Worthy Adversaries — Valor and Compassion

The classic villain: the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 Wizard of Oz film At an audition for my local community theater’s upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz, I observed some actors trying out to play the Wicked Witch of the West, each one ending the monologue, at the director’s request, with […]

via Worthy Adversaries — Valor and Compassion

I know that I keep saying that I’m going to write a dedicated post about what makes a good villain. And I will get to it, I promise. Eventually. But I stumbled across the above post, and it is itself a good primer on not necessarily what makes a good villain, per se, but what makes a good antagonist. The author’s key point (IMO) is that an antagonist does not necessarily have to be a bad guy (hence my distinction between antagonist and villain), but rather has to provide a challenge to the hero that he/she/it needs to work to overcome.

That actually rather neatly answers the question I’ve been asked several times: “How can ‘Man vs. Nature’ be a thing? Nature isn’t a villain!” No, but it can (and often does) present the most difficult challenges that anyone, be they real or fiction, will ever face.

I want to hear from you all: who is your favorite literary antagonist? Doesn’t have no necessarily be the actual villain, but a character (or thing) that presents a worthy challenge to the hero.

Never Stop Writing.


4 thoughts on “Worthy Adversaries — Valor and Compassion

  1. Huh, that’s a great question! I haven’t thought much about it. From my most recent reads, I think my favorite villain is Leo Bonhart, a bounty hunter from the Witcher series (I think he first shows up in The Time of Contempt). He’s absolutely terrifying, and there’s no backstory justification for his cruelty. Sometimes, you need a truly monstrous antagonist for it to really hit you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kaylena, that’s a good point. Different stories demand different types of antagonists–some are truly vile, like the one you describe, while others are more garden-variety unpleasant. My difficulty with the stereotypical “bad guy” isn’t so much the degree of badness they represent; it’s their one-dimensionality. I haven’t read the Witcher series yet, but it sounds like Leo is a complex, interesting, and thoroughly disturbing villain.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Andrew, thank you for sharing this excerpt from my post. I remember a classic description of antagonists from a college literature class that resonates with your description of nature as a potential adversary. I also wondered about how nature–which I, as a hiker, backpacker, and environmentalist, hoped I could be an ally for–could be an adversary. Then I experienced an unintentional epic: an unplanned overnight in the icy Catskill Wilderness in January. Then I understood what all those Jack London stories were about on a visceral level…although I do remember reading that he’d never experienced firsthand the freezing weather and remote settings he described in his adventure stories.

    Liked by 2 people

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