Author's Note: I plan to write more about this later. I've mentioned villains/anti-villains from these sources so far:
Snow White a folktale
Cardcaptor Sakura, by CLAMP
Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
I've mentioned the parts of Ivanhoe, as well as some character
spoilers for Cardcaptor Sakura, so be warned… Actually, I pretty
much summarized the plot of Ivanhoe.
Is the fact that I like Ivanhoe
too obvious?... I've make the
references be understandable to people who haven't heard of the, so I hope no
one is confused. Does anyone know any more good examples of anti-heroes or
anti-villains? Oh, and constructive criticism please. Don't care if it's harsh,
just so long as it's helpful! Thank you. ~napthia9
To understand what an anti-villain is one must also understand what it is not. It is not a villain, nor is it a hero. Just as an anti-hero is a protagonist characterized by his lack of heroic traits, an anti-villain is a villain who is without villainous intentions, or mannerisms. An example of an anti-villain can be found in the familiar story of Snow White.
In Snow White, the wicked Queen plots to murder her stepdaughter because of petty jealousy. She orders one of her servants to slay Snow White, but he takes pity on the girl, and substitutes a pig's heart instead. His role in the fable is that of an anti-villain; he neither harms nor helps the heroine. Leaving Snow White in the woods has saved her from the Queen, but also exposed her to other dangers: bears, wolves, exhaustion, etc. The servant works for the villain, but felt the same sort of compassion a heroic character would have felt. Unlike the vain and malicious Queen, the anti-villain is not exempt from the nobler side of human emotion. Anti-villains can feel compassion, mercy, and pity. They can have normal friendships with other people. An anti-villain might be popular among his or her peers. They have good intentions, a noble code of honor, or a pacifistic mindset. This does not mean an anti-villain won't kill innocents, usurp thrones, or threaten to destroy half the known world. It just means he or she might feel really, really guilty afterwards.
A casual reader might mistake an anti-villain for another morally ambiguous character type: the anti-hero. Although the two types are very similar, they differ in one very major way. Audiences are supposed to identify with the anti-hero, and root for him or her, mainly because, no matter the methods, the anti-hero is attempting to do something for the cause of good. He or she might be blackmailed into doing it, might have some selfish aim in mind, but he/she eventually does the right thing. An anti-villain, no matter how sympathetic a character, is doing the wrong thing. The motivations behind an anti-villain's actions vary. For example, one of the anti-villains in Cardcaptor Sakura, the wizard Eriol Hiiragizawa, wants the heroine find her own powers, so he plays the part of a villain in order to train her. At an earlier point in the series, the magical guardian Yue also opposes the heroes, in but only in order to protect the creations of his deceased master. A truly villainous character would not be motivated solely by a desire to protect anything. A villain like Tolkien's dark lord Sauron purposefully destroys and befouls everything he can for on the very shaky grounds of disliking the creators of Middle Earth. An anti-villain's raison d'être are often more reasonable and selfless than a villain's incentives.
Note how the preceding statement did not claim that all anti-villains have selfless, noble motives. In Sir Walter Scott's historical romance Ivanhoe, the corrupt Templar knight Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert does not have any sort of heroic aspirations. The reader is told that during the Crusades, Bois-Guilbert and his fellow Templar knights mercilessly slaughtered, pillaged and raped their way through the Holy Land under the impervious banner of religious right. This description alone is enough to determine that Bois-Guilbert is probably not the hero. His villainous status is assured when he and his cronies (the mercenary Maurice de Bracy and the unquestionably malevolent Front-de-Boeuf,) abduct the hero, Wilfred of Ivanhoe; his father, Cedric the Saxon; Ivanhoe's lady-love, the Lady Rowena (Saxon); Athelstane (also a Saxon); the Jewess Rebecca (not a Saxon); and her father (who is also not a Saxon). During the victims' imprisonment in Front-de-Boeuf's castle, Bois-Guilbert develops an infatuation for Rebecca, and when the prisoners are in the midst of being rescued, Bois-Guilbert carries her off to Templestowe, a templar preceptory.
All of his behavior at this point in the novel is that of a villain; he has not helped anyone but himself, and his actions put his own supporters into jeopardy. Yet when the captive Rebecca is charged with witchcraft by the Templar's Grand Master, Bois-Guilbert tries repeatedly to help her escape, succeeding only when Rebecca challenges for trial by combat. Even then, he is recruited to fight against her, and dies during the trial, "unscathed by the lance of his enemy… victim to his own contending passions." A surprising end for a villain who had at first appeared to be a degenerate of the worst sort.
The romantic feelings Bois-Guilbert bears for Rebecca are not selfless, valiant emotions; nor are they the results of pure, undying devotion. Here the motives of the anti-villain are not at all heroic; but his resulting actions are. The impure thoughts he has of Rebecca inspire the emergence of a more repentant personality that conflicts with the rest of his dastardly character. It is this internal war which is responsible for his death. Like other anti-villains, Bois-Guilbert struggles to reconcile the effects of his actions with the morality of his words. For a villain, no understanding is necessary. An anti-villain might be described as one who "does evil under the impression of doing good," "one who does good for evil reasons," or "does evil for the sake of good," but a villain is someone who "does evil, for evil, regardless of justification to self or others."