William Shakespeare

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On truly terrifying and terrible villains.

Published January 29, 2020 by mandileighbean

Villain

Halsey’s new song that she performed on Saturday Night Live, “You should be sad” (you can watch it here) has had me D E E P in my feelings all week, ever since I heard the song. It reminds me of the only man I think I ever really loved, and how that relationship was doomed because he “…can’t love nothin’ unless there was somethin’ in it…” for him. In the story of my life (and all writers believe their lives have plot and theme and depths of meaning), he is most definitely a villain. No matter how handsome, how charming, how complicated, or how conflicted he might be, he is most definitely a villain, a dangerous narcissist, a sociopath who takes and takes until there’s nothing left and simply leaves.

Thinking along that admittedly bitter and self-serving vein conjured up images of villains crafted from ink and paper rather than flesh and blood. Do imagined, constructed villains have anything in common with those of the living and breathing variety? The answer: absolutely they do, so for your reading pleasure, here is my list of truly terrible and terrifying villains in literature (in no particular order and there’s only nine because I couldn’t think of one more villain; I’m the worst, I know, and I’m sorry). AND SPOILER WARNING!!! SPOILERS ABOUND!!! (Actually, I think I did okay in keeping secrets, but better to be safe than sorry).

doloresumbridge

  1. Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

    When they entered the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom they found Professor Umbridge already seated at the teacher’s desk, wearing the fluffy pink cardigan of the night before and the black velvet bow on top of her head. Harry was again reminded forcibly of a large fly perched unwisely on top of an even larger toad” (Rowling 238).

    One of the best qualities of a villain, outside of the comic book variety, is his or her ability to surprise by flying under the radar. What I mean is that Dolores Umbridge is perfectly put together, what with her matching cardigan sets and bows and seemingly perfect manners. The depths of Umbridge’s dastardly depravity are revealed slowly, layer by layer, as the character herself unravels as she spirals into madness. At certain points throughout the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series, it seems as if she is simply unbeatable. She matches Harry step for step and is a worthy adversary. I would even argue she’s a more terrifying villain than Lord Voldemort because Voldemort is essentially a monster while Umbridge is a monster hiding in plain sight. And while she does not have special skills or super strength or advanced technology, she does have the scariest weapons of all: political backing and the ability to completely manipulate the bureaucracy.

    amydunne

  2. Amy Dunne from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

    “I’m so much happier now that I’m dead. Technically, missing. Soon to be presumed dead. But as shorthand, we’ll say dead. It’s been only a matter of hours, but I feel better already; loose joints, wavy muscles. At one point this morning, I realized my face felt strange, different. I looked in the rearview mirror–dread Carthage forty-three miles behind me, my smug husband lounging around his sticky bar as mayhem dangled on a thin piano wire just above his shitty, oblivious head–and I realized I was smiling. Ha! That’s new” (Flynn 219).

    Amy Dunne is without a doubt a psychopath, maybe even a sociopath. However, Amy’s ability to remain hyper focused on her goal to meet success at all costs is admirable … except for the fact that she’s either killing or manipulating every single person around her. Amy is the voice inside a woman’s head that tells her to forget everything and everyone else and “do you.” Amy seeks revenge against her cheating husband in a brilliant plot that involves her faking her own death and becoming a more authentic version of herself. What terrifies me about Amy is that the authentic version is amalgamous and essentially nonexistent. Amy is a chameleon and can change her personality in order to achieve whatever her aim is. That kind of intense and fearless and devotion to one’s self is something I envy on my really bad days. Still, Amy is a horrible narcissist and violent psychopath with no redeeming qualities, really.

    randallflagg

  3. Randall Flagg from The Stand by Stephen King

    “He looks like anybody you see on the street. But when he grins, birds fall dead off telephone lines. When he looks at you a certain way, your prostate goes bad and your urine burns. The grass yellows up and dies where he spits. He’s always outside. He came out of time. He doesn’t know himself” (King).

    It’s no secret that King can have trouble constructing plots; sometimes they’re convoluted and sometimes they’re lacking in a satisfying conclusion. What King is always a master of is creating dynamic characters and his legendary antagonist Randall Flagg is no exception. He is as charming as he is terrifying and King’s careful construction of his character shows glimpses of humanity. King doesn’t completely alienate his reader from Flagg, which is brilliant, because it keeps readers invested in his story. If there was nothing to latch onto, this ageless and universal adversary would become tiresome and excessive. But to see him become frustrated when thwarted and to see him become threatened when meeting his match rounds out and fleshes out his character. I would totally buy Flagg a beer at a local dive bar. The kick is that I’d be in some serious, fatal trouble before I even knew what was happening.

    chrishargensenbillynolan

  4. Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan from Carrie by Stephen King

    “‘Period!’ The catcall came first from Chris Hargensen. It struck the tiled walls of the steamy locker room, it rebounded in vibrations, and struck again. Sue Snell gasped in laughter from her nose and felt an odd, vexing mixture of hate, revulsion, exasperation, and pity. She just looked so dumb, standing there, not knowing what was going on. ‘God!’ said Sue, ‘You’d think she never…’ ‘Period!’ Chris shouted again, even louder than the first time” (King).

    King’s my favorite author, so it’s no surprise he makes my list twice. Also, I’m a complete and total sucker for toxic couples. Chris Hargensen is the popular bitch who’s had everything handed to her and has to feel like she accomplishes something by shitting on others. Chris is a girl we all knew in high school, but King does what he does best and pushes Chris to the extreme. Her need for revenge becomes obsessive, overly cruel, and deadly. Naturally, such a bitch on wheels needs a hapless but equally psychotic lover boy to assist. Chris and Billy are disgusting and miserable in their relentless pursuit of Carrie. But before they go balls to the wall, they’re kids you avoided in the halls, kids you gave a side-eyed glance to during class. They’re rooted in the real world high school hierarchies, and that realness makes them all the more terrifying.

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  5. Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

    “I’m mopping near the ward door when a key hits it from the other side and I know it’s the Big Nurse by the way the lockworks cleave to the key, soft and swift and familiar she been around locks so long. She slides through the door with a gust of cold and locks the door behind her and I see her fingers trail across the polished steel–tip of each finger the same color as her lips. Funny orange. Like the tip of a soldering iron. Color so hot or so cold if she touches you with it you can’t tell which” (Kesey 4).

    OMG NURSE RATCHED. I truly believe she’s the most hated character in all of American literature and even American cinema. Her cold, calculating, unfeeling demeanor as the head of the psychiatric ward perfectly sets up the conflict between her and McMurphy. She is unflinching, immovable, and undefeatable. She’s exhausting and terrible and miserable. Generations of readers have had such strong and visceral reactions to Nurse Ratched, and that is a testament to her power as a literary figure. She’s simply awful and as a reader, you don’t just root for her downfall, you deeply and desperately desire it.

    tomanddaisybuchanan

  6. Tom and Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby  by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made” (Fitzgerald).

    Another toxic couple I love to hate. Much like Chris from Carrie, Tom and Daisy have had everything – absolutely everything – handed to them on a silver platter (probably literally). How do they feel alive and know that they exist? They ruin everything around them. They’re apathetic to the plights of others, careless in cruel and even calculating ways. I know Luhrman wanted to create a more sympathetic Daisy in his film adaptation, but I call bullshit. When you read the novel, she never calls Gatsby, never thanks him, and was never ever going to leave him. She just wanted to continue to have her cake and eat it too. She’s a mother who doesn’t raise her own daughter – hired help takes care of that. Tom may cheat, but Daisy does the same with Gatsby, and there’s no actual evidence of Tom being abusive other than a bruised pinky. Daisy’s full of shit, manipulating Gatsby into believing exactly what she wants him to, to keep him hanging around for her own amusement. And Tom’s just a douche bag.

    tylerdurden

  7. Tyler Durden from Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

    “Tyler spliced a penis into everything after that. Usually, close-ups, or a Grand Canyon vagina with an echo, four stories tall and twitching with blood pressure as Cinderella danced with her Prince Charming and people watched. Nobody complained. People ate and drank, but the evening wasn’t the same. People feel sick or start to cry and don’t know why. Only a hummingbird could have caught Tyler at work” (Palahniuk 31).

    It’s been said that we are our own worst enemy and damn, does Palahniuk drive that point home in his amazing novel. Tyler is everything a man would want to be; sexy, charming, carefree, hyper masculine, stylish, unapologetic … but all of those attributes come with a price, and the cost is compassion. Tyler’s a great villain because for 90% of the novel, he’s a role model. Readers gulp his Kool-Aid in greedy swallows, nodding enthusiastically to his anarchist, libertarian ranting and raving. But when his ideology is actually put into practice, it is violent and dangerous. Tyler’s terrifying because on paper, he’s perfect. In practice, he’s a deadly disaster.

    macbeth

  8. Macbeth from Macbeth by William Shakespeare

    “ I am in blood / Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.4.142-4).

    I am a total sucker for a tragic hero. I love me some Macbeth. Equal parts tragic and terrifying is Macbeth’s total descent into madness. He’s loyal and brave and valiant and loved; he has it all. When he’s promised more, and when the woman closest to him urges him onward, he’ll stop at nothing to obtain and maintain his glorious destiny. Macbeth is every single one of us, wanting to make those who loves us proud and wanting the best for ourselves. When Macbeth is unable to stop and finds himself drenched in blood, it’s scary because it happens all the time in real life. Greed and ambition are common motivations when committing serious crimes and Shakespeare knew it over half a century ago.

    eliot

  9. Eliot Andrews from Her Beautiful Monster by me 😉

    “‘Do you know what our last session together consists of?’ Eliot was smiling, but tears were pouring down his cheeks. It was pathetic. Sammy shook her head, terrified and trying to think of what to do next. This was no time for a conversation. ‘I’m going to give you a Glasgow smile. Do you know what that is?’ Again, Sammy shook her head and squirmed fearfully in Eliot’s arms. ‘I slit your mouth from ear to ear, and the scars that remain resemble a big smile, like the Joker from Batman. You saw that movie.’ Sammy needed to run, needed to get free; but how? Eliot was still rambling. ‘That in and of itself isn’t deadly, but if I were to then punch you in the stomach or make you scream in pain, you’d bleed out because the wounds would be constantly kept open. It’s a beautiful piece of irony, isn’t it?’ Grinning, Eliot took his shining scalpel and tried to slip it between Sammy’s lips. The metal in her mouth helped her to concentrate and she brought her knee up as hard as she could against Eliot’s groin” (Bean).

    Shameless self-promotion here. Eliot is a GREAT villain. He uses the greatest gift there is, love, to manipulate and injure Sammy. What could be worse? Buy it here.

So how did I do? Did I miss your favorite literary villain? Comment and critique my list!

On quotes and cocktails.

Published July 28, 2012 by mandileighbean

I was going through some old creative endeavors of mine, looking for a piece that could be salvaged, edited and then included in the second novel I am doing my best to construct.  I found very little to work with because this second novel is unlike anything I have ever written before, but that fact did not dishearten me.  If anything, it motivates and excites me because it challenges me; I have to be original and innovative.  I cannot rely on old tricks and gimmicks hidden within old, worn notebooks, with pages thinned and yellowed by time.  I have to be someone new and I love reinventing myself.  I believe I’ve admitted before that I hope to always be restless and that I hope to always feel unsettled.  I’m terrified that comfortability leads to complacency leads to laziness leads to waste.

“If you’re just killing time, you can be sure it’ll kill you right back.”

I made a list at the beginning of the summer, and I’ve been able to cross off two items; that’s it.  I’m failing myself – I know that, and I eat to fill the emotional void such knowledge creates.  I hide away in my bedroom, behind paper creations of a life filled with romance, drama, intrigue, connections; a life I wish for.  I can’t live, so I write about it … like those who can’t do, teach – I guess.  I think that’s pretty clever.

It’s weird; I feel like I’m being really, really honest with you (the reader or readers) right now, but I refrain from posting certain pieces because I’m horrified that my deepest desires will be exposed.  Writing is sharing, but I don’t want to share too much.  How much is too much?  Who’s to say?

So I say, eff it.  I’ll share everything.  Go big or go home, right?  But I’ll share lots … after tonight.  I don’t think I could handle it tonight.  I ate a lot of chocolate today and I am feeling particularly vulnerable.

That being said, enjoy the prompt.  I did. 🙂

PROMPT: A woman who’s constantly quoting classic novels meets a literature professor at a cocktail party.

PIECE:

I stepped out onto the back patio, extremely aware of how weak my ankles were when it came to walking in high heels, especially ones hanging on by a thin, thin strap.  The shoes were completely adorable, though – the shade was perfect and worthy of being the topic of any conversation, so I suffered through the awkward tumbling way of walking and the slight pain concentrated in the balls of my feet.  The pain was worth the beauty, and that lesson could be applied not only to life, but to fashion as well.  I think I read that in a book somewhere.

Truth be told, I probably did read it in a book.  All I do is read.  I find it much more comfortable between the pages of a novel than I do seated between other human beings.  Some assume it’s a lonely existence, but it’s not awful.  If you stop and think about it, it’s actually kind of awesome.  My friends are made of paper and ink, so they don’t talk back, they never disappoint and are always there when I need them.  They are not fallible like their flesh and blood and bone contemporaries, and there are no nasty surprises when someone you think you’ve known for years and years decides to be a douche bag seemingly overnight.

That’s not to say I’m a creepy recluse who avoids all human contact, like some Boo Radley (To Kill a Mockingbird).  I talk to co-workers and make small chat when I’m ordering coffee or food.  After all, isn’t the point to only connect (Howard’s End)?  I believe it is, so I do talk.  Unfortunately, I have the habit of constantly quoting from classic literature.  Like that time at work when Brian left his sandwich in the fridge for a solid three months and the stench became unbearable, so I said, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark” (Shakespeare).  No one got it, and that’s fine.  I did something similar at my family reunion, when we were trying to figure out who was sober enough to go with my uncle to the liquor store to resupply our alcohol stores, and I said to my sister, “Either thou, or I, or both must go with him!” (Shakespeare … again)  No one got it … again, but again, that’s fine.  I get that I alienate my audience with specific and sometimes obscure literary references, so I’ve been trying to curb the behavior.

I got invited to a cocktail party by Sara, a co-worker.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try and flex – or restrain, depending on how you look at it – my conversational muscle.  I bought the new shoes we’ve already discussed, and a matching dress.  I Googled YouTube videos to find out how to make my eyes look smoky and seductive and actually worked on my hair – I looked good.  Now to try and break into some conversation; I walked from small gathering to small gathering, listening in for a moment or two.  Either the topic was something I found terribly uninteresting, or something I knew nothing about.  I felt discouraged and was about to leave, run for the hills as they say, when I heard someone say, “You just have to keep on keepin’ on, right?  It’s like what Fitzgerald wrote; ‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.”

It was a somewhat older gentleman, fashionably dressed in a tweed jacket with elbow pads and heavy slacks.  He was quoting The Great Gatsby, arguably the greatest American novel of all time.  I couldn’t contain myself.  I walked up behind and said, “Doesn’t the end of the quote defeat your purpose, though?”

He turned to me, obviously surprised, but smiling.

I continued, “Fitzgerald says, ‘And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’  We never get where we’re going, but we keep going anyway.  That’s not as optimistic as what you were going for, I think.”  I held my breath at the end, worried that I’d offended him and come off as something as a know-it-all.

But he extended his hand and said, “Hi.  I’m Eric.”

On Hamlet and aging.

Published April 22, 2012 by mandileighbean

Today was a wonderfully lazy Saturday. I had a huge breakfast late in the day, after grading four classes worth of work and applying to five jobs. I went for a walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the sunshine and breezes and got some writing done that wasn’t prompted, but came from my very own mind. Rather than completing a prompt, I’m going to share what I wrote with you, and would love for any kind of feedback or criticism you’d be willing to offer.

Enjoy!

🙂

Brian knew with certainty that he loved Melissa, but he didn’t know what to do with her. Brian didn’t even know if he had to do anything with her necessarily, but things had been stagnant for a while now. A better adjusted man would use the word “comfortable” instead of “stagnant.” With his elbows pointed and digging into his thighs, Brian dropped his head into his hands and deflated his lungs. He hated not knowing how he felt because it kept him from knowing what to do. He hated feeling like he had to do something. In his younger years, Brian had found his restlessness romantic, but now it was tiresome and depressing.
There was a loud and impatient knocking on the door. With his eyes closed, Bruce could easily see Penelope’s thin and bony and pronounced knuckles rapping against the wood. The wooden beaded bracelet she always wore on her right hand – her dominant hand, her knocking hand – would roll back and forth, very slightly, across her soft, smooth, pale skin. Every now and again, Brian would catch Penelope wince and curse under her breath because the common bracelet she loved so much would catch on the fine hair on her wrist and tug mercilessly. A hundred and one times, Brian suggested she move the piece of jewelry to her left hand, the hand she rarely used, so it could just sit and not pinch her at random moments. Penelope had nodded to be kind and to show she had heard, but she didn’t move the bracelet. Penelope was stubborn, but also loved the bracelet and could handle the pain.
Brian knew Penelope loved him like she loved the bracelet, but he wasn’t sure how that particular knowledge made him feel.
“Let’s go. Are you ready?” Penelope called. She sounded irritated.
Brian’s eyes popped open. “Yeah, I’m coming,” he answered. He rose to his feet amid popping joints, an auditory and physical reminder that he was getting old. Hell, he’d been getting old for years. For the first time, Brian considered the possibility he was old. He grabbed his dinner jacket that was hanging on a nearby chair and walked from the bedroom. He turned off the light as he left.

Well? What do you think?

Read. Comment. Share.

On getting back up.

Published April 19, 2012 by mandileighbean

Okay – I know I promised myself that I would run while on vacation, and watch what I ate, and write every day. I also know that I did nothing of the sort. I am angry with myself, and I readily acknowledge that I am weak. But I simultaneously acknowledge that being weak is acceptable as long as I am not defined by my weakness. So here I am, trying again and for that, I am allowing myself a proverbial pat on the back.

Vacation was wonderful. I love my family and the time we spend together. I visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my younger brother and was enamored with the theme park. My younger brother was a trooper, taking pictures and following me around as I flitted from attraction to attraction. He allowed me to be a nerdy, immature young woman and I love him for it. Clearly, the day we spent together was my favorite part of the entire vacation.

I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert at Madison Square Garden on Monday, April 9th. It was exhilarating, and most likely the closest I’ll ever come to having a religious experience. It inspired me to start work on a story involving an older musician coming to terms with his mortality despite the protests of his young lover and indifference of his numbed wife. What do you think? The inspiration is obvious, but I’m still working with the characters and themes, trying to twist them into something new, original and thrilling.

I was the candidate chosen for the maternity leave at the high school. I’m teaching senior English, and one section of creative writing. It is amazing, and I am incredibly excited. It hasn’t truly sunk in yet, and I need to be more disciplined in my lesson planning and classroom management. I’ve been so busy and tired that I’ve been letting things slide; for example, my first day in the classroom was yesterday, and immediately after school I had a final interview with the superintendent at the Board of Education office, then home instruction and then Confirmation practice with my younger brother. I did not get home until 8:00PM. Today, I taught, attended the faculty meeting, home instructed and now here I am, ready to write.

🙂

I hope you enjoy it.

PROMPT: “Inspiring Books.”
As writers, we all love to read good books for inspiration. What book inspired you as a writer and why?

PIECE:
I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the tenth grade, when I was fifteen-years-old. I had never experienced love that was reciprocated, but it was the only thing I wanted and something that I still yearn for. I would do anything, be anyone and commit any crime to have a hand reach for mine out of desire. I thought I had that my sophomore year, but it all came crashing down around me the way things seem to do in high school. The boy didn’t like me; he just liked the attention that I freely gave. When I read Fitzgerald’s classic, I totally empathized with Jay Gatsby and intrinsically believed that novel was written specifically for me. It was that universality – though it is a dangerous term to use – that helped me to realize that I was not crazy or melodramatic, but human and that is a story worth telling. I gained so much confidence and comfort in Gatsby’s desperation and heartbreak and demise, and fell in love with the craft because of its possibilities as presented in The Great Gatsby. It truly is the great American novel.

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