5 memorable antagonists in children’s literature

Protagonists are always under the spotlight. Powerful protagonists are important, but where would they be without an antagonist? Without an antagonist, they wouldn’t be who they are, and there would be no story to tell.

The antagonist is as imperative, if not more, to a story as the protagonist. Strong and wellwritten antagonists add layers and substance to the story being told. The antagonists or villains are characters just like every other character in the story, and should be well-developed and interesting to create conflict and obstacles for the protagonist. This helps drive the story ahead and makes it engaging for the reader. Relatable antagonists can take a story a notch higher, because when we relate to them, we understand their point of view, why they are doing what they are and how they became the person they are.

Let’s discuss five of the best antagonists in children’s literature.

Dolores Umbridge, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Dolores Umbridge is by far the most hated character in the Harry Potter series. Her abnormally calm and polite behaviour paired with her cruelty makes her an incredibly infuriating and despicable character. She is biased against anyone who isn’t a witch or wizard and hates half-breeds. She always feels the need to control those around her. Yet, one cannot imagine the series without her. 

Cruella de Vil, 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

Cruella is known to be mean and rude, often barging into other people’s homes unannounced and publicly disrespecting them. She loves having all the attention but looks down on others, showing no concern for anyone’s well-being. She is greedy and selfish and adores art and high fashion. She is indubitably an unforgettable character. 

Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Bellatrix often gave the impression of being a total psychopath, completely lacking in anything close to a conscience. She was a brutal witch who at certain points seemed mentally unbalanced; for instance, when she once killed a fox because she was paranoid thinking it might have been an Auror in disguise. Bellatrix was intelligent but could be easily distracted and had a wild and dangerous temper, a trait that she shared with her cousin Sirius. Bellatrix treated people below her like scum. Being born and brought up in the aristocratic House of Black, Bellatrix was heavily spoiled into believing that being born a Black made her practically royalty. She was one of Voldemort’s most brutal Death Eaters, always eager to inflict the Cruciatus Curse on her opponents or rivals. What a deliciously evil and strong character indeed!

Mrs. Trunchbull, Matilda by Roald Dahl

Agatha Trunchbull is wicked, haughty, brutal and cruel. Besides having a huge hatred for kids, she is also egotistical, power-crazed and greedy, trying to maintain a position of power in any way and as long as possible. She’s abusive and thinks that violence is the best way to discipline children, and she keeps a vicious torture chamber called the Chokey in her office.  One cannot talk about this book without talking about her. 

Count Olaf, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Count Olaf is sinister, evil, rude, and greedy. All his schemes have the same goal – kill the Baudelaire children, and get their fortune. No matter what situation he is in, he always seems to come up with an evil plan to escape. His plans vary from stealing the sugar bowl from Hotel Denouement to releasing the Medusoid Mycelium (a poisonous gas) to trying to kidnap the Baudelaires multiple times. Most of his plans never work out in the end but during the process, he has hurt hundreds of innocent people. He is definitely the terribly important character for the story. 

I also reached out to two dynamic authors – Apeksha Rao and Anita Satyajit – to find out who their favourite antagonists are. It was fun to talk to them about this topic and know their thoughts. I am quoting what they shared with me.  

Apeksha Rao says,My favourite antagonist is Voldemort. I think what makes him the perfect antagonist is that he had the opportunity to travel the right path and yet he chose to go bad. And that’s what makes it even more satisfying when he gets his comeuppance, because it is a win of good over evil.”

Interestingly, Anita Satyajit seems to have a common favourite with me as her choice is Count Olaf from ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’. She explains, “He has been created as a character who is bound to evoke rage, loathing and irritation in a reader. He represents the worst quality in all of us which we do not even want to acknowledge – being self-centered. He is the perfect antithesis to the protagonist of books who usually thinks of others. I love to hate this character. “

I hope your favourite antagonists found a place in this list. If not, do share your picks in the comments. 

// This is a commissioned article penned by 12-year-old Kimaya Avadhani from J.B. Petit High School for Girls, Mumbai. She has combined research and her reading experiences to come up with an interesting list of antagonists in children’s/YA literature. //

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