Wednesday, October 31, 2007


October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Lest I be accused of writing about something non-writing related for once, I thought, in the spirit of Halloween, I would talk—briefly!!!—about villains. And who better than Frankenstein’s monster (or is Dr. Victor Frankenstein the real villain?), Count Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

After all, these are three villains who have clearly stood the test of time. Archetypes, after all.

What makes them last in our psyche, why are they such delicious villains? And how—if we can at all—apply them to our own bad guys?

Frankenstein’s monster probably represents the monster from beyond. In espionage fiction he may be the enemy terrorist, the leader of the country we’re fighting. And yeah, sometimes they’re created by us. Look at an in-depth history of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, who created these monsters, anyway? Well, let’s not get too political or heavy here. Just ask yourself this question though: Is there humanity in this monster?

Count Dracula, or the vampire. We’re really talking evil here, the devil, Satan. The legendary Count Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) was the son of Count Dracu (nicknamed The Devil, for being such a charmer; Dracula, then, translates as Son of the Devil). Dracula’s a personification of evil and rarely seems all that human. He does, however, often come off as sexy and charismatic, larger than life.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You know what we have here? We have the werewolf. We have the serial killer. We have the every day, ordinary suburban guy who hides the evil inside, but sometimes it comes out to play. Why yes, little Jeffery seemed like such a nice man, quiet, unassuming. Until we find out he’s got body parts in his freezer.

There’s a fourth category: the ghost.

I’ve never quite gotten over an exchange in Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story” where one of the characters has problems understanding what the woman is saying. Did she say: “I see a ghost”? Did she say, “I am a ghost” or did she say “You are a ghost.”? Part of the house of mirrors in “Ghost Story” is that ghosts are reflections of those seeing them, perhaps vanity incarnate.

I’ll let you do the dissembling. Who are you favorite villains in fiction and which of these four archetypes do you think they fall under. Anybody want to start with Hannibal Lechter? Is he a vampire or is he a werewolf?

Happy Haunting!
Mark Terry


Joe Moore said...

Happy Halloween, Mark and fellow Inkers!

Although Dr. Lecter will always occupy the #1 slot on my villain’s hit parade, I have to mention #2: Darth Vader the quintessential bad guy. Over the course of 6 major motion pictures and thousands of other references, we have literally seen him transform from a young, somewhat innocent Anakin Skywalker into the meanest guy in the universe and finally into the somewhat remorseful and forgivable father of Luke Skywalker. In an interview, Hayden Christensen who played the adult Anakin/Darth, said that the first day he walked on the set in the Darth Vader costume, cast and crew actually shunned him or found it hard to talk to him because the figure was so imposingly evil. Now that’s a villain!

I would equate Vader to the Frankenstein model. Despite his bad-ass outer shell, obviously the Dark Lord had a heart underneath all that heavy breathing.

To round out my top five picks I nominate the Wicked Witch of the West, Norman Bates, and Michael Myers.

Joe Moore said...

One additional comment. Mark, you asked "What makes them last in our psyche, why are they such delicious villains?" I think it's because Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde were the first of their breed. All others are copies.

Mark Terry said...

Hollywood undoubtedly had a role in popularizing. The novel "Frankenstein" isn't terribly scary. It's interesting in a literary sense. If you happen to read it again, notice the narrative within a narrative within a narrative structure.

"Dracula" probably is a scary book, although by now we're so used to the films, TV shows and other books ("'Salems Lot' is a scary book) that it might seem a bit blase now. I heard something recently noting there had been something like 53 film adaptations of "Dracula." I don't imagine an end in sight.

As for Jekyll and Hyde, its so Victorian it's hard to be scared by it, but it does raise interesting philosophical questions, which is probably why it's hung in there. Just ask yourself: does the potion really do anything or is it just an excuse for Dr. Jekyll to release his inner monster?

When I was walking Frodo this morning I was wondering if "Rambo," particularly in David Morrell's "First Blood" would fall under the ghost story. I suspect most revenge books fall under ghost stories and Rambo is definitely haunted in that book.

And yeah, Darth is probably my favorite villain.

G.M. Malliet said...

OK, what's wrong with me? I never found any of these fictional guys especially scary.

The real-life Vlad was a monster, sure, and we can just be glad he's dead and gone. (Or, is he? I can hear Mark asking. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.)

Frankenstein I felt sorry for. Jekyll/Hyde and Darth didn't register. Hannibal was scary less for his dietary habits than for his ability to lie and play mind games. But remember, I live in D.C., so I'm somewhat innoculated against being scared by that.

The really scary guy in Silence of the Lambs was the too-possible monster with the well in his basement.

I do have to admit, Salem's Lot I had to read with the lights on; it was the first and last time I bought into the vampire legend. Before that, I'd have to go back to Grimm's fairy tales and the witch who liked to fatten up kiddies so she could bake or broil them or whatever she did with them - (are children still allowed to read these grisly books)?

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde - I was engaged to someone like that once. Yikes!

But jokes aside, I find the "nice guy" cookie with the "evil" creme center to be the scariest in both fiction and real life.

But let's not forget the scariest of all fictional baddies: the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. After all, she had all those flying monkeys and was probably our very first experience with evil.

Great posting for Halloween!

Nina Wright said...

I enjoyed your post and your Bad Guy Classifications. But I don't think ghosts are default villains. Consider for instance the ghost of L.Q. Navarro in the Billy Bob Holland series by James Lee Burke. And I should mention Placida, the spirit at the center of SENSITIVE, my own novel, who initially frightens (duh) but then assists my protagonist. Happy Halloween and spirited hauntings to us all!


Mark Terry said...

Right, there are benevolent ghosts. And a malevolent ghost tends to have stripped the humanity away leaving just the negative emotions.

I confess to rarely finding horror stories terribly scary any more. Stephen King notes that so humorously and insightfully in "It" when "It" a creature that feeds on fear, notes that children have such wonderful fears--ghosts and werewolves and vampires and monsters--but adults mostly fear things like infidelity, disease, impotence, bankruptcy.

I think that's largely true and why, in so many cases, the supernatural doesn't work that well for me. I'm far more afraid of Alzheimer's or cancer than I am of a vampire.

Felicia Donovan said...

I recently met Joe Hill, Stephen King's son, who apparently is a neighbor (unbeknownst to me at the time). He was doing a local signing for his new collection of ghostly tales, some of which are set in my/our hometown. I asked him if he had ever had any paranormal experiences and he very dryly lifted his head up and said, "No, I don't believe in ghosts." Yeah, right, Joe.

And I'm with you, Mark, the scariest things for me are real life stuff, not what anyone can generate on-screen or between the pages.

Happy Halloween to all my fellow Inkers,

Felicia Donovan

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