Monday, December 14, 2009

Villain Allies

Villains have friends. They have lovers and wives, dogs and cats. The people around the villain contribute to our understanding of that villain and to the advancing of his or her objectives. How he treats each of them and how they in turn respond to him help describe him. Does he treat them well? Does he love them? Hitler loved dogs, he loved Eva Braun, he had allies that both carried out and dictated his wishes. Villain allies can help the hero by creating a whole cadre of villainous people that must be overcome rather than limiting the hero to battle to one villain - this in turn enhances the strength and greatness of the hero.

Movies like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, to name just a few, have great cadres of villain allies. Harry Potter rarely does direct conflict with the arch villain Voldemort – at least until the end of each book. He usually does battle with surrogates like Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy. In Harry Potter the lines of the villain allies are not always easy to see.

One of the more interesting villain allies is Severus SnapeHarry Potter’s potions teacher at Hogwarts School of Witches and Wizardry – because Snape is a profoundly effective double agent. Snape is so effective that Harry does not recognize his goodness until the end of book seven. Snape is both a devoted ally of Albus Dumbledore and the right hand of Voldemort. His allegiance to Dumbledore and Dumbledore’s complete trust in him is a subject of much discussion and internal conflict throughout the series. J. K. Rowling is so effective as a writer that the audience does not come to grips with the fact that Snape really is a good guy until the last pages of the last book and then you see the bread crumbs that could have told you about his devotion to the side of good all along if only you’d been privy to a few more conversations.

If you want to explore another villain ally, read Silence of the Lambs. Actually Hannibal Lecter isn’t a villain ally – he’s a hero ally who is himself a villain. He represents evil incarnate, one of the most interesting allies ever written because he himself is so patently wicked, cruel and dangerous. As an ally to the young Clarice Starling whose bravery was proven by standing up to him, he was brilliantly interesting and enhanced Starling so that when she took on the true villain of the story we knew that her youth and inexperience wouldn’t stand in her way because she had already dealt with Lecter. Lecter gave her credibility. When he became the villain in his own right, he had nowhere to go with his evil. He became just another psychopath and far less interesting even though his character traits were unusual. Indeed, Hannibal Lecter as the villain was less readable or watchable than Hannibal Lecter the ally.

Each villain ally should have his or her own relationship to the villain. He or she should be as three dimensional as the villain or hero.

Describe the villain’s allies. How do the villain allies advance the plot? How do villain allies give us more understanding of the villain or of the hero? Write brief biographies of each of them. Make certain to create memorable traits, behavior patterns or habits. Analyze their relationship to the villain and why they are his allies from his point of view and from their point of view.

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