The evil kitty lurks in the hallways, prepared to ensnare his prey
Everyone loves a good villain. Even more, everyone loves a good creepy villain. The eccentric, the macabre, the slightly (or completely) insane–whatever category they may fall under, many famous villains in literature and the movies gather their own large audience followings despite being classified as “the bad guy”. Famous examples of such insidious snakes include the Joker, Jim Moriarty, Loki, Sweeney Todd (who’s also the protagonist), Macbeth (not to mention his charming wife), and Bellatrix Lestrange.
However, there are two brilliant, cunning villains who always seem to pass under the radar, but deserve just as much acclaim to fame for playing the creepy game: O’Brien from Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984, and Porfiry* from Dostoevsky’s weighty crime drama, Crime and Punishment.
The most striking aspect of these two underrated antagonists is what they share in common. Both have astonishing yet morbid wit, honed sharply by years of experience in the field of Badguyology (yes, that is a word). Their cleverness combined with madness, though expressed and used in different ways for different purposes, successfully drive their respective victims to madness. One might add that in both novels the sanity of the protagonist was questionable early on, even before they encounter their nemeses.
As aforementioned, O’Brien and Porfiry manifest this cunning nature in different ways. O’Brien originally poses as the protagonist’s, Winston Smith’s, friend. Not only does he pretend to be on Smith’s side, but he also tricks him into thinking that there is, indeed, an enormous underground conspiracy set up to bring down Big Brother and the insidious forces of socialism. Smith easily takes the bait and eagerly awaits the chance to plan his next move against the government. It is not until he is captured, tortured, mocked, and at last converted to the communist cause by clever O’Brien does Smith at last realize the terrifying power he had foolishly set himself up against.
O’Brien is the classic example of the sociopathic villain: cold, level-headed, even gentle. His charms win Smith over easily, but once the mouse is caught in the trap, he proves to be ruthless and bloodthirsty, calmly torturing Smith in atrocious ways–physically, mentally, and emotionally–until at last our weary protagonist gives in to his inevitable fate and learns to mindlessly love the tyrant that rules him, Big Brother.
Porfiry, like O’Brien, also poses as a friend to the psychotic murderer, Raskolnikov. He also plays complex, psychological mind games to ensnare the protagonist into the clutches of the law. Unlike the gullible Smith, however, Raskolnikov is paranoid, irrational, and constantly fearful, suspecting that Porfiry already knows of his transgression. This creates a fiercely one-sided hostility in their interactions. How it will all end is still a mystery to me; I have not yet finished the book, but I can already tell that Porfiry also has his little mouse trapped in his clutches.
Unlike O’Brien, Porfiry is not cool and collected. Nor is he a sociopath. In fact, his cunning perception of Raskolnikov’s crime appears to be mixed with genuine sympathy for the protagonist’s madness, even suggesting casually that a criminal may not necessarily be completely aware at the time he commits the crime, but in a dreamlike trance. Whether this sympathy for insanity will translate into mercy when Raskolnikov is at last caught and punished is yet to be discovered.
While the former is a monster and the latter is more human, both O’Brien and Porfiry strike fear into the hearts of their protagonists and readers by using their creepy, cunning wits. If only they had as big as a fan base as Tom Hiddleston, then they would get all of the fame they deserve.
*Technically, Porfiry is not so much a villain as an obstacle in Raskolnikov’s pathway. For the sake of simplicity, however, he is classified as an antagonist.