Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Beautiful First Appearances of Fabulous Villains

What makes a good villain? I suppose some people like an antagonist who is just pure evil, who does hideous and despicable things and wields great power. Others prefer a villain whose motives are understandable, who might even be somewhat sympathetic, one whose fall into evil makes sense. That sort of villain typically becomes more of a tragic figure than an incarnation of wickedness.

A villain's first entrance into the story is always significant and, if done right, can make for a memorable moment. That initial glimpse creates an impression that colors the rest of the story for the reader, I believe. Think of Darth Vader striding through the smoky door of the rebel ship in the opening scene of Star Wars: A New Hope. It's a bold and mysterious first appearance (made less impactful now, perhaps, that we've seen the little kid version of pre-Vader shouting "Yippeee!").

Anyway, to that end, here are some excerpts from my novels with the first appearance of the main antagonists. There is no particular deep purpose here in isolating these bits of text except for my own curiosity about how these first appearances feel, what sort of immediate impression they make. So without further ado, let's begin.

Mary of the Aether
Leonard Watt

His first appearance is the opening paragraph of the novel, though readers do not get his name until quite a bit later. I like to think it's a pretty memorable opening.

The lunatic in the long, gray cloak dashed out of the forest and ran right up onto the front yard, waving his arms in front of him like a child playing tag. He skirted the porch, paused, turned a complete circle and fell onto his hands and knees. A hood obscured most of his face, but Mary could see the tip of a pointy chin covered in whiskers. She sat at the living room window, leaning against the sill and resting her forehead against the cold glass, transfixed by the sight. The crazy man crawled through the high, un-mowed grass, his face close to the ground, shifting back and forth like a bloodhound chasing a scent. He stopped at the driveway, lifted his head and appeared to sniff at the air. Then he scooped up a handful of gravel and sifted it through his fingers.

Mary of Shadows

Gavin, the primary troublemaker for much of Mary of Shadows, also appears in the opening chapter, interrupting Mary's birthday party in the park with some disturbing behavior. Here is his first actual appearance:

A figure stumbled out of the line of trees, hunched over, a man clutching his face. He wandered into the park, past the swing set and monkey bars, past wide-eyed children and a pair of corgi dogs on leashes who couldn’t decide whether to bark or whimper. The man’s eyes were covered, but he stumbled right toward the picnic table, as if seeing it in his mind....a trail of blood seeped out from under the man’s right hand and ran down his cheek. He had on a pale blue, button-up dress shirt, but the tail was un-tucked, and the breast pocket was torn and hung down like a bit of rent skin.

Mary of Starlight
Ronald Holt

Some of the same evil characters recur in this third volume of the series, but about halfway through, we do meet a significant new villain in the strange Ronald Holt. Here is his first appearance in this book:

“I surely hate getting bad news. I surely do. Anybody would.”

At first, Aiden thought it was Perry who had spoken and started to brush him off again, but then he realized the voice had come from his left side. A gruff voice, low and coarse. He turned and saw a man walking along beside him, ten yards away, keeping pace as he picked his way around the trees. Aiden had seen the man before, and he had expected to see him again but not so soon, not so suddenly. The man had a long white beard, black around his mouth, unkempt at the edges. It hung down to his chest. He wore a ragged fedora hat pulled low over his eyes and a long brown trench coat.

“It’s about the magical girl, I suppose,” the man said. “All of the bad news is about her these days, isn’t it?”

Children of the Mechanism

There isn't really a single villain in Children of the Mechanism. Well, I suppose the factory itself counts as the primary antagonist, but the cruel Watcher robots serve as the primary source of danger for the main characters. Here is their first description in the early pages of the novel:

The Watcher entered the Sleeping Room through the archway, returning from whatever strange errand it had been about, and stopped in a corner near the Refuse Hole. A boy relieving himself finished quickly and dashed away. The Watcher had a shiny, cylindrical body, fat wheels for feet, a flat, circular head with dead eyes, but it was the arms that the boys paid special attention to, long segmented arms made of polished metal rods with cloth bulbs for hands. Those were the killing hands, and they were ever poised, ready to strike.

“One minute until work,” the Watcher said. “One minute.”

Dreams in the Void
Lord-General Durehen Tallek

His first appearance happens in the first chapter, even though his real purpose is not made clear to the protagonist until a few chapters later. But here is that first appearance:

Six men passed, and then one appeared, riding alone, who seemed greater than the others. He wore the same sort of armor, polished to a mirror shine, but massive silver wings curled out on either side of his helm above the cheek plates, and he had a double visor, the first raised all the way up, the second lifted halfway, revealing a set of dark eyes beneath a heavy brow. A man and not an empty suit. His long cloak was fringed in gold cloth, and he had drawn it around himself, clutching a fold of it in his gloved left hand.

Garden of Dust and Thorns

The first real appearance of Magesh happens after the protagonist is captured and brought into a courtyard with some of her people. After waiting for a while in anxious silence, Magesh appears:

After some time, there arose a strange jingling sound from outside the courtyard, as if many chains were being shaken. She heard soldiers chanting that same word, the one that sounded like death, but in hushed voices. Finally, a pair of soldiers entered the courtyard, bearing a padded bench stolen from someone’s house. They set it in the open space at the center of the courtyard, then took up positions on either side of it. 

A man entered, markedly different from the others. He had no hood, only a long gray cape fringed in silver brocade. On his head was a kind of crown made of woven strips of leather, alternating red and black. His face, unlike the others, was uncovered, a hard face, features chiseled out of stone, framed by short curls of graying hair. He crossed the courtyard in four long strides, as the prisoners along the walls murmured and groaned, turned in one swift motion and sat down on the bench. He had a small curved sword sheathed at his side, but he drew it now and laid the blade across his thigh. 

“Bring him,” he said, after a moment. Dark eyes beneath bushy eyebrows, a sharp nose, flaring nostrils, thin lips, deep creases at the corners of his mouth and along his forehead.

Vale of Ghosts

Now, this situation is somewhat unique in that the true villain of this whole fantasy series doesn't appear until fairly late in the first book. Prior to that moment, the protagonist has no idea what she's dealing with. In fact, when he first appears, she mistakes him for a statue:

And sitting on the bench was some bent-backed old statue, gray and mottled skin like polished marble. Someone had draped it in a filthy robe that was falling apart. It was the figure of a man with well-defined muscles, its face hidden in its hands.

But then it reveals itself to be a living thing:

Suddenly, the statue moved. First, it shuddered, as if waking. Then it sat up. She saw an angular face, delicately carved. The lips parted to reveal rows of pale teeth, and the eyelids opened to reveal hollow spaces where eyes should have been. But when the statue turned toward them, she realized the hollow spaces were not empty. Tiny specks of light flashed deep inside, pinprick lights like distant stars.

And, of course, from that point on, things get markedly worse for all involved.

There are many more--General Mattock from Shadows of Tockland. Devourers from the Mary of the Aether series. Sindaya from Garden of Dust and Thorns. The Master from Children of the Mechanism--along with a few that I can't name because they are revealed during major plot twists.

So what do you think? What makes a memorable antagonist? What makes a memorable first appearance for a story's villain?

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