He, she, or it—human antagonists are more satisfying than machines or non-humans. He stands against the protagonist, actively works against him, determined that your main character not succeed in his endeavours. The antagonist not only works to undermine the lead and keep him from achieving his goals, but the antagonist actively works to achieve his own goals, which may parallel the lead’s or be the opposite in every measure. I am fascinated by Antagonists in literature and in films. Not only do Lex Luthor, Dracula and the Red Skull run unconstrained by conventional morality, they exist outside the limits of reality itself. Their evil, even at its most realistic, retains a touch of the unreal. A hero only appears as heroic as the challenge he or she must overcome. Great heroes require great antagonists. Without them, Batman has nobody to hit and Superman’s a flying rescue worker searching for people to save from wrecks and natural disasters. Without these super antagonists, the world’s finest heroes seem like overpowered brutes nabbing thugs unworthy of them. Through myths, legends and lore across time, we have needed heroes who rise to the occasion, overcome great odds and take down giants. Our need to challenge the unknown has driven the human race to cover the globe. This powerful curiosity makes us wonder about everything that baffles us, including the world’s worst fiends. Knowledge is power, or at least feels like it. Learning more about Ted Bundy and the Unabomber helps us feel less vulnerable to others who’d commit similar deeds. When gritty details repulse us, exploring evil through the filter of fiction can help us contemplate humanity’s worst without turning away or dwelling almost voyeuristically on real human tragedy. Even when the fiction is about improbable people doing impossible things, the story’s fantastic nature reassures us that this cannot happen — and therefore we don’t have to turn away.
Love them or hate them, Antagonists provide some of the most memorable characters in Literature.
Lord Voldermort – Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
Key quote: “He disappeared after leaving school … traveled far and wide … sank so deeply into the Dark Arts, consorted with the very worst of our kind, underwent so many magical transformations that when he resurfaced he was barely recognisable.”
The Grand Witch – The Witches by Roald Dahl
Key quote: “My orders are that every single child in the country shall be rrrubbed out, sqvashed, sqvirted, sqvitted and ffrrritered before I come here again in vun year’s time. Do I make myself clear?”
Sauron –The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Key quote: “But Sauron was not of mortal flesh, and though he was robbed now of that shape in which had wrought so great an evil, so that he could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men”
Iago – Othello by William Shakespeare
Key quote: “So will I turn her virtue into pitch, And out of her own goodness make the net That shall enmesh them all.”
Fagin – Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Key quote: “he looked less like a man than some hideous phantom”
Mephistopholes – Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
Key quote: “I am a servant to great Lucifer.”
Aaron the Moor – Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
Key quote: “Oft have I digged up dead men from their graves, and set them upright at their dear friends’ door.”
Judge Holden– Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Key quote: “The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of this world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life.”
I write a lot, which keeps me off the streets and out of trouble. There is always something to write about, always a new story to craft. Not writing, for me, is like trying to hold back a sneeze. Learning to write was the most powerful influence in my life. I can still remember the awe I felt when I realized I could put real words onto paper and tell out a story. From that first ‘a-ha’ moment I knew I wanted to write.
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