Saturday, February 7, 2015

3 Things You Can Learn About Villains from J. K. Rowling's Mistakes

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

      Hated Villains

     Fact is, you probably did hate Umbridge more than you hated Voldemort. Why? Because Umbridge was an awesome villain. She's so wonderfully hateable. It's kind of fun to hate her, and it's really fun to see her punished. However, doesn't this show a little problem? Why do we hate the lady who was mean, cruel, and unfair over the guy who probably murdered hundreds personally, and maybe thousands through his followers?
     One of the reasons, is because she's there. You watch her do these things, and you see the immediate emotional reactions of the characters. Voldemort, well, you only really hear about what he does. This makes it much easier to simply shrug aside his actions and jump onto the sympathy that Rowling presents.
     Possibly worse is the way that Umbridge acts and appears. The simper, the ridiculous clothes, the kittens, the little cough. These things makes everything she does even more infuriating.
     Remember when Harry found out that Umbridge was still employed by the Ministry of Magic? Yup, that's the other thing. She gets away with it for so long. And it's not like Al Capone who everyone knew was bad, because people still thought she was good. People like Fudge condoning her actions was adding insult to injury. But, this wasn't a bad thing, was it? It's a part of why we kept reading; we couldn't stop until we had seen her punished.

     Realistic Power for Villains

     Another sub-villain who has the "up-and-close" advantage is Draco Malfoy. However, there's a problem with him as well. Think of the things he does. He reschedules the Quidditch match. He makes Ron do all the preparing of his ingredients when he's "injured". He takes over the practicing period. And so on. But seriously, would he be able to do all this? I suppose all the stuff pertaining to Buckbeak he could accomplish, because that all relied on his father and Snape. Within Snape's classroom, he had free reign, and that makes sense. But how could he possibly reschedule a Quidditch match? While he may have been Snape's favorite, he wasn't Dumbledore's. This lack of realism takes away from the effect that the injustices should have.
     So, just as you shouldn't let your hero be overly powerful, you shouldn't let your villains be unreasonably powerful. Being evil does not give you perfect acting skills, unlimited knowledge, or a massive wallet. They can have these individually, but they have to have them because they gained it themselves (or inherited it, if you're talking about the wallet) rather than because it makes things harder for the hero.

     Descriptions of Villains

     What does Umbridge look like? A toad. If you've read the books, you understood that. If you only watched the movies, you're going "Huh?" And that's the problem. J. K. Rowling had a love of using animals, or other odd things, to describe people. As a result, when I read her books I find them to be full of talking toads, pugs, and piles of dirty rags. This is extremely annoying, but no matter how hard I try, it's pretty much impossible to erase that first impression from my head. And thus, Pansy Parkinson looks like a pug and Mundungus looks like a pile of dirty rags.
     This is especially problematic with Dung, because a pile of rags simply cannot fit the shape of a human, so I have trouble imagining him as something with even vaguely normal proportions. But is wasn't all bad. Describing Pettigrew as rat-like worked quite well for me. So, a word of caution, don't go over-board with the creative descriptions, though they can sometimes work well.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have an art contest open for submissions, see the guidelines here. We also have a poetry contest open, which you can find here.

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