Wednesday, October 14, 2009

As promised... YA Villain Study: Gaston from Beauty and the Beast

Let's face it, everyone loves a good bad guy. After all, what's a hero without a villain? Imagine Superman without Lex Luthor. Harry Potter without Lord Voldemort (or Draco Malfoy or Snape, for that matter). Wesley without Prince Humperdinck. Dorothy without the Wicked Witch. Stefan Salvatore without Damon. Clarice Starling without Hannibal Lecter. Old Yeller without rabies. (Did I go too far? Alright, lemme hear it: "awwwwwwwwww.")

Truly great villains enhance heroes. Test them. Force them to make difficult choices. Make both the hero and the reader question who they are and what they know. A one-dimensional villain does none of that. (The Wicked Witch is very close to this, but she's green, so we forgive her. But you can totally see why Gregory Maguire had the urge to write Wicked.)

*Side note - You don't have to have some epic story with a clear-cut, monstrous villain or antagonist for this post to relate to you. After all, every character should have a little bit of a villain in them, right? So readers and writers of contemporary realistic fiction, never fear! I'm one of you!

Anywho, today we're focusing on Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, examining him as if he were a villain in a modern Young Adult novel. Why?
1.) I'm obsessed with Beauty and the Beast. Common knowledge.
2.) Everyone knows Disney movies. Easy example.
3.) Gaston is both a good and bad villain, so he works well for my purposes.
4.) Did I mention I'm obsessed with Beauty and the Beast?

What do we know about Gaston?
He's the town hottie, and he knows it. Quite a brute though, but the townspeople have this love/fear relationship with him. In the song "Gaston," they start off by saying that he's "perfect, a pure paragon" and "everyone's favorite guy" ... but then we learn more. He basically intimidates them because he's a bully. (Remember that kid you hated in school? That's him. Gaston stole your lunch money. Then he took steroids, popped his collar, and became that mean dumb jock in high school who snagged everyone's girlfriend.) People hang on to him and suck up to him because he has power.

So when the ever-shallow Gaston sees Belle, he thinks: "Hark! Arm candy!" But his oh-so-romantic proposal (the idea of giving foot rubs and seven boys running around really makes a girl's knees wobble) doesn't work because Belle wants something a little more evolved in a husband. She politely declines. Apparently she never got the town memo that "no one says no to Gaston!"

Enter Gaston the Uber-Villain. (Say that in a Terminator accent, please.) Now Belle has to pay, because she humiliated him. Who does he go after? First her eccentric father, then her exceptionally hairy, fanged boyfriend. Eek!

Why Gaston's a Good Villain
He provides a wonderful foil to the Beast, who is the unconventional hero in this story. The fairy tale teaches that beauty is only skin deep, and not to judge on appearances alone. Therefore, if the gorgeous, manly specimen is truly "beastly" within, then the hideous beast can be a kind, learned gentleman who spouts Whitman at will and understands that sometimes all a woman needs is dark chocolate and a bubble bath. Ahem. Basically, their contrasts enhance each other.

Why Gaston's a Crappy Villain
Did someone say one-dimensional? We get it, he's a shallow meanie. Duh. There are SO MANY things we don't know about him. First off, how did he become so darn proud and entitled? What made him so obsessed with his looks? Was he a scrawny kid who got teased but then hit puberty first? What kind of family does he come from -- large/small? poor/rich? I want to know! (Stomps foot.) Does he have any goals or dreams for himself? (Perhaps Mr. Universe aspirations?) Has he ever had a real friend?

What would really really make Gaston an awesome villain is if he actually had some humanity, some depth. What if Gaston were the kind of guy that Belle could fall in love with? Maybe he loves reading too, so they have a real connection, but then Belle realizes that he's not a very nice person. Then Gaston's obsession with her is more legitimate, and he has a reason to feel betrayed when she chooses the Beast. Never underestimate the power of sympathy when dealing with a complex villain. That's why we all love Lex Luthor -- he used to be Superman's best friend. And Snape being in love with Harry's mother? Classic.

Or, if a character's going to be all evil, at least give him some real personality! See Hannibal Lecter and Prince Humperdinck. Throw Bellatrix Lestrange in that group too. She's all sorts of awesome.

In Conclusion...
I love Gaston, I do. But he had all this villain potential just frittered down the drain. (Do you hear me, Disney? FRITTERED!) The Beast, in my opinion, is way more appealing of a hero than Prince Charming because he's constantly fighting the darkness within. Gaston, as the bad guy, lacks the opposing complexity that he deserves.

*Addendum: I still totally enjoyed when he fell off the side of the castle and died, though.

You Tell Me
So who are some of your favorite villains from YA, classic lit, TV, movies, etc?

Post by the Numbers
Ah-nold Schwarzenegger references: 2
Books mentioned that became movies/TV shows/plays: 6
Snarky asides: 5
Random uses of bold font: 7
Kickass images made on the Paint program: 1

Post about YA villain writing on Teens Writing for Teens
Article on The Motives of Villains and Heroes
FNC YA Character Study: Aladdin
FNC YA Character Study: Ariel
FNC YA Character Study: Belle
FNC Jacket Copy for YA Beauty and the Beast
FNC Disney Princes Smackdown: Charming vs. Philip


  1. Hmm...favorite villains from YA

    Valentine from the Mortal Instruments series.
    Damon from the Vampire Diaries.

    Nuff said.

    Natalie @ Mindful Musings

  2. THIS was an awesome post! I look forward to your next villains post.
    My favorite villain of all time has to be Jafar from Aladdin.
    As for YA villains, I agree with natalie, Damon from the Vampire Diaries. But only because he is played by Ian Somerhalder.
    And I'm a huge Lex Luthor fan as well.

  3. I love this post (and not just because I am also in love with Beauty and the Beast). Villians eh? Hmmm...

    Do the complicater characters count? They're not quite villains. They help, but also seriously hinder. I'm thinking especially of Mogget from The Abhorsen Trilogy and Valentine from Mirrormak (by Neil Gaiman).

    But for straight up villains - President Snow/The Capitol in The Hunger Games - talk about a serious villain.

    El Patron in House of the Scorpion (Dang he's creepy!)

    Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird

    The Nothing/Wolf servant in the movie version of Neverending Story (scared me so much as a kid).

  4. Ooh, villains! My favorite. Some of my favorite villains include...

    1) Mr. Collins, from Pride and Prejudice. I like him because Elizabeth HATES him (as does Mr. Bennett) and he just seems like such a ridiculously awesome man, but then he married Charlotte and gives her a better life than she could've gotten from most other deals, so you kind of have to hate him and like him at the same time.

    2) Dolores Umbridge. I feel the one-sidedness coming out in her, but OMG I HATE HER. She seriously makes my skin crawl. And I think that kind of writing is awesome.

    3) Hannibal Lecter. He is so awesome because I watch Silence of the Lambs and kind of want to be friends with them...until he eats that guy's tongue. He's got serious depth.

    4) Magneto, from X-Men. I think I'm a sucker for villains who are also gentlemen (see: Hannibal Lecter.) He has real respect and love for Professor X, yet knows they will never be able to stand united. In some ways, those two are the ultimate unrequited love story!

    5) Sylar, from Heroes. The eyebrows alone are enough.

  5. And by "ridiculously awesome man" for Mr. Collins, I clearly meant "ridiculously AWFUL man."

  6. Ha! I love how you described Gaston. I literally lol'd. My favorite villains are:

    1. Hades from Hercules. He's so jealous and angry that Zeus is head honcho. He's like a dorky little brother. Except totally evil.

    2. Lucius Malfoy. He's a total badass with the cane. And his whole family is wonderfully snobby. But I feel sympathy for him because I think his family was important to him.

    3. Jareth The Goblin King in Labyrinth. Kidnapping a girl's little brother in order to get her to stay forever? Totally messed up, but I guess that's just a villains twisted way of showing affection. Plus, I love David Bowie in all his tight-pantsed glory. Haha.

    4. Magneto- Sara said it all.

  7. Lovin the feedback, guys! So glad you enjoyed this.

    Great favorite villain mentions, too. Such variety!

    I still haven't read Mortal Instruments -- it's killing me -- and now I want to even more!

    Ian Somerholder makes Damon 10x better, definitely.

    And The Capitol as villain in The Hunger Games -- that's such an interesting villain, because it's an entity, a government.

    Mr. Collins IS awful. So well written!

    I definitely love all the bad guys in Harry Potter - JK Rowling REALLY knows her stuff there.

    Keep 'em coming!

  8. From YA lit I have to pull my favorite villain from a few years back. Visser 3 from the Animorphs.

    Classic Lit: Dracula

    Modern Lit: Randall Flagg & Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

  9. Post by numbers? Genius. I wish I could pay someone to perform that analysis on our entire blog. I have the feeling that it would look something like this:

    Dawson Leary references: 2
    Books mentioned that became movies/TV shows/plays: 6
    Snarky asides: 5,487
    Random uses of parentheses: 3,004
    Kickass images created by Stacey in photoshop: 13

  10. I LOVED this post. I'm a huge Beauty and the Beast fan and enjoyed every minute of this Gaston character breakdown. I also see from your Linkage section that there are other Disney posts I need to check out. Seriously awesome!

    Some favorite villains:

    - Voldemort (duh)
    - Inspector Javert from Les Miserables
    - Scar from the Lion King - isn't he basically Claudius from Hamlet?
    - Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca (one of my all-time favorites, what a creeper!)

    Thanks so much for a really entertaining post and can't wait to read more! :)

  11. I have to agree that the breast can be a better villain
    I havent read the mortal instrument !!!!! But i should :)


  12. I was going to say Scar from Lion King, he was awesome. Zira from the second Lion King was just as crazy.

    Can I use a video game reference? I always had a soft spot for the silver haired men from Final Fantasy Advent children. Would they be considered villains? They just wanted their mother back.

    This isn't a disney movie, but Steele from Balto is like the Gaston of the sled dog world.

  13. This post was made of awesome :D

    As for villains, I always loved Jaffar from Alladin and Hades from Hercules. They sort of fit into the one dimensional area though.

    A more fleshed out villain that I loved was Luke Castillan from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. He's so damaged and you really feel bad for him by the end of the series.

    I look forward to reading more posts like this...very amusing.


  14. I love reading your articles, you always make me laugh. You have a new constant follower here :)

    I had never given Gaston a second thought before...


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