The Most Evil Fictional Characters in Literature September 25, 2008

The Most Evil Fictional Characters in Literature

There are a number of arguments in the discussion thread of a recently published list of the 50 Greatest Villains in Literature in the Telegraph (UK) newspaper.

The biggest argument may be over the most evil person on the list.

It’s Satan (from John Milton‘s Paradise Lost).

Some are mad that Satan is on a list of “fictional characters.”

Some are mad that the #1 choice went to Satan from Paradise Lost rather than Satan from the Bible.

Was anyone left off the list for you?

(Thanks to Sarah for the link!)

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  • David D.G.

    I would have thought that God would beat out Satan for the title of Greatest Fictional Villain any day.

    ~David D.G.

  • Awww, I liked Satan from Paradise Lost. He’s more the anti-hero than the villain… did a whole paper and a painting on the guy for my Milton class. 😀 Milton tries to make Satan’s declaration that God is a tyrant untrue because it’s Satan who says it, but reading the God books of Paradise Lost kind of makes God look like a tyrant all on its own – so Milton’s experiment to make clear the ways of God toward man kind of failed. Satan, when he’s soliloquizing without anyone to tempt, expresses his wish that he could change, but he was made the way he was, so it was God’s creation that made Satan so proud.

    And I don’t buy the argument that it was intentional to show that men were fallen people – why make your message so covered up in man’s sin that it’s mistaken for truth?

    Besides, Milton was the one who really helped me realize the problems with the whole Genesis story, so I have a soft spot for him.

    The Satan of the New Testament is far more evil, but he’s so underdeveloped, I think it’s just Milton and Dante and various pastors’ idea of hell that really makes Satan the villain of the NT that he is.

  • Polly

    Satan’s got nothing on YHWH. How many were killed by Satan? 10 or 20 humans plus a herd of pigs?
    God killed, well…EVERYONE, when he passed the sentence of death on Adam, Eve, and planet Earth.

  • DC

    Milton’s Satan was a humanist. He was the hero of Paradise Lost in many ways, who rebelled against injustice and who brought knowledge to the humans (like Prometheus gave fire to the humans).

    Milton tried to write a book about how great God and Jesus are. But he failed. And people identify much more with his Satan character.

    For those who haven’t read Paradise Lost, you might have seen the film Blade Runner which was inspired by Paradise Lost. The character Roy Batty in that film is the Satan character. Yes he’s a little scary. But he’s also the hero.

    I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone, though. So I’ll leave it at that.

  • Bill M.

    How dare they call Cthulhu fiction!!!!!

  • I am personally outraged that Cthulhu didn’t make the top ten. They only put Satan up at a high ranking to appease the masses…Voldemort and Sauron are much more villainous!

  • prospero52742

    Uncle Silas from the novel of that name by Sheridan Le Fanu. That picture of Satan in the article, by the way, is the standard monster-type Satan. The real Satan – or I should say the Satan closest to Milton’s description – of Paradise Lost is that depicted by William Blake.

  • The Bible treated Satan as a trickster. He was more like Loki, the Trickster than an actual evil being. (See the Temptation of Christ: Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13) John Milton turned Satan into a nasty creature worth the distinction of being the master of all evil. Satan is a hard character to portray in literature. Even Dante managed to much up Satan in Inferno and Satan was just a large mechanical torturing idiot. Milton’s Satan definitely beats out Dante’s Satan and the Bible’s Satan.

    But as for most evil fictional character of all time, I’m voting for God in the Left Behind Series. 😉

  • Larry Huffman

    My #1 on this list:

    God aka YHWH from The Bible…Author: Various.

    However, I am surprised that Tom Ewell from To Kill a Mockingbird did not make the list. Anyone who would assault a small child dressed like a ham has to be pretty evil.

  • Larry Huffman

    The reason why Satan is not evil in the actual biblical story is simple…in the context of the story, he is but a victim. We are not really told where he comes from or who he is, though plenty of religious people seem to know. He makes his first appearence as a snake…and after that just seems to be the scapegoat for everything.

    Ultimately, however, he ends up being a victim as we are all victims to the god of the bibles’ obviously botched creation…his attempts and failures to correct things (see floods and saviors) and ultimately gets branded the bad guy for all of god’s blunders.

    The authors of the story were rather feeble in their ability to write a convincing story, however…and as a result, it is glaringly apparent that in the fiction that is the bible…the bad guy is god. He created evil. He created man. He created satan. Then he blamed man and satan for all his mistakes.

    Nope…Satan is not the evil one in the bible…though he is cast as the villain.

  • Larry Huffman

    BTW…floods…boats with all species of animals…parting seas…virgin births…resurrections…oh yeah, the bible is fiction.

  • ngl

    I refuse to recognize the legitimacy of this list on the grounds that Cruella de Vil beat out Iago.

    Iago takes all comers in the evil category.

  • Larry Huffman

    Yeah…but killing puppies!! Way worse than the betrayal of Othello…who was simply way too trusting. Puppies! Cruella is pure evil…must admit. 😉

  • Where is The Hooded Claw? Pah! The list is just wrong.

  • Kahn.

    Or, to pronounce it correctly:


  • Eric

    I am pissed that Cthulhu wasn’t number one.

  • tkozak

    Obviously they included Milton’s Satan because Paradise Lost is fiction, but not the Biblical Satan, because the Bible is fact. Duh.

  • Richard Wade

    Dick Cheney should be on the list. He’s in fiction because nothing written about him comes close to the truth of how evil he is.

  • llewelly

    Why isn’t ‘God’ from Revelations on that list?

  • llewelly

    I don’t want to spoil the film [Blade Runner] for anyone, though. So I’ll leave it at that.

    A true SF fan needs only one spoiler for Blade Runner. No Electric Sheep!!

  • SarahH

    Yeah, I think the fact that Cruella made the top ten (I love puppies as much as the next guy, but still…) means that the list’s authors take a broad definition of “literature” and include movies and perhaps television.

    So where is Davros or The Master from Doctor Who? Genocidal maniacs who repeatedly torture and kill people (and other species) certainly rank higher than a crazy woman who wanted to kill some puppies to make a coat.

  • cautious

    Cruella is from a book.

    More questionable as “literature” on that list is the inclusion of Batman’s The Joker. Since if comic books are covered under that, then …well, there’s been some fantastic villians in comic books that apparently went missing in this list.

  • He makes his first appearence as a snake…and after that just seems to be the scapegoat for everything.

    Actually, this is a *common* misconception. The snake is never identified as satan in the Bible- that is a later interpretation- as is the whole original sin deal. The A&E story in Genesis is just a combination of two versions of some local creation myth that I’m pretty sure predates any form of Judaism.

  • Satan is actually often interpreted as the hero of Paradise Lost, because he is a lot easier to relate to and possesses many heroic qualities (“I’d rather suffer in hell than be a slave in heaven”). This led Blake to write that Milton is “a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

  • Elsa

    How is Iago more evil than Aaron from Tidus Andronicus? “Villain, I have done thy mother!”

  • cipher

    I rather like the fact that a woman named “Coulter” made the list!

    (I wish the other one were fictional as well.)

  • Franklin

    Actually, I have no clue why Mrs. Coulter made the list. Whoever made that list either read only the first book (Golden Compass) or didn’t do a good job reading the whole His Dark Materials trilogy. I’m going to refrain from spoilers (anyone who hasn’t read Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series really should though; it’s not only extremely entertaining and creative but makes great points about secular humanism), but one of the great things about it is that all the characters aren’t “good” or “evil”; just human. Man, I could write forever about that trilogy.

    Oh, and don’t bother with the movie.

  • I’m going to have to go with other folks here:

    Jehovah, in the Old Testament.

    What a jerk.

  • SarahH


    Oh man, I need to read that. Cruella’s hair turns green! It sounds kind of morbid too. Maybe she’s more evil than I gave her credit for.

  • Javier

    In My opinion from reading Paradise Lost I found God to be the evil villain and Satan to be the hero and the character you have sympathy for. I mean he is going up against the biggest totalitarian dictator there is. I mean does it get bigger than God.

  • Wasn’t Satan supposed to be the protagonist in Paradise Lost?

    As long as we’re going with likeable villains, why not include Ozymandias from The Watchmen? A book that’s better written than the Bible.

  • molecanthro

    must be Woland and Behemoth from Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita.’
    Though I guess it depends on your definition of evil…personally, I loved them 🙂

  • Ari

    I disagree that Cthulhu is evil. He just is. His followers, however, are insane and evil, and think that their sacrifices will appease him. Cthulhu just doesn’t care…that’s the point to Lovecraftian horror. Humanity is not some cosmic big shot because we have intelligence and religion and so on…humanity is ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

    Do the bacteria in our bathrooms see us as the Ultimate Evil because we smite them with the Dreaded Scourge of Lysol during that Time of Tribulations known as Spring Cleaning? Of course not, and if they did…well, too bad. Same with Cthulhu, to whom humans are as noteworthy as germs.

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