On evil: why it’s drab, and how to write a villain

I don’t find it surprising that there is something about J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sauron that has always gripped me, while the REAL “big baddie” of Middle Earth (named Melkor or Morgoth) has never intrigued me at all.

I’ll begin this post with this contrast because it’s perfect (and if you’re not a fan of Tolkien, I’ll be concise, I promise).

The reason I prefer Sauron lies in Sauron’s actions long before The Lord of the Rings. It’s the fact that he, to quote Tolkien, “served someone other than himself.” It’s the fact that he was “Sauron the Deceiver” and “Sauron the Fair” and used his skill and cunning to deceive the elves.

Melkor, in contrast, is basically just Satan. From the highest rank of angelic being, he falls before the creation of the material world, is spiteful, envious, prideful… and just not all that interesting.

Which is no slight to Tolkien. In fact, it shows just how clearly Tolkien captured the face of evil in Melkor. Because, AT ITS CORE, EVIL IS NOT INTERESTING.


C.S. Lewis once said, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.”

And it’s TRUE.

Evil is whining, self-pity, self-adulation, delusions of grandeur, envy, violence…. we’ve seen it all thousands of times, most especially in our own hearts.

To me, Sauron is more interesting because Sauron was a spy and a deceiver, as I said. He was a master smith. HE MADE STUFF. Melkor made nothing. He just destroys. That’s ALL he knows how to do or cares about doing.


  • Villains are interesting where they resist their selfish and prideful impulses.
  • Villains are interesting where they feel conflicted.
  • Villains are interesting in the good thing their main evil trait corrupts (evil is always a corruption or deprivation of the good, per Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle).
  • Villains are interesting where they are brave, witty, vulnerable, charitable in some way, when they show self-restraint and self-control.

This is because virtue IS interesting.

Virtue does attract. Virtue is beautiful. It captures the heart and the imagination in a way the monotony of great tyrants never can.

What I love most about my villain in The Crimson League: The Fight for Hope is how conscientious he is.

Zalski Forzythe is a villain, sure: he’s a sorcerer and he’s killed the royal family and taken over the kingdom before the action of the novel ever begins.

But he is conscientious. He has a strong sense of honor. He values his word, and he never breaks it. He’ll manipulate where he can, and he’s quite good at that. He’ll intimidate. But he rarely lies outright, and he would NEVER break his explicit word of honor. I love that about him.

He also has a truly functional, self-giving, caring relationship with his wife. He honestly cares about her and treats her as well as any good man would treat the woman he loves. I respect that about him.

The Crimson League: The Fight for Hope launches June 15! Read an excerpt about the moment when protagonist Kora first learns what Zalski Forzythe has done and find out more here.


One response to “On evil: why it’s drab, and how to write a villain”

  1. […] Before the story starts, Zalski killed the royal family and took over the kingdom of Herezoth. He’s evil, for sure, but there’s still much nobility of spirit in him–a lot of virtue, which is the only thing that can make a villain truly interesting (as I discuss here). […]


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