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Top Five Sympathetic Villains


Article written by Sara J

Everyone loves a villain; even more so a sympathetic one. But who are they and what has driven them to commit their evil acts? Books give us some great examples; here are five villains that have won us over.

Villain 1 : Elphaba – Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

The musical, Wicked, gave us a well-developed origin for the Wicked Witch of the West, but it was Gregory Maguire’s novel of the same name that first transformed her from a shoe-obsessed diva to a passionate and intelligent fighter. Elphaba disagrees with the Wizard’s treatment of sentient Animals (the ones that can talk) and becomes an animal rights activist/terrorist. The Wizard isn’t actual the villain of Elphaba’s story – this role goes to the horrible Madame Morrible who spreads her anti-animal propaganda to university students and hires people to kill Animals. Elphaba’s sole goal in this novel is to assassinate Morrible and bring freedom to Animals; this leads to Morrible branding her as ‘wicked’ to the masses.  I first read this novel when I was fifteen and it was a subtle education in politics and propaganda. Not to mention this was a more engaging prequel than Oz: The Great and Powerful.

Villain 2:  The Phantom – The Phantom of the Opera

“Pity poor Erik.” Once again, literature trumps musicals in character development. The Phantom from Gaston Leroux’s novel is a far more sympathetic villain than his musical counterpart. For starters, he actually has a name; Erik. This immediately makes him more human and therefore more tragic. Someone must’ve taken the time to name him as a child, yet he lives in the darkness underneath an opera house with no human contact. This would drive anyone insane, yet The Phantom clings to his name and his musical talent as a reminder of his own existence. Sure, he’s intense, possessive and even downright manic but even the woman he kidnaps feels pity for him! Maybe I’m a sucker for a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story, but I always felt a deep love for this poor soul.

villain 3:  Heathcliff – Wuthering Heights

Like the Phantom, I guess we’re supposed to view Heathcliff as an intense, possessive and disturbed individual but he’s just misunderstood. He goes from fending for himself to being taken into a home where his foster siblings mistreat him cruelly. Yes, Cathy is in love with him but she toys with his emotions and never really lets him go. The last thing she tells him before she marries another man is that they share a soul – what a bitch! Heathcliff is haunted by Cathy until the day he dies and this affects his already troubled mentality. Sure, he may do some horrible things but who hasn’t done something crazy when our exes are involved?

villain 4: Alex – A Clockwork Orange

Anyone who has read this book (and understood it) may not consider its protagonist, a teenage boy named Alex, a sympathetic character. Why would we? He’s a rapist and a sociopath with a disturbing fetish for torture and violence. But the turning point that wins us over – albeit, perhaps unwillingly – is his prison rehabilitation and his life after release. He’s brainwashed so that the thought of violence makes him physically ill – good right? Well, I don’t think that any of us would condone the idea of brainwashing, no matter the circumstances. The other downside for Alex is that, once he’s out of prison, he can’t defend himself from a former friend because of his prison conditioning. In the unedited version of the book, Alex reforms in the end but the choice was his own. It wasn’t forced on him by some rehabilitation programme. We’d all love it if there were no such thing as violence and most of us do feel sick at the idea of committing such horrible acts. However, this doesn’t condone taking away free will. Alex may be scum, but he has a right to his own feelings.

villain 5:  Lucifer – I, Lucifer

There have been many adaptations of this fallen angel, but Glen Duncan’s interpretation is by far the most intriguing. I think I’m cheating a bit on this last one since it’s not so much about us sympathising with Lucifer, rather Lucifer beginning to understand us and to realise what it actually means to be human. There are no real redeeming features to this guy – he is the Devil after all – but he has his charms, some sex appeal and he’s brutally honest. Who hasn’t been drawn in by a bad boy like this before? Maybe that’s why the Devil is so good at his job.

And those are the literary bad guys that I find the most interesting; do you have a list of your own?

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