This week’s edition of The Great American Read ( my current TV watching obsession!) was all about VILLAINS AND MONSTERS in books. And the monsters aren’t exactly the kind that appear from under your bed!
This episode was fascinating for me because it made me take a second look at books I typically would never read: dark, tortuous anti-heroes, creepy villains, and tales of obsession. I like to stick to happy, peppy, HEA stories usually. Hee hee
So, the breakdown for the Villains, Monsters, and Evil Forces books on the 100 list are as follows.
OBSESSION. My dictionary defines it thus:an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind. The books in this category are pretty recognizable. The Picture of Dorian Gray and Moby Dick.
Dorian is obsessed with growing old and Ahab is obsessed with the great white whale who bit off his leg.
Thrillers. As a society we love to be scared. Truly. There’s nothing like being placed in a situation – like a movie theater -where you scream with fright at what’s on the screen, and then take a breath because you know it’s not real. The favorite books in this category are Gone Girl and then classic And Then there were none.
Written decades ago, this book started the genre of crime thriller. 10 people are invited to a secluded island under a false pretense and then systematically, to the words of an old children’s poem, are killed to serve some skewered sense of justice. Brilliant writing. Brilliant ending. No one did it better than Dame Agatha
Our next category is the dark side of human nature. George R.R. Martin has a great quote in this segment. He says, “the villain is just the hero who’s on the other side. ” Love that. Here, we have the classic DuMaurier Rebecca and Game of Thrones. Has there ever been a creepier housekeeper than Mrs Danvers?
Institutional Evil is next on the list. These are the books that turn their attention to societal evil. Books such as The Handmaids Tale and Beloved fall into this category.
We see the United States during two courses of its history real and imagined. First, it’s slavery past in Morrison’s book, and then an imagined future where America is now called Galead and run by a group of men who rule over women. Even though this is a work of fiction, the parallels to what is going on in our society today is pretty terrifying.
The corrupt and all powerful Villain is next. This is where the phrase absolute power corrupts absolutely is a perfect description. The Harry Potter books, The Stand, and Alice in Wonderland fall into this category.
Voldemort covets all the power in the universe as his own. Randall Flagg can read people’s minds and souls to get them to believe in him and him alone, and who can ever read about the Queen of Hearts and not see her as a totalitarian nincompoop?
The last category of Evil concerns those characters who choose ambition over ethics. The Watchers and Frankenstein explore this topic in full detail. Everyone always forgets that Frankenstein is not the monster’s name. Victor Frankenstein is the doctor who wants to reanimate a man and create life. He sees himself as a human God above the spiritual one and he, it turns out, is the true monster in this tale.
My takeaway from this episode is that evil, monsters – real and imagined, and villains who live on the dark side of society are just as readable and fascinating as the good guys in white hats who combat them.
Watch the Great American Read every Tuesday at 8 pm on PBS and vote for your favorites anytime here.