A Hero or a Villain?

Recently, I made a post all about my favorite bookish villains, and you guys seemed to really like it! In said post, I mentioned that I’d be making one about my favorite TV/movie villains too. And don’t worry, I’m still working on that list. However, when I was doing some “research” for it, I came across some other types of villains. So this is a post all about the characters who are a hero and a villain at the same time. Characters for which I had trouble classifying them as one of the two. 

So what makes a hero a hero, and a villain a villain? I’ve come up with several options. 

  • It’s how the character views himself/herself. I’ll show you an example later which will make this one clearer. I have found that often, whether a character is viewed as a hero or a villain lies in their perception of themselves. For example, the rebel in dystopian societies. They are fighting for the good of the people! Which naturally makes them a hero, right? But there must have been many people content under the current regime. Lives lost and ruined because of the rebellion. Yet they still view themselves as a hero. If you believe that what you are doing is right, you consider yourself to be a hero. 
  • How other characters view the hero/villain. And yes, I have examples of this too! Sometimes, people believe someone to be a villain. Why? Maybe there have been stories about evil things they’ve done. Usually though, it’s the unknown. People don’t like the unknown. So we consider it to be different which scares us. And that is what leads us to make a villain out of someone. To some people, one person may be a hero. To other people, the same person can be a villain.
  • Survival. I think the most prevalent reason for being both a hero and a villain is survival. We all want to live, and so we’ll do villainous things. Maybe in some ways we are a hero. Maybe in others, we are a villain. But at least we’re alive.

Books

1. Eli

vicious

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

This book is the perfect fit for any villain-topic. Eli especially is a good example of a hero or a villain? In my opinion, Eli is viewed as the hero of the story because of how he views himself. He believes he’s a hero, therefore he is. Battling evil is what makes a person a hero, no? That must be Eli’s train of thought. HE believes he’s fighting evil, ridding the world of it. Making the world a safer place. So he’s a hero. 

2. Arya Stark

a game of thrones

A Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire #1) by George R.R. Martin

Arya is one of the examples of survival. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the Stark family has the worst luck. They are honorable people so obviously everyone wants them dead. What’s the use of someone you can’t corrupt or pay off? Someone who has no dark secrets and so can’t be blackmailed? Arya does some terrible things. But is she a villain? Or is she a hero because she loves her family and friends and everything she does is to try and get back/protect them and herself? In my opinion, she’s a hero. 

3. Wanda

the host

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Wanda! I actually really love The Host. I know that many people don’t love Stephenie Meyer. I understand. We can’t all like the same things. But I truly enjoyed reading The Host. Wanda -or Wanderer- was a villain in the eyes of others. Because she was a soul in Melanie’s body, the other people hated her. They thought she was going to get them all killed. Yet anyone who knew Wanda would have immediately know she was the sweetest person ever. She could never have been a true villain. Again, perception is the key!

4. June & Day

legend

Legend (Legend #1) by Marie Lu

I could have picked any rebel-dystopian novel for this, but I thought I’d go for Legend because it’s one of my favorites. As a reader, we only tend to see one side of the story: the rebels’ side. We see the new leader as the villain, and the rebels as the heroes trying to save their people/the world. But we don’t see the side of the people who had a good life during the regime, the ones who lost their life, the innocents who died. Are they truly a hero? They might have made it better for their people, but they have hurt & killed a lot of people too.

5. Ismae

grave mercy

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers

I feel like every assassin is a case of a hero or a villain. But Ismae is, in my opinion, a good example because she doesn’t choose who she kills. She doesn’t get paid to do so either. She does it for her religion. Her god shows her who needs to die. Is she a villain because she is an assassin? Or is she a hero because she acts out of Mortain’s will? I don’t know. I guess that depends on whether she takes pleasure in the kill. I have no clue. Yet I love Ismae.

6. Celaena

throne of glass

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas

Another assassin for the list. However, Celaena’s case for the list is for different reasons. She is Adarlan’s Assassin. Which would obviously make her a villain. But then again, she’s trying so hard to undermine the evil King of Adarlan. Does that make her a hero to others? Again, grey area people. I love me some grey area. I believe Celaena is a mix of the reasons I mentioned before. Some people view her as a villain, others as a hero. But she doesn’t view herself as a hero. And much of what she has done, has been to survive. 

7. Achilles 

the song of achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

In this case, I don’t just mean Achilles from this particular book. I mean the legend Achilles. The aristos Achaion -best of the Greeks. For the Greeks, Achilles was a hero. When he fought alongside them, so many Greek lives could be saved. Just because he was so good. But for anyone facing him? Not so much. For the Trojans, he must have been a true villain. He didn’t even want to take their homeland for a cause. He wanted it because it would grant him fame for centuries on. 

8. The Dragon

Uprooted

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I’m ending my bookish examples with the Dragon, the wizard from Uprooted. Everyone in the villages around him views him as evil because every 10 years, one young woman gets chosen by him. She has to live with him for the next 10 years. People don’t really know anything about him. Just that he looks over their lands and that he takes one of their daughters every 10 years. But when you really get to know him: is he a villain? 

TV Shows

1. Bellamy Blake – The 100

The 100

Bellamy is actually the first character I thought about when making this post. He is such a great character guys. If you don’t watch the 100, what are you doing with your life? At first, I wasn’t really into it. I’m not a huge scifi fan, like I said. But a few episodes later, I was hooked. One of the main reasons? Bellamy Blake. His character development is astounding. He starts out as kind of a villain. He makes sure the 100 rebel against the Ark so everyone will think they’re dead. But as you find out more about him, you realize it’s all about survival. He’s just trying to make it out alive, along with his sister, Octavia. I adore Bellamy Blake. And I think Bob Morley does a wonderful job at making him come to life.

2. Spike – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

buffy the vampire slayer

Spike is one of my favorite characters from Buffy. Obviously, I love him. And one could argue that Spike is a villain, no doubt about it. Well, I have doubts. Spoilers aside, he changes a lot during the years/seasons. And some might argue that those changes didn’t come from noble reasons. Okay, that’s true. But does that really matter? The first change was forced -hello, chip- but afterwards it became part of him. He changed. And his later acts, do those make him a hero? I don’t know. But I feel like he definitely couldn’t be classified as a full-on villain anymore.

3. Emily Thorne – Revenge

revenge

I feel like Emily Thorne deserves a whole new classification. For those of you who haven’t watched Revenge, Emily is slowly taking down each person involved in framing her father for terrorism. She takes their careers, their good reputations, their families. Anything that’s worth a damn to them. All while playing the new and friendly neighbor in the Hamptons. She’s incredibly rich, and under a false name, uses that money to reach her goal. Is she a villain? I don’t know. I feel like this is sort of vigilante-territory. I have no doubt that those people deserved what they got. But as always, innocents get in the way. They didn’t deserve it. I love this show, although I haven’t seen season 4, so don’t spoil me! 


So those are my picks/examples for the a-hero-or-a-villain debate. Do you agree with me? Have I left any out? Let me know! What do you think about the grey area between hero and villain? Have you come up with any more reasons as to why some characters can’t be easily classified as one? I’d love to hear about it!
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16 thoughts on “A Hero or a Villain?

  1. I’m a huge fan of sympathetic and complex villains. There’s a quote “Every villain is a hero in his own mind,” and I’m shamefully drawing a blank on the source. I know it’s a well known one. Heroism and villainy are more of s continuum than a dichotomy, and the best stories use this to show sometimes our choices aren’t easy or even sometimes of our own volition.

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  2. Ooh, I love this post! 😀 I love grey-area-characters, myself, so ones that do dubious things AND good things. I more prefer the antagonist vs protagonist thing, because REALLY everyone is doing something that someone else doesn’t want them to do. (That totally makes sense in my head, I swear.) So everyone is the villain of SOMEONE’S story, right?!? I looove the characters who are more anti-hero than anything. Like we feel for them, but they’re kinda doing bad stuff. Celaena, for sure. Or the Lannisters! (I have a soft spot for Jaime, shuuuuush.)

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    • Thanks Cait!

      It made sense to me too, don’t worry! You’re right though: everyone’s the villain of someone’s story. Which is insane. Can you imagine someone views you as a villain?

      I also have a soft spot for Jaime. Especially in the later books…

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  3. Oh, nice post 😀 I love me some dubious heroes and anti-heroes. My favorites are definitely both Eli and Victor, and Severus Snape. Snape is definitely not a good person but he’s a great character and fills this spot really well. Arya is a good one too. My favorite from a TV show is Walter White (Breaking Bad), no doubt! There’s no character like him, I love his character development from family father to ruthless criminal, even though he started with good intentions. And then there’s Light from Death Note, another great character that thinks himself a hero and has a massive god complex. I could talk about this all day but I won’t!

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    • Thank you!

      OH NO. I can’t believe I forgot about Snape! He’s the ultimate person for this list! Props to you for reminding me of him 😀

      I have never seen Breaking Bad. I know, scandalous! I’ve been meaning to for soooo long, but I think I hesitate for the same reasons as I do with hyped books. Afraid I won’t like it as much maybe? And I have to read/watch Death Note too! I think I read one volume of it once but never continued. 😀

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      • Snape is indeed the ultimate person 😀

        You should watch Breaking Bad, you really really should. Personally I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like it, haha. I have seen some who thought the first two episodes were slow but I think they were really really interesting. I’ve never been more stressed while watching a show as I was the last half of the final season, oh man! Watch it 😀

        And Death Note is great, you should definitely watch and/or read that too. I’ve both seen the anime and read the manga, but I have to admit the anime has a bigger place in my heart, I think I’ve rewatched it five times ._.

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  4. Love this post! Arya Stark is a kickass character. I can say she’s a hero bc what she does is all for her family. She does bad things, yes, but sometimes the end justifies the means.

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  5. Ooh I LOVE THESE POSTS, JOLIEN! I agree with you, perception is everything. Like, in the Alex Rider books so many of the bad guys believe they’re doing good in the world whereas it’s evident to most other people (including me) that they’re quite off their rocket – there’s a lot of grey areas and it’s hard placing people in categories. There’s also this thriller you MUST read called Boy Nobody, and the main character is an anti-hero of sorts. He’s also an assassin but he’s been taught to think it’s fine because the people have all been really bad, so like you said, it’s perception really. Fascinating post!

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    • Thank you so much Kyra!

      Yes, you’re right. I remember that too from Alex Rider. I’ve heard about Boy Nobody before but I haven’t read it… I’ll have to remedy that and pick it up. It sounds really great!

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