This is a very special day. I am introducing you, Wrenlings, to a couple of my favorite people. One is real. The other is less so.
[Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash]
Every now and then in life you encounter someone who you know instantly will be a kindred spirit and soul-friend. Schuyler McConkey is one of those delightful people. She also happens to be a writer who just published her debut novel War of Loyalties exactly one week ago.
(in which the 11th doctor has the perfect reactions always)
Jaeryn Graham happens to be a Highly Important Character in said novel and also a precious gingersnap that I fell head-over-heels for the moment I met him. For me, Jaeryn is right up there with all the other infuriating, lovable, swoon-worthy men of literature, e.g. John Thornton, Dustfinger, Mr. Rochester, Holmes, etc. Today I have the privilege of featuring this enigmatic doctor + secret agent here on Curious Wren and I am OVER THE MOON ABOUT IT WITH DELIGHT.
deep breaths, Annie. deep breaths.
First, here’s a bit about War of Loyalties.
April, 1917. A ring of German spies threatens the coastal town of Folkestone, England. Newly-recruited agent Ben Dorroll must uncover which British citizens are traitors to their country. When his first attempt at espionage falls prey to a trap laid by German sympathizers, the security of the British Secret Service is threatened. Feeling lost in a strange country and aching for a steady place to call home, he wants to resign and go back to his American medical work. But when he learns that his family identity holds the key to capturing the spy ring, Ben has no choice but to unite with the mysterious Jaeryn Graham so that the truth can be discovered.
In the aftermath of the Irish Rebellion, Jaeryn Graham’s British colleagues look warily on his Irish background. Always up for a challenge, he thinks his new mission in the Secret Service should be an opportunity to prove his prowess. But after encountering death and alienating two agents, he finds the road to victory isn’t as easy as he thought. Unless he can win the loyalties of his newest assistant, Ben Dorroll, his secret ambitions and his perfect success record will be destroyed.
About the Author: Schuyler McConkey is a writing teacher, book reviewer, and ministry leader living half of her life in happy fellowship with her family and spending the other half in angst-filled fictional worlds. She is passionate about classic, Dickensian stories and characters who encounter deep struggles touched by grace. Irish music, British movies, and chai lattes provide the fuel for her dreams.
interrogation interview begin!
Annie: Welcome to Curious Wren, Jaeryn; I’m so pleased to have this chat with you today. *pours cup of tea and scoots chocolate cake closer* Tell us about yourself, if you please.
Jaeryn: Thank you, Miss Hawthorne. I have references available, if you would like me to add you to my patient roster. I’ve been living in Folkestone for the last few months starting my first practice. Before that, I was finishing school and completing various residencies.
Annie: Thank you for your thoughtful concern for my health. I’m quite touched, but at the present, I don’t need any medical care. Speaking of which, what led you to pursue medicine as a career?
Jaeryn: I am glad to hear you are in good health, Miss Hawthorne. Please don’t hesitate to call if you ever find yourself ill. I decided to be a doctor when I was around fifteen. I like to use my skills to keep illness from harming families and to oversee the wellbeing of a town. I have the capability to make quick and precise decisions, and I enjoy the sense of power that this work brings.
Annie: Your reasons are admirably noble, if I may say so, but I’m fascinated by your statement that you enjoy the sense of power that being a doctor gives you. What do you think that means regarding your personality, and does such a feeling ever concern you in any way?
Jaeryn: Some men are born to be leaders, and I have sensed from a very young age that I was one of them. I can’t say that it does concern me, Miss Hawthorne. Without sounding conceited, I feel confident in my ability to control my controlling tendencies. They haven’t run away with me yet, and as long as I exercise some common sense, I don’t think they will.
Annie: I’m glad to hear that you exercise such fine self-control. If you consider yourself as having been born to be a leader then how does that translate into the life of a doctor? You could have pursued politics or perhaps the clergy or even espionage.
Jaeryn: The clergy was not something I ever considered pursuing. Politics can be powerful, but one is at the mercy of elections and the cooperation of other men. In this field, I can work alone and set my own course for the things I consider important in life. While it doesn’t happen in every case, a doctor can control the course of illness and sometimes death, and enjoys a position of influence in society for causes that are important to him.
Annie: Without intending to flatter you, I will say my respect of you has deepened due to this conversation. But, I’m curious, since you’re a doctor and frequently come in contact with illness and death and all the difficult emotions related to that, is it a struggle to distance yourself from your patients or do you find yourself becoming too empathetic? Do you tend to keep your emotions bottled up or do you have a companion you can vent your thoughts to?
Jaeryn: I can control many things, but there are occasions when illness and death get the best of me—or treating them is draining seeing the impact that it has on the patient that it is hard to watch them suffer. I feel grief. On many occasions I feel grief mixed with anger in the face of pain I cannot cure. I am strong, and not debilitated by what I see, but I am also not untouched by it.
When I am thinking about occasions like that, a friend of mine seems to have a sixth sense on what evenings he needs to stop by. He has an uncanny ability to listen in the midst of all his chatter.
Annie: You seem to have all the right abilities to make an excellent doctor, and I’m pleased to hear that you have friends who can give you a listening ear when you need it. That’s so important. On that note, and not all intending to be impertinent, have you ever been married or wanted to be?
Jaeryn: I do not wish to be married. A wife would want to read over my shoulder and go out to social engagements, and both of those things would be distressing. I prefer to stay home as much as possible unless it’s connected to my work, and I do not allow anyone to read my papers.
Annie: What if the woman was blind and preferred a good cup of tea and knitting by the fireside to social gatherings?
Jaeryn: In that case she may have difficulty knitting, Miss Hawthorne. Neither could she make tea. While I would try to take good care of her, this sounds more like a patient than a wife. Perhaps I should cut this interview short, if we are going to delve into deeply personal questions.
Annie: My apologies. Have another cup of tea. I just have two more questions for you, and I’ll do my best not to pry. What is one of your fondest childhood memories? Vice versa, what was something that you struggled with as a child?
Jaeryn: My fondest memory is lying out on the grass, in the fresh air, on a Sunday afternoon. I had company I loved, in a place that I loved, and I knew that as soon as I went home there would be supper on the stove.
I struggled with loss.
Annie: One last question: when you picture your future, how do you see yourself in it and are you pleased with what you expect the reminder of your life to be?
Jaeryn: I picture the future as struggle and secrets, calculation and power, victory and life. And if what I see comes to pass, then I will die pleased, however long or short that life may be.
Annie: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I had a wonderful time, and let me just take this opportunity to FLAIL BECAUSE YOU ARE QUITE POSSIBLY ONE OF MY FAVORITE CHARRIES EVER I CANNOT BELIEVE I AM TALKING TO YOU RIGHT NOW YOU’RE AMAZING AND INFURIATING AND I THINK I NEED A FANGIRL MOMENT AND MAY POSSIBLY START HYPERVENTILATING HaLp
*Jaeryn sympathetically lays a hand on your arm*
My dear Miss Hawthorne, you have been a very inquisitive but kind companion, and I am happy to have done you a good service. Allow me to suggest a cup of tea and perhaps a quiet nap this evening. It does a great deal to calm the nerves when one wishes to regain tranquility.
*writes you a prescription which you may keep as an autograph if you wish*
(don’t forget to enter the book giveaway!)
Currently: today is a quiet, mellow day. Later I’m going christmas shopping with the Older Sister and I have a chiro appointment, but right now there’s a cup of hot mint tea at my elbow and out the window I can see the bare limbs of the birch trees and the heavy, dark-green boughs of the pines swaying in the blustery November wind.
Thinking: about all the books I want to re-visit. Little Women. Brambly Hedge. The Mistmantle Chronicles. David Copperfield. Narnia. Lord of the Rings. Tales of Goldstone Wood. Johnny Tremain. Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates. Wind in the Willows. Pooh Bear. Tintin comics. Can someone please tell me the way to Gallifrey so I can st–borrow a TARDIS? Time shall not be the boss of me! [she says as she keeps one eye on the clock so she’s not late for her appointment]
Words Percolating: this verse from Ephesians chapter 5; “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.”
Listening: Enya. Sometimes you just need soft, breathy vocals to enhance your happy place.
Reading: Three books. Anne of the Island because I started re-reading the entire series a couple months ago. I’m almost done with the third book and am falling more deeply in love with the magic and simplicity of Montgomery’s writing. She understood people at a level few authors have. Jane Eyre, which is a traditional autumn read of mine. I’m taking it slow because I forgot how despicable her relations were and it riles me every time I read. The only things keeping me from flinging the book across the room is my reputation and the fact that I don’t want to ding the corners of my precious copy. Les Miserables. [insert silent bow at all the various humans in my life who’ve been badgering me to read it]
Mood: Poirot when he sits down with the Perfect Cup of Hot Chocolate.
Loving: Thomas Newman’s soundtrack for Little Women // Modcloth’s thigh-high fox socks // Autumn-autumn-everything-autumnal // flannel plaid shirts that are just the right shade of rich blue // gingersnaps // inside jokes with my coworkers and our boss // the crackle of dead leaves crunching under my boots // stories that give me a nostalgic glimpse of my childhood // studies on What It Means To Be Holy // people who do not hesitant to hug you back // spontaneous outings with friends // writing at coffee shoppes // being a Sunday School teacher // Panera’s chai tea // Spiderman: Homecoming. I am so here for awkward + adorkable young superheros who don’t want to kill people and have homework and strict moral compasses and will fight you even though they are terrified and just want their Hero/Father figure to come save them // customer service people who go out of their way to make your day amazing.
Anticipating: christmassssssssssssss — there are not enough letters in the alphabet to express how much I adore everything about the christmas season // Blogging again. I’m so excited to have cleaned the cobwebs off the door and stepped back over the threshold of Curious Wren. I missed all of you! // Nadine Brandes’ newest novel, FAWKES. Check out that gorgeous book cover // WAR OF LOYALTIES COMES OUT ON THE 30TH IM NOT HYPERVENTILATING YOU’RE HYPERVENTILATING. #WW1SpyNovelsFTW
Thankful: for every single day I have to spend with all my precious humans. More about this topic + the Reason for my Hiatus in the next blog post, Lord-willing. [she said ominously]
What are your Current Happenings, friendlies?
Do you know what tomorrow is?
The first day of (Na)tional (No)vel (Wri)ting (Mo)nth.
*collective shrieking of writers all over the world*
This is my first year properly participating–unlike last year when I sort of forgot all about the fact that I meant to write the whole month long + life happened.
Am I nervous? Hah. I’m on the nervous level of a gingersnap on a cookie platter in front of a little boy right now.
Am I excited? YOU HAVE NO IDEA. I’ve counting down the days and I have this grand plan of getting up at 5:00 a.am on work days so I can write, and I’ve warned my family in advance that I may become a hermit, and–*flailing*
so excited i become incoherent when i talk about it. Half of my excitement could be attributed to the fact that I am in love with my story, which reminds me of the whole point of this post: who wants to know what Annie is writing for NaNo?
FYI: I’m planning on writing most of my book in longhand–which is how I usually first-draft–so that means I’m aiming for a lower word goal that 50,000. Basically I am going rogue and turning NaNo into Camp NaNo.
(also FYI: some of you may recognize this as the book I worked on briefly for last NaNo. I’m hoping to finish it this time around. Absolutely. Definitely and for sure.)
What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?
Witchling is the book that was never supposed to exist. It’s actually the sequel to I am Juliette, the first book in my series of science fiction fairytale re-tellings. When I first started toying with the idea of a sci-fi Beauty and the Beast re-telling I sternly ordered myself to keep it a standalone novel because I have a very bad habit of spinning every story into a series. That would not be the case with I am Juliette, I declared.
*laughs at poor, ignorant, innocent Past Self*
(If we’re getting technically it was actually a character’s fault. He mentioned someone briefly in IAJ and, of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to find out all about said charrie. So, it is my fault? Never mind. Carry on.)
I think Witchling has been in the works for roughly a year and a half? And when I say “in the works” that means I have 10,000 words of the first draft written. Everything else is still in that lovely, ethereal realm of Not-Quite-Sure-What-Is-Happening-But-It’ll-Be-Glorious.
Describe what your novel is about!
a) it’s a Hansel and Gretel re-telling which makes me all the happy because I adore that particular fairytale almost as much as Beauty and the Beast. Largely because of the gingerbread house, I expect, but also because the children are such darling, intrepid humans and the story is quintessentially fairytale.
So think Hansel and Gretel.
But in space.
Creepy, futuristic space.
Hansel and Gretel in space + poisoned gingerbread and hypnosis and possible immortals and espionage and chilling assassins and double, possibly triple, secret agents and brainwashing and classical music and deadly gardens and foot chases and masks both visible and invisible.
What is your book’s aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like.
spicy scent of gingerbread. cold air and goosebumps. sharp needles. a soft, irresistible voice. vicious wolf. monochrome. lost siblings. shattered glass. morbid motley of dead people’s belongings. labyrinth. tiny white pebbles. stars glittering. innocent child-laughter. masks and mind games. light at the end of the tunnel. victorian greenhouse. break the cage.
Introduce us to each of your characters!
The Witchling. lost girl taken under a monster’s wing. she’s like a siren but one who lives in space + keeps a greenhouse and burns souffles on the side. broken sense of morals. collects mementos of victims. brilliant exploiter of people’s weaknesses. trickster sense of humor. feeds off adrenaline-filled situations. her true self is hidden behind a finely-crafted blend of masks–so deeply hidden she would not recognize it if she saw it. her insecurity is real. (also, despite her name she isn’t actually a witch. Just too mesmerizing and enchanting for her own good.)
The Wolf Master. monster with the face of an angel. Moriarty-complex. he doesn’t lurk in the shadows: he owns them. obsessed with people’s minds and souls. literally has no boundaries when it comes to “playing God.” taught the Witchling everything she knows. passionate swordsman. he only fears one thing, but he fears it so much he’s been running away his entire life.
Erik Halsey. skilled soldier with more secrets than anyone guesses. has an alarming knack of speaking bluntly. probably breaks down every locked door he encounters. will defend the people he cares about to his last drop of blood. kind of really hates politics and double-speak: is unfortunately involved in both. loves all cookies and just wants his own island in the middle of nowhere. eventually. there are children to do something about first.
Hans(el). fiercely protective older brother. heartrendingly precocious. ponders everything from all angles. has an aversion for dark rooms. will go sleepless and hungry rather than trust anyone. has picked up a decent amount of English alongside his native German. if you ask him for a hug he might bite instead.
Greta(el). little ray of sunshine. anchor for her brother. hoards all things shiny. does the begging puppy eyes ridiculously well. barely talks and only in German. love language is touch.
How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)
- Excited hyperventilating has happened.
- Also moments of “WHAT IN CREATION AM I THINKING. HAVE I GONE MAD. HALPPPP.”
Everyone assures me that I was mad to begin with so all’s well.
- This list here has various elements + vital scenes that I want to incorporate into the novel.
- I rarely ever research for first drafts. I just let my imagination run about unfettered, and then fix the logic holes when I edited.
- I bought myself pretty, new gel pens since I’ll be doing most of NaNo longhand + am collecting aesthetic imagery on Pinterest because I am a visual person + hashed out details with Other Humans + am doing a whole ton of praying because I don’t do this often enough about my writing and it’s kind of really important.
- Why, yes, I have a chocolate stash specif. for NaNo. This is Annie we’re talking about. When do I not have chocolate and/or rave about it from the rooftops?
What are you most looking forward to about this novel?
Honestly, the fact that it’s a Hansel and Gretel re-telling is enough to make me spazz happily—which I do a lot when I think about this book (I adore that fairytale if that isn’t perfectly clear to you by now).
I am head-over-heels in love with the cast of characters, and I can’t wait to spend more (and more, and more) time with them. Be still my beating heart.
Also, the sibling-angst is strong in this one. And I’m incorporating a non-romantic friendship between a man and a woman—which is something that matters a lot to me. Bring it on, gingersnaps.
*really just loves everything about this book* *could go on for hours* *must be considerate, my precious*
List 3 things about your novel’s setting.
- Long corridors and monochrome colors and sharp corners. There is no happy medium of light in the Wolf Master’s city—it’s either blindingly bright or faint enough that dark, looming shadows are everywhere.
- Trees. Black trees with silver leaves and tangled branches and long scars across their trunks. Faint whispers. Snapping twigs followed by long silences.
- A kitchen with lots of high stools and brightly colored stoneware dishes. The smell of good things baking. A candy jar half-filled, and floury work surfaces, and warmth from the stove. Mugs of steaming hot chocolate. There may be gingerbread. Possibly.
What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?
Fulfilling each and every one of her orders to the utmost degree of perfection. What stands in her way? Hansel and Gretel and, ultimately, herself.
(Keep in mind that these are the Witchling’s goals at the beginning of the book. Lots of shenanigans and morally grey situations go down after that.)
How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?
By the end of the novel the Witchling’s world has been turned upside-down. She’s started to think for herself, to make her own decisions, she’s realizing what she thought was truthful, was right, might not be at all—and it discomforts her a lot more than she likes.
How has she changed beyond that?
(you knew it was coming at some point)
What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?
I put a lot more of my heart into this book than I initially realized and, whilst I am Juliette feels like a healing book to me, Witchling has more of an element of digging deep, of bringing dark things to the surface, of brokenness and what that means in a person’s life, of staring untruths in the face and saying “I refuse to believe you. I refuse to let you shape who I am.”
I have an idea of how I want readers to feel but I don’t think I can put it into words yet. BUT. I do want them to be really, really eager to find out exactly what happens to the Witchling and the rest of the charries in the next book.
If you’re participating in NaNo what are you writing about? And if you aren’t a writer, whose stories are you stalking next month? TELL ME ALL.
Autumn. The nip of chilly air. Trees blushing rosy red. Dead leaves rustling like paper in the wind. The scent of bonfires and ripe, sweet apples. Something about the Fall season always makes my bones tingle with the longing to read, read, read….
— Me from this post last year.
I adore fall. Everything about it. The crisp air that makes you snuggle deeper into your flannel and pull out your wool socks and mitts and cozy things. Brilliant tones of scarlet, gold and orange painted across the landscape by a generous hand. Hayrides and pumpkin pie and cider so hot it
feels like it burns your bones, art exhibitions and mission conferences and cute, heeled boots and geese flying off into the horizon.
I could go on for ages, but I shall refrain because a) you might fall asleep over the laptop and that would be all the sads + highly uncomfortable + Not Recommended, or b) we would never get to the truly important part of this post which, obvs, involves BOOKS and LISTS and (you guessed it) BOOKS.
Since after all, what is fall without a delightful, pretty stack of books that you probably won’t even read half of, but just looking at the stack and your list of said stack gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling right down to your toes?
(aka. all the excite + hyperventilating because FALL and GLORIOUS BOOKS TO BE HAPPY WITH)
Jane Eyre — ugh, excited to re-read this, Booklings. So very excited. The atmosphere is perfect for autumn, all deliciously mysterious and creepy and simply overflowing with old English castles and foggy days and dark secrets and brooding masters-of-the-house. Jane is a heroine dear to my heart and her story is beautiful. #allthelove
Dracula — I blame the Oldest Sister for this. She read Dracula this January and proceeded to rave all over the house about it like a cute, but hyperbolic maniac, and then bought me a copy for Valentine’s Day (we buy books for each other on this holiday. it’s great). Clearly I must read it for the sake of my safety from sisterly terrorizing, at least.
she is the most lovable human, tho, really. i promise. To be strictly honest–always a good thing–I started reading it during our recent holiday trip, but then I decided to wait until fall because for certain books ambiance is key. Actually, I am thoroughly looking forward to digging into it because the instant October arrived I’ve been in the mood for melodramatic, Gothic books and I want to read them allllll. The good ones, obviously.
Also, I have an allegorical vampire high fantasy in the planning stages which means research needs to happen. SO RIDICULOUSLY THRILLED ABOUT THIS STORY/PLOTSY THING. It’s been in percolations for a while + I want to smash all the sparkly vampire cliches to dust and show vampires for the dark, twisted, unlovely creatures they were. Not something to glamorize and swoon over, y’all. *gently nudges soapbox away from Self*
Rebecca — speaking of Gothic literature, I have heard lots of good things about this from several friends and it sounds just like my cup of tea.
Jane of Lantern Hill — This was on last year’s list too… well, then, apparently I like re-reading favorite books in the fall. Nostalgic, cozy reads are in high demand currently, that’s for sure. I can’t wait to snuggle up with this book and immerse myself in the wonderful world of Jane and Dad and the ice-queen Grandmother, and cats with special names, and food descriptions that make me hungry every time I read them. I love this book so much it hurts.
The Sherlock Holmes stories — for obvious reasons.
The James Herriot books — I’ve known about this WWII era Yorkshire veterinarian all my life, we grew up on his books for children, and just recently my entire family fell in love with the BBC TV show (disclaimer: it has a goodish amount of swearing and some inappropriate moments, but other than that it’s wonderful). My Older Sister has read the All Creatures Great and Small series and I decided it’s high time I do too. They sound full of all manner of hilarity and good-old British culture and loveliness, and if they’re anything like the TV show I’ll not regret I picked them up.
A Time to Die — How! Have! I! Not! Read! This! Yet?!! *crawls away in abject shame*
Inkspell — I need more Dustfinger and Meggie and Mo and deliciously magical book quotes in my life.
Scythe — I want this book for three reasons. 1) I love Neal Shusterman’s writing. He knows how to use the little details, how to grab a person’s attention and make them think. 2) have you even read that premise? NEED. BOOK. NOW. and 3) the cover is pretty. so pretty.
I fully intend to pre-order it at some point, but right now… *gestures at tweet*
What is on your autumn reading list, Wrenlings?
(because we all have to agree that Kylo Ren has a pretty sweet helmet)
It’s no secret among the people who know me that probably about 50% of my favorite characters in books + film would be the villains. And I decided that a post looking into this was long overdue since, after all, I have class (*said in British accent*) and don’t just like any bad guy. I mulled over the villains I do enjoy reading/watching (incidentally I am listening to The Imperial March as I type this) and narrowed it down to the specific traits about a villainous character that makes them leave their mark on my memory.
(so if you want to know how to write bad guys that Annie will enjoy, read on)
Moriarty (BBC Sherlock)
— psychotic genius.
Not going to lie: mental people who are also brilliant terrify me, whether in books or movies or real life. You could argue that Jim Moriarty’s insanity stems directly from his abnormally high IQ level, but no matter what the reason is, this guy should have been put in a straitjacket long ago. But, he is clever and when a bad guy makes me slack-jawed in horrified awe because the twisted brilliance of their plan is nothing like I anticipated…. I love it, humans.
Granted, Moriarty is predictably nuts, but you never really know how it’s going to break out and if he’s just going to start shouting mid-sentence or instead decide that he’s bored. And when Moriarty is bored, be very afraid.
He’s horrible, he has no sense of decency, he would force you to commit suicide and smile while you do it, but he still manages to make me laugh out-loud every episode I’ve seen him in. So, either he has some really funny lines or I have a messed-up sense of humor. (tell me I’m not the only one who cracks up laughing whenever Moriarty breaks into the Tower of London. #dramaKing)
— creep factor.
If you have a psychotic villain it’s bound to get creepy real fast. Yay for bad guys who are actually frightening.
Gollum (The Lord of the Rings)
— wily, wily worm.
Gollum is a crafty character and all the more so because it’s easy to underestimate him. There’s nothing like being controlled by a magical ring for years to make an already sly creature even more cunning. And it doesn’t help that he does the puppy eyes so well.
“Yes, perhaps, yes,” said Gollum. “Sméagol always helps, if they asks – if they asks nicely.”
“Right!’ said Sam. “I does ask. And if that isn’t nice enough, I begs.”
Just the way he puts his sentences together is funny. Then put him and Samwise in the same scene and comedy gold happens.
— sympathy points.
“And so Gollum found them hours later, when he returned, crawling and creeping down the path out of the gloom ahead. Sam sat propped against the stone, his head dropping sideways and his breathing heavy. In his lap lay Frodo’s head, drowned in sleep; upon his white forehead lay one of Sam’s brown hands, and the other lay softly upon his master’s breast. Peace was in both their faces.
Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee–but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.”
― J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
I cry every time I read this scene. I’ve discussed Gollum’s character many times and at great detail with my various fellow Tolkienites and we all agree that the saddest thing about him is that he had potential to tear himself away from his dark path, but the hold of the ring over him was so strong that every time he considered it something happened to keep him back. He is such a pathetic, pitiable creature and his story breaks my heart.
Kylo Ren (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
A (not-quite-Sith) who throws temper tantrums and wracks havoc on inanimate objects when he’s angry? Yes, please. Uncontrolled bad guys are great because you never can quite predict how they will react (except that it will be explosive) and if you haven’t seen Kylo Ren demolish expensive equipment you’re missing some LOL moments in your life.
— actually does bad things.
When there’s a villain you expect them to actually be, yunno, villainous. So Kylo Ren torturing Poe, killing people instead of just threatening to, and generally being the darker version of his grandfather at that age is satisfying. Even if it does break your heart when he commits some of the deeds he does. *calmly drops Ren off the edge of a cliff*
— struggles with the light side.
Talk about intriguing. I love, love this factor of Kylo’s character. The psychology of a Sith is interesting anyways, but when you have one that’s drawn more to the light than they are to the dark, and hence is constantly trying to prove to themselves that they really are as bad as all that…. Excuse me while I do a happy dance over all the fascinating moral quandaries. Which brings me to:
— potential for redemption.
You may or may not want him to be redeemed (I’m still torn on that score), but Kylo Ren has serious potential for either an amazing redemption arc or else the possibility of becoming an even darker and terrifying villain. To quote Mirriam Neal:
“Kylo Ren has so much light still left in him that he has to physically cause himself pain in order to keep fighting, because the Dark Side feeds off pain. He is the antagonist, the protagonist, and the battleground of his own story. One thing about true Sith is the fact they are ruthless when harming others to further their own ends. They don’t care if they’re hurting someone else, and this is obviously not Kylo’s case. Kylo isn’t fighting Rey with mere anger or a heartless, stoic demeanor – Kylo is on the verge of breaking down, he’s holding back tears, he is fighting with himself as much as he is with Rey, if not more.
I find it hard to believe that the franchise would present us with such an emotional, sympathetic character if they weren’t planning to give him a redemption arc or, at the very least, giving us an even larger conflict to follow in the coming movies. There’s much about Kylo that we as viewers don’t know and can only theorize about, but they have given us the most emotionally conflicted Sith in cinema history. There is more potential for light and goodness, for redemption, than ever before […]”
Loki (Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World)
— alllll the grey areas.
Conflicted villains are the best villains. That is all.
— devilish wit.
Loki’s snark is the best. He is the “god” of mischief after all. And did I mention he’s just a bit clever?
— strong sympathy points.
I don’t even know where to start with this one.
His Dad has serious parenting issues, Loki has serious inferiority issues + family issues + deeply afraid + and this guy needs a therapist like a mosquito needs blood. He’s one of those frustrating characters where you can see exactly where they went wrong and you watch as they make bad decisions (despite your [mildly agitated] shouting at the screen). You root for them to make the right decisions and pull themselves off their dark path—and sometimes they do choose right, which makes it all the more difficult when they choose wrong the next time. His relationship with his adopted brother Thor breaks my heart, and his obvious affection for his mother is sweet and makes me cry without fail. I have strong emotions about this character, in case you couldn’t tell; I think I really must write a Loki analysis article sometime.
— it’s not all his fault.
This is where Loki becomes a “sympathetic” villain for me because, despite all his bad choices and wrongdoings, so much of the blame for who he became lies at his father’s doorstep—that does not absolve him of his sins, but it does give us as viewers a connection and level of empathy with him. The need to be loved and valued is an inherent part of humanity, and who hasn’t been disappointed by people they look up to? Loki’s desperate hope + his fear of trusting because he’s been hurt so often gets me in the gut every time.
— potential for redemption.
So. Much. Potential. Don’t let me down here, Loki Laufeyson.
The Master (Doctor Who: series 3 finale, series 4 Christmas special)
He is twisted and messed up and ohmystars he’s hilarious. I love it so much when villains have a sense of humor or when they’re given witty lines—half of the reason The Master is funny is because he’s such a nutcase. Parliament execution scene, anyone? *copies his double-thumbs up*
— smart factor.
Manic brilliance is how he rolls and it’s a blast to watch. Not to mention, terrifying. The Master has legitimately scared me on more than one occasion and not a lot of villains do that. When a Timelord goes dark + insane it is not a pretty sight.
Take note my Timelordy readers.
— it’s not all his fault.
The Master is psychotic-killer genius but (SPOILER ALERT) he was made that way through no fault of his own. His dark path was created for him by some seriously twisted people when he was just a child and a recurring four-beat rhythm was placed in his mind to play on a loop non-stop–is it any wonder he went completely mental? The moments when you see him fight against it, when you see his agony and desperation–they’re gut-wrenching. The Master and the Doctor were best friends as children and it’s heartbreaking whenever they go down memory lane or whenever the Doctor tries to get through to him and help him–basically all the time.
There’s nothing like a broken friendship that gets repaired slightly (only to be shattered all over again) for taking my emotions through the ringer. The potential for redemption and light is strong in this one. Which is why the last scene with the Master in the Christmas special makes me sad/happy all at once. (You Whovians out there know what I’m talkin’ about.)
Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith)
— struggles with the light side.
Anakin is equally torn between the light and dark side of the force. He cares deeply for people and he’s always trying to save or protect–it’s his gut reaction when anyone is in trouble: “How can I help them?” At the same time the abilities to protect and the freedom of choice that he believes the Dark Side could give him pull at his attention like a moth to a flame. His struggle against the dark, against doing what he knows is wrong, and what he’s tempted to do, is painful to watch and still hurts me every time I see it.
— actually does bad things.
Once he turns to the Dark Side there’s no denying that Anakin does some horrific stuff. That scene with the Younglings in particular is heart-wrenching. It’s deeply saddening and almost frightening to see the change in him, but as writers don’t you just love it when a villain fulfills his potential and actually is dark? I get chills every time he makes his march–not because it’s epic but because it’s how a villain is supposed to be. They’re supposed to be a threat, they’re supposed to be menacing, they’re supposed to frighten–otherwise what impact does it even make when the hero overthrows them?
i will now get off my soapbox.
— potential for redemption.
As a twelve-year old writer Anakin is the first character I was attached to who spiraled onto a downward path. Even though I was 95% sure it was going to happen, I still spent the entirety of Revenge of the Sith rooting for him to pull through, to see where he was going and why it was such a very bad thing. It’s hard to articulate since he meant so much to me (and still does) but Anakin was the character who taught me that feeling empathy for someone does not mean you condone them or excuse them, villains are not two-dimensional, that as a writer I should never make them two-dimensional, and that everyone has a story.
Check out this article for a more in-depth look at Anakin Skywalker. There are much spoilers. Ye be warned.
Peter Pan (Once Upon A Time)
— “Oh, the cleverness of me!”
Can I just mention that I absolutely love that the writers of OUAT took the potential for darkness in Peter of Peter Pan and ran with it? Peter Pan is devilishly clever and overflowing with sharp wit + manipulation + fake innocent-boy charm. He’s easily one of my favorite villains in the history of ever. And he is dark, people.
Did I mention the sharp wit and just general sassy one-liners?
I had not expected this element at all, but when you think of a boy-villain and what exactly that means, it’s sad to begin with. Then you find out about his past and, while you detest him even more, it also hurts your heart and makes you wish, wish, wish that he could go back and make everything alright again. If only for the sake of the people he hurt.
Darth Vader (Star Wars)
Does this even require any commentary at all???
To sum up: villains with humor + unpredictability + dark deeds + grey areas + cleverness + potential for redemption + sympathy points, or a blend of the above traits, those are the bad guys who stand out. That make a hero work harder, and a reader happy.
Which is the sort of villain that everyone wants.
Okay, Wrenlings, ‘fess up. Who are your favorite villains? Why do you like them? Or are bad guys just not your cup of dark (very dark) coffee?
Currently: i am typing this at the dining room table where i am squeezed into the smallest corner possible so the Older Sister can cut out a dress (she’s sewing it for a wedding we are attending in November. EEEP). Supper is cooking on the stove–it smells heavenly–Younger sister is reading and Youngest Sister is doing something scary with the sewing scissors (i might get my fingers cut off). Mum is chatting with Older Sister, we have music blasting on our tiny portable speaker, and i have no idea what my Dad is doing… probably taking care of our chickens. it is a good evening.
Thinking: having a close-knit family is possibly the most amazing thing in the world//i adore fairytales and fairytale retellings… just so, so much. they fill a longing in my soul and i would be perfectly happy writing them for the rest of my life//this world needs more people who smile at strangers//bravery is a beautiful and rare thing//i like to dance with fire–which basically means daring to be real, and shed the mask//living in the moment is more worth it than i can express. not thinking about what i have to do in two minutes or five or a hour or a day or a year, but reveling in the small things, giving someone my full attention whenever i’m with them, listening to the birds,just being. it’s hard and i forget all the time, but it is amazing//i actually quite like the new Spiderman. i was skeptical before i watched Civil War but he’s great–AG will always be the Spiderman to me though//why do we like angsty characters so much? i’ve been pondering this for the last few weeks and methinks i am going to have to write an article about it//SNAIL MAIL IS THE BEST AND SHOULD NEVER GO EXTINCT DO YOUR PART HUMANS//children are miracles, even when they put crayons in your coffee//i really, really am fond of my job and my “people” and even though work eats up my time and i don’t get to write or blog as much, it is also helping me learn how to prioritize better and i’ve gleaned so much story fodder it’s ridiculous//
Words in my mind: i am reading Hebrews right now and these particular verses have been rolling around in my mind all day. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” chapter 11: 6.
Listening to: banjo music because with Spanish blood from my Mum and hill-billy strains from my Dad’s side, my siblings and i adore lively music. But the Older Sister also recently found a few instrumental songs that are breathtaking. they are a must-listen, seriously, you won’t regret it: Homecoming + Compass + Men of Honor + Illumielle. And then of course there’s this one. (disclaimer: i don’t approve of much of the TSFH music, but some of it is incredible. it makes me cry, it inspires me, i love it.)
Reading: so. much. Tintin. Goodness, I love these comics. I want a Professor Calculus for a friend–actually I want all the whole jolly crew as friends. I am also sloooowly reading Isle of Fire and I just started a new Wodehouse book. I’m still seeping myself in the wonder that is Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl and I am halfway through Winter. *proceeds to fangirl over basically everything, but mostly Thorne and Cress* I have heaps of books i want to read this autumn and winter–can. not. wait. Which reminds me I need to share my Fall TBR with you all! Soon, friends, soon.
Feeling: tired, but also very excited for the future and waiting to make allll the plans and do allll the things and write alll the things, and basically, calm down Self. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. One day at a time. #thestruggleisreal
Loving: Tintin (*cough* i feel like i am repeating myself?). pumpkin spice doughnuts//exploring the woods and following trails just because we can//random beach trips//inside jokes//being friends with my coworkers//plants that don’t require much care because apparently i have the opposite of a green thumb//foxes (they are CUTE Y’ALL)//sageuk kdramas, basically korean dramas that are set in ancient history, some of them are really good (*hugs Scarlet Heart: Ryeo*) and the costumes + culture + language + politics are fascinating. i am for sure writing a book set in ancient Korea//Captain America: Civil War–every bit as good as I hoped. I need to re-watch it now so i can review it on the blog.//lace skirts//the fact that autumn is HERE YAY.
Anticipating: all the fun, adventurous fall activities. i really want to do a corn maze this year, please and thank you//starting season 3 of All Creatures Great and Small with the family tonight–such a cozy TV show//our church’s mission conferences coming up//taking more writing classes and researching reflexology//FALL//my newest nephew arriving, whenever he gets his act together. *wink* I need a brand-new baby to cuddle//so. many. weddings. O.O I shall be preparing all the finery and eating all the cake.//
Thankful: my family. i honestly don’t know how i would ever manage without them//sight, i’ve been thinking about blindness a lot lately and Praise Jesus, i can see//it’s fall–I love autumn very much in case you couldn’t tell//forgiveness and that God is always there to catch me when i stumble//our police force–i just want to speak to all of the good ones (which is the majority) and tell them how much I appreciate them//people who put nuts on icecream cones, bless you.