Its no secret that I just love bad guys (and gals, I’m equal opportunity). I am a Batman junkie, but Joker and Harley Quinn are actually my favorite Batman characters. You can’t get much worse than Joker and Harley Quinn…
Except maybe in a Stephen King novel. King’s universe is riddled with villains of all kinds, from sentient, murderous monorails to religious fanatics who will attempt to convert people to their ways, using any and all means possible. In other words, there are almost too many “baddies” to choose from in the King Universe. So what’s an enterprising blogger to do?
One of the reasons I love Joker and Harley Quinn is that like Batman, they are human. Behind the insane makeup and kooky costumes are actual human beings. This adds an element of realism. Any one of us could become a “baddie” at any moment. And the element of realism is just one of many things that makes King’s stories so great. So I am limiting this post to flesh and blood humans. Sorry, Tak, Pennywise, Randall Flagg and whomever else may feel slighted at being left off of this list…you have to be fully human to make it! Better luck next time!
I am also limiting this list to people whom I feel are truly bad to the core. Characters such as Jack Torrance, Harold Lauder and Nadine Cross are people whom I consider to be more victims of circumstance than anything. Gage Creed does not count either, since he was possessed by the Wendigo and not accountable for his actions (wouldn’t that be a good defense in court?)
With all that being said, here are my top 10 Stephen King baddies of all time.
10) Henry Bowers (It)
When the book or movie It is mentioned, most people automatically think of Pennywise the clown and his balloons. And rightfully so…Pennywise is terrifying in both the book and the movie. Pennywise is one of the most iconic villains out there and will likely remain that way for quite some time. After all, he can take the form of your worst fears? Could it get any scarier?
Actually, yes. As I mentioned before, King brings an element of realism to the story. He frequently reminds us that humans are their own worst enemy. This is a topic visited with a vengeance in It, as it is laced with themes such as bullying, child abuse and spouse abuse. And one of his most memorable characters in It is Henry Bowers.
Henry Bowers is the archetype of every evil bully that we all have encountered. He torments those who are “different” in any way. He is racist and sexist. He also intimidates others into doing his dirty work for him as well. In other words, he is all around great, upstanding citizen, at least in Bully-ville.
However, in the summer of 1958, Henry’s bullying of those weaker than himself takes a sinister turn. He carves his initials on one kid’s stomach. This leads to some of Henry’s victims forming the Losers Club, partially as a way to band together and protect themselves. This group of children also becomes strong enough to hurt and possibly kill Pennywise. Pennywise realizes this, and uses Henry both in the summer of 1958 and again in 1985 to hurt The Losers. Henry’s hatred makes him an easy vessel for Pennywise, although it can be argued that Pennywise is just dumping gasoline into an existing fire. In 1958, Henry is unable to put aside his hatred for one minute and chases The Losers into the sewer. This results in the deaths of Henry’s friends. It c an be argued that Henry’s hatred was really the ultimate demise of his friends and later Henry himself.
I was bullied as a child, and the themes in It heavily resonated with me. Anyone who bullies another for any reason will face my wrath. Or they will earn the honor of being included on this list.
9) Margaret White (Carrie)
Its no secret that religion is a major theme in most Stephen King books, from The Stand to Revival, his latest work. Religion is even present in the novella The Mist, which is about inter-dimensional creatures invading our planet. King will show all aspects of religion, from the good (the hypnotism of Tom Cullen in The Stand) and also the bad (Mrs. Carmody in The Mist). It one thing that makes his works so complex and intriguing.
Margaret White is a shining (or not so shining, depending on your viewpoint) example of the “bad” part of religion in King’s work. She is Carrie’s mother in King’s first published novel, Carrie. Margaret White is a fanatic. There is no other way to put it. Her views on God and sin are extreme, to say the least. This spills over on to her parenting style, as she raises Carrie in a very restrictive environment. When Carrie buys material for a dress that is pink, Margaret does not approve because it is too close to the color red. Carrie is not allowed to participate in even the most innocuous activities, like summer camp for children. Even worse, Margaret does not inform Carrie at all about menstruation and fails to consult a doctor when Carrie does experience her first menstrual period until she is nearly 17. The creates trouble for Carrie, as she is bullied by her peers and fails to fit in at school. This is made worse when she has her first period in the girls’ locker room at school, as she does not understand what is happening and thinks she is bleeding to death.
We can argue that the events in the novel Carrie are a direct result of Margaret White’s fanaticism, as the fanaticism made Carrie White into an outcast who ultimately turned on her tormentors and later on herself. This fanaticism also resulted in the demise of both mother and daughter. Margaret White is truly an evil character who has earned her spot on this list.
8) Jim Rennie (Under the Dome)
Under the Dome is perhaps one of King’s most political novels. King himself has said that the book is an allegory for a world that is slim on resources, with power resting in the hands of a few. Under the Dome also takes a stance on religion, or perhaps more accurately, fanaticism. King shows us in the novel what can happen when we put a fanatic in charge. And the results are not pretty.
King makes a statement on fanaticism in Under the Dome through his character Jim Rennie. Rennie is the second town selectman and a used car dealer. Rennie rejoices when the town is suddenly, inexplicably blanketed by a large dome of unknown origin. Jim Rennie has been running a covert meth lab and the appearance of the dome provides a distraction from his illegal activities. Rennie takes full advantage of the dome and the chaos it creates in the town of Chesters Mills by staging a riot in a grocery store so that he can exert his authority. He is convinced that he is doing the work of God Himself and is above any kind of authority, even the President of the United States. He also uses his authority and religion to bully and exploit those weaker than him who have experienced tragedy due to the dome. He is also not afraid to kill in the name of his religion, as he beats the town pastor to death to ensure silence about the meth lab. He also has Dale Barbara, the protagonist of the story, arrested on trumped up murder charges in his attempt to fully rule the town.
Like Henry Bowers, Jim Rennie is another character whose hatred brings the demise of himself and several others. But Rennie nearly brings on the demise of an entire town along with his own through his actions. He is definite proof “that all the glitters is not gold” and is worthy a spot on this list.
7) Morgan Sloat/Morgan of Orris (The Talisman)
A major theme in King’s work is adults that do not behave as adults. Even worse, many of these adults fail to protect the ones they are supposed to love the most. The Shining is the most tragic example of this, as Jack Torrance fails to protect his son and nearly sacrifices him to the demons that possess the Overlook Hotel. It is another example of adults who fail children, in that many adults witness bullying and abuse and fail to do anything about it.
The Talisman is another example of children facing extreme danger. Jack Sawyer must travel across America on a journey in an attempt to save his mother, who is dying of cancer. Jack also visits a world parallel to our own, which he calls The Territories. In our world, he is pursed by his father’s former business partner, Morgan Sloat. When he visits The Territories, he is also pursued by Morgan’s Twinner, known as Morgan of Orris. Both versions of Morgan are greedy and corrupt. Morgan is interested only in extending his power, and will stop at nothing to do it. He sends many of his minions after Jack. His Twinner has access to magic harnessed in The Territories, giving him an unfair advantage over Jack. Morgan also cajoles and blackmails Jack’s mother even when she is on her deathbed. We learn that he was responsible for the death of Jack’s father (and his twinner) along with the death of another business partner. Morgan also attempted to kill Jack when Jack was an infant by smothering him. Fortunately, Jack is saved by his father. However, Morgan’s Twinner is successful in murdering Jack’s Territories counterpart. This turns out to be a mistake for Morgan, as the death of Jason (Jack’s Twinner) is responsible for Jack’s ability to to cross into The Territories and ultimately save his mother’s life. However, Morgan is willing to stop at nothing to attempt to defeat Jack and even attempts to sacrifice his own son, Richard to further his goals. He is truly a character with no moral center and no remorse for any of his actions. In other words, he has rightfully earned his spot on this list.
6) Sunlight Gardener/Osmond (Talisman)
While we are on the subject of adults in King novels who are cruel to children, we must discuss Sunlight Gardner (twinner to Osmond in The Territories). Sunlight Gardener is just one on a list of many adults in King’s universe who abuse and betray children. However, Gardener is able to take this abuse to a much larger scale, in that he opens a home for “wayward boys” which is really an operation that is used to mask the slavery and abuse of young children. Gardener also uses the home to obtain state funds, as he is not really accountable for those funds. He is responsible for the deaths of many boys during his tenure at the home. Gardener also physically abuses those who do not obey him. However, the most notable of these deaths is Wolf. Wolf is actually a werewolf who is accidentally pulled from The Territories by Jack Sawyer and forced to attempt to survive in Jack’s reality. Wolf is innocent and naive to the cruelties of our world, despite the fact he is a werewolf. Wolf ultimately dies protecting Jack from the evil intentions of Gardener. Gardener teams with Morgan Sloat and further attempts to hinder Jack on his quest to obtain the Talisman and save his mother, but he is unsuccessful.
Stephen King has repeatedly stated that Charles Dickens has had an enormous influence on his writing. This is evident in The Talisman, as Sunlight Gardener is similar to a character such as Fagin, in that he uses children to do his evil bidding, although on a much larger scale. His spot on this list is rightfully earned.
5) Lee Harvey Oswald (11/22/63)
Lee Harvey Oswald is different from all of the characters on this list as he is an actual person. Most people know that he is responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas TX on November 22, 1963. Many would argue that he is one of the most evil men in history, and they would be correct. In 11/22/63, King is able to make a historical figure into a character who fits into his universe. The image King paints of Oswald is not flattering, although this is not a surprise. What is surprising is the amount of detail that King gives to this character to bring him to life in such a convincing manner. Oswald is described as being controlling and abusive towards his wife. He is also described as being a failure in almost everything he tries, from being a husband and father to holding down a steady job. The main character, Jake Epping, spies on Oswald in his attempt to prevent the Kennedy assassination. We see Oswald as a weak man who becomes mentally unstable over a period of several years, and this culminates with his attempt to assassinate the President of the United States. However, Oswald has opportunities to back out of this attempt but still chooses to embark on the wrong path. In both our reality and King’s alternate reality, he pays for his obsession dearly.
In many ways, Oswald is similar to many of the villains on this list: he is unsuccessful in most of his endeavors but longs to make a name for himself. However, despite being integrated into the Stephen King Universe, he is still a historical figure that most people are familiar with. This adds dimension to his character and makes an even more terrifying King villain.
4) Gregg Stillson (Dead Zone)
Stephen King often includes sociopaths as major characters in his books. Greg Stillson from The Dead Zone is a good example of this type of character. However, he is a little different from some of King’s sociopathic characters (such as Patrick Hockstetter from It) in that he appears normal and is quite charming. However, Stillson is anything but normal. It is revealed that he was abused as a child and suffers from an over-inflated ego and sense of entitlement. He enjoys the suffering of other living beings, even animals. Like Lee Harvey Oswald, he is power hungry and longs for control. Unlike Oswald, Stillson is craftier and is able to blackmail people into doing his bidding. He successfully runs for Congress and is eyeing a presidential campaign run. However, when Johnny Smith, blessed (or possibly cursed) with precognitive abilities, makes physical contact with Stillson and realizes that Stillson will be elected president. However, this will not be a good thing for America, as Stillson will use his power to worsen conflicts and eventually orchestrate WW III. Johnny attempts to stop Stillson but is killed by the security guards at the rally in the process. However, Greg Stillson commits an act of cowardice and uses an infant as a human shield against the bullets. This act of cowardice is captured on camera, and all of Stillson’s political hopes are dashed upon publication of the photo.
King often reminds us that evil is cowardly and that fear can be used manipulate people into committing deeds that they may not otherwise commit. He also reminds us that acts of cowardice hardly win in the end. Greg Stillson is a perfect example of this, and hence the inclusion on this list.
3) Norman Daniels (Rose Madder)
Spousal abuse is a topic visited with a vengeance in many King novels. It and Delores Claiborne both make statements on this subject. Rose Madder, however, is a novel devoted to the topic. And Norman Daniels, the main antagonist in the book, is one of the most abusive men in any King novel. Norman Daniels marries Rosie McClendon a few weeks after Rosie graduates from high school. The abuse starts on their wedding night, as Norman punches Rosie for slamming a door too hard. He then continues to abuse her for the remainder of her marriage. Despite the abuse, Rosie becomes pregnant with Norman’s child. Norman then beats Rosie so badly that she miscarries and loses the baby. Rosie continues to remain married to Norman for several more years, until she sees a drop of blood on their bedding and then flees. Rosie is able to flee almost 800 miles away from Norman and begins a new life. She makes new friends and even finds new romance. However, this is still not enough to keep Norman away from her. Norman uses his police officer instincts and tracks her down, leaving a trail of bodies in his search for Rosie. Many of Rosie’s friends are murdered by Norman. Not even the local police force is able to bring Norman down. It takes Rosie stepping into a portal into another world to finally stop Norman. However, Rosie must live with the memories of the abuse for the rest of her life.
King portrays men who abuse women as monsters to be feared. Norman Daniels is human in appearance only. Inside, he is a monster capable of feeling no remorse for his heinous acts and will stop at nothing to cause pain and suffering for anyone who gets in his way. He is truly deserving of the spot on this list.
2) Charles Burnside (Black House)
Black House is a continuation of the story begun in Talisman. And again, the theme of children in danger surfaces. However, Jack Sawyer is an adult and is no longer a child in danger. He has moved to the town of French Landing in WI, after an early “retirement” from the LA Police force. But Jack does not remain in retirement for long. For children are disappearing in French Landing. When the children are found, they are dead. Not only are the children dead, they are mutilated and dismembered. When Tyler Marshall, the son of a local salesman disappears, the stakes become even higher. For Tyler is special. He possesses psionic abilities and has caught the eye of the Crimson King, the king of all villains in the Stephen King universe. The Crimson King, however, uses a human to capture Tyler. However, this man is human in appearance only. Charles Burnside appears to an Alzheimer’s patient in the last stages of life. He lives in a nursing home, where most pity him, as he does not appear to possess any of his facilities. However, this is a ruse. Charles Burnside has been in the business of murdering children for a long time. He has even changed his name to escape law enforcement. He indeed is not physically capable of much. However, he is aided by a creature known only as “Mr. Munshun.” This creature is another minion of the Crimson King, and is able to possess Burnside’s body. Burnside’s soul is so dark that it welcomes the evil creature. He allows Burnside to murder children as long as it is determined that the children do not possess any psionic abilities, making them useful to the Crimson King. When Burnside, aided by the creature known as Munshun, encounters Tyler Marshall, he kidnaps Tyler and transports him into another dimension. Burnside is ordered by Munshun to keep Tyler alive, but he still torments Tyler. Tyler is nearly killed by Burnside but is saved by the intervention of Jack Sawyer and his friends. Burnside is disposed of, but never faces true justice for the awful crimes he has committed.
Stephen King based Charles Burnside on Albert Fish, a real life serial killer who preyed upon several children in the 1920’s before finally being brought to justice. Minus the supernatural/fantasy aspect, the events in Black House (murders of children) are perfectly plausible and all too sadly common. King reminds us that is a special kind of monster that preys on defenseless children. Again, Burnside is another character rightfully deserving of his spot on this list.
And now, for the number villain in the Stephen King Universe…
1) Eldred Jonas (Wizard and Glass)
Yes, you heard it here. This blogger believes that Eldred Jonas, the main antagonist in Wizard and Glass (book 4 of the Dark Tower series) is the biggest villain of them all. And there are good reasons for that, so let’s talk about them.
Eldred Jonas is just a bad guy, period. We see him and his henchman (The Big Coffin Hunters) tormenting Sheemie, a mentally challenged young boy, at the beginning of the events in Wizard and Glass. Jonas and his friends also vandalize some of the belongings our heroes Roland, Cuthbert and Alain. He seems to enjoy cruelty for the sake of cruelty, and will go out of his way to cause suffering to people, especially those he feels do not serve his purpose. A sociopath, like many other King villains, in other words.
However, Eldred Jonas is on a different level than most King villains. If the Crimson King (the ultimate King bad guy) had a human henchman, Jonas fits that role perfectly. Jonas also works for John Farson (known as The Good Man, although this is quite the misnomer). John Farson is the entity that is ultimately responsible for overthrowing the system of rule that has been in place in the Baronies of Midworld for centuries. Jonas also works for Randall Flagg, who thrives on misery and chaos. Randall Flagg also plays a part in the demise of Midworld,which is referred to as “the world moving on.” Jonas definitely keeps bad company, as well as being a sociopath.
There is an object in the King Universe known as Maerlyn’s Rainbow. It consists of glass balls that are different colors of the rainbow. Not surprisingly, this object can be used for mischief. Jonas and the band of Big Coffin Hunters obtain one piece of the Rainbow. It is pink in color and allows the user to view events in remote locations. Jonas gives this piece of the glass to a witch known as Rhea of the Coos. Not surprisingly, Rhea uses the magical piece of glass for mischief and becomes even more evil and corrupt under its power. This later causes trouble for Roland his friends.
All of the above deeds are pretty terrible, but I think the biggest reason why I consider Eldred Jonas to be so evil is because he was responsible for the death of Roland’s one true love, Susan Delgado. Susan was also pregnant with Roland’s unborn son. Jonas charms Susan’s greedy Aunt Cordelia, and is able to bring Cordelia to his side. Jonas then has mayor Thorin murdered, and has Roland and his friends arrested on false murder charges, so that they are no longer in his way. Jonas also plots to have war machines fueled with oil from Meijis. However, Susan is able to free Roland and his friends from prison. But since Jonas has turned Cordelia against her own niece, Cordelia becomes part of a lynch mob that ends up burning Susan and her unborn child at the stake. Roland and his friends are able to foil Jonas’ plot and dispose of Jonas himself, but the actions of Jonas have caused irreparable damage in the form of Susan Delgado’s death and the start of a war that will also destroy Roland’s way of life and cost him his friends and family. Anyone responsible for that much damage (in both direct and indirect ways) is worthy of the number one spot on this list.
One of the reasons that I love the Batman series so much is that it portrays human beings in situations where they are forced to make difficult decisions. Some of these humans try to take the right path, like Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon. However, others such as The Joker, Harley Quinn and Two Face choose to take a much darker road. And sometimes the darker road is the more interesting road. It is no different in the Stephen King Universe. Some, such as Roland Deschain and Jack Sawyer, face adversity and still choose to fight for the Side of the White. But there are others, such as Eldred Jonas and Greg Stillson, who choose to travel down the dark path. And while I support the Side of the White, I can’t help but be intrigued by the darker path, and to also want to hitch a ride with the travelers of that path.