Happy Halloween, little Pumpkin Kings and Queens!
From sadistic Miss Trunchball to vengeful Shere Khan to cunning Cersei Lannister, books just aren’t as much fun without a character for us to roll our eyes at in disgust or hide under the covers from at bedtime. After all without a villain, there can’t be a hero, can there?
What is it, though, that makes a villain truly scary? What makes certain characters awful enough to stick in our minds and scare us years later, while some fade away into insignificance?
As part of my Halloween celebration, check out my list of my favourite young adult book villains! Monsters? Not always. Scary? For sure.
Voldemort – The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Forgive me for my obviousness, but I just couldn’t leave out the great nose-less one. So scary that many couldn’t even bear to utter his real name, grown-up Tom Riddle is one of the most complex and hateful villains to have graced the pages of a 21st century book. Fuelled by an uncontrollable lust for power and hate that knows no bounds, Voldemort murdered children, tortured teachers, ripped apart families and manipulated innocent people left, right and center. Specialising in fear and panic, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named also had a lethal and calculating mind that kept him (technically) out of the grave for far longer than anyone hoped. A clever, callous foe right until the end.
Mrs Coulter – His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
“Corruption and envy and lust for power. Cruelty and coldness. A vicious probing curiosity. Pure, poisonous, toxic malice. You have never from your earliest years shown a shred of compassion or sympathy or kindness without calculating how it would return to your advantage.”
Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass
Female villains really intrigue me because they completely avoid being stereotyped, refusing to be pigeonholed as motherly, or girlish or sexy. Mrs Coulter is one of my favourite female villains of all time and she scares the hell out of me. About as far from maternal as you can get, Coulter’s hunger for power and glory shreds away any humanity she may have once possessed. With a cold intellect and a hot temper, she’s certainly not a villain to be crossed.
President Snow – The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Well, you’ve got to be pretty damn evil to send twenty four innocent children to a certain death every year, haven’t you? As deadly as he is charismatic, Snow is a ruthless leader who cares more about his rose gardens than he does about the people of Panem. The Hunger Games is great dystopia because through reading it, you can see parallels with the world that we live in. What scares me most about Snow is how realistic a dictator he is: manipulating everything and everyone around him until everyone’s trapped in a spiders web that he’s in the very centre of. He also smells like blood and roses, so that’s ew.
Bellatrix Lestrange – Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
“Come out, come out, little Harry!” she called in her mock-baby voice, which echoed off the polished wooden floors. “What did you come after me for, then? I thought you were here to avenge my dear cousin!”
“I am!” shouted Harry, and a score of ghostly Harrys seemed to chorus I am! I am! I am! All around the room.
“Aaaaaah… did you love him, little baby Potter?
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Umbridge or Bellatix, Bellatrix or Umbridge? In the battle of who is the scarier female villain in Harry Potter, it’s a close call. For me, Bellatrix LeStrange is about as scary as it gets. Fuelled by her pure-blood beliefs and sustained by her hero-worship of the Dark Lord, she mained, tortured and murdered innocent people (and House Elves *sob*) and by all accounts, had an absolute ball doing it. A born masochist and perhaps even madder after her Azkaban stint, Bellatrix thrives off of other people’s misery and pain, like when she kills Sirius or tortures Hermione. She’s one of the cruellest villains I’ve ever read about.
The White Witch – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wadrobe by C.S. Lewis
I mean, she hates children, she cancelled Christmas and froze Mr Tumnus. This woman is as heartless as they come.
Matron of the Blackbeak Witch Clans – Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
Monsters, demons, witches, High Fae and men all vie to be the most evil of characters in the Throne of Glass saga, but my vote has to go to Manon Blackbeak’s indomitable Grandmother: the Matron of the Blackbeak Witches. Aside from the rusty iron teeth and extendable iron nails which are scary enough on their own, the Matron’s disregard for anything other than brutality or discipline is absolute. (Spoiler hidden, highlight to view!) She destroyed her daughter, hunted down and murdered the father of her granddaughter and then took great pleasure in slowly, knowingly brainwashing and manipulating Manon into killing her Crochan kin and her only remaining family over hundreds of years. She’s not a main character, but she’s a terrifyingly cold one. (Spoiler end.)
Which villains from would you least like to meet in a dark, dark wood on All Hallows Eve? Let me know in the comments!