I recently finished reading Fairest and Winter by Marissa Meyer and it has really got me thinking about how I react to antagonists/villains and how I judge them. In most books, it is very easy for me to dislike (and often hope for the death of) the antagonist. They represent a threat to the main characters happy ending (which I’m usually very emotionally invested in). There are antagonists like Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice who no one likes because of the mean girl vibe. Then there are others like The Bane from The Burning Sky who are the 100% evil, all powerful villains that everyone wants to kill. Next are the villains that you actually like (or even cheer on). I know most of you are probably thinking of the Darkling right now from Shadow and Bone.
But what about Queen Levana? If you’ve read Fairest, you would know the very difficult past that Levana had when she was growing up. She never knew love from her parents (or even what real love was) and her older sister emotionally and physically abused her from a very young age. After physically abusing her, Levana’s sister continued the emotional abuse through their teenage years.
Levana grows up craving for someone to love her. Even through her adult life, Levana just wants people to love her. In the first three books of The Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana is simply one of those 100% evil villains that everyone just wants to die. It isn’t until reading Fairest that we learn how she became so evil and the sad truth of what drives her. When reading Fairest, I was conflicted about how I felt towards Levana. While it was horrible the way she was treated as a child, she did things that were even more horrible in her teenage and early adult life. The problem is that she always believed she was justified in her actions (as most villains do). She always believed that she was doing what was best for herself and her people.
The question to ask is, does Levana’s tortured past and upbringing justify how she acts as an adult? I’m not asking if her actions are justified, but is it understandable that she acts as she does because of her upbringing?
How about this question. If you grew up in the same conditions that Levana did, would you have turned out the same way? Is it Levana’s fault that she acts so evilly now?
It’s easy for me to hate the things that Levana does, but harder for me to hate Levana as a person. I think I would feel differently if Levana found enjoyment in killing people or making them suffer. I mean, we can agree that she wasn’t as bad as her sister, Channary, who was extremely selfish and cared nothing for the people of Luna. Channary did horrible things to people simply because she could, while Levana was always trying to do things for Luna and be a “better queen” for her people.
Researching more on this topic, I found this article: http://insight.thechicagoschool.edu/2011/headline/the-making-and-unmaking-of-a-criminal/
Many experts argue that inheriting a particular gene doesn’t necessarily predispose someone to a life of crime—but add in an abusive or violent childhood or another negative environmental factor and that risk greatly increases.
I don’t want to get to deep into a nature vs nurture debate or anything, but how do you feel about Levana? Was it harder to dislike her after reading Fairest? Are there other book antagonists that have been difficult for you to dislike? Do you prefer your villains to be 100% evil so you can mentally fight against them while reading or do you prefer your villains to be more complex?
What do you think of complex villains?
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