Villains come in all shapes and sizes. They might be ancient forces of evil, or people who abuse their power, or simply insane, but there is one villainous trait that without fail makes me hate a character.
For me to really, truly, hate a villain, they have to treat people not as people, but as tools or toys or weapons, and more importantly, they have to know they are doing it and not care.
In the Harry Potter books, it’s stated once that Voldemort can’t actually see anyone else as human. It’s implied that he is incapable of love because he was conceived under the influence of a love potion. He’s emotionally stunted. And he does some pretty despicable things. Still, I don’t hate him nearly as much as Professor Umbridge, who delighted in torturing Harry during his detentions and enjoyed sending muggleborns to Azkaban during Voldemort’s reign, not because she hated them particularly, but because she simply liked the power. She knew what she was doing. She understood how much pain she caused. She just didn’t care. She fueled her patronus with the pleasure she got from doing those things.
That’s one of the milder ones I hate. There are others who are much worse.
Sadeas of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive is one. He deliberately wastes slave lives on the battlefield, despite knowing how human those slaves are and how desperately they fight to stay alive. He continues a foolish war and tries to overthrow the government he helped to build in a misguided attempt to regain the sense of conquest he felt as a young man, working against people he once loved in the process.
Hydra in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is another one, particularly its members Zola and Pierce. Brainwashing like what they did to Bucky Barnes really needs to not be a thing. They dehumanized him, calling him simply “the asset”, and turned him into a weapon against the people he would have protected if he had been the one calling the shots.
And then there’s Loki, who hijacks Hawkeye’s mind, gouges out a guy’s eye with a massive grin on his face, and stabs Coulson just to annoy Thor, all in the course of a cosmic temper tantrum.
It’s characters like that who give me the deepest sense of horror, because they reflect the very darkest aspects of human nature. Hopefully none of us do those terrible things, but one of my great fears is the potential we have to become like that. How many of us have forgotten to treat people with different political ideologies from ourselves like actual, thinking, people? Far more than would like to admit it, I think.
But there’s one good purpose villains such as these serve in our fiction. They show us the worst aspects of our characters, and remind us to steer clear of paths that would make us like them. So while I really, really hate these villains, I do try to understand them to a degree, and develop bad guys and gals in my own fiction who follow a similar pattern.