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Who Are the Most Terrifying Figures in Fantasy Fiction and Films?

What qualities make for evil, diabolical villains who haunt you forever?

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PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

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July 24, 2014 - 3:46 pm

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In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email.

The most interesting answers may be linked, cross-posted, or published at PJ Lifestyle.

Apostic with a great answer to yesterday’s question, “Which Fantasy Stories Most Inspire You to Want to Fight For Freedom?”

The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad. Nah, just kidding.

Seriously, I’d say The Screwtape Letters, which defines the mechanics of evil, told as advice from a senior demon to a junior demon on how to corrupt people and, upon successful corruption, devour their souls. Thematically there’s not much dif between devouring a soul and “owning” someone; when someone is owned, the owner is, in a sense, devouring that person’s life. Seeing it spelled out like that lets you recognize that kind of life-devouring evil when you see it in the real world — and motivates you to fight against it. Result: Fighting for freedom.

Who are other figures in books and movies who personify evil for you?

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images via shutterstock /  zebra0209

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates Features a new prompt each weekday to weigh the good, the bad, the overrated, the unbelievable, and the amazing throughout the worlds of books, film, and TV. We can't figure out how to build a greater pop culture until we dissect the mess we already have. Want to contribute your perspective to the debate? Email PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle with your take: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com Image via shutterstock/ DarkGeometryStudios

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You ask me, this topic's a little too narrow to warrant much discussion. "Fantasy" is a rather specific genre, and while it overlaps other genres, people tend to think of a story as being predominantly whichever other genre overlaps with the fantasy, such as horror or science fiction, disqualifying it and its villain from being suggested for this subject.

For instance, one villain I always found downright unsettling was Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen. If you wanted a candidate for "quite possibly the Beast of Revelation (more popularly known as the Anti-Christ)" Adrian Veidt would be your man: he's popular with everybody, socially suave, lacking in public faults, an annoyingly politically correct left-wing billionaire, and basically gets away with murdering three million residents of New York in the cause of "the greater good" of stopping the Cold War from going hot. Forget the mindlessly evil and creepy devil kids of The Omen or other such Hollywood Satanist garbage; if ever there were someone to lead the world to its damnation and destruction under the pretense of saving it, Adran Veidt would be the kind of man to do it.

Trouble is, Watchmen is a superhero comic, yes, but mostly of the science-fiction type. There's a "scientific" explanation for every power anyone has in that story, even if Veidt's abilities do border on being supernatural; hence, he doesn't really count as a "fantasy" villain.

Then there's the monstrous clown Pennywise from Stephen King's IT, especially as played by Tim Curry in the movie. He's cruel and evil, picking on kids whose lives are already rather miserable and making them even worse. His powers are clearly a bit beyond merely the science-fiction variety, even if there are some hints that he's some kind of extraterrestrial cosmic horror, so he does qualify as a fantasy villain... almost. The trouble is, IT is really more straight-up horror than fantasy.

Probably the closest I can come to any truly terrifying fantasy villains would be two fantasy horror films that truly do seem as much fantasy as they are horror, the little-known British movie Paperhouse, and the somewhat more successful American flick Coraline.

Young Anna's dream father in Paperhouse is so creepy and unsettling because he's the product of one of her fantasies she drew into the titular piece of artwork containing her idea of a great place to live with everyone she loved being there with her. When her fantasies start going wrong in her feverish dreams, she goes back and scribbles over the representation of her father, scratching out his face. When at last he appears in her dream, he yields what might just be one of the scariest moments ever seen in a children's fantasy movie: "Anna? Is that you?" "Yes..." "I'm BLIND!"

(Just to make things worse, the dream version of Anna is really an injustice to the real one. Her actual father apparently does have a history of estrangement from the family due to his chronic alcoholism, but by the time we meet him he's kicked the bottle and gotten back together with his wife and been taking good care of his daughter, and anyway, Anna has a lot of fond memories of him as well, as shown in her happily reminiscing over photographs she has of him on various family vacations.)

Then, of course, there's the villainous "other" mother from Coraline, the story of a girl living with her parents in a rather drab and run-down old house with her cynical world-weary parents in a sparsely populated town full of creepy neighbors. Over in what seems like a kind of alternate dimension, however, Coraline discovers her "other" mother and lots of fun-loving alternate versions of everyone she knows.

What makes her "other" mother the stuff of nightmares is how she gradually seduces Coraline with all the fun and games, offering her the alleged chance to keep all of this alternate existence if only she'll sacrifice her real eyes for a pair button eyes (in an allegedly painless procedure). Turns out (of course) the "other" mother's not all so kind and caring as she seems, and this sacrifice is even worse than it appears on the surface. The soul-sucking "other" mother is basically a deconstruction of every kid's fantasy about having an indulgent mother (and father, for that matter, though the "other" father turns out to be just one of the "other" mother's many pawns) in place of one's more restrictive real mother and father. Even before her final transformation into her true form, it's easy to tell what a monstrous fantasy-gone-bad she is.

That's about all I've got as far as truly nightmarish "fantasy" villains are concerned, though. Expand this to "fiction" villains in general, on the other hand, and then maybe we'll have a little more grist for the mill. (Yes, those agents in the Matrix are pretty creepy; too bad that series is mostly classified as science fiction more than anything else.)
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment

Well the anonymous black clad clones in sunglasses in "The Matrix" did it for me...I've dealt with a few Feds who were almost that ice cold....the thought of having CGI generated Feds on my tail was very disconcerting
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
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