Should Villains Be Redeemed?

The Joker with his calling card

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O villains, villains, what are we to do with you?

Villains play a key role in most stories. Unless the force opposing the hero is something from nature—such as a storm or terror-inducing dinosaur—you can bet your hobbit pipe that somewhere in the shadows, a villain lurks.

It’s strange how the heroes are the center of the story, yet if done right, the villain often runs the show. He or she becomes the magnet for attention precisely because they’re the obstacle in the hero’s path.

I’m sure they love the attention, being villains and all.

But besides filling the role of opposition, what’s their purpose?

Our first instinct is to say that they provide contrast to the hero, a clear-cut picture of the divide between light and dark, right and wrong.

The word “villain” brings unsavory connotations to mind, at least for me.

  • As villains, they do bad, sometimes awful things
  • As the hero’s nemesis, they stand for everything that’s wrong
  • For the most part, their deeds are illegal, dishonest, and criminal

The list of villains we love to hate is long and diverse, but some are particularly reprehensible for the things they’ve done.

  • The Joker
  • The White Witch
  • Sauron
  • President Snow
  • Darth Vader
  • Khan
  • Voldemort

I could go all day, but let’s face it—you don’t have the time and neither do I.

Point is, fiction contains some nasty folk. What are we to do with them?

Love Them

I can’t think of many times this has happened. Sure, villains like Loki hold endless interest because they don’t act as we expect. They’re not thoroughly evil, void of conscience or remorse.

But when the key moment comes, they reveal their true colors.

It’s hard to find a villain worthy of loving.

Despise Them

This is the far easier route to take. From our youngest days, we’re taught that bad people do bad things, and they deserve punishment. By despise, I mean in the sense of a desire to see them pay for their crimes.

Have you ever read of or seen a villain who filled you with loathing so deep it went to your marrow? Who did unthinkable things any court would condemn? Whom you hoped got what they had coming and then some?

I have.

They clearly deserve the fire and brimstone of justice.

But is there no room for mercy and forgiveness, even for the most loathsome, debase soul?

A few weeks ago, this came up in a conversation with some friends of mine, and we wondered, should villains be redeemed?

The Redeemed Villain

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re not as far from being villains as we’d like to think. Sin corrupts everyone, and but for the grace of God, who’s to say we wouldn’t be the next Joker or Voldemort?

With that perspective, things change.

No one is beyond saving, as proven by the fact that no one deserves it. Even villains. I’m not saying every villain should be end up with a change of heart. That’s not true to real life. But neither is assuming there’s no hope.

I get the reasoning. Our ingrained sense of justice wants to see the hero triumph and destroy the villain. It makes sense, and villains need to pay for what they’ve done.

But a redemption story packs a powerful punch impossible to ignore. Seeing a hardened soul gradually softened to the point of remorse and repentance affects us on a deep level because it echoes our own experience.

Being a villain doesn’t disqualify them from being redeemed, and in some cases results in a more potent story.

Do you think villains should be redeemed? Why or why not? I would love to hear your thoughts.


Should Villains Be Redeemed? — 2 Comments

  1. Very interesting thoughts.
    You’re right, there are certainly times when we want to cheer as the villain faces justice, but I think there is definitely room for villain redemption stories (after-all, didn’t we cheer when Darth Vadar came back to the good side?). I think I’d like to write a villain redemption story some day.

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