The Villain’s Journey

Descent and Return in Science Fiction and Fantasy


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About the Book

The villain’s journey is rare in popular culture—most characters are fully-formed tyrants with little to no story arc. However, a few particularly epic series take the time to develop complex villains, including Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Smallville, Babylon 5, Game of Thrones, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Increasingly, villains’ origin stories have found new popularity through films like Wicked, Maleficent, and Despicable Me, alongside shows starring serial killers and Machiavellian schemers. This book examines the villain’s decline and subsequent struggle toward redemption, asking why these characters are willing to cross moral lines that “good” characters are not. The first half follows characters like Loki, Jessica Jones and Killmonger through the villain’s journey: an inverse or twisted version of scholar Joseph Cambell’s hero’s journey. The remainder of this book examines the many different villainous archetypes such as the trickster, the outcast, the tyrant, or the misunderstood hero in greater detail. Written for writers, creators, fans, and mythologists, this book offers a peek into the minds of some of fiction’s greatest villains. Instructors considering this book for use in a course may request an examination copy here

About the Author(s)

Valerie Estelle Frankel teaches English at Mission College and San Jose City College. The author of 90 popular culture books and more than 100 stories and essays, she lives in Sunnyvale, California.

Bibliographic Details

Valerie Estelle Frankel

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 247
Bibliographic Info: photo, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2022
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8430-7
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4491-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

MarvPart I: The Journey 5
Condemned by Society: Magneto 8
The Scarring: Killmonger 14
Tainted Vision: Thanos 20
Refusal of the Call: Khan 25
The Mentor Tempts: Fantastic Beasts 29
Constructing the Talisman: Doctor Horrible 34
When You Look into the Abyss: Saruman 37
The Slippery Slope: Darth Vader 42
The Road of Failed Tests: Babylon 5 49
Sacrificing the Anima: Kylo Ren 54
The Villain’s Stronghold: Wicked 61
Competing with the ­Hero-Shadow: Megamind 68
The Inner Shadow as Conscience: Marvel’s Jessica Jones 76
Murder of the Weak Father: Game of Thrones 81
Epiphany: A Christmas Carol 86
Twisted Success: Spike 91
Refusal of the Return: Despicable Me 95
Turned by Love: Severus Snape 97
The Magic Chase: Gollum 101
Crossing the Return Threshold: The Huntsman: Winter’s War 105
Master of the Two Worlds: Good Omens 109
Embraced by Society: Battlestar Galactica 112

Part II: Archetypes 117
Born Evil: Voldemort 120
Beast: Twilight 124
Potential Brutality: Deadpool 2 129
Unwanted Child: Smallville 132
Created Monster: Wreck-It Ralph 137
Sidekick: Darth Maul 140
Bully: Draco Malfoy 146
Traitor: The Chronicles of Narnia 150
Entitled Brat: Ghostbusters 155
Seducer: The Boys 158
Madman: The Dark Knight 163
Trickster: Loki 168
Misunderstood Hero: Maleficent 175
Fanatic Hater: Colonel Stryker 178
Mad Scientist: Jekyll & Hyde 182
Ordinary Guy: ­Spider-Man 186
Society’s Outcast: The Joker 190
Restrictive Father: Captain Hook 193
Smothering Mother: Shrek 2 198
Tyrant: The Hunchback of Notre Dame 202
Nietzschean Superman: Watchmen 206
­Philosopher-Villain: The Hunger Games 212
Evil Sage: The Rise of Skywalker 216
Former Power: Davros 219
Vicious Ghost: Paranorman 222

Conclusion 225
Works Cited 227
Index 235