Character Profiles: The Suave Villain

What sharp little eyes you have, my dear.

– Lord Archelaeus Burleigh, The Skin Map

Archelaeus Burleigh was an earl – rich, refined, well-dressed, every inch an aristocrat. He was a great traveler, too, and a man of books. As may be expected, he was very reasonable, in the sense that he generally gave people a chance to join his side before he killed them.

Burleigh was a Suave Villain. Suave Villains are an interesting breed. They are taken as being more intelligent than their uncouth cousins – henchmen, enforcers, hot-tempered leaders of the pack. They’re also taken as being more evil. I don’t know why. Maybe the hot blood of angry, aggressive villains is at least mammalian, but the cold-hearted cunning of the Suave Villain is definitely reptilian.

There’s an irony in such characters that lends them depth. Burleigh was educated, urbane, at the top of society; the Suave Villain is by definition a master of the conventions of civilization. He is also, by definition, lawless. His manners may be the height of etiquette, but his philosophy is the philosophy of the jungle. Outwardly, a civilized man; inwardly, tearing up the roots of civilization.

A similar contrast is found in characters such as Gaston and Jadis: beautiful on the outside, ugly on the inside. These characters illustrate the superficiality of good looks. Maybe characters like Burleigh illustrate the superficiality of what they call “good breeding” – all that smooth comportment through society, always knowing the right thing to say, the right thing to wear, the right fork to use.

Many, many people have been coated with this lacquer of civilization without it ever touching their souls. These are garden variety snobs and egotists and selfish people – and, just now and then, Suave Villains. The Suave Villain’s hands may be dirty, sometimes even bloody, but his fingernails are very clean.

4 thoughts on “Character Profiles: The Suave Villain

  1. This is one of my favorite categories. Just out of curiosity, have you heard of TV Tropes? It’s a web site completely dedicated to categorizing things like this. If you haven’t heard of it, I think you would like it. I love it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I think I’ve been on it a few times. They had a page on the “tropes” found in the Wingfeather Saga, which I enjoyed. It was fun.

    Suave Villains have always been interesting to me; I also like good-looking villains, and for similar reasons. There’s something compelling about the contrast between the surface goodness and the underlying corruption.

    Thank you for commenting, Natal’ya.

  3. I agree. I have a villain like that in my book. The ugly villain just isn’t as realistic a lot of the time I think. My “villain” (and he’s not the main one) is VERY handsome, so most people can’t see how he can be such a snake. He comes around though. ๐Ÿ™‚ I like having minor villains turn good, but the main villain shouldn’t. It’s often cheezy. IMHO. It can be done right though. CAN be. ๐Ÿ™‚


  4. Most things can be done right, but some shouldn’t be done often. Turning the main villain is one of them. Not only is it often cheesy, as you said, but it can leave readers feeling cheated. As a general rule, they want a villain who will be a villain, like they want a hero who will be a hero.

    What genre do you write?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.