invented for, right? Take a look below to see some famous villains from various books and games that may or may not change how you see them.
Voldemort (Harry Potter): Voldemort was born to an abused and magical mother and a non-magical father. He was conceived into an already broken home, seeing as his mother used magic to charm his father into falling in love with her. When she dies in childbirth, Voldemort (then Tom Riddle), is left to go into an orphanage and spend his days wondering why he seems to be smarter and more skilled than the other children around him.
Eventually, Dumbledore visits him and invites him to attend Hogwarts, but instead of attempting to understand why Riddle did such nasty things as a child, he immediately finds that he is wary of him. He invites him to the school, but instead of offering love and support, offers suspicion and prejudice.
What would Riddle have been had Dumbledore offered him the same bond as he had Harry? Voldemort seems to be a simple case of someone who has never known love, and instead of knowing where to find it, he creates walls around himself and recruits followers that will do his bidding. He would have been a very different man had he felt affection from someone early on.
Sauron (The Lord of the Rings): Sauron was once an “angel” of sorts. Melkor, this other angel-type being, started spreading about his own thoughts, which ran a different way than those of the other spirits and of their creator. Thus, Melokor was deemed evil. At some point, Sauron decides to join Melkor, and this is when he is forever labelled as “evil”.
It could have been different, though, had the other spirits accepted Melkor’s thoughts, or even pondered them, as opposed to immediately deeming them to be unsound and inappropriate. Or perhaps if they had destroyed him straight away even, which would of course be harsh. But if Sauron had known what was to come, or if he had been shown that other thoughts are ok, but not necessarily as actions, would he have made the same choices? One will never know.
Ra’s al Ghul (Batman): Ra’s story is a sad one. The basis is this: he is a doctor, married to and in love with a woman named Sora. He discovers a magical place that can heal people, and when he is called on to heal a sultan’s son, he lowers the son into it. The son, who was already a little cracked, comes completely undone and murders Ra’s wife. Ra’s is blamed for the crime, and sentenced to death. He escapes and vows revenge on sultan and thus begins his life of evil.
This one doesn’t need much explaining. When a person loses the love of someone important, they can become desensitized. After the death of his wife, it is only natural (in the comic book world) that he would want revenge on the sultan. Then, once that is done, he finds solace in a life of darkness. With nothing left of happiness or hope or love, where would any of us be?
Henry VIII (Non-fiction): Henry VIII is a man that many love to despise. His actions were quite atrocious even when he was king, which is saying a lot since public hangings, burnings, and beheadings were still acceptable. Henry had a number of wives (six in all), four of which whose deaths are directly or indirectly attributed to their loving husband. Henry was a second son, destined for the church and not for the throne. His brother, Arthur, died before ever becoming king, so the crown fell to Henry, who had not been raised as a ruler, but rather as a spoiled little boy.
Henry wasn’t taught a lot of things that Arthur was. His life was meant for different things, so when he finally inherited the throne, he apparently thought that it was all about pleasure and that being king meant that his life was meant to be great. He enjoyed women, and games, and parties, and hunting, and all of the other amusement-based aspects of ruling. It was how he was brought up—not necessarily to rule, but to be spoiled before possibly one day becoming a cardinal or even the pope.
Things would have been a lot different had Henry been taught the same things as Arthur had, and if he had been raised to take the throne instead of to live for pleasure. There’s not really a protagonist to Henry, unless you want to count any one of his wives, who many still feel for.
Assassin’s Creed (1): The first Assassin’s Creed game is set around Altair, an assassin who takes orders from Al Mualim, who is basically the head assassin. The entire game is shaped around Altair questioning the “hits” that are delegated to him, as he begins to see that there are two sides to every story. Throughout the game, your enemies are Templars, but near the end, you start to understand that maybe, just maybe, Al Mualim is the corrupted one, and that, although opinions may vary, the Templars and Assassins are not so very different.
In this game, and some of the others that come after it, the lines between friend and foe can be blurry. You learn that not all of your “enemies” are as terrible as you thought. You learn that taking blind orders can be dangerous, and that thinking for yourself is a noble trait. A trait that sometimes requires going against the grain.
There is an endless list of villains that can qualify as heroes. It’s important to remember that while an author shapes our perception, we should remain thoughtful creatures that form our own evaluations as opposed to taking everything that is handed to us.
What are some famous villains that you have felt for? What are some that you could never appreciate?
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