I’m going to come out and say it, I think it’s A New Hope/Empire Strikes Back era Darth Vader.
I know, I’m a writer, I should have picked someone from a book, but Vader is the one who comes to mind when I think of ultimate villain. I specifically mention the first two movies in the original Star Wars trilogy because Vader is still a mystery at this point. He’s as much a force of nature as he is a person; a black cloak and skull mask that brought the darkness with him.
I first saw Star Wars when I was four or five years old, and unsurprisingly Darth Vader scared the ever loving wee out of me. I had dreams where he’d step through my chattered bedroom door, wreathed in smoke, coal red lightsaber in hand.
On the other hand when I got the chance to have my own cheap plastic lightsaber I grabbed the red one straight away.
Perhaps my parents should have looked into that.
When I force myself to look at the book villains I’ve loved things start to get trickier. Voldemort is a great villain, but on the face of it he’s not really all that smart. I love all things Cthulhu and Lovecraft’s Old Ones and Outer Gods are certainly terrible, but they’re terrible because they’re beyond good and evil. Humans aren’t even ants to beings like that, and in some ways that excludes them from being proper villains.
When it comes right down to it, I think it’s a character named Carcer from a book called Night Watch by Terry Pratchett, because I’m almost 100% sure I’ve met him.
Not the actual character, but the type. A friendly smiling chap until, as Pratchett said:
You realized that people like Carcer were not mad. They were incredibly sane. They were simply men without a shield. They'd looked at the world and realized that all the rules didn't have to apply to them, not if they didn't want them to. They weren't fooled by all the little stories. They shook hands with the beast.
Carcer is the charming sociopath, the man with the extra knives. He’s not a super smart Hannibal Lecter type, but he is charming right up until the knife sinks into you…and sometimes even after that. Carcer is exaggerated for fiction, but I’ve met a few people like that and Carcer’s plausibility, the idea that I ran into him while I was working nightclub security or even just passed him in the street is as much of what makes him scary as anything he does to anyone.
So, how about you? Who is your favorite villain ever?