Monday, April 25, 2011

On Villains and Villainy

I was enjoying the second installment of the HBO series Game of Thrones last night. I found myself feeling quite antagonistic toward a number of characters. After the episode, I started to think about why I was feeling such a hatred for these now established villains. What I found notable was not the animosity itself, but the degree of it that I was experiencing.

I have identified three acts of villainy that have occured in the show thus far, and have considered their impact on my emotions as I watched. The first is adults acting deceptively toward and manipulating children. I think that this act alone will usually cement an audience against a villain.

The second act that I noticed was violence against animals--and in this case against a beautiful and cute animal. As has often been said, people can be more sympathetic toward animals than people, since they are, for the most part, intrinsically innocent. Watching this act produced an even higher level of animosity in me. I started thinking in terms of violent revenge at this point.

The third act was outright violence against a child by an adult. (You would think that this is about as far down the path of evil that a villain can go. And I'd agree with you, were it not for an even higher degree of villainy that I've run into in certain novels: torture of children. I refuse to read any books containing torture of children. I've put down otherwise good novels because of it.) To put it metaphorically, once I watched this bit of villainy, I put away my mental dagger, and took out my mental battle axe.

So, there you have three distinct acts of villainy, ordered in increasing levels of my reaction to them. Game of Thrones has already used all three! After watching last night's episode, I was left feeling very unfulfilled. I'm not sure it's good for an episodic show to ramp up that much revenge tension in the first few episodes. Will they be able to maintain this level of tension? And how long can you string an audience along as they are frothing at the mouth for vengeance?

I haven't had any concrete villains in my Hemlock storyline (that were core to the plot) so far. I have used violence against animals in one scene, however. Still, I prefer painting in shades of grey rather than black. Game of Thrones does have me thinking about villains, though. Specifically, it has me thinking about what level of villainy is most satisfying to a reader. I suppose that villainy is something like a spice used by a chef. It needs be used judiciously because either a lack of it or an overabundance of it will likely cause problems.

1 comment:

  1. I can truly relate to your emotional response to all three villainous acts. Thank you for sharing. :)