Hey there folks and folksettes—welcome back for another thrilling installment of the runaway internet hit, the Celebration of Wickedness! I submit for your daily dose of dastardly pleasure one Cruella Ann DeVille (ok, so her middle name probably isn’t Ann but she had to have a childhood, right? Can’t you hear her mother calling, Cruella Ann! Cruella Ann! OK, I’ll stop…)
In this series, we’ve talked about villains that are pure forces of nature or that bring the hero to their lowest by forcing them to battle themselves but we haven’t addressed the most basic, fundamental aspect of being a villain: VILLAINS ARE MEAN. Whether their intentions are truly horrible or they exist in some twisted “ends justify the means” reality, what makes the villain the villain is that their wants spell bad news for everyone else. And with Cruella, she takes this to an entirely new level.
If you don’t know by now, Cruella is the best part of 101 Dalmatians—honestly, beyond Cruella, her coat and her car, I don’t remember shit else about this movie. And as a registered panda hater, I can totally sympathize with her motivations: here are these animals—in her case, the Dalmatian; in mine, the sorry ass panda—who would be much better served as an accessory to someone’s monochromatic personal décor. They’re not providing any value to the rest of the world except as fictitious mascots for 1927 firehouses, why not utilize them as props in life-size Ansel Adams displays?
I’m being facetious; this chick is serious: Cruella DeVille steals puppies. New born puppies. She steals them from their mothers. To turn them into coats. Read that again. How foul is that? She spends the entire movie snatching Dalmatian puppies so she can KILL THEM AND WEAR THEM!
When I was writing this, I kept trying to think of real life villains that match Cruella’s brand of vile. I mean, this chick even has a theme song about how foul she is. Like Mr. Yuk. But I came up short. I thought about Andrea Yates, but that wasn’t mean, that was crazy. I thought about Charles Manson but he convinced others to do his dirty work—he was more persuasive, seductive (we’ll talk about that tomorrow). I even considered Bernie Madoff and that was pretty good, but he was just greedy. I weighed high school girls, who are mean simply because they know how, but that doesn’t descend to Cruella’s level—she’s mean because it makes her look better.
I thought about this a lot, probably more than I should have for a Disney villain, and I came to the conclusion that this meanness, this streak of foulness, exists to establish a stark relief between the hero and the villain. There has to be a line somewhere. There has to be that thing—whether it is a worldview or a commitment to a cause or a willingness to pursue a course of action—that runs counter to your hero’s sensibilities. That your hero stops at that line and your villain is all too willing to cross it is what separates the two of them. It’s like that Meatloaf song, “I’ll do anything for love but I won’t do that.” He never says what it is he won’t do but he’s adamant that it ain’t happening. That’s what I’m talking about, that line in the sand.
So what does this mean for us as writers? Find that line, that demarcation and make it clear. Jolt your readers with horror of what the villain is willing to do to achieve their goals. Be plain about their commitment to their own cause; don’t hide it or sugarcoat it with nuance. No matter how flawed your hero or heroine, your readers will sympathize because “they won’t do that”—because they, like your hero, are unwilling to compromise their values. I’m no fan of pandas but I wouldn’t steal their babies and turn them into socks. I mean, Damn…
And so, we move to the next great villain in our repertoire: the great granddaddy of the vampire genre, the original gothic horror, Count Dracula. But, you won’t find me here—you wanna check it out, bounce over to Noah Murphy’s blog at k23detectives.com.
Great point about finding that line. Too often we can see ourselves in villains and sympathize with them, but you can’t do that with Cruella.
And now I’m going to have that song stuck in my head all day.
Thanks Ed! It actually took me 2 days and listening to “The Song That Never Ends” to get Cruella’s out of my head.
One of the good things about exploring our villains is sometimes you find ones that truly resonate, that often have redeeming qualities, that might actually be right. It’s a good way of evaluating our perspectives on right and wrong.
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