Wednesday, 26 September 2012
So, I've just finished reading City of Lost Souls, book five of the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare (better than four, not as good as the first three) and it got me thinking about villains.
Sebastian is, to my mind, quite an extreme villain. By that, I mean, that he just wants something without any particular reason behind it. It is suggested in this book that he just wants to watch the world burn. Why? Because that's what he wants. It's not some sense of injustice, or revenge, or even that he's been brainwashed. I'm sure some people would argue that he wants the world to burn because his father did, but those people are wrong. Valentine had similar plans, yes, but his goals were different.
Sebastian doesn't really seem to have a goal, and there doesn't appear to be anything that drives him. And it doesn't work. Those facts keep him from being menacing. It's like he might try to destroy the world today, but tomorrow he might decide to try his hand at breakdancing. The only creepy thing about him was that he wanted to have sex with his sister, and I kind of saw that one coming (though for the sake of my sanity, we will not be poking at that bear).
It got me thinking about other extreme villains. I came up with two types - the type who want to take over the world, and the type who want to destroy it.
Lord Voldemort wanted to take over the world (I assume this is the case, though the fact that he concentrated all his efforts on the UK is a little strange) but he had his reasons. He hated muggle-borns and half-bloods because he hated his muggle father, and really, I think that's where it all started with him. Sure, he has countless other aims and hatreds and what have you, but his self-loathing is a huge part of his personality and subsequently, his villainy.
Then consider the Joker from the Batman franchise. (I'm sorry, I was thinking about/writing this at 3am and couldn't think of a suitable villain from a book.) In Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, Alfred said of the Joker, "Some men just want to watch the world burn." We had no idea why the Joker wanted to see the world burn, any explanation of his scars and his past were unreliable at best, and yet, that worked. That's what made him menacing. He simply didn't care about anything. He would do anything, he was completely unpredictable. And that's scary.
I think the difference is that the Joker is a character from a comic book, a place where we expect extremes of character. The perfect hero, the truly evil villain. It is a world painted as being different from our own, even set in the fictional city of Gotham, and so the realities, the restraints of our world are not forced upon it. In another world, a villain doesn't have to have a purpose or a motive. He can simply exist. The same applies to the world of Harry Potter. The characters occupy the same physical space as we do, but it is another world all the same. The muggles and the wizards are kept separate.
In the Mortal Instruments, however, the two worlds are in constant interaction. The mundane world may not know about the Shadowhunters, but they are a constant presence. They save their lives, they protect them from the forces of evil. And I think maybe that's why Sebastian doesn't work as a villain here, because he doesn't fit the world. The Mortal Instruments takes place, really, in our world. In our world, villains need certain things that Sebastian doesn't have, and so he appears hollow. Two dimensional, at best.