When Your Villain is an Abstract Concept — Short-Form Essay

There’s something delectably fun about a villain that’s perfectly defined by their name, especially when that name is a monosyllabic nouns like “Pride” or “Sin” or “Ruin”. Everything’s on the label – you can be comfortable in your expectations as to the goals they’ll pursue but how they get there is anybody’s guess! It’s also the most fun part of watching what these bad guys are up to.

Take the Shards from Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere. Nothing like the long-term holder of a Shard of Adonalsium to exhibit goal-oriented thinking! Dominion might not necessarily be bad, but they’ll seek to dominate; Odium will be a generally odious presence, hateful of all; and Ruin? A likely bet that he’ll only ever seek the ruin of all. But each of these Shards works in ways not only blunt but seductive, downright shrewd. Schemes within schemes within schemes–and how delightful to uncover!

I’ll make a small detour here and point out that, yes, bad guys like Sauron and Wheel of Time’s Dark One are evil incarnate. This also fits but seems less well-defined than these “concrete-nouns-as-Proper-names” bad guys; sure, the Dark Ones of fantasy-dome are up to no good, but in a more primordial way. Ruin, Odium? They’ve got a sting, a sharpened edge that draws blood, or at least lights the imagination aflame.

Games tend to have numerous examples of that, too. Sin, the classical tita of Final Fantasy X fame, is an interesting example of this, as the name suggests a collective guilt on the part of every human being in that secondary world. But, with ecclesiastical corruption a main theme throughout the game, the player is forced to wonder how true the doctrine stands. Is the seemingly primordial force a punishment from the heavens to all us wicked, or proof of the sins of a corrupt organisation so set in its ways that no amount of bloodshed could push towards change for the better?

Though it’s not quite in the same calibre, I must mention one of darling indie Darkest Dungeon’s Lovecraftian nightmares, The Inchoate Flesh. The very name calls to mind nauseating imagery…nothing cuddly about that one, and even if you’ve never so much as heard about the game, you already know what The Flesh will look like.

Anime loves its bad guys named after concepts. Pride. Lust, Gluttony, and the rest of their twisted siblings from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood are the most unnerving example in the medium I can think of. GLuttony, in particular, with its expression, at once dull, innocent, and child-like, turned my stomach. Lust is deadly and just as sexy as you’d expect her to be—but it’s Pride whose every character beat is to drawn from his name, and in as violent a way as the medium of anime would allow.

I could, of course, talk about heroes named after abstract concepts: The protagonists of The Seven Deadly Sins anime would make an excellent case study…except, that anime dropped in quality like a sack of potatoes thrown from atop the Tower of Babel – and even before that, it wasn’t something to write home about. Then, characters like Discworld’s Death deserve posts all their own (and long ones, too). For that matter, so does Piers Anthony’s Death from the Incarnations of Immortality series of novels. And don’t even get me started on Neil Gaiman’s Endless…

No, I think we shall stick with the villains for today.

This post saw my co-contributor leave her mark: kokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikokikoki…in her own words.

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