The antagonist is a character, characters, or force that the protagonist must deal with essentially in order to end the story. You can pick up a book or two that doesn’t follow the “protagonist vs. antagonist” formula, but ultimately these stories (although interesting in theory) are pointless because they simply do not go anywhere. And we all want the story to take us somewhere. At the conclusion, whether we like where the story took us or not, we will set that story aside and move on to the next. But if we really like where the story took us? We'll remember it.
Every writer knows the importance of having an antagonist (of some sort) in their stories. The better the antagonist, the better the conflict, and of course the better the conflict the more fascinating the story. That’s just the way it is. You can argue and fuss, whine and ponder, but eventually if you want a vivid, absorbing, can’t-put-it-down-can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head story you must include a compelling villain. Is this what’s meant by the phrase, “necessary evil”? Perhaps. If you’re a Storyteller, yes. It’s pretty close to the top of the list of must-do’s, thereby necessary. And evil? Well, evil speaks for Itself.
If you run across a villain that nearly makes you want to choke the author while demanding the answer to “how could you create such a fiend?” That’s a damn good villain. If the villain has reasoning and can make us see his/her point, that’s a plus. If tragedy made the villain, that’s an A+. We like to get to know our villains. If they’re interesting, that is. Who wants to get to know a boring villain? Just get rid of him/her/it and move on, right? But if the story exposes more than one dimension of the villain, we begin to wonder what made him/her? It’s fun to find out. A great villain will know or be able to easily read your protagonist (like a book, hah!). An excellent villain will always be one or more steps ahead of your hero*, this makes for a lively, thrilling, adventurous tale. When we get to know what’s coming next, but the hero doesn’t know what’s coming, this is exciting. We’re all just a little bent, aren’t we?
The highest honor I can bestow a villain is the title Gorgeous Evil. “Gorgeous Evil” is the exceptional villain, the especially decadently delicious villain, the villain’s villain, the we-love-to-hate-him/her variety of villain. You know. The villain who you’re almost rooting for at the end. Whoops. Is that no-no? I don’t think so, but then I’m (more than) a little bent myself.
Storyteller or not, we all know that the very existence of that Gorgeous Evil is what makes our Heroes grow. Without Gorgeous Evil, our Hero would have wandered aimlessly in Oz or just stayed at their uncle’s farm on Tatooine. Without Captain Hook, Neverland is merely a fun place full of anarchists and bohemians. Sherlock Holmes rouses from his rather pompous and cool demeanor when challenged by a criminal mind and is never more passionate than when on the trail of Moriarty. And what would Cinderella be without her Wicked Stepmother? A spoiled, daddy's girl. Legend's Jack and Lily without Darkness? Two lowly humans frolicking among the fairies. Or comic book superheros without his or her supervillains? Dull, dull, dullsky.
Long live Gorgeous Evil. May it continue to flourish and be defeated in equal measure.
*I chose not to use the term “heroine” for a female hero. It annoys me. A hero is by definition someone who commits an act or acts of bravery. That is simply not limited to males. Period.