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Brooke Shaffer

Author, Ski Patroller, and Pasta-Eater Extraordinaire

Villains and Antagonists: Ideological Villain and Unknown Villain

Hello and welcome to the final installment of the Villains and Antagonists series. Today we'll be talking about the Ideological Villain and the Unknown Villain, and I'll have some final thoughts about the series and stuff. And for anyone who is concerned, I can report that there are no Dark Souls villains in this installment.

We're going to start with the Ideological Villain. Merriam-Webster defines ideology as being:

  • A manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture
  • The integrated assertions, theories, and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program
  • A systematic body of concepts, especially about human life or culture
  • Synonyms include dogma, doctrine, creed, and philosophy.

Ideology tends to be less concerned with concrete, tangible things, and more bent on abstract concepts. The ideology of fairness, social justice, salvation, and every other Internet dumpster fire. The inherent danger of ideology is that, among humans, the concept itself is often pure enough, but it is the actions, the how, that sparks controversy. The ends are fine, but the means are the problem.

So you may wonder how the Ideological Villain differs from, say, the Perspective Antagonist that we talked about last time. After all, the same goal may spark argument from people on the same side. And differing sides in a conflict does not always mean that one is inherently right or wrong.

I think the main difference between the two is that the Perspective Antagonist is more concerned with the means, and the Ideological Villain is concerned with the ends. For example, when discussing how to end world hunger, Perspective Antagonists will sit down in a room and hash it out with discussion, examples, arguments, facts, and a clearly defined set of rules for how things may or may not be allowed to proceed, e.g., they're not going to hunt every animal to extinction and cut down the whole rainforest in order to plant corn.

The Ideological Villain does not allow himself to be bound by such rules. He wants to get what he wants and he will step on anyone who gets in his way. If his mission is to end world hunger, he'll deplete the oceans of fish, cut down the rainforest for endless fields of corn, and dictate to each and every person in the world how much food they're allowed to have every day for every meal in order to ensure that all seven billion people get bread. It doesn't matter that it will cost a ton of money, shatter economies, decimate ecosystems, and actually cause more problems than it solves. The ends always justify the means.

I would also say that the ideological villain is the villain who is driven by what he considers to be a higher calling. Maybe he's following commands from gods, spirits, devils, angels, or things like that. Maybe he believes he's being commanded by aliens. It could be something slightly more vague, that he's some sort of Chosen One, or following some kind of destiny or fate, that he was put on this Earth to be the savior of mankind, fixer of all woes and throes. Maybe he believes it, or maybe he's using it as a way to deflect blame when things go wrong.

Now, when we talked about the Pure Evil villain way back in the beginning of the series, I mentioned that the pure evil villain has to come from beyond humanity. That still stands in that the evil itself is the villain. The dark magic itself is manifest in some way, demons have come to rule the world, something along those lines. The ideological villain would therefore be their mortal patsy.

My favorite story by H.P. Lovecraft is The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. It's his longest story and, I think, the most well-developed. It's told in a couple different parts, following the story of, really, two men. The first is Charles Dexter Ward, an eccentric man who has a fascination with the occult, although living in a Puritan world, he has to hide it as best he can. He does this mostly by investing and storing up enough funds that he doesn't have to be out in public much and can continue mysterious experiments in his home out in the country. The man doesn't age much and people are afraid of him.

Concerned citizens stake him out and come to the conclusion that he, his associates, and whatever evil experiments they are conducting, must be stopped. There is a raid, and no one who survived that night ever spoke of what they saw.

Many years later, a descendant of Ward—his nephew, I think—is a historian. He loves history, antiques, genealogy, everything but the present day. When he starts looking at his own family tree, he discovers this mystery relative blotted out of the tree and never spoken of. No one will tell him what he wants to know, so he goes off to do his own research. He's away for years, traveling all over the world and getting into very odd subjects and studies.

When he returns, he's a bit different. He's become secretive but also very unproductive in his historical research. He falls behind on projects and misses obligations. He seems to have conversations with himself when locked in his room. When a private investigator tries to tease the information out of him, he becomes even more reclusive. He moves out of his parents' house and back into the cursed home of his cursed ancestor, taking up with a very strange research partner. The investigator follows and manages to get inside the home, into the basement. There he discovers a labyrinth of occult research and hideous beasts.

Eventually it is discovered that the nephew of Ward managed to somehow resurrect his ancient ancestor. When the nephew wanted out of whatever dealings they were in, Ward killed him and took his place. Then he moved back to his old house to continue his ancient, cursed work.

Charles Dexter Ward, and his associates, are the ideological villains. The monsters and demons and great old ones that they worship would be the pure evil villains. Ward is following the words of the Necronomicon, and other cursed texts, pursuing a higher calling beyond this singular, three-dimensional universe. His nephew invokes this magic as well when he resurrects Ward.

It's a fascinating tale, really.

In the world of movies, I think of Magneto, or Eric, from X-Men. Both Eric and Charles want mutants to be accepted in daily life. Charles believes this is done through education, legislation, and other polite means. Eric does not think it's enough, and he hatches a plan to forcibly alter the DNA of the anti-mutant world leaders, effectively turning them into mutants also. He takes his DNA-changing ray for a test drive on a particular congressman. He sees that it works, but he doesn't see that it also kills the congressman some days later.

Zapping the world leaders with this ray is bad enough, but if they all die after just a couple days because the technology wasn't perfected, then things go from bad to worse real fast. Eric isn't willing to wait. He wants acceptance and he wants it now, and he'll kill his own kind and kidnap children to make his point. It is unclear what he would have done had he known his ray was defective, but I don't think it would have slowed him down for very long.

Eric and Charles frequently butt heads when it comes to getting mutants accepted into the world, and while it may make them antagonists to each other, I still think Eric's ends-justify-the-means approach and the insane schemes that he gets involved in labels him more appropriately as an ideological villain.

Slightly closer to home, in that it doesn't involve satanic rituals or mutant humans, I think I would also make a case for Javert from Les Miserables as being an ideological villain. Now, it's easy to say that he's “just doing his job” to uphold the law. And while I don't necessarily have a problem with a dedicated officer, when reading the book, especially the unabridged version, you get the sense that he doesn't just uphold the law, he worships it. He doesn't care that Valjean only stole a loaf of bread. The law is the law is the law. In the play or the movie, some of their opening dialogue goes as follows:

“Valjean: I stole a loaf of bread / My sister's child was close to death / We were starving

“Javert: You will starve again / Unless you learn the meaning of the law”

In the end, he literally cannot comprehend Valjean becoming a good man, or that he may have never been a truly bad man to begin with, and he kills himself. This beacon of law and order and justice is shattered for him, and he can't reconcile it. You kind of feel bad for Javert, but his calling is to the strictest letter of the law, which can, by itself, be a dangerous ideology.

 

   The Unknown Villain

 

And finally, we'll end our series with the most mysterious villain of all, the Unknown Villain. The thing about the unknown villain is that it's hard to pull off effectively, giving a satisfying story and ending without ruining the mystique.

There's an episode of Doctor Who, way back with the tenth Doctor, where the Doctor decides to go on vacation to a planet made of diamonds (at least I think it was diamonds). But the atmosphere was so harsh that no life could possibly exist on the surface. So there's a bunch of these little tour buses or tour pods that take people around to see the sights and whatever. They're insulated and protected against the outside, so all is well.

The tour bus that the Doctor is on is chugging along just fine, and then it breaks down. The driver radios for help, but assistance is hours and hours away. So it's up to the Doctor to come up with something to help pass the time for himself and the half a dozen other passengers.

At one point, someone looks outside and swears that something moved. The driver dismisses this, reiterating that nothing could possibly survive on the surface of this planet. Time passes. Then someone else sees something. Again, it's dismissed, but it's hard to dismiss except out of fear. The driver again says that nothing could live on the surface of the planet. The Doctor tells him to tell that to whatever is out there.

Then weird things start happening to the passengers. It starts out as a change of personality, someone doing something strange, saying strange things, trying to get everyone to get outside. Paranoia sets in. Then the passengers become apathetic, lethargic, and silent. And it only happens to one person at a time. It moves around from person to person, each person having amnesia about the event when they come back around.

Finally it strikes the Doctor. By this time, the other passengers are so paranoid that they try to toss him out of the bus. Only the hostess recognizes that the Doctor is not the one infected, and she sacrifices herself to take down the one who is.

What was it that got in the tour bus? What was it that infected the people? Why did they have amnesia about the event? What was the goal of this thing? Could it have been responsible for the bus breaking down in the first place?

None of these questions are answered, and yet the story as a whole is very satisfying.

So this begs the question: exactly what information should be given about an Unknown Villain? And what it comes down to, I believe, is the story you're trying to tell. In the Doctor Who episode, you have a brief visual of the thing. Granted, it's not more than a split-second blur, but it does have a physical form. Or maybe it just occupies the closest organic being in order to get around, and is instead an intangible creature. Who knows?

Does it have a name? Is this mysterious being rooted in some sort of ancient mythology or local legend, and how do such things factor in? Are there any shamans or priests or even just a local crazy who communicates with it?

What kind of havoc does it wreak, and what does that say about the nature of the thing and what its motivations might be?

Why is it considered a villain? Is this automatic, or is there an event that makes people turn on it? Could it possibly not be an intentional villain?

The thing about villains is that we love having all this information, and a lackluster villain can ruin a story. But the whole point of the unknown villain is having as little information as possible, with little or no resolution behind it, and still walking away satisfied. The key, then, is about building up all the other elements in the story so that your audience either thinks they're getting a ton of information but are not (and they don't realize it until the end), or the distinct lack of information about the villain becomes an element unto itself. This doesn't meant that it has to be non-stop action so that your characters—and your audience—can't think straight after eleven chapters, but if any part of the story feels boringly empty, it can bleed over into disappointment for the villain.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you how to do this because it is a very difficult thing to do, right up there with the Pure Evil Villain.

Originally, in the Timekeeper Chronicles, Rifun was going to be an Unknown Villain. There were sixteen books planned, and while Tommen and the rest of the gang constantly thwarted his schemes, they were never supposed to be able to work them out, get ahead, or really discern any motives until, maybe, the very, very, very end. Like, last page of the series kind of end.

It quickly became apparent that this was not feasible. In the least. There were too many other elements intertwined with Rifun and his actions and motivations to simply have him brooding mysteriously in his castle. Dropping the Unknown Villain pretext also opened up a vast array of new things that I could use going forward as far as plot and character relationships. Suffice to say, the Unknown Villain would not work for my story.

As a fun example, and a nod to some local storytellers, I'm going to use The Legend of Michigan's Dogman. It's a movie, but the legend is real. True story, my husband has seen it.

Why is the Dogman an Unknown Villain? For one, it has a name. Local Native American folklore does come up in explaining what it could be, what it might signify. In the first movie, you only get brief glimpses of the beast, but the second movie does show the whole pack. Why is it, or are they unknown?

Really it's because nothing is truly resolved. Maybe it might be in the third movie, but we're still waiting on that one. Throughout the two movies, all the audience knows is that every ten years on the seventh year, something strange happens in Northern Michigan, and a beast comes out at night to kill. While it has an extensive range, it seems to prefer the area around Garland Swamp in Benzonia.

According to this very series, that might classify it as simply a Non-Entity Antagonist. It's just an animal acting on animal instinct, and its strange habits formed a legend out of it. However, there is a subtle thread running through both movies (and I believe it would or will be explored more in the third movie) that the Dogman and the whole pack are sentient to some degree. They're not conversing with humans necessarily, but there is definite intelligence about them.

The Dogman, or his whole pack, is terrorizing poor Benzie County, but other than simply beating them back and hoping they go dormant for another decade as is custom, no progress is made. Every other element of the story is fleshed out, from plot, to setting, to characters, to action, to dialogue, yet the Dogman, understanding him, is conspicuously absent. Even as the characters are running around trying to figure things out, figure out how to stop people from dying and save the kid from the Dogman's poisonous bite, Dogman is still there in the shadows, just waiting. For what? You don't know. And it's fun. You really enjoy it. I really hope the third movie does get made. I want to see Daddy Dogman.

 

So that's my bit on IVs and UVs, and thus concludes the Villains and Antagonists series. (So happy.)

The next thing I do is going to be a one-off bit, just to reset my brain, get it unfried. The next series is going to be on World Building. It is going to be long and extensive, so it may not be as...uninterrupted as this one was.

A couple questions I got that I'll answer and wrap this up.

1.Why didn't you use [XYZ Villain] in [123 Installment]?

So a few people asked why I didn't use a particular villain as a particular villain example. Most notably, why didn't I use the Borg as an example of a Hive Mind villain? The general answer to the general question is simply because I either didn't think about it at the time, or I was more intrigued by a different example.

In the case of the Hive Mind, yes, the Borg are pretty perfect. For a cliché. They're the stereotype that I was whining about in the beginning of the segment. Even non-Trekkies can understand a reference to the Borg. Why should I use them as an example? True, the villains I chose may not have fit the bill to a T, but they were at least a little more clever than a cookie cutter.

  1. What about other villain types?

I thought about that, too, whether I was being too narrow in my classification of villains, and if there were any major ones I missed. I tried to think about other genres, but almost everything ended up looping back to one of the ones I covered. The only thing I couldn't quite make fit would be what I consider the “classic villain.” And that I think of as like the bad guy in a John Wayne movie or other old westerns. Oh no, the Black Hand posse is on the loose in the county robbing banks! Who will save the day? Da da da! It's the sheriff!

The reason I didn't cover it was because it was a little too broad, and a little too static in my opinion. It's too cut and dry. Anyone can write a mustache-twirling bad guy. All he has to do is bad things that the hero disagrees with, and is probably illegal, like robbing banks. I wanted my focus to be on more dynamic villains, investigating more of the villain's character and less his cut-and-dry actions. The international terrorist stealing the codes for a nuclear weapon? Ideological villain. The perpetrator in a classic whodunit murder mystery? Maybe an ideological villain. Maybe a perspective antagonist who becomes a villain. Maybe a sociopath or a psychopath.

And finally, are you done with the Dark Souls now?

Seeing how this is the end of the Villains series, I would imagine so. At least as it relates to the villains. That's not to say it might not pop up in other series for other aspects, like World Building. Once again, I didn't think it was going to be so overpowering in the series, except I suddenly found myself with a bunch of free time over the last few months. *cough cough*

But, on that, I think it was pretty interesting how it turned out, so I might just make a theme out of it for each series, weaving something new through each one. For Villains, we got to meet a lot of the villains from Dark Souls III. Maybe I'll talk about the original Dark Souls in World Building. Or Red Dead Redemption II for plot. Or Hatufim for plot and characterization. Who knows?

But that concludes the series on Villains and Antagonists. I hoped you enjoyed it and will come back for more fun in future series. This is Brooke Shaffer signing off.

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