The Greatest Villains in Literature – Bad Guys We Love to Hate

We all love a good literary villain. Evil characters bring excitement and drama to a story. Here are 8 of the greatest villains in literary fiction.

Every reader has a favourite literary villain, the character that wreaks havoc and spreads evil. We all love to hate the antagonist that makes life difficult for our hero and serves as the plot device that our hero must overcome. It is the bad guy that creates drama and excitement in fiction.

While this is not a definitive list of the best villains in literature, these bad guys sure know how to get our attention.

The Wicked Witch of the West

The Wicked Witch of the West is from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz [George M. Hill, 1900], by L. Frank Baum. Unlike her movie representation, the witch was not green and did not fly on a broomstick. Instead she carried an umbrella and instilled fear into the hearts of Winkies.

When Dorothy arrives in OZ, the Good Witch of the North gives her the silver shoes, which the Wicked Witch of the West has coveted. Soon she is after Dorothy sending bees, crows, wolves and her Winkie slaves to get the shoes. When that all fails, she brings out the big guns, her winged monkeys.

Eventually the witch enslaves Dorothy, unable to kill her because she is protected by the silver shoes. She tries her best to get the shoes off Dorothy, but her plans are thwarted when Dorothy throws a bucket of water over her, causing her to melt. Turns out the Wicked Witch of the West is bone dry and water is her natural enemy. Who would have thought?

Bill Sikes

Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist [Richard Bentley, 1838] by Charles Dickens is one evil man. His goal in life is to fulfil his own personal gain and he’ll take out anyone who gets in his way, whether that be woman, child or animal. He is a thief, a murderer and a child abuser.

Like all good villains, Sikes does not have once shred of morality in his body. He even murders the one woman who loves him and defends his evil ways, the prostitute with a heart of gold, thus cementing his bad guy status.

His reign of terror comes to the end when he is hunted by an angry mob and he accidentally hangs himself trying to escape. It’s hard not to think he deserved such an end.


Before the Twilight craze and romantic vampires became so popular, the literature world had Dracula. Bram Stoker’s Dracula [1897, Archibald Constable and Company] is cold, calculating and above all, not human. Unlike the vampires of today, Dracula has no qualms about feeding off humans, using his power to control them and killing them when he has no use for them anymore. There is nothing romantic about that.

Patrick Bateman

Patrick Bateman is the creation of author Bret Easton Ellis. Brought to life in American Psycho [1991, Vintage Books], this novel was written as a statement on the shallow, consumerist culture of America. Ellis created Bateman as a character that embodies all the characteristics of a frightening sociopath.

At first glance, Bateman looks like a typical high flying executive. On the surface he has a great job, he is wealthy, he lives in a trendy apartment and is he engaged to a beautiful woman. Bateman is living the life. Too bad by night he amuses himself with rape, torture, murder and cannibalism.

Bateman is terrifying because he really is the guy next door, seemingly normal, but with some dark secrets.

Lord Voldemort

Lord Voldemort is the arch-nemesis of Harry Potter and probably one of the most well-known villains in modern literary history. First introduced in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [1997, Bloomsbury], Voldemort inspires fear in those of the wizarding world. They fear him so much, that they cannot even say his name, often calling him he-who-shall-not-be-named.

Voldemort does whatever he can to gain power and immortality, even if it means murder. He is a sadist, as he enjoys his reign of terror and inflicting pain upon others, especially muggles, who he sees as inferior to wizards. He is followed around by his loyal band of Death-Eaters, dark wizards who have chosen evil over good.

The only fear Voldemort has is of death and his biggest hate is weakness. This is why he sets out to kill the one person who he failed killing, The Boy Who Lived.

Hannibal Lecter

Who isn’t afraid of Hannibal Lecter? First introduced in the novel Red Dragon [1981, Dell Publishing] by Thomas Harris, and later gaining fame in The Silence of the Lambs [1988, St. Martin’s Press], Hannibal Lecter is a name recognized by most.

Lector is a highly intelligent psychiatrist turned cannibalistic serial killer. Despite his murderous activities, Lecter is a man of refined tastes, you wouldn’t catch him eating his victim’s brains any old way. Instead, he likes to sauté them over low heat and serves them with a fancy French wine. All while enjoying the sophistication of opera music. What a classy guy.

Randall Flagg

Stephen King fans all agree that Randall Flagg is one scary bad guy. He has appeared in several of King’s novels and is the embodiment of evil.

Although his physical appearance changes with each novel, Flagg has been described as a dark hooded figure, a “sickness” and a typical American guy. No matter what form this character takes, he has a penchant for evil, power and destruction.

Big Brother

Big Brother from George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984 [1949, Secker and Warburg], is a frightening villain indeed. “Big Brother is watching you”. Literally.

This leader of Oceania’s totalitarian government is the all hearing, all seeing, all powerful ruler that we never actually see, making him all the more frightening.

Big Brother rules with an iron fist and enjoys total manipulation and domination of his citizens. Freewill is a thing of the past, your every move must be accounted for and every citizen lives to boost up his power. He convinces his citizens to spy on each other, so no act goes unseen and if you dare oppose him, even in thought, you suffer terrifying consequences.

This unseen villain’s reputation for evil and the sense of horror he creates is so strong that the term “Big Brother” lives on in our dialect as a descriptive term for an oppressive government who exerts control over individual’s lives.

Check it: Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis – Literature Review: Challenging Aspects of The Other, Disability, Superficiality

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