Last week on our adventure into archetypes, we discussed the hero’s journey. This week’s post is going to focus on the antithesis of that – the villain’s journey. This is by far one of my favorite archetype… because villains need some love too!
When discussing archetypes, more specifically the arc that the protagonist and antagonist journey, I am always asked if the villain’s journey mirrors the hero’s journey. In a way the villain’s journey moderately mirrors the heros, but the order of the villain’s steps are in reverse. As in my last post, I showed you that there can be many layers to the hero’s journey, and thus there can be many layers to the villain’s. Today, we will focus on the main steps that every villain in any story experiences.
Within both journeys there are many parallels. Both have a “trigger” that sets them off on their own personal journey, however, the end of the journey is where these two characters typically differ: one ascends while the other falls.
The main stages of the villain’s journey are:
- Master: the villain perceives himself or herself to be better than other people
- has the ability to alter society’s needs to his or her own
- Loss: the villain, despite the mastery, is still missing or has lost “something”
- Denial: the villain denies the culture of moral society and his or her own ethics
- the moral event horizon
- Dragon: the villain battles with the hero or anti-hero**
- the hero offers help (i.e.; take the villain back to the light)
- the symbolic death of the hero / anti-hero is a false victory for the villain
- the villain’s plans become unstoppable with the hero / anti-hero’s symbolic death
- Foiled: the villain’s plans are thwarted / the villain experiences failure
- the world is delivered from evil
- Echo: an essence of the villainy remains
- either the villain escapes / lives or a residual evil lingers
With the hero’s journey, the hero (or anti-hero in some cases) crosses the threshold from light into darkness, and along the journey he or she crosses back into the light. With the villain’s journey, the villain starts at a higher level of darkness, and some may even start at that fine line between light and dark. However, it is at the point of denial, after the loss is realized, that is when the villain descends into the lower levels of darkness – and continues on, straight into the pit. For with the villain’s journey, the villain never again surfaces to the level of light.
This is because a true villain would rather fail, than ever accept the hero’s help. The villain cares not about the “greater good”, but is only concerned with his or her own self. The villain does not see the hero as the “hero’ in his or her mind. Every character in a story always thinks that they themselves are the true hero. However, a true hero is defined by the path of his or her journey. A true hero / anti-hero only supports the “light” or “greater good”.
True villains are always selfish.
The rejection of the hero’s offer of assistance always seals the villain’s fate. The villain’s plans will be destroyed by the hero, because it is the hero’s journey to overcome the villain. The villain will then metaphorically or physically die – but can never be fully erased…
Now, for those writers who are keen on strengthening the journey of the villains within your stories, pay special attention to the “Echo” stage. For a story that will leave your reader’s satisfied, always leave a piece of the villainy intact. If a villain’s evil is completely obliterated, readers tend to lose interest. Leave a little tidbit of the evil behind. Evil is exciting.
In literature, Annie Wilkes of Misery and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs are defined examples of characters who have a robust villain’s journey. Also, after recently seeing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (I know… movie reference), the simian character Kobo has one of the most clear cut journey as a villain that I have seen.
** The hero is a protagonist who is seen as the carrier and protector of the “greater good”. The anti-hero is a protagonist who can be perceived as being villainous and heroic at the same time (one who does not embody the typical noble characteristics of the archetypal hero). Yet, the anti-hero will follow the hero’s journey because their ultimate goal is the sanctity of the “greater good”. The anti-hero’s journey may be more rocky than the hero’s – but the character will never fail like the villain.
If you have enjoyed this topic, be sure to check out other posts in The Archetype Series.