Lord Voldemort. Sauron. The White Witch.
These names strike fear into the hearts of those who hear them. They are but a few examples of the villains whose evil ways and corrupt deeds haunt the lands of fantasy.
For that, we should be grateful.
It’s a common saying that heroes are only as strong as the villain they do battle against. Villains are a necessary part of any story. In fantasy, they’ve taken on a particular aura of the nasty, I-want-to-rule-the-world character.
Apart from their corruption, this power-hungry attitude makes them easy to spot—and easy to hate. We enjoy cheering against the domineering powers that want to keep the decent folk of the world beneath their tyrannical fist and crush any opposition like annoying flies.
But just because they receive a slot in the Fantasy Favorites series doesn’t mean I hold any love for them.
Rather, their “favorite” status comes from the flavor they add to fantasy, because let’s admit it—a quest with an evil lord to overthrow isn’t as meaningful. In a real sense, villains shape fantasy. Chisels that cut the wood of the story to give it relief and definition.
The problem with choosing a favorite villain is the presence of an annoying cliché. Many famous villains are content to sit within the impenetrable walls of their black fortress and wait for the hero to come calling. They don’t insert themselves into the action, instead hiding them behind a curtain of passivity.
Like the slimy snakes they are, they prefer to lurk in the shadows and pull the strings of their minions to thwart the efforts of the hero.
Hard to judge them based on that.
That said, not all fantasy villains are so retiring.
Among villains of all stripes, one stands out. For my favorite fantasy villain, look no farther than The Lord Ruler from Mistborn.
A Villain of Many Colors
At first glance, the Lord Ruler is your run-of-the-mill fantasy villain.
- Tyrannical empire?
- Brutal servants?
- Mighty powers?
- Immense resources?
He has them all in spades—or should I say swords?
What makes the Lord Ruler special enough to deserve the title of favorite fantasy villain? Three things stand out to me.
1. His Power
Unlike some villains, who control the powerful characters that are the true danger, the Lord Ruler possesses an impressive array of magical abilities. He can practice both Feruchemy and Allomancy, a feat unheard of in his domain.
Part of his power package includes immortality. Yep. That’s intense, and it led to a self-esteem ego-trip, resulting in the declaration that he was God.
Early in his life, before he became the big bad god, he put his powers to good use. Imagine that—a villain looking out for others. On the downside, it had negative repercussions.
Such immense power was in his grasp that he was literally able to shift the planet closer to the sun to burn off the mists threatening to destroy life. Problem was, that made the environment too hot, so he created the Ashmounts to serve as a barrier. Which caused further problems.
Which led to the gray, dull world introduced in The Final Empire.
2. His Past
I can’t say too much here without ruining some major surprises for those of you who haven’t read the books (which you need to do ASAP). However, we glimpse the Lord Ruler’s past and begin to understand his motivation, a facet most villains lack.
Not only does it add to the story, it gives him an extra dimension. He feels more real, more relatable, instead of a cardboard character sitting upon a throne of power with the world cowering at his feet.
Which it does anyway.
3. His Purpose
This ties nicely into his past and his powers—almost as if I planned it. (Aren’t I smart? *wink wink*)
Too often, villains lack proper motivation. Or rather, their motivation doesn’t extend beyond the basics of gaining power, keeping power, ruining people’s lives. You know the script.
Not so with the Lord Ruler. As I mentioned above, he used his powers to reshape the world, but not out of merely selfish desires. He created problems and then sought to fix them. Reckless, perhaps, but with good intentions.
Those good intentions blare forth like the clarion call of trumpets as the series progresses and more of his past becomes known. Again, mum’s the word because of spoilers, but trust me. The purposes driving his actions are anything but expected for a villain, and the revelation of what his true intents are is startling and eye opening.
To learn more, I guess you’ll have to read the books.
Who’s your favorite fantasy villain? What makes a fantasy villain stand out to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.