Is there anything scarier than a giant stone dinosaur in a London Park!? Perhaps a mallet wielding Queen? Or a Captain with a hook? Or a particularly persistent shadow?
As I like 1) lists 2) distraction and 3) a good villain, I thought I would compile a list of the most memorable villains in children’s literature based on the villains I remember haunting me as a kid and some that I’ve been reading/teaching in the past few years (the list is totally based on my whims/memory and thus very authoritative). Any villains that shouldn’t be here? Others that should make the top league of infamy? They have to be scarier than the kind of woman who would push an orphan down this elevator shaft for a start…
22. Esme Squalor, The Ersatz Elevator. (Lemony Snicket)
Great name: check. Diabolical fashion sense: check. Hatred of orphans: check. Owner of the scariest sugar bowl in children’s literature: check.
21. Nancy Wheeler, Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. (Judy Blume)
Alright, Nancy, you can pretend to be Margaret’s new best friend all you like but we’ve got your number: all your sensational secret clubs and chipper chat about boys and periods masks a dark, dark soul. Pretty much the model of the frenemy before anybody invented that word.
20. Valentine, Mortal Engines (Philip Reeve)
A classic villain in the megalomaniac mode, Valentine has many of the hallmarks of a good children’s lit villain: a shadowy secret, hatred for the poor, a grand scheme to save London’s elite and one attachment that his kryptonite (his beloved daughter). Plus, I’m still gasping from what he does in the first chapter.
19. Skullduggery Pleasant, Skullduggery Series (Derek Landy).
Alright, so technically he’s the hero of this series but without being too spoilery, this skeleton definitely has some skeletons of his own in the closet (like looking at a mirror in a mirror or something equally head-bending). And he reminds me of Skeletor so it’s hard for me not to love him. A close runner in the villain stakes for me in this series is China Sorrows, who wins the being ruthless without breaking a sweat award.
18. Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, The Water Babies (Charles Kingsley).
Also, sort of not a villain but most definitely terrifying. The name alone says it all.
17. Merlin Kaggs, South Sea & Cannibal Adventure (Willard Price).
One of the most despicable villains from my favourite adventure series when I was younger. Unlike the goody goody heroes who try and snare animals for their Dad’s zoo on Long Island (making them the real villains of the piece) Kaggs is out for himself and doesn’t care how many pesky kids he has to leave at the bottom of the ocean to get some gold. Plus, who doesn’t love a villain disguised as a preacher?
16. The Shadow, The Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin)
What could be spookier than being hounded to the corners of the magical universe by a shadow? Try a shadow that never tires, that will claw at your face, scratch at your soul, and pursue you until you have no option but to turn and face it…shivery stuff….
15. Toad of Toad Hall, The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
Loveable rogue or gas-guzzling, money-burning monster?
14. Miss Trunchbull, Mathilda (Roald Dahl).
I could fill this whole list with Roald Dahl villains but will restrain myself to two. Miss Trunchbull is certainly one of the most memorable. Who could be nasty to Miss Honey, the nicest of all schoolteachers? The sort of Headmistress who hurls her students around the playground, that’s who.
Whatever your feelings about cats in real life, felines are rarely poised to star in an adorable YouTube video in children’s literature. While dogs are loyal and playful, cats are sleek, selfish and independent (no role model for children, them). Witness the villainy of cats trying to eat cute mice and rabbits in Stuart Little (see pic from the movie) and Watership Down, not because they’re hungry but just because they can. No wonder they’re props for Bond villains…
12. The Queen of Hearts, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll).
Tormentor of hedgehogs and flamingos, decapitation-lover, croquet fan…off with her head!
Eleven-numero uno to come later in the week – what other villains are due recognition?