Flannery O’Connor used to say that any playwright has a problem when they introduce the devil into a script—how to keep him from becoming the main character. In literature, every great story needs an enemy of some sort. Somebody has to play the villain.
Miles Turner used to cast my Christian daughters as the evil characters in his high school dramas. They played murderers in Agatha Christie scripts, heart breakers in romances, and wild women in contemporary plays. When I asked him why, he said it would develop their character reach since everyone knew they were not normally like that—and he could trust them with evil. I think he just wanted to see the local pastor squirm.
I think my favorite villain of all time is Javert in Les Miserables. I know; he was actually a religious character, though quite enslaved to the law. I guess I am mesmerized by him because I see how easy it is to move from self-assured religiosity to evil.
In my favorite movies, books, and plays I am always intrigued by the characters that seem to hold the moral power and use it in ways that diminish people. Whether it is the administration of Mr. Holland’s school (Mr. Holland’s Opus), the administration of Mr. Keating’s boys’ school (Dead Poets Society), or the administration of the prison (Cool Hand Luke), I find misuse of power villainous.
Maybe I am seeing my own dark side in them. Could it be that villains are nothing more than projections of us at our worst? And they have something wise to tell us—if we have ears to listen.