(Health Update: My foot is still healing, but it was not broken. A muscle was torn, but the swelling and bruising are now gone and I have full range of motion, just some lingering pain and a lump that should go away in a few more weeks.)
You may now resume your regular blog reading . . .
I have been blessed with some very intelligent and insightful friends.
You may recall the post I wrote a few weeks back about the best story villains and what makes them “old fashioned.”
I have long enjoyed a good, crazy villain, to the point that it’s become a running joke among my friends. Tessa, for example, loves to roll her eyes and point out whenever I act like I belong in Slytherin House. Now, this never means that I want evil to prevail in the end. It just means I appreciate the evil character. There may be lots of reasons for this: physical attractiveness, charisma, intelligence, a good argument for doing what he/she does, a wicked sense of humor, that feminine weakness for the “bad boy,” and other things that usually just fall into the category of “pure entertainment value.”
I have often tried to explain to my more baffled friends (*cough*Bethany*cough*) why this is so, with little success.
One thing I have put my finger on is the element of safety. It is safe to fancy a villain because he is not real. Moriarty is not actually going to strap bombs to my torso or threaten me with hidden snipers. Therefore I can laugh at his antics—even as I cry at the results—and say that he has pretty eyes. Now, there are real, honest-to-goodness crazy serial killers and terrorists out there who might do the same thing. Those people … those are not attractive or entertaining people. (Unless you are Sherlock. Or just a sociopath.)
But safety does not quite cover it. There’s the common female delusion of “I can change him!” but I am thoroughly convinced that this does not work in real life. So what else is it that I like about villains? And not even all villains—some I can’t stand, some I appreciate as characters, and others I want to take home with me.
At last, a few days ago, Kara offered some brilliant insight during a Gchat conversation about Loki and Thor (who I both love, for different reasons). She said:
I think you have a thing for the under-valued son the way I have a thing for loyal side kicks.
Boom. Nailed it.
To be more specific, the undervalued, rebellious son. Because if he doesn’t do anything about it, that’s not attractive to me.
Our examples at the time were Loki (to be clear, the Loki in Thor and The Avengers) and Shakespeare’s Prince Hal.
(The fact that they are both played by Tom Hiddleston has
everything nothing to do with it.)
(NOTHING, I TELL YOU)
But looking back, it turns out that every villain I have absolutely adored has somehow fit that description. And even other characters I have loved that were not necessarily villains, but who could be considered disappointing, rebellious sons and who were deeply unlikeable in other ways. Snape, Erik/the Phantom of the Opera, and Dr. House are three very strong examples.
(Why yes, I will help you make the Music of the Night)
Then there are characters who fit the “overlooked/disappointing son” type, but are not particularly rebellious. I don’t like these guys.
Edward Ferrars of Sense & Sensibility is one example. He does stand up for what he believes in and does rebel against his tyrannical mother in the end, but he is a bit waffly about it, and ultimately does so in a very quiet, unassuming way—which I’m not very much attracted to, at least in fiction.
William Buxton of Return to Cranford is another example. This is actually a perfect example, because it is another character played by Tom Hiddleston. Despite my adoration for his portrayals of Loki and Prince Hal, I found him utterly forgettable when I first watched it a couple years ago. Aside from the fact that I found the whole series (a sequel/Christmas special to Cranford) exceedingly dull, I realize now that William is very similar to Edward Ferrars. When his father refuses to bless an engagement with an unsuitable woman, William humbly steps aside and gets a job with a railroad to try to provide for himself and his would-be fiancee. All this should have made me swoon, but … eh. I don’t know. It was all done with quiet determination, and I tend to favor more demonstrative acts. I was even “eh” when he rescued his fiancee from a train crash. (OK, now that I think of it, I’m just a cold-hearted beyotch. Sorry, Tom.)
Bethany and I discussed this a bit the other day, with great enthusiasm. While she is not much attracted to the “DO SOMETHING!” side of things, she does realize that I appreciate that in others. She is, however, sympathetic to the overlooked son, as well—though she likes the quiet and unassuming Edward Ferrars types. But it was a turning point in our friendship, because she said several times, “I feel like I understand you so much better now!!!” And it was good times, because we both enjoy learning more about how people think about things differently.
So, to sum up, I like characters who have been overlooked, undervalued, and disregarded—this makes me especially sympathetic—but who rebel or otherwise take strong action to change their circumstances—this makes me admire them. It just happens that this combination of qualities is often seen in the villains.
It’s like how my favorite colors are black and green—I don’t intentionally like them because they’re wicked (pun intended), it just happened that way.