The villain of the piece is the most important narrative to a story, not the hero. The literature on the subject is wrong. Politicians, the great storytellers of all ages, know this well.
If you wonder why Moriarty appears in all Sherlock Holmes adaptations when he is only in one, short Holmes story; it is because the villain is needed to carry the narrative continuity. There are plenty of stories with no explicit villain, but it takes skill to keep it going. It more realistic with no villain – real life stories do not have a villain – but for momentum he drives it along, and can be used to explain the protagonist’s misfortunes. That is where it gets political.
It may be Ogmund Eythjof’s-killer in Odd’s Saga, popping up at various points to give flavour to an episode and make you hang on the skald’s words for his next appearance, or the Green Knight whom Gawain hunts (a warning against assuming anyone to be a villain), or the Sheriff of Nottingham, or Sauron, or von Stalhein, or that inappropriately appropriated Moriarty: with an individual as the focus, all can be explained in human terms.
There may be a collective villain in a faceless mob, like the Morlocks (although I prefer them), or a herd of monsters, but this rarely works in print or on screen and in these stories the real antagonist is the protagonist against himself.
Then come the politicians, and the stories they tell. They do conjure up collective villains: ‘the Rich’, or ‘Single-Mothers’, or ‘the Banks’ or ‘the J-‘: ah – there you what they did? It is falsehood, and malice of the highest order. A work of fiction can have a villain but telling such a story as if real life worked that way is evil and potentially murderous, as we have seen and wept for.
A wise politician knows that his fiction has a better narrative if the villain has a human face. Viktor Orban knew that a campaign against western liberalism was to wishy-washy to inspire and so, on advice from American consultants, he gave it a face; George Soros. Others obsess on Trump.
Battling a supernatural villain makes the ordinary man feel like a hero. It is inspiring, but not in a good sense when it crosses into the real world.
- The oldest story in the World
- I always side with the Morlocks
- Lost amongst the trees
- The Oldest Stories in the World by Theodor H Gaster
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales by Sara Maitland
- Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling
- Rewards and Fairies (sequel) by Rudyard Kipling
- Beowulf: J R R Tolkein edition
- The Tain
- The Mabinogion (Gwyn Jones ed.)
- Northumberland Folk Tales by Malcolm Green