Every great children’s story has a villain. Villains play a significant role in spicing narratives up. Indeed, nothing makes a character more heroic than letting him or her battle against a worthwhile foe. In children’s literature, particularly, scoundrels and scumbags are essential. They come in various shapes and sizes; and they possess varying characteristics that make each one distinct from the others.
Oftentimes, villains are also provided with captivating backstories that give readers some ideas on the motivations behind the villains’ wicked actions. Generally, villains in children’s stories are deceitful, merciless, persuasive, and proud. Sometimes, they can also possess some likeable qualities that may convince readers that they are the good guy. However, these qualities are eventually shown to be mere façade.
For villains to be effective, children’s book authors commonly make them do things that will surely stir various emotions within the readers. These actions or characteristics have been used time after time in children’s literature, and thus, have already established their effectiveness. They have been utilized in vivifying villains like Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, Mr. Gum, Mudcat the Pirate, Shere Khan, and Captain Hook. To give you an idea on how to jazz up your next children’s book using a compelling villain, this article lists down five things that effective villains do in children’s books.
They make children suffer
Essential to villains in children’s stories is the hatred against children. Generally, children are portrayed as the innocent, naïve, and pure characters who see the world in bright colors. For bad characters whose primary purpose is to bring evil to the story, their first task is to loathe innocence and purity inherently. They abhor children because children are a symbol of goodness, which they believe should be suppressed.
In children’s books, making children suffer is one way of showing a villain’s hatred against them. For example, in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, the antagonists Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker both make their orphaned nephew James suffer by insulting and starving him. However, determined to escape his miserable life, young James ventures into a fantasy adventure that proves that he is smarter than his horrible aunts.
By using this plot device, children will learn that the oppressed and the underdogs can eventually become the champions by simply having bravery, courage, and virtue.
Stealing is a wrongful act that children should learn to never do. In children’s literature, many villains are portrayed as thieves. Usually, they steal riches like cash, diamonds, and golds to depict inherent greed and materialism. Sometimes, villains also steal other things that are valuable to the protagonists just to agonize them.
For example, in Andy Stanton’s Mr. Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire, the evil character Mr. Gum attempts to steal the fortune of a gingerbread man named Alan Taylor. However, his wicked intentions are thwarted by the goodness of a little girl named Polly.
By using this plot device, books can teach children that stealing is unfair and unjust, and that honesty and integrity are great traits to have.
Aside from things, villains in children’s books also always try to steal people, particularly children. In the literary world where bad people are in every spot, children are never safe. Lack of vigilance often results to children being kidnapped and brought into a dark cave, a mysterious portal, or a magical kingdom filled with orbs of fire. Other than children, villains also love to kidnap prominent characters like kings and princesses to set about an adventurous hunt for the protagonists.
For example, in Connie S. Arnold’s Mudcat the Pirate: The Adventures of Ra-Me, the Traveling Troubadour, the maritime villain Mudcat the Pirate kidnaps a festival princess named Miss Lulu Belle a curse in the form of black clouds and a storm descends and turns everything dark. This, then, prompted the mighty hero Ra-Me, the traveling troubadour to go on a dangerous adventure to save princess Lulu Belle.
By using this plot device, children will learn that prudence is important in avoiding danger, and that fortitude and heroism are magnificent qualities.
They try to kill the protagonist
The purpose of a villain in a children’s book is to challenge the child protagonist. The mission of a villain is to defeat the protagonist, which goes as far as trying to kill him or her. Arguably, it is inherent in evil people to wish ill upon their adversaries. They will try to eradicate these foes as much as they can in the name of wickedness.
For example, in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, a crippled but conceited tiger named Shere Khan goes on a long wicked journey of hunting down a human child named Mowgli, who has wandered into the jungle and has since then been adopted by wolves. Mowgli grows up under the protection of these wolves. Being a horrible villain that he is, Shere Khan launches a ten-year game plan to overthrow the wolf pack to be able to kill Mowgli.
By using this plot device, books can teach children that strength, fearlessness, and a little help from friends all go a long way when it comes to surviving.
They prevent people from being happy
Most villains seem to scorn happiness. These characters often live miserable lives. Because of this, they also often try to prevent other people from being happy. For them, happiness is a sham and everyone should live in constant sorrow just like they do.
For example, in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, the tragic villain named Captain Hook is represented as a lonely and jealous man who is driven to villainy by his envy for the innocence and youth of the Lost Boys led by Peter Pan. Because of such jealousy, Captain Hook spends most of his time terrorizing the people of Neverland and preying on the Lost Boys.
By using this plot device, children will learn that there exists genuine happiness in the world. Most of the time, this unfeigned happiness is found in being kind and by doing good things.
Overall, there is no doubt that effective villains are essential in children’s books. Because the purpose of children’s books is to teach children some important lessons in life, it is necessary to include evil characters in stories in order to introduce the little ones to the reality that various forms of wickedness do exist in the world. At the end of the day, children’s books do not just stop at teaching children that evil exists, but they also make children believe that evil can be defeated.