It's good to be bad.
Or at least, being bad is a lot more fun.
That's the premise behind a survey initiated by members of Morningside College's "Friday is Writing Day" club.
"Between now and Oct. 29, we're asking people to determine who is the vilest literary villain of all time," Marcie Ponder, the English department's administrative assistant, explained. "Through an online poll, we want to narrow our 20 choices down to 10, while determining who is the most evil man, woman or creature in literary history."
Well, that sounds easy enough, right?
Certainly, Ponder and Heather Eisley, a Morningside College English senior, took the assignment of compiling their top 20 list of literary leches quite seriously.
"Let's just say we had some spirited discussions on who would make the cut," Eisley admitted.
For instance, neither Dr. Victor Frankenstein nor the the creature he created made the literary list.
"Once you think about it, Frankenstein didn't have an evil intent," Ponder said. "The monster he created didn't have the intellectual capability of being deliberately evil."
Cinderella's evil stepsisters were eliminated on a technicality.
"Outside of Cinderella, the literary world has quite a few evil step-siblings or evil step-parents," Eisley said. "Instead of debating the relative villainy of each, we decided to simply to step away entirely from the category."
Even without fiendish family members, the women seemed to have a field day when choosing fictional freak shows.
While some names on their list were no-brainers,
Bram Stoker's "Dracula" titular neck nuzzler; Satan from John Milton's "Paradise Lost"; and the Wicked Witch from the West in L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" immediately come to mind.
Other names resulted in some literary head scratching.
Can you still remember the machinations of Abigail Williams from Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"; Napoleon from George Orwell's "Animal Farm"; or Grendel, the classic monster from "Beowulf?"
"I don't remember much from 'Beowulf,'" Eisley admitted, "and I happen to be an English major."
Other choices were a bit more accessible.
Hannibal Lecter? Yeah, he's on the list. Annie Wilkes, the psychotic killer from Stephen King's "Misery?" Hell yeah, she made it! And what about Miss Agatha Turnbull, the head mistress who used little kids for shot put practice from Roald Dahl's "Matilda?" We approve of her athleticism but her villainy was simply too over-the-top.
William Shakespeare was well-represented by such meanies as Iago (from "Othello") and Lady Macbeth (from "Macbeth").
More modern menaces to society included Pennywise (from Stephen King's "It"); Nurse Ratched (from Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest); as well as a diabolical duo form J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series.
"One could make an argument that (Harry Potter nemesis) Voldemort was bad," Eisley suggested, "but I think (sadistic professor) Dolores Umbridge was even worse because she was straight-up psycho-bonkers."
Eisley ought to know. The Gypsum, Kan. native has been reading (and re-reading) Harry Potter books since she turned three years old.
"It was Harry Potter that introduced me to literature and it was Hermione Granger who became my role model," Eisley said.
However, it wasn't a Potter fiend or a Shakespearean sociopath who got her vote for the meanest of the mean.
Eisley said Cruella de Vil (from Dodie Smith's "One Hundred and One Dalmatians") was literary's vilest villains.
"You can be mean to people but they can defend themselves," she reasoned. "Cruella de Vil drowned defenseless kittens while skinning puppies for their fur. That crosses a line for me."