The villain of a story who either 1) poses as a hero at the beginning of the story or 2) simply possesses enough heroic characteristics (charisma, sympathetic past, physical attractiveness) so that either the reader or the other characters see the villain-hero as more than a simple charlatan or bad guy. Two closely related types exist:

  • Satanic Hero: a Hero-Villain whose nefarious deeds and justifications of them make him a more interesting character than the rather bland good hero.
    Example: The origin of this prototype comes from Romantic misreadings of Milton's Paradise Lost, whose Satan poets like Blake and Shelley regarded as a far more compelling figure than the moralistic God of Book III of the epic. Gothic examples: Beckford's Vathek, Radcliffe's Montoni, Wordsworth's Rivers (in The Borderers), Polidori's Ruthven, and just about any vampire who is not of the Nosferatu ilk.
  • Promethean: a Hero-Villain who has done good but only by performing an over-reaching or rebellious act. Prometheus from ancient Greek mythology saved mankind but only after stealing fire and ignoring Zeus' order that mankind should be kept in a state of subjugation.
    Example: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is tellingly subtitled the "Modern Prometheus."

Courtesy of Douglass H. Thomson, Department of Literature and Philosophy of Georgia Southern University

See also: Byronic hero, hero




The Vindictive Monk or The Fatal Ring [Transcript], Isaac Crookenden