Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Villain-less Novel


Read a review today that claimed that the more potent the villain, the more interesting the book, the more elevated the hero.

Is this true? Are there great books with no villain? Something like a war can be a villain, of course, but in the usual scheme of things, what great or greatish book had no villain?

17 comments:

sandra seamans said...

"The Liar's Diary" has no real villian, just human beings with flaws. And "The Road". "Winter's Bone".

pattinase (abbott) said...

In "Winter's Bone," her family seems villainous to me--the way those women came after her when her search threatened their business. They way no one would help her.
Haven't read the Liar's Diary or The Road, but I guess a post-apocalyptic world serves as villain.

Deb said...

Domestic novels--like Barbara Pym or Angela Thirkell wrote--rarely have villains per se, but they still have drama and conflict. When it comes to crime and murder-mysteries, I find that novels with very obvious evil and psychotic villains don't do much for me. I prefer stories where the lines between good and evil (or between good and not-so-good) are less defined.

sandra seamans said...

Her family lived in a world where self-preservation was their only means of survival. More human nature than villianous to me. When I think villian, I think serial killers, hit men, or just plain crazies who kill for the sheer joy of it.

Rob Kitchin said...

I don't agree at all, I'm afraid. If the premise held true we'd all be reading thrillers with monstrous arch-villians and little else. Books with small crimes or understated darkness can be just as interesting as those with monsters. I think Daniel Woodrell's books are good examples, but also Brian Hart's Then Came the Evening. Stories that focus on the characters and their social relations, rather than simply bringing a criminal to justice.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I guess I see villains in broad terms. For instance, I am reading (or listening to) PLAINSONG right now. And it is loaded with villains to me. Boys that are bullies, old women who kick their pregnant daughter out of the house, lots of nasty but ordinary people.
So maybe the word villain is too strong. Characters that provide the conflict in a novel--if there is a name for them.

Jim said...

Patti,

Great subject. I think you might have hit on the problem. Villian and Hero probably are the wrong words like you suggest. My own thought is that it's a much simpler and much broader standard. A great book (usually) needs a struggle or challenge between 'bad' and 'good'. Yes that's vague as hell - but somebody or something at least weighs out at 51% good versus the bad people, place or thing. Caveman simple, but fiction seems to boil down to that - usually. Nothing in life is absolute, so how can this author's belief be accurate? Thanks for thrwoing this subject out there. - Jim

George said...

Almost every book by P. G. Wodehouse.

Deb said...

George, don't forget Roderick Spode, the crypto-fascist in the Wooster books. He's a thoroughly nasty piece of work.

Becky said...

I don't agree either. Some of the best books I have read do not have villains in them. I prefer books about friends and families, with a touch of comedy. I especially enjoy books where I will recognize myself or someone I know in the characters- good people. For instance, I absolutely loved Kurt Weichert's latest book, "SportsFan Chronicles."
http://www.sportsfanchronicles.com

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I don't remember any heroes or villains in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. Yuri Zhivago isn't exactly a hero.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I think any story has to have a conflict of some kind, but it doesn't need a villain. I think tension - even drama - are more important than having a "bad guy."

George said...

That's why I said "almost," Deb. Roderick Spode certainly is a villain.

Ben said...

That's a good question, because a good villain isn't necessary a villain. It's someone motivated by good, tangible reasons to put the hero out of their misery. No villain ever think they are the villains. Sandra astutely pointed Winter's Bone. Thump Milton and Teardrop were once business partners. Very similar guys. As courageous Teardrop was in the novel, I don't think Thump wouldn't have done the same for his family.

I wouldn't disagree with the review, but I'd say the greater villains need to be faded out.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Good points. Does a hero need a villain to rise to greatness?

Erik Donald France said...

The hero needs a challenge or obstacle, but not necessarily a villian.

However, I enjoy a good villain every time, when done right.

neer said...

I don't think Thomas Hardy's novels Return of the Native, and The Mayor of Casterbridge have any villains as such. Just some people caught in unfortunate circumstances.