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Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists: Beast

Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists: Beast

Dracula Fafnir Every werewolf ever These names bring to mind creatures driven by a single imperative. For some, the driving force is a need to feed, while survival is the impetus that compels others to do what they do. But they all share one common thing: their primitive and bestial instincts overpower higher rationale. In the end, that savagery is what makes them a true beast.

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Beasts: The Origin

Beasts and savage creatures have been a recurring theme in fiction since the dawn of time. The oldest mythologies—including Egyptian, Sumerian, and Babylonian—feature dragons, werewolves, vampires, and more. These beasts are typically driven by a single biological or psychological imperative:
  • Vampires need to feed on blood to survive
  • Dragons collect and hoard treasure
  • Fenrir the Wolf is foretold to kill Odin during Ragnarok
The thing that makes these beasts such amazing villains is that they are often at the mercy of those imperatives. They are often as much a victim of their own circumstance as the people that suffer at their hands. Many modern books, movies, and TV shows depict traditional "beast" characters fighting their own urges in order to assimilate into society. Beasts are typically driven by the most basic physiological needs on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Food is typically the predominant factor: werewolves need fresh meat, vampires need blood, and so on. However, in many cases, beasts are driven by the need to survive. While humans can subsist on water, oxygen, and typical food, these beasts require other things to survive—i.e., vampires and blood. However, other needs that drive them include financial (dragons and their gold), health and wellbeing (typical monsters avoiding monster hunters), and social belonging (with their pack and fellow "beasts"). They simply resort to methods of meeting these needs through methods that modern society have deemed primitive, savage, violent, and bestial. These beasts tap into our fear not only of being harmed, but also fears at our own "darker selves". Everyone has experienced the urge to hurt others at some point in their lives—in the name of revenge, justice, out of anger or frustration, or any number of reasons. We have all struggled to keep those "base impulses" under control, and it can be one of the greatest challenges of personal development that we face. When we read about these bestial creatures that give into those darker selves, it holds up a mirror to show us what WE would be like if we were to permit our inner urges to overpower our rational mind. Think of these beasts as the Bizarro version of the person we try to convince the world we are. They are all the base instincts that exist even after millennia of evolution and development into the modern humans we are. They are the "animal within all of us".

In stories:

Until the last 10 to 20 years, beasts were almost exclusively the antagonist. Their bestial nature made them straight villains, as they were willing to resort to "extremes" to follow their biological or psychological imperatives:
  • Smaug, from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit only cared about his hoard.
  • Dracula, Wolfman, and all the classic horror monsters of old were driven by their biological imperatives to survive.
  • Fenrir the Wolf in Norse mythology was fated to kill Odin, and the serpent Jörmungandr is fated to bring on the beginning of Ragnarok.
However, modern takes on bestial characters will often use them as a tortured protagonist fighting their own inner urges and base natures.