Sunday, February 25, 2007

Death and the Villain

Yesterday, Cindy blogged about how she feels when the hero dies. As a reader, I don't like it when that happens, either. I know that if Harry Potter dies, then Deathly Hallows will probably dent my drywall.

It might be an exaggeration to say that I live for Happy Ever After, but I often read the last pages of a book before I buy it, to make sure I'm not going to invest my time, money and emotions and be deprived of my happy ending!

But what about the villain?

I deliberately choose to call him (or her) the "villain" rather than the "antagonist" for the purposes of this discussion. One has to be more than a major difficulty to justify being killed off in a romance, don't you think?

Some villains are too interesting to dispose of. One might want them for the sequel!

There is also the ticklish problem of who will kill the villain, if the plot calls for the villain to die.

Can the heroine remain a romantic heroine if she kills the villain? Is it acceptable if she kills the villain by accident, or in self-defense, or in defense of the hero or some other vulnerable character?

Princess Leia strangled Jabba The Hutt. That was cool.
Eowen killed the undead Ringwraith King. That was cooler.

Ditto for the hero. There's not so much of a double standard about a hero's activities. He's usually a knight or high-ranking professional warrior.


Luke didn't.
Aragorn didn't.

Bond has a license (not that he's sfr) but seldom kills the arch villain directly.

Is it a cop out if the villain is simply hoist by his own petard (which literally means blown up by his own bomb)? There is a certain satisfaction --a "thusness"-- to that turn of events.

How many "worthy" villains are the authors of their own destruction?

Also, the speculative romance author might consider whether or not it is essential to the happy ending that the villain dies. Sometimes, imprisonment or disgrace, or impotence (in the sense of loss of whatever power and influence he/she had) might be enough for the hero and heroine to live happily ever after, and for the world to be saved.

And, if the hero/heroine/sidekick refrain from killing the villain, they retain the moral high ground. That is something to consider when an author decides the fate of a really complicated villain.




  1. I notice new and younger writers are quick to kill off characters, regardless of which side of the Force they work for. I've learned never to to take it lightly. There are some fates worse than death. Remember in The Princess Bride when Westley tells Prince Humperdink "To the pain means I leave you in anguish, to wallow in freakish misery forever"? Sure, a two-dimensional bad guy like the Emperor in Star Wars deserves to be tossed down a power shaft just because he was so insanely boring. But, a compelling, multi-dimensional antagonist deserves a lot more respect.

    The death of hero, likewise, must serve the plot. Example: Jack dying at the end of the movie, Titanic. Even so, I thought it would have been even more poignant if Rose had discovered she had conceived Jack's child in the very last scene. But, that's just me on that one. I'm baby-crazy, you know.

  2. Forgot to address the heroine issue. Yes, she should kill the villain herself IF it serves the plot, IF it's within her character. IF she's been developed as a powerful woman, I am going to be irate if she's cowering in the corner in the last scene while the hero gets to have all the fun offing the bad guy.

    I don't think these things should be decided on rationally. It's an intrusion. By the end of the story, the characters ought to be so alive that they can figure it out on their own. I just stick around to see how it turns out and to record it for the reader.

    At least, that's what works for me.