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Monday, 28 October 2013


It takes a whole heap of self-esteem to be a really effective villain.

In the 1970s, a dreadful myth was perpetrated by the likes of Roy Baumeister*. He maintained the worst thing that parents can inflict on a child is low self-esteem. Luckily, authors have never been led astray. They, like me, have recognised that the true villains of the world have excessive self-esteem.

Sometimes it manifests itself as truly despicable villains in the mould of Lemony Snicket's Count Olaf. I include Lian Tanner’s Flugleman in this group. In fictitious schools, the villain is often the beautiful bullying queen bee or her male counterpart, the jock, who delight in making it hard for our sensitive/bookish/nerdy/lunch-in- the-library protagonists. Think of pushy manipulative Holly in Fiona Wood’s Wildlife. These villains never seem to suffer self-doubt.

Of course modern psychology has moved on. It is now known bullies do not have low self-esteem. It is now known that there is no relationship between the view that individuals hold of themselves and their peers’ evaluations. It also cannot be presumed that those with low literacy skills have low self-esteem but we do know those who enjoy reading understand themselves and the world better whether they aim to or not.

Our heroes are all the more heroic because they do show humility and our villains more hateful because they do not. And is not it much more enjoyable when villains get their comeuppance?

Richard Pickup

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