An Homage to Nefarious Intent or “A List of About 10 Fantastic Villains in KidLit”

I am a member of “Plot-aholics Anonymous”.  Readers like me know what a struggle it is to meander through a character driven tale that really goes nowhere.  I need conflict.  I need struggle.  I need a villain to be the yin to the hero’s yang.

When I pitched this idea to Colby, I thought it would be easy to come up with ten great villains from children’s literature.  It turned out to be ridiculously hard to narrow my list (and this was after I decided that I could lump a whole mess of baddies into one group at the end).  Count Olaf is only being mentioned now, because he was my last cut.  I cut a man who spent 13 books terrorizing the Baudelaire children.  Whoa.

In no particular order, here is a list of my favorite villains:

Lord Ombra from Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson:  I wavered between Lord Ombra and Black Stache/Captain Hook from this series, but in the end the villain who is not quite human and can possess your mind by stealing your shadow captured my heart.

S. Wendell Palomino from Swindle by Gordon Korman:  An all out sleaze bucket.  He swindles Griffin Bing out of a million dollar baseball card and then taunts Griffin after the fact.  There would be no ‘man-with-the-plan’ that continues on for three more books if it wasn’t for Palomino’s over-the-top nastiness.

Marv Hammerman from The 18th Emergency By Betsy Byars:  I remember reading this when I was in middle school and Marv Hammerman still haunts me to this day.  Kudos to Byars for creating two of the greatest names ever, the neaderthalian Hammerman and the diminutive hero of this story, Mouse Fawley.

Cluny the Scourge from Redwall by Brian Jaques:  Eye patch wearin’, ferret headed pole totin’, poison barbed tail whippin’ beast of a rat who also leads an army of four hundred other nasties.  Seriously, how did Matthias beat this dude?

The Shroud/Herman Plunkett from Powerless by Matthew Cody:  Oh how I love this dastardly menace.  His town is filled with superhero children and he spends his life stealing their powers and memories when they turn 13.  With a nod to classic comic book villains Cody has given us a master class in how to create a wickedly good bad guy.

The White Witch from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: Yes, I am aware that she appears in other books within the Chronicles of Narnia, which just makes her that much more awesome, but this incredibly beautiful and powerful antagonist shows her best stuff while turning Edmund Pevensie bad with some Turkish Delight.

Casper/Fako Mustacho from Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger:  This newcomer is the guy who knocked Count Olaf off the list.  I think he usurped Olaf due to his brilliant and humorous plan to take over the world.  I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon we have an actual presidential candidate sporting the Heidleberg Handlebar.

Delores Umbridge from Harry Potter (the last three books) by J.K. Rowling:  Rowling definitely knows how to craft compelling villains and Delores is one of the best.  Umbridge’s pompous and vile attitude combined with her sickly sweet grandmotherly wardrobe makes for a total package.

Voldemort from Harry Potter … by J.K. Rowling:  It would have been hard not to include the dark wizard who fuels the plot of one of the greatest stories ever written for children.  Even though I knew early on he would be vanquished, but his insidious nature sure made the entire series fun.

Nine down and more than one to go.  I knew I had to include at least one villain from a Roald Dahl book, but once you’ve have one, you just can’t stop.  Dahl deserves a lifetime achievement award for consistently conjuring despicable but enjoyable antagonists.  Here is just a sampling of his miscreants:

Boggis, Bunce and Bean from The Fantastic Mr. Fox: “Boggis and Bunce and Bean, One fat, one short, one lean, These horrible crooks, So different in looks, Were nonetheless equally mean.”

The Grand High Witch from The Witches:  What’s not to like about a character whose biggest desire is to rid the world of all human children?

The Fleshlumpeater from The BFG: Holy Snozzcumbers Batman, I wouldn’t want to meet this menacing giant any time soon.

Mr. and Mrs. Twit from the Twits: Capable of cold and calculating acts of cruelty plus mighty ugly to boot.

Spiker and Sponge from James and the Giant Peach:  Can you admit you didn’t cheer when this wicked duo was crushed way too early in the story?

Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Greedy like Gordon Gekko and ultimately meets her demise via some crafty squirrels.

Miss Trunchbull from Matilda: C’mon you know you have wished that just once you could throw a student in “The Chokey” and bellow “In this classroom, in this school, I am God!”

Who did I miss?


Tony Keefer (@tonykeefer) lives with his NBC family and teaches 4th grade NBCers in Dublin, Ohio.  He also writes for Choice Literacy and on his own blog atychiphobia.