In another installment of We’re Here! Ep 2: Key elements to writing a really good villain.
I present to you Medusa – that vile, nasty woman we all loved to hate. She was ugly. She turned men to stone. She was bitter, angry, and mean. We were relieved when Perseus outwitted and destroyed her. You might even say we stopped viewing her as a woman at all, but a monster like the ones we hide from around Halloween time.
This article from the UK I stumbled upon presented something I never knew about the story of Medusa. It gave, for the first time, her backstory. You can read it here. I would like to unpack some of the article in a short blog for you busy readers, if I may, and present my humble thoughts.
Medusa is a great villain. But she’s not great for the chaos and fear she wreaks upon her world. She’s a great villain for her pain.
We all sense great villains are born of great pain. We can tell when someone is evil for the sake of being evil (which is kind of boring) or when someone is evil because they were pushed, chased, and beaten down the wrong path. They are evil, but they don’t like it. They’re simply too broken and too disillusioned to humanity that there’s no turning back.
Medusa was a beautiful woman. So beautiful, in fact, she captured the eye of the sea god himself – Poseidon. But the feeling wasn’t mutual. She did not love Poseidon. Truth be told, she could have been married to someone else for all we know of her story. But Poseidon being the selfish man he is, chases her. He pursues her, it is said, across Athens which is governed by the goddess of war Athena. Medusa is fleeing for her life. Poseidon leaves destruction in his wake in his pursuit of her.
And really, let’s ask ourselves why? There are literally millions of beautiful women, dude. Find one who’s a better match for you.
Athena, understandably, resents her country getting destroyed all for the sake of her uncle’s lust of some pretty human, so she stops him, scolds him, and sends him back to the sea lest he risk all out war with his niece.
Oh wait. That doesn’t happen. What really happened, was Athen turned a blind eye to her uncle’s scandalous affair, and punishes the victim of this narrative. Medusa. She curses Medusa to never “seduce” another man. But that’s not enough. Athena turns her into a monster.
And Perseus is gloriously applauded for killing her.
This is a great villain story. A good thing turned rotten by injustice. And we believe every bit of Medusa’s anger, bitterness, and hatred of men. Within her story, the readers can commiserate her point of view, if not condoning her actions. Yes, she’s cursed, but no, she shouldn’t have been running around trying to turn men to stone. Those men, in the beginning, were as innocent as she once was. But, alas, without her villainy, we don’t have our hero, and without a hero, where’s the story?
Remember, sometimes the best villain is a believable villain. And sometimes giving your readers a glimpse of the whole story paints a compelling picture.
This has been,
Fanny T. Crispin