Today we hear from David Whitley, author of The Midnight Charter trilogy…
Six Great Supernatural Villains in children’s literature
I’ve been asked so many times which characters are the most fun to write, and villains win every time. Not “bad guys”, and especially not “baddies” – to be a real threat, they deserve their full title. A true villain is fascinating, be they an incomprehensible force of evil, or an ordinary person whose intentions have slowly corrupted. They are the driving force behind every story, and there are so many to choose from! Notice how I’ve had to make the title of this post so specific? If I allowed myself villains from all literature, or drifted into films and television, then this list would be ten times as long. Even as it is, I’ve had to leave a few favourites off. But I decided to concentrate on those I really felt were not merely deliciously villainous and wonderful characters, but were also a little bit unusual. Here, every shade of darkness is revealed. Be prepared…
Jupiter the Cat from The Deptford Mice trilogy by Robin Jarvis
Don’t be fooled. This might be the story of a vicious cat opposed by mice, but Tom and Jerry it aint. Jupiter is the Deptford rats’ god– he consorts with dark forces, uses the flayed skin of one of the mice as a banner, and nearly succeeds in conquering the human world with his black magic. Even death is only a slight inconvenience to this fiendish feline. Jupiter is easily the most brutal of these villains – calling down bloody vengeance on his mouse enemies. Hmmm… actually that is quite like Tom and Jerry. Ah, but Tom never became a sentient blizzard, so Jupiter still has the edge.
Father Hugh MacPhail from The Amber Spyglass
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is full of villains – the moral complexity of his characters is one of the main attractions. But for me, in a book full of tyrannical angels and flesh-rending harpies, the worst and most terrifying of the bunch is this priest. He only appears in a couple of scenes, but as the leader of a tyrannical church, it is his job to deal with the problem of the main characters by any means possible. The fact that this involves tearing out his own soul in order to create a world-shaking explosion and murder a twelve-year-old girl doesn’t even give him a moment’s pause. His utter conviction makes him terrifying, but also strangely pathetic. By denying himself any free will, he has made himself less than human.
The Rider from The Dark is Rising quintet by Susan Cooper
A general rule – be careful of characters who have a “The” in their name. Unless it’s the Doctor from Doctor Who, you are probably in trouble. The Rider is a wonderful villain because of his eternal threat – he doesn’t do very much, at least not at first, but as he closes in on the forces of Light, it is clear that the centuries he has had to prepare for this conflict have been put to good use. He always has another helper, is completely inescapable, and if our heroes put a single foot wrong he is waiting, patiently, astride his horse. There is one scene, towards the end of the quintet, when all of the main characters are united for the first time, and see the Rider approaching. Each of them know him by a different name, but all fear him. That’s power.
Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Another series that has so many villains to choose from, I think that Umbridge stands out for one very simple reason – her evil is so petty. In seven books filled with conquest, murder, creatures that feed on souls and all-powerful prophecies, Umbrige’s main concern seems to be imposing her own small-minded views on everyone else, and taking sadistic delight in punishing those who depart from official, government opinions. As the Wizarding world falls under the sway of darkness, she seems to enjoy that job even more. Perhaps, in the end, she is an effective villain because very few of us know anyone set on world domination, but Umbridge’s narrow, unimaginative, banal attitude is all too familiar.
Batu from Skulduggery Pleasant: the Faceless Ones by Derek Landy
I can’t describe this villain very clearly because, if you haven’t read it, I absolutely mustn’t give too much away! Throughout this book, the third in the Skulduggery Pleasant series, the mysterious Batu murders a whole host of sorcerers without detection. I include Batu on this list simply because when his/her/their (can’t tell you!) identity was finally revealed it took my breath away. Perhaps I am easily taken in, but I had suspected practically every other character in the book, apart from this one. And then, in a moment of narrative genius, the very reason why this character was above suspicion proves to be their motivation in becoming a villain in the first place. And if this description sounds confusing… just read the book. You’ll see what I mean.
Jadis, the White Which from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Cruel, imperious, seductive – Jadis was designed by Lewis to be his own version of Satan, and the White Witch certainly lives up to this. But although the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is truly iconic, with her sudden shifts between temptation and rage, I actually find her a more interesting villain in The Magician’s Nephew. In the prequel to the famous story, we discover that her own home world is dead, that every living thing was slain by her simply because she was not allowed to rule it. Impressive she might be, but Jadis reveals the empty heart of villainy – she is incapable of feeling anything for other beings, and so has spent a thousand years alone on an empty world. No wonder, when she saw the fresh new world of Narnia, her thoughts turned to conquest.
Thanks, David! Some fab choices and reasons! To find out more about David, you can visit his website here, and you can buy the first 2 books in The Midnight Charter trilogy in our shop now. To brighten up a Sunday evening, we also have available a signed copy of The Children of the Lost to giveaway to one lucky Bookbabbler. To be entered into the draw, comment on this post, retweet it or Facebook ’like’ it – good luck! We’ll pick a winner Wednesday at 8pm.