Love to hate: evil lead characters

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A great many popular lead characters in books are actually people with which you would never choose to engage in real life. The vampire Lestat was portrayed to some extent as a manipulator and a fiend, Ripley was detached and goal-oriented, there was no possible way that these people could actively take a part in one’s life without it ending in tears, blood, or misery.

The great success of these characters, though, is in their enduring attraction for the reader. We know they are liars, cheaters, scoundrels, but we are still drawn to them due to their various underlying personality traits. They are able to get their way by either charming or outwitting their competition, they are rarely stupid and commonly successful, and this is what intrigues us.

They represent something we can never do: a complete switching off of their moral guidance or, at least, a lack of one in the first place. This is where the fantasy element kicks in, a fantasy of a place where we can be all powerful by ignoring social norms, manipulating the week to rise upwards and onwards to “better” things where we become untouchable, aloof, carefree.

These people rarely have regular jobs or lives, they are not bound by the rules of you and I where we awake to an alarm and carry out our days by relatively strict and monotonous guidelines, and that is why we almost admire them. They have taken that leap that we all wish we could make, and they are victorious over those we endure each and every day.

No matter how nasty or cruel they behave, we stick by them and follow them deeper into their plans to a point where we are actively encouraging them to take their next dastardly step, they are suave, sophisticated, clever, all we think we could be given half a chance.

The charm is the key, humour is helpful, the dash is necessary, without the sophistication and intelligence of their actions, they are just bullies and criminals. Nobody likes a bully, but everyone can be swayed by an antihero. There’s a very fine line.

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