Let's face it - a worthy villain makes a good book great. So we've rounded up the Top 20 adversaries to fiction's protagonists, including, of course, literature's most famous cannibal....
Tom Ripley: They don't call envy one of the seven deadly sins for nothing. And in Patricia Highsmith's now-classic, sociopath Tom Ripley takes covetousness to a new—and disturbing level. Orphaned at age five and raised by his cruel aunt Dottie, the suave and delusional Ripley sets out to take over one man's life - literally.
Big Brother: For someone who's always watching us, we never actually see him. This remoteness is at the core of Big Brother's villainy. He is all-knowing and all-powerful in his absolute control of the party which he rules with censorship, torture, and fear. But is he actually real?
Dracula: There is some speculation that Count Dracula was modeled after the real life 15th-century Romanian prince, Vlad the Impaler. In case you're unfamiliar, Mr. Vlad was known for the incredibly brutal punishments he imposed during his reign. Like Vlad, Dracula is driven by his goal for violent world domination. Unlike Vlad, Dracula returned from death as a vampire. Bonus evil points!
Edward Hyde: When it comes to villains, the most repulsive and formidable are evil for evil's sake. Edward Hyde reaches this extreme in The Strange Case. A poisonous extraction of Dr. Jekyll, Hyde commits his first unconscionable act by trampling a young girl. Later, he strikes out against a man solely for his kindness. Hyde also proves our toughest villain to defeat, as he is an inherent part of the novel's protagonist. How do you destroy something if doing so also means destroying yourself?
Count Olaf: He has the most menacing unibrow in all of children's fiction, as well as a frightening tattoo of an eye on his ankle and the ability to disguise these distinguishing features so that everyone - except the children he's tormenting - falls under his treacherous spell. In trying to steal the fortune of the Baudelaire orphans, Olaf's early crimes include kidnapping and hanging baby Sunny in a birdcage outside of a tower window, and trying to marry 14-year-old Violet to take control of the children's inheritance...and he only gets more cruel as Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events continues.
Heathcliff: Poor Heathcliff got a raw deal. Born an orphan, Wuthering Heights' central character is swindled by his foster brother and doomed to fall in love with his foster sister, only to lose her to the heir of a neighboring estate. No wonder he's so brooding and vindictive all the time. That said, are these sad circumstances enough justification to destroy the lives of your enemies and their heirs? Heathcliff thinks so.
The White Witch: Four words for you: always winter, never Christmas. What could be more evil than that? With a team of secret police, a sizable power-hungry streak, and a conniving ability to charm and deceive, Narnia's White Witch is the ultimate villainous dictator.
Iago: Shakespeare's Iago is the quintessential manipulator. He betrays Othello's trust and tricks Othello into murdering his wife, Desdemona. His motivation may be racism, it may be jealousy, it may be ambition, or it may just be pure evil. But Iago refuses to say, shrouding this malevolent force in a veil of mystery.
Pieter Willem: We can't help standing on edge when mercenary Pieter Willem comes on the scene - to torture, rape, and torment young mercenary-in-training Vanessa "Michael" Munroe. Powerfully built and chillingly sadistic, he forces Monroe to learn how to kill, an instinct she must fight from turning herself into a monster like Pieter.
The Poet: As if Edgar Allan Poe's words weren't scary enough at times, The Poet uses them to craft fake suicide notes for the people he's murdered. A pedophile and a serial killer who specializes in brutalizing cops, The Poet manages to elude the greatest investigators alive with his cunning, savage crimes.
HAL 9000: The red-eyed supercomputer from Arthur C. Clarke's sci-fi classic goes on a virtual rampage and racks up a nice body count, earning it the distinction of being the only inanimate entity to make our list of villains. Though we must use our imagination to determine why HAL ingeniously premeditates murder in 2001, the follow-up novel chalks it up to contradictory programming.
The Devil: Satan is the original villain. From the Bible to Faust to countless horror movies, the Devil is forever reinvented, but maintains that pure evil he has always embodied. But of all the incantations, John Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost is the greatest, most poetic form. After all, what's more evil than Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven?
Oddjob: Built like a mountain and nearly as indestructible, Goldfinger's henchman Oddjob can break almost anything with his bare hands and feet, including a stone fireplace mantel! But his deadly talents don't end there: he's handy with bow and arrow, and his metal bowler hat with its razor sharp brim has been known to give men something closer than a close shave. But it's his appetite for kitty cats (served on a dinner plate) that especially qualifies him for our list. Oddjob's ultimate fate at the hands of an exhausted James Bond is a little different than the shocker the film provides, but we won't spoil the fun by mentioning it here.
The Wicked Witch of the West: She's the second witch on this list, but by no means any less ruthless. And she has no shortage of accomplices either. Wolves, bees, and winged monkeys are just a few of this envious witch's deadly assassins - and starvation and fire several of her ploys for putting enemies to death.
Fagin: Fearful of getting caught himself, the cunning and devilish Fagin recruits poor children to do his dirty work, forming a band of his own personal thieves. With his rat-like fangs and unprovoked fits of vicious rage, Fagin is the stuff of a child's worst nightmare, and Dickens' greatest villain.
Moriarity: Professor Moriarty appears in only two of the original 60 Sherlock Holmes stories. It's a testament to his evil nature that even with such slim face time, he is considered to be the true super villain of the Holmes tales. In fact there is strong suspicion that his place at the head of a vast network of bad guys means that it's actually Moriarty protecting and nurturing every criminal Holmes faces.
Alex: A little bit of the old in-out and ultraviolence put A Clockwork Orange's humble narrator Alex at the top of any list of literary villains. Alex commits violence for violence's sake, and though he plays at repentance, by the end of the novel, he is the same evil, unsympathetic, unforgiving Alex he was at the onset.
Hannibal Lector: Fiction's most frightening villain is a cannibalistic serial killer whose penetrating psychological insight is just as horrifying as his flesh-eating ways. A true evil genius, Hannibal Lector requires few words to torment his victims. If you thought Anthony Hopkins was chilling as Lector, listen to Frank Muller's portrayal of the infamous menace...
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