The bad guys

I’m pleased to see Steerpike, the upwardly mobile troublemaker of Titus Groan and Gormenghast, included in this list of the fifty greatest villains in literature, but for every good one it includes the list misses a couple of great ones. Instead of Sauron, who is chiefly a looming presence in the background of The Lord of the Rings, they should have included Gollum, whose short-lived return to decency under Frodo’s care makes his return to evil all the more interesting. Or, for that matter, Saruman, whose motives as laid out by J.R.R. Tolkien make him a symbol of a recognizably modern form of evil that’s far more persuasive than a big flaming eyeball.

Since this is a list by Brits, the name-checks for Christopher Marlowe and George du Maurier are understandable, but they really missed a trick by omitting John Charity Spring, the Latin-spouting psychopath who enlivens Flash for Freedom and Flashman and the Redskins. And opening the list up to comic books (and comic book movies) also opens an only slightly smaller can of worms. Yes, Heath Ledger’s Joker was everything the Joker should be, but if he’s on the list then why not Darth Vader, or the lethal fop Archibald Cunningham from Rob Roy, or fearsome Aunt Livia from I, Claudius, or Chris and Snoop, the deeply sinister drug lieutenants in The Wire? The list could be endless.

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