Misunderstood villains

Posted: January 28, 2013 by jennroig in English, Miscellaneous, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Yes, this is coming out of the blue, but I must take this out of my chest!

I was reading this “The 40 Greatest Villains Of Literature” and I found that poor Humbert, the character from Lolita (which you may remember because it’s a great book by Nabokov and also a couple of good movies, the best by Stanley Kubrick, though I also like Jeremy Irons in the most recent one), tagged as villain! How come! Why?

Humbert, Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

cc Lolita: James Mason & Sue Lyon

cc Lolita: James Mason & Sue Lyon

The way I see Lolita, and the reason I think it’s a great masterpiece, it’s as a great painful conflict with no villain. The only possible villain there is fate, or life, or God, or whatever entity that made these three creatures coexist in that house. But to look at Humbert as merely a villain is to miss the point and to reduce the greatness of the novel.

Yes, Lolita was 12 when he met her, a girl. But she didn’t look like a girl, and she didn’t behave like a girl. For those puritans, let me remind you that Juliet was 13 when Romeo sneaked in her room. But that’s literature, ok. These are real life examples. Poe married her cousin Virginia Clemm when she was 13. Jerry Lee Lewis, the American singer-songwriter and pianist, did exactly the same with his cousin Myra Gale Brown. Another one, Melanie Griffith was 14 when she started dating Don Johnson when he was 22. Nobody seems to think Johnson is a villain…

So Humbert arrive to that house in the middle of his midlife crisis to find this gorgeous, provocative teenager, and her annoying mom. Do I find right he desired and concreted that desired with a 12 year-old girl? No, but I find him human. Do I see Lolita as a villain? No, no 12 year-old kid can ever be a villain, unless is the antichrist itself, because adults should know better. Is it her mom? No, of course not, but maybe she should have known better than allowing her daughter to go around her house dressed like she dressed and behaving like she behaved. Ages 12 to 15 tend to be really complicated in girls, sometimes some of them get to be twisted… like the character from Lucrecia Martel’s La Niña Santa (The Holly Girl). Look here…

Did you watch it? Who’s to blame? He made the first move, so he’s indeed a creep and a pervert (at least in this scene). But she stayed there, she didn’t move, she didn’t go away. Did you see the her smile at the end? I’m not saying she’s good or evil. We humans just tend to be complicated…The film is awesome by the way, you should find it and watch it -both actually, Lolita and La Niña Santa.

Hansel & Gretel, Grimm Brothers

Hansel & Gretel, Grimm Brothers

Hansel & Gretel’s witch

To be clear: I don’t support witchcraft. But I have always been bothered by the interpretation of this tale, and how misjudged this poor witch has been by history.

Who are Hansel and Gretel? Two siblings, children, who apparently have a very good appetite. Of course I have nothing against healthy kids who eat all their meals, and to this point the stepmother is the real bitch of the story, along the husband, the kids’ father, who actually agree to leave the kids by themselves in the forest so they won’t be able to come back home. He’s a bastard!

But let’s refocus on the kids. They are finally lost in the forest. And then they find a cute house, made of candy and cookie and sweets and cake. I get it, it’s tempting if you are a child who hasn’t eaten for the whole day and you’re hungry, but they should at least try to call the house owner. And that’s my objection, these kids show that “like father like son”, and daughter. They are thugs as their father is a thug! And what happens? An old lady comes, finds her house damaged because of these two little brats.

Agree, she overreacted. She went a bit too far to try to eat them -though to be honest she was feeding them well in the process. They eat her home, she should have gone and eat their daddy’s home in return, not going to the extreme of cannibalism. But then she’s a witch, and she doesn’t like kids, so… it’s her nature.

My point is she was quite ok alone in the forest, and they appeared on her territory, so you must face the consequences… By the way, what exactly is the moral of this story? I never quite got it… Is it ok to beat an old lady and run away? Fine, maybe if it’s in self defense is ok? But is it ok to go and damage others’ property without facing punishment? And the father gets to live happily ever after with the witch money, without anything bad happening to him? What kind of a parenting lesson is this?

Little Red Ridding Hood‘s wolf

Little Red Ridding Hood, alternative reading

Little Red Ridding Hood, alternative reading

Not so little Red Riding Hood

Not so little Red Riding Hood

With this fable, always, the first challenge is to agree on what alternative interpretation are we really referring to. We could understand it literally, and believe the wolf is just a wolf and the Hunter just nice samaritan and the Little Red Ridding Hood just that, a sweet innocent child that is sent by her mother to bring food to the grandmother. That, or… the wolf is a womanizer player, the Hunter is the creepy stalker who shows up when nobody called him and the Little Red Riding Hood… Well, she dresses in red, is wild enough as to go alone to the forest in the night, and equally flirts with creepy hunter and wolf. I don’t think I need to further explain myself, right? And God, how difficult is to believe the first alternative interpretation! A wolf smart enough to dress the sweet granny’s clothes? If you second read this, the tale is so delicious!

But to the point, the misjudged wolf as villain. No matter what the reading of the story, the mother is the real bitch! She’s the most monstrous mother of all times! She sends her only daughter alone to the forest with food! With food! As if it wasn’t tempting enough to send a girl by herself, she gives her food to attract vicious animals that can harm her own daughter! I’m assuming this woman is no less than a psychopath, and the supposedly sick grandmother must be not her mother, but her mother in law. And I assume she either killed this guy -Red Ridding Hood’s father- or his in jail for something awful that she needs to erase every legacy of him, or he just left her for a younger woman. Either case, she is unforgivable.

But again, I missed the point, the wolf. Considering it as animal, it’s his nature to hunt a prey. So he’s not to blame for what mother nature determined to be an instict.

If you see him as a handsome player, then he’s actually a victim. He innocently fell in the trapped of a supposedly naive girl who actually played him. Wolf first meet Red Ridding Hood in the forest, where she deliberately stops to flirt with him, who actually believes she needed to ask the grandmother’s address? She must have gone there a million times before! But even here the wolf is kind enough as to let go this “attractive, well-bred young lady”, according Perrault’s version.

Wolf must have seen the sky open for him, imagining the trisom between the grandmother, the granddaughter and himself. Obviously, there must have been a previous relationship between Granny and Wolf, given that she opened the door to him so confident and easily and in sleeping clothes…

So the girl arrives when Wolf as already “eaten” Granny. And then she starts pretending he’s grandma, playing the game of “how big it’s your mouth! And your eyes! And your arms! And your feet! And teeth!” Isn’t is this good old role playing and flirting? And then he answers, “to see you better, to hold you better, to…” don’t remember the actual answer for the big feet, but we all know that it may mean, right? And finally teeth and mouth to bite and eat!

So when the party seems to get to its best, the creepy Hunter-Stalker arrives. Obsessed with the girl, or maybe the Wolf, the guy shots him to death and later throws him in a river. He couldn’t even be buried.

So, these are a few misunderstood villains, according me. I know I have found a few more but I can’t remember now. If you think of any other, let me know.

  1. Gabriel Syme says:

    I’m sorry, but will have to agree to disagree, at least when talking about Humbert. He is a villain, not only because of his duplicity or his moral cowardice, but his a pedophile. It can’t get worst than that.

    Being both Cubans, we probably share a relax view of sexuality. And as one of my closest friends used to say: “As long as they are 13 and weight more than 90 pounds, everything’s OK” (I disagree, though; I always thought that waiting till they were 15 was the proper thing to do). Romeo was not older than Juliet, a couple of years at most. Poe was 26 when he married his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis was 22 (and the marriage almost destroy his career); Humbert was at least 40. I think there’s a big difference. Having become 40 fairly recently I think I know what I’m talking about.

    And though it’s been a while since the last time I read “Lolita”, I’m afraid that most of the flirtatious behavior that Humbert seems to appreciate in the girl at the beginning might be just in his head. I mean, he is the narrator and so one has to suspect the information received. I’m afraid that the films are having an influence on you’re reading of the novel. And the problem is that as an adaptation, the movie is already a reading, disfiguring the text to reflect the point of view of the scriptwriter or the director.

    Now, Nabokov, very reasonably, tries to make us like Humbert. Whatever the function of the novel, it’s not to pass moral judgement. The author should try to be as fair as possible to all his characters. The characters themselves can provide some moral judgement or the readers might want to create their own, but that’s something that it’s better avoided by the author himself. Stephen Vizinczey harshly criticized Nabokov for making Humbert likeable, but I think that was professional jealousy (Vizinczey was a very talented writer, but not as talented as Nabokov and I think he knew it).

    However, I have to admit that if I were to reread immediately any book by Nabokov, I’d probably choose “Ada or Ardor” or “Pale Fire”, which is, I think, the ideal novel for any philologist.

    P. S. Nice to see you around, it’s been a while.


    • jennroig says:

      Wow! It’s been a while indeed! Where are you in the world?!

      Well, I must say I distrust your age argument, is it really more forgivable to be 26 rather than 40 when it comes to pedophilia?
      And again, to be a minor or not, it depends on cultures. Jews celebrate the Bar Mitsbah at 13, right?
      Still, let me clarify, I don’t support Humbert’s behavior. But I think I cannot manage to see him fully as a villain, maybe the films do blur my reading.
      And thanks for the suggestions, because I haven’t read anything else by Nabokov…

      • Gabriel Syme says:

        Once again, we’ll have to agree to disagree. It’s not the same a relationship between a guy in his early 20s and a girl in her teens (and I mean “teens”, twelfth is out of the question) that the same relationship if the guy is in his 40s. In the first case, they are closer to being equals, but in the second case the older person has too many advantages on his/her side.

        Not that the law cares about some perceive equality. According to the law, it will be pedophilia if one of the people involved is a minor, though I would not consider it so if the relationship were between a 21 years old guy and 14 years old girl. Of course, that’s a personal opinion and I would recommend to anyone interested in that kind of relationship to check the legislation in the country where they are currently living (for instance, in Spain, the age of consent is incredibly low, 13 years old).

        And for course I never thought you were condoning Humbert behavior, we were just talking about literature. And you should read more Nabokov, it’s a great writer. There are not many of those these days.

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