This is a feature my brother came up with— wherein we tackle certain topics on books, young adult or not, and give you guys the low down on our opinions of them (which, mind you, generally differ). I’ll be encoding our conversation, and if you guys have any opinions of your own on the topic, or on the heated discussion, feel free to once again make my day and comment!
My brother is seventeen, a college sophomore, approximately one year and two days older. His name is Juan (that’s pronounced like the number, one), and he’s my best friend. No matter what anyone else says.
Jasmine: Hi there, bro! *brofist*
Juan: Hello, non-bro. *sisfist*
Jasmine: UR LAME.
Juan: Sue me.
Jasmine: …. Anyway. For this week’s feature, we’re going to discuss sympathetic villains– before anything else, however, let me just give you guys a brief overview on the way we define “sympathetic”. It goes a little something like this: we construe them as the types of antagonists one can particularize with, relate to, understand, fathom. It may or may not have been stated that they aren’t inherently evil. Though they wreak havoc and establish misery, there’s usually a rationale behind this train of thought and consequential action, and sometimes, we cannot help but “sympathize” with these characters (Hence, the term). Therefore, Lord Voldemort is not a sympathetic villain because no matter how much we shelf out his past, he never seems to be anything less then damnable, nefarious, malevolent, and just downright atrocious (though Ralph Fiennes is SCORCHING). Axel Mortmain, on the other hand, maybe classified as sympathetic– his clockwork army is the product of a relentless vendetta against the people he believes to have left him biting the dust. And that’s that! Now you tell me: Yay or Nay?
Juan: Aw man, my brain needs to restart. And well, nay.
Jasmine: EXPLAIN YOURSELF!
Juan: Erhm… with pleasure. It’s just that sympathetic villainy is so overused and hackneyed nowadays. Every villain seems to have an excuse for his terrible behavior, even though we all know he should have tried to find another way. No– I like sociopathic, disgusting, psycho villains who commit heinous crimes and revel in it. For example, Assef from The Kite Runner is an ass… ef. GEDDIT?
Jasmine: … I have officially lost faith in humanity
Juan: Uhm…No? Assef? ASS-ef? Nothing? Okay. Anyway. He rapes little kids, is the leader of the Taliban, kills puppies… sort of. And I like him! I mean, I like villains like him– those with god complexes, psychotic breakdowns, crackpot tendencies, awesome stuff like that. They’re way better because they’re more effective in instilling fear. Consequently, they’re more memorable, because you remember how utterly loathsome they were. That’s the point of villains, see? To make us wonder how much evil there is in this world,
Jasmine: Hmm… I’m not against the Voldemort types, though I much prefer sympathetic villains in my books, especially if they’re done right. They tend to elicit more emotional response, because of the traumatic or life-changing experience that drove them to feral rage and coerced into seeking unwarranted revenge. In addition, I find them more realistic– I’m probably the underdog in this matter of contention, because for some reason, I enjoy feeling torn whenever something is told from the antagonist’s point of view. Their actions, however irrational and disagreeable, stem from something extra, and something humane. I think its refreshing to see them in that light, because I’d like to try and grasp the notion of what makes them tick. Sometimes, I feel that a villain is more effective not when he can scare you pantsless, but when he can talk you into agreeing with his antics, and for even just a split second, persuade you stake claim to the reason behind his cause. Make YOU the antagonist. THAT’s scary.
Juan: I understand your point. For me, however, sympathetic villains have a different effect. You start nursing a soft spot for them, and you somehow wonder why they chose the path of spite and offense in the first place. With sociopathic villains, you know that it has to happen sooner or later– they just wouldn’t have it any other way. So many sympathetic villains were actually kind before traumatic experience X occurs. Those evil by nature don’t need anything to set them off. Baby, they were born that waaaaaay.
Jasmine: WALK WALK FASHION BABY
Juan: CEASE ALL DISTRACTION! Anyway, it’s a question of nature versus nurture. Sometimes, nature just seems more believable… and scarier. Plus, genuinely evil antagonists are generally harder to fight because its impossible to appeal to them without ending their lives, in which case you STILL can’t appeal to them. Yeah, that.
Jasmine: Let’s see. It may seem unnecessary to many readers that some villains have to appeal to them, when they’re supposed to make you feel automatic and immediate aversion. However, I’m one of the few people who want to examine the flip sides of the metaphorical coin– I’m a naturally emotional person so easily swayed, and the inner turmoil caused by sympathy for an antagonist is one of the few things about a good book that make me stop and think– and I like that. Some authors, however, make use of smashing, teenage hunks for this cause, which is probably the only time it feels like a cheap trick, because I have a HUGE weakness for eye-candy. Remember though: sympathetic =/= hot. I don’t dislike sympathetic villains simply because I’m able to sit on both ends of the spectrum. I usually feel sorry for them when they die slow, painful, yet inevitable deaths, but when done right, its the sort of tragedy that attracts me to a certain title. I know not many people feel the way I do, but hey, I try.
Juan: I see. Well then okay, that’s it. In conclusion: I love evil, sympathy is boring, you disagree. I still do think antagonists are better off when you can’t understand them, when they have god-complexes, when they want to kill every single human specimen on earth, when they’re heartless aliens, or fire breathing dragons, or racists, or ruthless leaders of military camps with thousands of soldiers. The sympathy card is unnecessary.
Jasmine: Fine then! I’m not against those types of villains, either, because then, characters would need the extra grit, the intestinal fortitude, the determination, the–
Juan: The moxie.
Jasmine: Err… yes, to come head to head with them. So of course, this invariably depends on the effect their behavior has on the reader. Some readers like me feel a sort of understanding, and like that, especially when they become the unlikeliest of assets (which tends to agitate the characters, and that’s even better) while some others just feel like the villains are making lame excuses and should be beheaded on the spot. But that’s it for now everyone! If you care to tell my brother and I what you think, sound off in the comments below.
Juan: Goodbye! I’m off to study the Economics… of love.
Jasmine: You know what now?
Juan: Just kidding. PEACE OUT! FO SHIZZLE!
Jasmine: DEAR GOD. We are NOT having this conversation again….
So what do you think? Have any suggestions? Criticisms of the constructive variety? Life changing praise? Comment if you do! 😀
P.S. We’d appreciate suggestions on future topics!