Top Ten Characters We Hate to Love
I love a good bad character. Not a villain as such, but characters who do awful things time and again and yet you still find yourself glued to them, rooting for them. There are so many amazing, dark, flawed, terrible characters out there that picking just ten is a hard task. I could fill this whole list with Game of Thrones nasties or characters from Stephen King novels but I’ve restrained myself. Not all of those below are secondary characters; some are the heart of the story and that makes their flaws so much more complicated to forgive. These characters are bad! They’re nasty and you wouldn’t want to go for a drink with them, but they bring their novels to life. They are the excitement, the frisson, the spark that sets a whole story in motion as soon as they step onto the page.
Patrick Bateman – American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Patrick Bateman is a bad man. Or is he? A narcissist, a murderer, an obsessive, but he’s so magnetic, his voice so strong and distinct, that he draws you in despite all your protests, and that scene with the business cards… brilliant.
Ramsay Bolton – Game of Thrones
Cersei is bad. Joffrey is terrible. Ramsay is on another level. In the show, played by the wonderful Iwan Rheon, he becomes a character I long to watch. His scenes are the most fun, most diabolical, most violent. He plays with his toys in a way no other character does; he’s deranged but full of charisma.
Heathcliff – Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
He’s a stray plucked from the Liverpool docks by a wealthy Yorkshire landowner, and as such Heathcliff is hated and bullied by the landowner’s son. He grows up knowing only torment: physically from Hindley and emotionally in his wrong-side-of-the-tracks love for Cathy. He’s violent, abusive, manipulative, and angry at the world.
Pennywise the Clown – IT by Stephen King
The supernatural evil terrorizing a small town in Maine takes the form of a circus clown. Pennywise is the reason for my— and probably a lot of people’s—clown phobia, but we all like to be scared. I loved every Pennywise scene in the book and the film version.
Immacolata – Weaveworld by Clive Barker
Immacolata is one of three sisters and the only one left alive in Barker’s third novel. In Weaveworld, women hold all the magic, and Immacolata is the most powerful of them all. She’s cold, unfeeling, and hates the world for what happened to her sisters. She teams up with a terrible man to take down the bad guys but Immacolata has an enduring respect and love for women that make her likeable. She’s not evil, she’s damaged, and I just want to give her a hug.
Javert – Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
As a reader, you like Valjean; he’s a good man who’s dealt a bad lot and given a second chance. Javert is the force trying to stop Valjean, and he’s relentless and cold and thinks in black and white. It doesn’t matter how much good Valjean does, Javert will always be on his heels. Without Javert, there would not be a story. He’s a wonderful force because, after all, he’s on the right side of the law and he knows it. Valjean is wrong to him and I sympathize strongly with Javert. The guy’s just trying to do his job, follow his beliefs, and prisoner 24601 just won’t do as he’s told.
The Judge – Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Judge Holden is huge, hairless, perverted, merciless, and fatalistic. He’s a scalphunter and murderer and pursues the kid throughout the novel. The Judge seems to be everywhere at once and is somehow able to drown a scene in malice and foreboding so the tension creeps up and up and up until you just can’t take it anymore. It’s masterful from McCarthy, one of the best bad characters in fiction.
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille – Perfume by Patrick Suskind
The protagonist of Patrick Suskind’s wonderful novel is small, toadish (grenouille means frog, after all), and holds no regard for humanity. His sense of smell is heightened to an unbearable degree so he apprentices to a perfumer in Paris in an attempt to create his own perfect scents. Grenouille smells a young woman’s pheromones and it becomes his life’s ambition to capture that scent and relive it. Unfortunately, the process to extract scent doesn’t tend to leave the girl alive. He kills and kills but his motivation is so pure and innocent that you just can’t help but want him to succeed.
Annie Wilkes – Misery by Stephen King
I know, another Stephen King baddie, but he really knows how to write ’em. I am Annie Wilkes’s number one fan. She’s terrifying but she’s so understandable. She loves author Paul Sheldon and his heroine, Misery Chastain. For Annie, Misery’s death in Sheldon’s most recent book is like losing her only family; it’s wrenching and tips her over the edge. If you had the chance to bring the most beloved member of your family back to life and you had to kidnap a writer and force him in front of a typewriter to do it, wouldn’t you? Annie Wilkes would, did, and almost got her happy ending.
Hannibal Lecter – multiple novels by Thomas Harris
Hannibal is my favorite character in all of literature, film, and television. He’s a psychopath and a cannibal—but with flair. He does it with a wry smile and a discussion about fine wines and opulent dining. His voice is so smooth and inviting, his manner so charming and warm that you forget he’s eyeing you up for choice cuts. That’s his power. He’s the ultimate gentleman murderer, a beautiful contradiction.