Other than Hannibal Lecter, who is the best (or worst) antagonist (or villain) of all time?

I was recently invited by the International Thriller Writers’ Big Thrill blog to participate in a roundtable discussion with five other thriller writers (Raymond Benson, C.E. Lawrence, George Eby, Grant Blackwood and Hank Phillippi Ryan) and decide (as if that were possible) the best (or worst) villains ever.

What follows is a list my initial choices.  You can follow the whole discussion and even put in your two cents worth at:  http://www.thebigthrill.org/2010/12/coming-december-6-12-who-is-the-best-antagonist-of-all-time-other-than-hannibal-lecter/

Here’s what I wrote:

All time covers a lot of time.  If you want to go back roughly 2,500 years to 400 BC, Euripedes’ Medea comes to mind.  She earned her stripes as a nasty piece of work by murdering her own two children simply to spite their father.  A little more recently, just 400 years ago in 1607, a writer named Will Shakespeare created another nifty female antagonist named Lady MacBeth. And Othello’s pal, Iago, was no slouch either.

But instead of covering all time, I’ll stick to the last fifty years or so. And instead of going by reputation, I’ll stick to books and writers I’ve actually read.

Lechter was, of course, terrific.  So too is his female counterpart, Gretchen Lowell in Chelsea Cain’s series Sweetheart, Heartsick and Evil at Heart.

But I wouldn’t rank either of those as the best.

For me the honor of being most chilling antagonist of all goes to Patrick Bateman in Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. I rate Bateman so high because I can actually imagine him existing in real life. In fact, I think I’ve seen him prowling around a few of my favorite downtown bars and restaurants. Truly creepy.

Other candidates on my list include in no particular order:

  • Max Cady in John D. McDonald’s Cape Fear.
  • Tom Ripley in Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • Jack Torrance in Stephen King’s The Shining. I must admit I’m not sure if the real antagonist in The Shining isn’t Torrance but the hotel, The Overlook.  I’ll leave it to you to decide.
  • A very different but, in her own way, equally horrifying antagonist is thirteen year old Briony Tallis in Ian McEwan’s Atonement which I happen to think is one of the best novels I’ve read in the last few years.
  • Finally, in a shameless bit of self-promoting, I’ll throw in my own bitch goddess from The Cutting and The Chill of Night, Sandy Ingram.  She’s very easy for readers to hate.

You follow the discussion on the Roundtable and email me your selections for the best or worst villains in recent literature. An interesting exercise for thriller fans.

One Response to “Other than Hannibal Lecter, who is the best (or worst) antagonist (or villain) of all time?”

  1. Eredeti Says:

    How Dare you say that SF is better than Portland!!!! Nothing crapmoes to drunken volleyball in the marina!! You’re just biased because of the whole sales tax thing. Ok, Portland I’ll admit that Portland is pretty cool. It feels like a small town, even though it’s a city at the same time. How is the biking outside the city? I kind of want to do a bike trip there along the coast, I’ve heard its amazing. Keep livin’ the dream!

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