I'm Curious - Villain or Hero?


So, I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and decided to ask you all what you think:

Would you rather read a story from the perspective of the villain or the hero? Why?

Personally, I definitely prefer reading from the point of view of a villain, especially if the author can write it so I personally relate to and understand them. I just find it much more interesting and the story generally suits my interests better because I prefer the included themes. I find well-written villains much preferable narrators as well and admire the authors who can write them successfully a lot. What about you?

The villain’s perspective is always so interesting! And it creates a moral dilemma for readers. They have to sympathize with the bad guy and rely on him/ her to get the story, and there’s never a guarantee that what they’re being told is accurate.

I love stories where the reader isn’t entirely sure who the villain is. Like, in Frankenstein (by the way, [name_f]Happy[/name_f] Halloween!), we’re set up to believe [name_m]Victor[/name_m]'s perspective and hate his creation, but when the creation gets a voice, the tables turn and we have to ask ourselves ‘who is the real monster of this story?’. Should we blame the creation for his actions, or is [name_m]Victor[/name_m] truly at fault? What’s great about those stories is there’s so many ways to interpret them (which is why I’ve had to read Frankenstein for three different classes :p).

Heroes tend to have a decent perspective to read from, since the reader can be assured that they’re in the right and the focus can be more on the story and less about morality. Since most people treat literature as escapism, it’s sometimes more enjoyable reading in the perspective of someone you want to win rather than in that of a despicable character, because it’s what morally right, it’s the way things ought to be. Typically, we want to be the heroes of our own stories, we want to win, or save the day, or earn fame (rather than infamy), so reading in the perspective of a hero grants us that opportunity. To read in the perspective of a villain or a questionable hero takes a lot more effort, since there’s a lot more to think about while reading.

Then again, what sucks about reading in the perspective of heroes is they’re often too good. They lose a bit of humanity when they lose their flaws and become less relatable. Villains, on the other hand, are totally flawed and might be more sympathetic, as hard as that might be for the reader to digest. Now, that’s not always the case (there are plenty of rounded, flawed, heroes), but I’ve definitely heard this argument be made.

Okay, as an English major, I’m probably thinking wayy too much into this so I’ll stop now. I’m also a little bit over-caffeinated so I’m sorry if I’m rambling on too much. But, this was a fun question to think about :). I guess my answer is, I prefer to read in the perspective of questionable characters. I think they raise a ton of questions that could lead to further discussion (perfect for essays!) and potential for re-reading.

I don’t think I actually have a preference. I guess like anything, it depends how well it’s written.

There are several well-regarded novels and plays that have a villain protagonist, and villains that commit the vilest of crimes at that - A Clockwork [name_u]Orange[/name_u], [name_m]Richard[/name_m] III and [name_f]Lolita[/name_f] to name a few. I don’t think it always makes the reader sympathise with the villain, as the three works I just named are not written in a way that is intended to make you sympathise with the villain!

@nic_blondie – I actually really like reading from an unreliable narrator. I recently read a story about a guy who constantly misinterpreted or exaggerated peoples’ actions (thinking they’re plotting against him, trying to gather intel on him if they want to grab lunch, etc.); it added an interesting element to the plot and his personality, especially since his actions are then not fully justified.

I do find the villains I specifically like to read more relatable, definitely - I identify with a lot of their thought processes and feelings, even their disillusionment. Heroes sometimes don’t have that quality and even their narration is relative.

I really enjoy having the contemplate things while reading (if I’m in the mood, obviously), choices and morals and the lot. In my opinion, it adds a sort of connecting aspect between the characters and the reader.

I loved reading your response! I was just wondering since one of the main characters in something I’m planning is on the darker side. :slight_smile:

@amberdaydream – Oh, definitely! In some pieces I’ve read (fanfictions, mostly, which are admittedly not always of the best quality), the villains can be very stereotypical and the heroes overly perfected, which takes away from the story and the reader’s ability to sympathize and relate or, at the very least, empathize with the characters.

I think what I said may have been misinterpreted? Those characters in the works I named are intended to be unsympathetic, it wasn’t a product of bad writing - they were meant by the author to be unsympathetic.

But yes, I agree, in bad fiction an over perfect hero can sometimes lead for you to root for the villain XD

I’ve always liked the villains. They’re more fun to write and they almost always have the greatest dialogue in comparison to the heroes. I guess that’s why I love comic book villains so much. They have depth, especially in the later years, sometimes more so than the heroes you’re supposed to root for.

My favorite book series has sympathetic antagonists. You understand why they’re doing what they’re doing but you still know what they’re doing is terrible. I love those kinds of books.

The series, in case anyone wants to know, is the Winds of the Forelands by [name_m]David[/name_m] B. [name_f]Coe[/name_f].

Oh no, I do understand! I was just saying that badly written villains are also not accessible by the reader, perhaps more than even well-written villains purposely intended to be unsympathetic. I agree that what I said didn’t make sense; sorry!

@zakle - Ooh, I definitely agree with you about the dialogue! And depth in a villain is something I really love.

I might check out Winds of the Forelands - I just read the blurb for the first book and it seems quite interesting!

I think I’d rather read it from the perspective of a hero, so long as they are morally complex. I don’t like the fully ‘good’ kind of hero who ends up acting as a sort of moralising force over a text, rather I like them when they do make bad decisions, when they do have the potential to be villlainous but choose not to be, or only do so, without meaning to. A good example from something I’ve read recently is [name_m]Todd[/name_m] from the Chaos Walking trilogy - he’s a kind of reluctant hero, who does make bad decisions.

Interestingly, I used to really like villains. They would always be the characters I identified with and wanted to know more about, but as I’ve got older, they’ve become seriously less attractive. The Monster, in Frankenstein for example, who does get to narrate, is still a monster to me. I think he’s a great character, his narrative is fascinating and I do pity him, but I can’t get over the fact he choose to take revenge by murdering innocent people. [name_m]Heathcliff[/name_m] in Wuthering Heights is another great and interesting villain, but I can’t overlook the fact he abused his wife and son, kidnapped a girl and forced her into marriage.

That isn’t to say I wouldn’t read a narrative from the perspective of the villain - I think it would be really interesting - just I’m not sure I could 100% identify with it (which isn’t always necessary, I don’t think, to enjoy a text)

One of my favorite books it [name_u]Artemis[/name_u] Fowl by [name_m]Eoin[/name_m] Colfer. Its this 12y/o criminal genius who kidnaps a fairy. It goes back and forth between perspectives. [name_u]Artemis[/name_u] (the genius) is really evil at the beginning and the fairy is the “good guy(girl actually)”, but you end up rooting for both of them.

Usually though, I like books from the hero’s perspective, but not if theyre perfect (as has been noted). If the author can get the villain right though I’ll read that too. (Ex. Minion by [name_m]John[/name_m] D. [name_m]Anderson[/name_m]).

For me, if the story is from the point of view of the villain and we are called to sympathise with him and to understand him, that makes him the hero as well as the villain. I suppose it’s part of human nature for our greatest obstacle to be our own selves, and I find it interesting when authors reflect on this and produce a multi-faceted protagonist who has to struggle against sides of his own character.