Monday, January 19, 2009

Hook-ed on Villains...

Penguin Group polled 600 readers as to the Top Ten Scariest Villains.
Sir J.M. Barrie’s Captain Hook made second. Not too shabby!
He falls just under Jadis the White Witch of C.S. Lewis.

What I find interesting is that both of them are known to behave sweetly occasionally. Yet the undercurrent of villainy remains, even ironically intensifies. Take this line from Barrie:

He was never more sinister than when he was most polite…

Quite a statement on “bad guys,” wouldn’t you say? I suppose it has to do with the deception. The ability to pretend to be nice. Knowing cruelty lurks beneath is somehow scarier than a villain who is constantly mean.

I have to wonder, though, about the last one on the list - Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver. Yes, he’s a nasty man. But by the same token, he can be quite caring. And not in the way that Hook or Jadis manifest. The complexity of Silver is one of the aspects of Treasure Island that makes it one of my favorite books. I don’t know that I would dub him a villain. I mean, he’s only after the treasure and will do anything in his power to get it. But is that so different from Squire Trelawney in the novel? Greed motivates all the characters, except, I would say, the main character Jim Hawkins. As far as I remember, he’s in it for the adventure. And his designs on the treasure are such that he’s interested in making a better life for his mother.

And I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll mention it again. Long John Silver and Hook knew each other. The evidence is right there in the texts. (Plus, Stevenson and Barrie were great friends.)

Also notable is that Roald Dahl produced two baddies who made the list. As did the collected stories of the Brothers Grimm.

1 White Witch (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis – 1950)
2 Captain Hook (Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – 1904)
3 The Grand High Witch (The Witches by Roald Dahl – 1983)
4 Wicked Stepmother (Snow White by Brothers Grimm – 1810)
5 Cruella De Vil (The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith – 1956)
6 Voldemort (Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – 1997)
7 The Child Catcher (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming – from the 1968 film. Not the original book)
8 Miss Trunchbull (Matilda by Roald Dahl – 1988)
9 The Wolf (Little Red Riding Hood by Brothers Grimm – 1810)
10 Long John Silver (Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – 1883)

Good to see badness prevail!

Is there anyone you'd have put on this list instead?

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