Character Tuesday: The Villain Next Door

Happy Tuesday, happy third day of the year. Today, I’m starting my own Book Blogging meme, at least on this page. I call it Character Tuesday. Write about one to three characters that you like or don’t like, in fiction. There will probably be a theme but not always. The only other rule is that I want to keep it constructive; in other words, if I say something bad about how a character is written, I’m going to say why. If anyone else wants to play along, I’ll set this up like a regular blog-along for everyone.

Today, I’m going to talk about villains in books, and what makes the truly good ones. Well, bad ones. Whichever adjective you care to use. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’m writing a villain myself. Yes, my book has a Dragon, and an enemy general, and a few sadistic killers in it, along with monsters, demons, and even a lawyer, but I realized that those kind of villains aren’t the ones I remember the most from my reading, and that’s probably because those aren’t the kinds of villains I encounter in my daily life.

These three are examples of what I’m talking about. These aren’t the boogeymen, the wights, the dragons, then unrestful dead. These are people who could run into every day.

Dolores Umbridge

sonrisa_de_umbridgeA lot of digital ink has been spilled over exactly why she’s such a memorable villain, and some people, including your not-so-humble blogger, think that she’s the most frightening villain in the series, even though her death count is much lower than any of the Death Eaters. The most frightening thing about her, though, is that she’s completely and totally believable. Most of us aren’t going to run into dark wizards throwing Cruciatus curses at us, but we will probably deal with someone who has power over us, power that we can’t do anything about whether we want to or not. Even worse, the Umbridginian Villain, even more than your average evil fantasy bad-guy, does not think that he or she is doing anything wrong. Everything she does is what she thinks will keep people safe. Whether it’s effective or not isn’t the point. The point is, individual rights have to go by the wayside when the Organization (whether Hogwarts, Public High Schools, or the Department of Homeland Security) has other concerns like keeping its subjects safe, exactly the way it thinks its subjects need to be kept. This is the villain who will punish a student for what he said in class, not because it’s a lie but because it will scare other students. These are the people who implement security theater throughout the country, and respond to reports that it might be ineffective by adding even more theater instead of actual security. (A true Umbridginian, though, would prosecute the people complaining about it, discouraging others from complaining.)

Phoebus

phoebusNow we’re getting away from the bureaucratic villains and into something different. I can only barely begin to describe how much I loathe Disney for how they treated this character. In the book The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (which is just as good as Les Miserables, though it doesn’t have anything about dreaming a dream and such) the action is put into motion by Phoebus. Everything bad happens because Phoebus is a spoiled wealthy knight who gets what he wants. And when the crap hits the agitator blades, he ducks out of the picture, ignores everything going on because of what he started, and STILL winds up with a happily-ever-after for him. (He’s about the only main character in the book who gets one.) He’s the kind of person the Psalmist was talking about when he wrote Psalm 73, AKA When Good Things Happen to Bad People. If I could somehow enter the pages of a book and slap the nosehairs out of a character, it would be him.

So, you can imagine how I felt when I saw a commercial for the then-upcoming Disney treatment and I realized that Phoebus was rewritten to be brave and ultimately, the hero. I might have screamed a little. I haven’t much been able to enjoy Disney cartoons since.

The Chief, AKA Sharkey

SPOILERS FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T READ THE LORD OF THE RINGS. THIS WAS NOT IN THE MOVIES.

(Here, look at the picture of a dog and his puppy, posted by /u/emoposer on the subreddit /r/aww)

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Alright, for those of you who have read LOTR, I’m going to talk about the second-to-last chapter, “The Scouring of the Shire.” Every time I reread this book (I think my last rereading was my fourth) I like this part more; indeed, it’s thick enough in concept and character to justify a complete novel of its own. Even before we learn who The Chief is (which actually kind of disappointed me, and I would have liked it better had he just been a regular man who saw an opportunity and jumped at it) we see what happens when there’s a power vacuum during a war or other disturbance. A group of men took advantage of Frodo’s absence, made inroads into the community by offering money and power, and soon (within a year or two, perhaps) were running Hobbiton like it was their own person fiefdom. It’s a shocking bit of realism, probably informed by what happened in a lot of cities and countries after World War II, and it’s again an example of casual greed and opportunism doing as much damage as intentional evil and destruction. It’s the most underrated chapter in the book (I’ve rarely heard people complain about its omission like they will about missing Tom Bombadil) and yet, one of the most relatable to our own world.

So, those are my villainous inspirations. Now I need to go back to my notes and work on one of my own.

Tell me about your favorites in the comments, or write a post and link back. I think this is a conversation worth having.

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My Happy Old Year in Books

Hello everyone, and Hoppy Gnu Ear to all of you. I hope you had a great one, or at least a good one. I hope you had plenty of books and tea and experiences that you can talk about for years to come. Me? I had a bunch of good things… got married to a wonderful woman I’ve been friends with since we were in 8th Grade Art together, became a step parent to two awesome kids who sometimes act more like me than I do, got to travel all up and down the east coast and help my wife and family with our business, got to write, got to see some amazing friends, and I restarted my blog… productively, I think. Bad… well, aside from bi-polar depression (which is mitigated by the weirdos who’ve kidnapped me into their family) I feel kind of bad for one failing. Every year I pledge to read at least 52 books. This year, I only read…

51

Never mind that I also read over 200 pages in a non-fiction book that I didn’t finish, 800 pages in War and Peace, and I’m over 500 pages into The Dragonbone Chair. Never mind that if you average the 51 books I did read, I read an average of 453 pages per book… 480 if you add in the two books I’m reading. I seriously considered (a) spending all day today reading the last 300-plus pages of DBC just so I could say I finished it, or (b) pulling out one of my novella collections (I have several, including one of classic novellas and two of golden-age science fiction novellas) and reading one of those just so I could say I hit 52 friggin’ books. Instead, I decided to (c) get some father-daughter time for a couple hours at the game store. (She likes browsing games and figurines and other such things; I needed to have her there as a chaperone to make sure I didn’t buy anything.) And then, instead of spending the evening speed-reading (which is unenjoyable at best, really), my daughter, wifepartnerlove, and I continued on with our mission to beat the Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle Deck Building Game. (Awesome game, by the way… highly recommended.) We had to play it twice, too, since we lost in quite the epic fashion the first time. But, we have one more part of the game to beat (there are seven parts, one for each of the books) and then we can start replaying it. Now I’m sitting here, mildly upset in the part of my brain that likes to categorize everything, and yet I wouldn’t give up what I did today (or for the most part, what I read) for the world.

Anyway, here are the best books I read this year, in no specific order.

BEST BOOK TO READ DURING A COLD RUSSIAN WINTER, EVEN THOUGH I READ IT IN GEORGIA (NOT THE FORMER SOVIET REPUBLIC, EITHER), : The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In addition to some stunning and prescient discourses on faith, religion, ethics, and revenge (at one point, a character comments on how good it feels to be offended about something and thus predicted social media over a century before it arrived) the book has some of the best starkly-drawn characters I have ever encountered in a book. Also, while it’s mostly obvious who committed the crime, by the time I got to the end, I didn’t really care who did it and was just glad that someone did.

BEST BOOK I BOUGHT OFF AN AMAZON KINDLE SPLASH SCREEN ADVERTISEMENT: Bloom, or, The Unwritten Memoir of Tennyson Middlebrook Martin Kee

I rarely buy books off of the ads on my Kindle, but the few times I have, I’ve been impressed. This counts as one of those impressed times. The book was also published independently (I believe it might now have been picked up by a mainstream publisher) and gives me hope for my own writing. The book is a mix of folklore-style mythmaking (which holds a special place in my heart), horror (which holds a special place in the heart I keep in a box under the bed), and science fiction. I will also say that there are a couple well-done pleasant twists here and there that make the book memorable. I could see myself reading it again some time soon.

BEST ROMANCE: Voyager (Outlander #3) — Diana Gabaldoon

If you haven’t read the other two (#1… excellent; #2… well, it tied up a lot of loose ends and wasn’t bad, at least), well, don’t worry that I might spoil #3 (possibly the best so far) for you. I will say that it’s the best story of the bunch, and even though there are a couple of plot holes big enough to sail a ship through, I DIDN’T CARE. Also, while reading one scene in a diner where Rena Partnerlove and I were having lunch, she informed me that I was unconsciously rubbing her knee under the table. Ms Gabaldoon’s a hell of a writer, that’s all I’m going to say.

BEST SCIENCE-FICTION CLASSIC THAT EVERYONE SHOULD READ, EVEN IT (ESPECIALLY IF) THEY DON’T READ SCIENCE-FICTION: The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin

This is the sixth book of hers (I think) I’ve read, and it’s easily the best. It’s a portrait of a co-op utopian society and its interactions with the oligarchy it left years and years before. While the book definitely comes down on the side of the co-op society, it also does a very good job of pointing out flaws and potential pitfalls that are usually ignored in such political science fiction books. (Likewise, while the oligarchy is shown as the villains, after a fact, they don’t come off as cartoonishly evil.) I read the “Earthsea” books at least twice before hitting twenty (starting with The Tombs of Atuan during quiet bits in 7th grade band class when I didn’t have to play) so it’s safe to say I picked up this book as a fan. But this book… this book is a pure masterpiece.

BEST HORROR NOVEL THAT STILL CREEPS ME OUT, EVEN THOUGH I’M JUST TYPING THE TITLE RIGHT NOW: A Head Full of Ghosts — Paul Tremblay

This book showed up on a list of under-the-radar horror novels, and while there were a couple that I’d read, this one was completely new to me. In some ways, it’s a book that could only have been written in the last ten years… a middle-class family with recession-era money problems has a daughter they think might be possessed, so they let a reality TV company film her exorcism. Perhaps because it’s laced with such modern concerns, though, I wasn’t prepared for its attacks in a few dark, primordial places in my mind. It’s definitely a book that I thought about for months after I turned the last page.

So, those are my five books that I wish to share with you for the year. Next week, I’ll be writing about neglected authors, favorite characters to hate, and book-related news, good and bad. Please feel free to stop by the comment page and let me know what you’re reading, what you’re writing, and how things are going.