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Gini Dietrich

Fourteen Greatest Villains in Literature

By: Gini Dietrich | December 16, 2013 | 
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Fourteen Greatest Villains in LiteratureBy Gini Dietrich

Because this is my last week of blogging until 2014 (my team is taking over the last two weeks of the year), I thought we’d have some fun.

No trends, no leadership lessons, no new tools or technologies, no education.

Just some fun, crowdsourced topics that will be a nice diversion from our hectic schedules this week.

Villains in Literature

Today we’re going to talk about the greatest villains in literature.

I crowdsourced this on my personal Facebook page. If you’d like to participate in tomorrow’s post, please follow me there and the topic will soon be unveiled.

Now, without further ado.

Earlier this year, Jason Konopinski laid down the law and said Randall Flagg (originally from Stephen King’s The Stand and then appearing in eight more of his books) was the greatest villain of all time. Erika Napoletano +1′d that nomination.T

Then, during wine:thirty last week, we had the conversation internally and it was fun to hear what everyone else thought (I also learned I’m a really big book nerd…like more than I thought).

We discussed Randall Flagg, Voldemort (and I learned NO ONE on my team has read Harry Potter, which should be a fireable offense), Count Dracula, and Professor Moriarty.

In fact, Clay Morgan wrote a top 10 list, which you can find at the very bottom of this post (clearly he’s a big nerd, too).

14 Greatest Villains of All Time

I added Cruella deVille, Satan in Paradise Lost, Norman Bates, and Hannibal Lecter. And then I turned it over to you.

So here they are. The 14 greatest villains in literature.

  1. Roger Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter. His psychology is so richly layered. Hawthorne shows Roger is inherently good, but the temptation of revenge consumes him completely. He is smart, eerily calm, and deeply manipulative. Like a leech depending on its host for sustenance, Chillingworth drains vitality from his enemy, Arthur, and depends on the pursuit of vengeance to fulfill him. Totally creepy, but sad, too. – Jono Smith
  2. Professor James Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes. Just because he was so good. A burr under Sherlock Holmes’ saddle. – Chris Reimer
  3. Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. I choose Patrick Bateman because any one of us could be him (and please–from the book, not the movie). Bateman is completely banal, and represents what could happen to any of us, really, if we cannot make meaning in our lives. – Tom Webster
  4. Lord Walder Frey in Game of Thrones. My money is on Walder Frey because his list of crimes is most impressive…incest, violation of the “guest” rule, murder, treason, regicide, need I go on? He’s so well written, you literally feel like you need a shower just reading about him. – Rosemary O’Neill
  5. Man in Bambi. Every villainous act is an act of man. Bambi just exemplifies it. The villain doesn’t need to be a character per se. When you break down any work, the antagonist is a human with human flaws and failings that we can all identify within ourselves, only magnified to the unthinkable point of no return. So in this way, we are all the villain by human nature. - Raymond Konkoleski
  6. The Firemen in Fahrenheit 451. First they can destroy all other literary villains just by burning them, and second, they destroy knowledge forever which I think is the most evil thing one can do. – Pascale Bishop
  7. O’Brien in 1984. He is someone who believes to seek freedom of thought and opinion is insane. He is willing to torture Winston Smith and we never learn enough about him to have our questions answered. – Bob LeDrew
  8. Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. A ruthless emotionless hitman who occasionally flips a coin to determine someone’s fate. – Darryl Robinson-Keys
  9. Fernand Mondego in The Count of Monte Cristo. Mondego used a fairly complex series of lies, collusions, etc, to achieve his goals. And was without any semblance of remorse. In fact, he reveled in his cleverness. – Marty Thompson
  10. Count Olaf in the Series of Unfortunate Events. He is cruel, lazy, and works through subterfuge to turn others against the orphans. He takes away all sense of comfort, leaving them forever on the run with no place to call home. Each time they think they’ve achieved it, he swoops in and takes it away. – Mickey Gomez
  11. Big Nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Granted, much of her characterization comes through the eyes of a paranoid Chief Bromden, but she represents absolute and unwavering authority to the patients. Her battle of wills with McMurphy is about controlling joy — and snuffing it out. She’s cold, calculating, and domineering. McMurphy’s rebellion against the Combine can’t stand, and she puts an end to all he is — and more. – Jason Konopinski
  12. Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter. She is the worst kind of person: Small-minded, cruel, cat-lover, and effective–very scary. – Keena Kincaid. And Mickey adds, “Umbridge is far more evil than Voldemort. She revels in petty cruelties and is willing to cross any number of lines in her thirst for power over others. Umbridge is everything evil about the facelessness and heartlessness of bureaucracy. Think about how delighted she was to turn Professor Trelawney out of Hogwarts, or how she immediately punished Harry in a way far beyond that of acceptable discipline, or her willingness to use an Unforgiveable Curse out of “necessity” (illegal for others but not her). Her subsequent rise to lead an office created solely to eradicate Half-Bloods smacked of genocide. And she loved it.”
  13. President Snow in The Hunger Games. Cold, calculating, cowardly. perfect. – Rusty Speidel
  14. Time. Time is a betty big villain in most stories. There is never enough (just ask Jack Bauer), and when you really need more what does time do? That’s right, abandon you. – Brian Tudor

There were quite a number of other nominations, but I included only those that told me why…not just a list of villains.

If you’d like to review the entire list, you can find it by clicking here.

Add Your Villain

And now it’s your turn.

If you don’t see your villain listed here, tell us in the comments who it is and why.

The only rules are the villain has to be from literature (not a movie or comic books) and there has to be a reason why.

We’ll add to the list and keep a big tally of the greatest villains of all time.

And – don’t forget – if you want to participate in tomorrow’s post, follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

Bonus: Clay’s Top 10 List

10. Count Dracula, Dracula by Bram Stroker
9. The Judge, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
8. Iago, Othello by William Shakespeare
7. The Deaf Man, six different 87th Precinct novels by Ed McBain
6. Mr. Dark, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
5. Pazuzu, The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
4. Diogenes Dagrepont Bernoulli Pendergast, various “Agent Pendergast” books by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
3. Randall Flagg, The Stand by Stephen King
2. Croup and Vandemar, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
1. Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

121 comments
SuziC
SuziC

How about James Taggart or Mr. Thompson from Atlas Shrugged?

And as far as "Voice of James Earl Jones"... I think the greater villains are the creative team that dreamed up the Sprint ads of Jones and McDowell interpreting text messages from teenage girls. (The humanity!)

EricPudalov
EricPudalov

One more suggestion: the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  She enjoys beheading, of course, but beyond that, she's utterly insane, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to most of her actions.  She just does these things because she can...scared me as a child!!

EricPudalov
EricPudalov

Great lists, and there are almost too many great villains to name.  But I would definitely add Pennywise the Dancing Clown (a.k.a. "It") from Stephen King's "It."  Not only are clowns creepy, but he is essentially a villain who knows what your greatest fear is, and will use that to destroy you; he also can take any shape.  


Add to that the fact that he preys primarily on children, and you have one terrifying villain, IMHO.  

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

Umbridge and Olaf were two great ones also. I could also add Humbert Humbert from Lolita--the vile, artificially empathetic scumbag who preyed on that young girl Delores, destroying her innocence one small bit at a time. Eeewwww. 

LauraPetrolino
LauraPetrolino

This discussion has only served to multiple my reading list by gazillion million billions cubed

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

Would be remiss if I didn't mention how much of a villain Your Mom and of course, Your Dad, has been in the history of literature..


(but not always deservedly so)

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

What about Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood? Or Bob the Butcher from The Gangs of New York?

Obviously Daniel Day Lewis did great job playing both of these psychopaths. I often argue they're the same character just in two different movies/ books. 

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

Hello? What about the infamous Lord of The Rings himself -- Sauron? Or Smaug -- the treasure-hoarding dragon from The Hobbit?

ihsaan
ihsaan

@ginidietrich There should b some qualifiers/criteria-is this English literature only or do foreign writings (including translations) count?

aimeelwest
aimeelwest

What a fun list! I also cannot believe that NO ONE on your team has read Harry Potter! I've read them more times that I should admit too. 


Evil comes in many forms and some you even feel sorry for crazily enough. (which I think makes a really great evil person for a story)


I always thought the pig Napolean from Animal Farm was pretty evil. He encourages all the other animals to riot and then abuses his power over them. 

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

@JRHalloran They felt more like characters making the most of their circumstances than true, calculating villians. Discuss.

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

OR... (not much a villain but still pretty f**king cool) the Balrog? (The demon beast in the Fellowship of the Ring.)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@ihsaan Sure, they can count. It's just a fun post. I'm cool with foreign writings.

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

@ginidietrich Yeah, the Balrog's a toughy, but he's ultimately more a pest than a villain. He serves no critical purpose as an antagonist. (He's a cool encounter, though. I would love to have a Balrog as a pet. Wouldn't you?) 

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

@ginidietrich@aimeelwestI can't believe they never read Harry Potter either. Being an English major in college often meant you were left out of jokes during class if you didn't read them. 

Maybe you should start a Harry Potter day at your office? 

LauraPetrolino
LauraPetrolino

@Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes @ginidietrich Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Brown paper packages, tied up with string. THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS! 


When the dog bites (ruff, ruff), when the bee stings (buzz, buzz), when I'm feeling sad. I simply remember my favorite thiiiiinnnnnnnngs, and then I don't feeeeeel sooooo baaaad

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

@Howie Goldfarb@ginidietrich The funny thing about Harry Potter being labeled a "children's book" is actually false. It was originally intended to be a regular novel for adults. 

It only took on the children's book spin because it was picked up and marketed by a publishing house that made books for kids. 

So, that kind of defeats your argument there, Howie. 

aimeelwest
aimeelwest

Laura that is like using cliff notes for a report.

aimeelwest
aimeelwest

Or if they don't know how to access the egg for the next challenge.