I’ve seen trailer after trailer for Suicide Squad and will probably have opinions on that film when I see it, but all this love for the villains has made me think about why I trust Steven King absolutely enough to pre-order his books. The reason why Steven King gets all my money on July 26, 2016 is that he’s got villains nailed.
Basic villains, like in DnD or a funny bar antidote, take an active role against the main character. Good villains, like in most action films and horror films, have personality and are as engaging as the hero (sometimes more so). Great villains, like Ursula from The Little Mermaid or The Joker in most Batman stories, are living breathing characters with their own rational (sort of) goals and can be very relatable. Steven King is a master of the frightening and personable bad guy.
One of King’s tricks is to show what the villain has at stake. When his monsters aren’t mindless evil (It, The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon, etc), his bad guys have as strict a deadline as the heroes. In The Dark Half, George Stark is literally falling apart and will lose his own life if he does not succeed in his goals. In Under the Dome, Big Jim’s mad use of power has as much to do with his desperation to survive the dome as his ambition.
Part of the horror of Carrie (about a girl who murders all her classmates) and The Dead Zone (about a political assassin in 1970’s) is that King’s makes us sympathetic with murders. Who can read one of those stories and not nod along thinking, “ayuh, that’s what I’d do?”
My favorite King villains, Annie Wilkes and Kujo, are arguably just tragic heroes. Okay, that might be going too far. But my heart breaks when that good dog goes bad and when the woman’s insanity leads her to destroy what she loves most in the world. Partly because all of Misery is just Paul and Annie, and most of Kujo is the dog and the family he has trapped, if these monsters were fully fledged characters the tales would fall flat.
The main thing to learn from Steven King in this regard is that he gives the baddies just as much motivation and rational planning, and sometimes just as much P.O.V. time as the heroes. Not like zombies or the mindless murders in slashers, King’s villains have a reason to attack the protagonist, a real motivation to commit their acts of violence and terror, and often face and overcome their own conflicts.
By treating his villains as characters and not just plot points, King delivers some stellar villains.
And that’s Reason 726 why Stephen King gets all my money.