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, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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124 Comments on "Fourteen Greatest Villains in Literature"

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belllindsay
2 years 7 months ago

The Snowman, in Jo Nesbo’s Detective Harry Hole series. Brrrrrrrrr.  http://jonesbo.com/

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

belllindsay Tell me WHY, please.

belllindsay
2 years 7 months ago

ginidietrich He is a twisted, insane serial killer – who sets out to destroy the detective by killing his conscience through killing people. Every death – until he’s caught – is Harry’s ‘fault’. It’s a crazy, psychological torture game he plays.

ClayMorgan
2 years 7 months ago

I’m sticking with Moriarty. Brilliant. Calculating. Evil. To be honest, Voldemort would wind up as Moriarty’s butler by the time he was done.

The Firemen…I’d forgotten about them…

LSSocialEngage
2 years 7 months ago

Love the fun posts.

Baby Kochamma – The God of Small Things

Nick Harrison
Nick Harrison
2 years 7 months ago

Bell 200 X 200 :o)

RobBiesenbach
2 years 7 months ago
You guys took most of the good ones already, so I had to really think, and do so some wiki research on a book I read a long time ago: Memoirs of a Geisha. The villain there was Hatsumomo, who managed to thwart the main character and make her life miserable at every turn. Also, how about Vito Corleone? (Yes, I read the book, which was not as good as the movies.) But here’s a villain so wonderful that we actually respect and have affection for him, because he as a code of justice of his own and defends his… Read more »
jasonkonopinski
2 years 7 months ago

I think you could make the argument that Satan in Paradise Lost functions as a hero in the epic, though Milton wouldn’t have seen it that way.

rdopping
rdopping
2 years 7 months ago

The CIA in Ludum’s Bourne novels. Evil, manipulative, sociopathtic behaviour bent on destroying opposition thereby ruining the lives of otherwise normal human beings. Basically, treating humanity as a disposable weapon. 

Ahhh, such a Christmas-y thought.

jonmikelbailey
2 years 7 months ago

Um, I was serious when I said the Grinch!

jonmikelbailey
2 years 7 months ago

And I gave a reason!

Word Ninja
2 years 7 months ago

Yay, fun! (Not that your regular posts aren’t fun.)

A great list. I would add Javert from Les Miserables. I first read the book in high school, and it remains one of my top 10. Javert is really anyman, driven by hate for Valjean because he wouldn’t ever face the sin in himself. His inability, or refusal, to forgive reminds me what a destructive force that can be in any person’s life. The best villains are the ones that once had the capacity to be something better.

MattLaCasse
2 years 7 months ago

jonmikelbailey The Grinch gets a bad rap, if you ask me. Then again, I’ve been accused of being Grinch-like myself from time to time. I mean, honestly. What’s the point of putting up decorations just to take them down in a few weeks?

MattLaCasse
2 years 7 months ago

I’ve always liked The Teacher from The Da Vinci Code. Frighteningly cruel, calculating, and absolutely convinced he’s morally and ethically motivated, and right.

bhas
2 years 7 months ago

You guys missed Sauron from Lord of the Rings.

belllindsay
2 years 7 months ago

MattLaCasse jonmikelbailey Our Christmas tree isn’t up yet. And won’t be until Friday. In fact, we haven’t even *bought* a tree yet. Sigh.

biggreenpen
2 years 7 months ago

RobBiesenbach (as an aside) I loved Memoirs of a Geisha!

RobBiesenbach
2 years 7 months ago

On a side note, what’s up with these random people who keep popping in to different posts and crapping all over the bed? It’s so jarring since this is such a respectful community and not, say, a typical YouTube comment thread. And at the holidays, no less! People have issues …

I admire the way you and Lindsay handle these, Gini.

Harry Brumleve
Harry Brumleve
2 years 7 months ago
Hmm, the thing I can’t get comfortable with is that a lot of these characters are subjectively evil, from our point of view. To me a lot of what these characters do is probably what they think is good, what they think needs to be done, and that makes them want to strive to achieve their goals. All from their perspective and independent of how perverse or evil we deem them to be. If you play along with the above premise, then Dante’s Inferno makes sense. Within the 9 layers of Hell, each becoming more intense in relation to the… Read more »
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
2 years 7 months ago

Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz should be on there.

jonmikelbailey
2 years 7 months ago

Harry Brumleve I was going to say Brutus yesterday, good one!

bradmarley
2 years 7 months ago

Where’s Hannibal Lecter!? 

Let’s recap: Eats people? Check. Can force people to swallow their own tongue by the power of suggestion? Check. Is certifiably insane? Check.

I saw him on your Facebook list, but I’m surprised he didn’t make the final cut. 

Other than that, great post, Gini!

ClayMorgan
2 years 7 months ago

bhas I thought hard about Sauron on my list. I’m one of those who reads The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings annually.  Unlike some villains, we don’t see things from Sauron’s point of view.  Also, while I think he is awesomely evil, I personally think those villains with just a touch of humanity (or are faking it) are the best.

ClayMorgan
2 years 7 months ago

Word Ninja Javert is great because in a way you begin to have some sympathy toward him and his obsession.

LynnMcConaughey
LynnMcConaughey
2 years 7 months ago

Veda Pierce, Mildred Pierce’s ungrateful, manipulative, scheming, hateful daughter, who demeans and then bankrupts her mother with demands for lavish attention, sleeps with Mildred’s husband, and then after financially and emotionally ruining her mother, sneers in victory as she leaves for New York and the acclaim she craves.

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

RobBiesenbach I have my theory on who some of them are…it is jarring, particularly because they’re people who don’t hang out here. Ever. And they’re not in the industry, either.

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

jonmikelbailey You’re right. I totally missed him. Please forgive me.

RobBiesenbach
2 years 7 months ago

biggreenpen I feel positively Oprahfied for bringing it up, but it is a good book, isn’t it?

jasonkonopinski
2 years 7 months ago

jonmikelbailey Harry Brumleve Cassius > Brutus.

Word Ninja
2 years 7 months ago

ClayMorgan Like you echoed in another comment…the villains with some bit of humanity left are the best ones. Those beyond saving, Lecter (oh, and Heath Ledger’s Joker!) for example, can be terrifying, but not quite as interesting.

sydcon_mktg
2 years 7 months ago
Oh what a fun post!! My additions would be the following: 1. Rasheed. Mariam’s husband from “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. What he puts Mariam and Laila through is despicable!  2. Mr. Celie’s husband from “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. Again another despicable husband. 3. Lord Voldemort from “Harry Potter”.  I agree with Umbridge, but how can it not be Voldemort as well?  4. Annie Wilkes from Stephen Kings “Misery”.  OMG, reading that scared the bejesus out of me. And don’t even get me started on Kathy Bates portrayal!! YIKES! I think you have a spectacular list.… Read more »
jonmikelbailey
2 years 7 months ago

ginidietrich jonmikelbailey That you are willing to admit your mistake is enough for me.

LSSocialEngage
2 years 7 months ago

When I think VILLAIN,  I automatically think Darth Vader but even though there are Star Wars books, I guess he doesn’t qualify as a literary villain?

RentpingMedia
RentpingMedia
2 years 7 months ago

ginidietrich Heath Ledger’s Joker. Every bit as terrifying as Anton Chigurh in my book.

Word Ninja
2 years 7 months ago

LSSocialEngage That’s a great one, but I didn’t read the books, although I suppose he’s in there…I can hear him breathing.

Word Ninja
2 years 7 months ago

sydcon_mktg I was going to suggest the same Christmas present. 🙂

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

LynnMcConaughey Oh yes! Very good one!

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

bradmarley I put him up there in my list, but didn’t think it was fair to add to the big list.

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes SHOULD NOT!

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

Harry Brumleve Brutus is a great entry!

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

MattLaCasse Super good one! I didn’t even think about that book.

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

Word Ninja Love it!

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

rdopping Ohhhhh. I like this one. A lot.

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

jasonkonopinski I think you should zip it.

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

RobBiesenbach Both very good adds. I also loved Memoirs of a Geisha.

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

LSSocialEngage Tell me why!

jasonkonopinski
2 years 7 months ago

ginidietrich Sigh.

ginidietrich
2 years 7 months ago

ClayMorgan Yeah, leave it to my brainiac friend Pascale to come up with the Firemen.

jasonkonopinski
2 years 7 months ago

ginidietrich Do you disagree?

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
2 years 7 months ago

ginidietrich Yes they should. Dorothy murdered two people, Goldilocks is guilty of breaking and entering and theft and the hood chick placed a hit on the wolf.

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