I love morally good hero, I also love flawed but good heroes, obviously the anti hero love is strong and am so so about mostly neutral heroes… But every so often I love a villainous protagonist.
I’m a good guy by nature, I shy away from doing wrong, so there’s something a little titillating about seeing life from the other side of the moral line, to see a bank heist come together, to follow an assassin about his business. I don’t want to be them, and in real life most of them would belong in prison.
You won’t find the truly evil here, I’ve got my limits, and nothing based on real events, this isn’t the most evil protagonists of all time, just my favourites.
Enough said bring in the list:
Patrick Bateman, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – an unapologetic psychopath that revels in torture, murder sexual deprivations and drugs all for the pleasure of it, he’s the most despicable of yuppies, even if the rampant violence is nothing more than a dream or hallucination of a drug addled mind as is implied, he’s still an awful person with nothing redeeming in his life, he’s all the worst parts of the 80’s… well except for shell suits maybe, we’re spared those at least.
And yet, he does have wit in how he interact with people, and there’s wit in some of the gruesome murders. That wit is important, he is a man who is both depraved, and aware of it though never remorseful. It’s only towards the end that his wit slips, and his panic begins, his own self knowledge is not enough to save him from the fate of all psychopathic serial killers, he spirals out of control, his attempts to stave off the police become outlandish, and he feels his fate piling him around him. Whether you enjoy his wit, and rye observation of the society around him or not is debatable, but his panic is delightful as it is the only justice on offer.
Simone Simonini, The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco – a cad of the lowest variety bouncing round the revolutionary period of Europe in the late 1800’s, a fictional villain alongside historical events and characters, a forger, spy, racist, and a mass murderer. A character so villainous that he has no redeeming qualities.
Umberto Eco goes out of the way to deprive him of any redemption, even if he’s on the right side of history, he’s still a villain, and mostly he’s on the wrong side. He is however given comeuppance in the end, as he recounts his life it becomes apparent that he is losing his memory, in paranoia he feels someone is steeling it. He reads back his life, and swears some unknown villain has sneaked in and altered his written word. Now I don’t wish dementia on anyone, it’s a devil of a thing – but I will admit to feeling a sense of satisfaction at his fate.
Tom Ripley, The Talented Mister Ripley by Patricia Highsmith – where do we start with Tom Ripley, I’m convinced that as a manipulative bastard, murderer, conman and thief he can’t be any worse. He helps convinces a random guy he has cancer to in turn convince him to become a hitman, because apparently he doesn’t like murder even though he’s happy to indulge when the need rises usually… and then in some kind of “redeeming” moment commits one of the hits himself anyway – he is bat shit nuts. He’ll happily work with others, but then the paranoia that marks a psychopath who cannot empathise with others, kicks in, he wants rid of his comrades, lest they turn on him.
Basically, anyone that crosses path with him knowingly or unknowingly risks their life. His webs of deceit ruin lives, reputations and leave sorrow and pain across the world. It’s an amazing story and if you’ve not read I would highly recommend it.
Victor Von Frankenstein, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – in many ways there are plenty of things to admire about Victor, he is a committed passionate man with a singular vision and the will power to succeed, a genius in his field.
However his field was the macabre, creating new life from old against all laws of man and nature, and even though he succeeds he cares little for the result abandoning him to a world he is not ready for and is not ready for him. When his creation returns a more formed being capable of seeking that which most of us desire a connection, a companion, he arrogantly goes about creating one, only to destroy it before his original creation, because the thought of a new race of such ugly creatures reviles him, though I do wonder if it’s also twisted revenge against his creation who had killed his brother, that might seem redeeming but it’s as a consequence of Frankenstein’s ego and blasphemy, and how I treat his creature. I won’t confess to having love for Victor so much as I love the story, but he is the creator of one of my favourite characters, and I respect people who try for the impossible.
Francis Urquhart, House of Cards by Michael Dobbs – this may be the most universally accepted answer, the fame of House of Cards has never been higher thanks to Netflix, but I do love the original book version too, and the BBC did a marvellous adaptation in the early 90’s. Francis is quite simply everything we expect a villainous politician to be, a Machiavellian tour de force, not even couched in an “end justifying the means” mentality, he simply wants power and he will have what he wants.
Now I don’t root for Patrick Bateman, or Victor Von Frankenstein, I enjoy looking forward to their comeuppance, however much the stories offer – but with Francis, in rooting for him and still am immensely satisfied when all the pain and suffering he’s caused finally is played back on him. I’m my opinion, he’s the best written evil protagonist in fiction, because he is relatable, if you have any ambition in life, you may well have done something that was unjust to get what you wanted, though for most of us it’s a little white lie here, some finger pointing there – rarely does ambition, vindictiveness, and success be elevated to such extremes, it’s a cautionary tale of where the unjust can rise to, and can easily fall from.
So there you have it, my little list – hopefully you don’t think me a psychopath for appreciating a difficult to do mechanism, or the alternative perspective a normally sun hero worshiping guy.
Next list will be my personal favorite heroes, to bring a little light to the darkness of this post.