The literature baddies we love to hate

Photo: Daniella Verektenidi

Photo: Daniella Verektenidi

A writer often has the most fun writing for the villain. By constructing a character who is pure malice, who constantly bedevils the protagonist at every turn, can be incredible fun. Not only that, fans love a bad guy who can fill them with rage and help them emotionally invest in the narrative. These are the baddies in literature that we love to hate…


Severus Snape (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)

Illustration by David Marin

Illustration by David Marin

The Potions professor who gives polar bears a chill and who filled Harry Potter and his fans with fury and fear for 7 books has to be the ultimate ‘love to hate’ bad guy in literature. J.K. Rowling had us guessing which side he was really on throughout the series: was he really worth Professor Dumbledore’s trust or was he really a servant of the evil Lord Voldemort?

His appeal to readers is found in his supreme intellect. In the Harry Potter books, the main moral is that intelligence trumps brute strength (of magic, in this case). At every turn, Harry, Ron and Hermoine are constantly interrupted by the seemingly ever-present Snape who seems to constantly pre-empt their actions and provide obstacles at every turn. In the final book, where Snape’s true motivations are revealed, it is a perfect display of his cunning and intellect as he is shown to have deceived the greatest evil wizard of all time, whilst secretly protecting Harry from a number of catastrophic incidents.

That being said, Severus Snape will always be a nasty piece of work, making him a baddie we love to hate.


Captain Hook (Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie)


In complete contrast to the sly cunning of Snape, Captain James Hook is a total buffoon. A hook-handed scoundrel completely incapable of slaying a gang of children, who is scared to death of a ticking crocodile.

Captain Hook made his debut in the play Peter Pan in 1904, before appearing in a number of different literary and film adaptations, most famously in a number of Disney adaptations which made Hook into a figure of fun, just as infantile as his quarry. But in the original J.M. Barrie-authored work, Hook is pure malice. The captain of the pirate ship, the Jolly Roger, Captain Hook is the stereotypical pantomine-esque bad guy with his long, unkempt hair and disfigurements.

What makes Hook a ‘love-hate’ baddie is his commitment to wrongdoing and evil and as mentioned previously, his iconic hook and coffin-black locks. He is a character who haunts the dreams of children and who will continue to be the Captain of our nightmares for evermore.


Francis Urquhart (House of Cards by Michael Dobbs)


Photo: Francis Underwood as Francis Urquhart

Photo: Francis Underwood as Francis Urquhart

Recently brought to life by the magnificent Kevin Spacey in the Netflix adaptation, the original Francis Urquhart appeared in a book by the former aide to Margaret Thatcher, Michael Dobbs.

Urquhart tapped into a rising sense of resentment surrounding politicians, particularly those of the Conservative variety, in the waning days of the Thatcher and Major governments. His greed and lust for revenge against a neglectful boss and lack of discomfort with murder and intimidation confirmed our worst fears of what the rich and powerful will do to retain their lifestyles.

Yet Urquhart is a baddie we love to hate as he also embodies many of the qualities we look for in a strong leader: he is decisive, clever and has a clear agenda. A man with goals who hides his true nature behind an increasingly thin veil. Urquhart is a man we want to kill in fiction but a leader we want to follow in real life,who takes us into his confidences, making us feel like an accessory to his gruesome crimes. The worst bit is that we love every second.


Lady Macbeth (Macbeth by William Shakespeare)


Illustration by Elizabeth E. Schuch

Whilst all of the other bad guys I have listed have made their own indentation on public discourse, Lady Macbeth has made a huge mark on British literature. The sexy, scheming, manipulative femme fatale is a mainstay of British fiction and her inspiration can be seen throughout history, both in the literary world and in the real world.

Lady Macbeth was one amongst many evil characters beautifully brought to life by Shakespeare. Yet unlike Richard III or Iago, Lady Macbeth is a ‘love-hate’ baddie due to her ability to wrap her husband round her finger and make him go to extraordinary lengths to gain power. Today we wax lyrical about strong, independent women and the feminist cause. Five hundred years ago, Lady Macbeth and Elizabeth I were running the show in Shakespearean Scotland and late-Tudor England respectively.

But feminist heroics aside, Lady Macbeth is a baddie we love to hate due to her culture impact and for establishing a rich tradition of wicked wives who make their husbands do all the dirty work.


Le Chiffre (Casino Royale by Ian Fleming)


Photo: Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre

The first villain in the first instalment in the James Bond series, Le Chiffre is held in esteem by many Bond fans as the first of many disfigured, desperate and dangerous baddies to face off against 007, succeeded by such cultural mainstays as Goldfinger and Blofeld.

Whilst much of Le Chiffre’s kudos is for being in the first Bond book, this shouldn’t undermine his wrongdoing. A genius statistician who actually bankrupts Bond at the poker table, Le Chiffre is a formidable and unpredictable foe who almost succeeds in destroying 007. One particularly difficult part of the book is when Le Chiffre is trying to get Bond’s winnings off of him by continually smashing our brave hero in the groin with a piece of rope.

For being the first of many and for presenting an exciting and dynamic antagonist, Le Chiffre is a baddie from classic literature that we love to hate.


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