Category Archives: Antagonist

Tamatoa – the best Disney Villain Ever!


As I may have mentioned, I really enjoy watching a good villain. Villains always seem to have the most fun. The perfect example is Tamatoa from Disney’s Moana, who has the all the best lines and steals every scene he is in, while also having the best bad boy song ever. My only problem … as a zoologist, I looked at Tatatoa and immediately thought to myself “But most crabs moult. Wouldn’t that mean he would lose that love shiny shell every year?”

Nope. Juvenile coconut crabs do moult, and like hermit crabs, the little crabs wear scavenged shells for protection. However, as adults, they grow a tough outer integument. The coconut crab reaches sexual maturity around five years after hatching. but they reach their maximum size only after 40 to 60 years. They are fully terrestrial once they mature, and can drown if held under water for too long (hence Tamatoa living in an air bubble).

So Tamatoa could have grown to be huge, and he could be wearing a shell covered in treasure from one year to the next; even if has moulted, he could be wearing his old shell over the new one. These little details are important to me, even though giant singing crabs don’t exist. They certainly don’t have teeth!

So, why do I have to try and make sense of an animated character? Well, Tamatoa wasn’t the original form of the villain. It is obvious that the animators had done quite a bit of research of their own to come up with our glam crab. By knowing how they came up with such a charismatic antagonist might help me add a bit of that glamour to my own villains.

Tamatoa-Sing SHINY.png


Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Disney, Pop Culture, Uncategorized

This Year’s Steampunk Treasure


This wasn’t my only treasure. I also got a Doctor Who calendar and a Doctor Who TARDIS Teapot to go with my TARDIS lidded mug. I was spoilt (again).


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Filed under Antagonist, Doctor Who, Personal experience, Steampunk, Uncategorized

‘The Other’ as a Characterization Device

The Other is a literary and sociological concept, used to understand the construction of identity. There is an ‘Us’ and there is ‘The Other’; the outsider, the foreigner, the nonconformist, the maverick, and the rebel are usually identified as ‘The Other’. It isn’t a cut-and-dried concept, because Otherness changes with location, time period, and circumstances. My own personal definition of Otherness relates to the underlying Patriarchy of my Australian ‘Western’ culture – the Other is someone who is not white, male, heterosexual, rich/middle class, or human – someone who isn’t ‘normal’.



In the early decades of the Twentieth century, in the Modern era, someone like Ming the Merciless was ‘The Other’. His East Asian appearance, his name, referencing the Ming dynasty of China, and the name of his planet Mongo, “a contraction of Mongol” (Brian Locke, Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen: The Orientalist Buddy Film) all delineate to his foreignness and otherness. This made him a cookie cut-out classic villain of the era; no real motivation was given to his character because being Other was apparently motivation enough.

Tilda Swinton as the White Witch.

My personal favourite example of the female Other is Jadis, the White Witch from Narnia. She is a powerful female and refuses to submit to any authority other than her own. Of course, this makes her completely evil …

In this Postmodern era, society has become more accepting and tolerant of the Other. In the 1960s and 1970s, Doctor Who’s the Master was made to resemble Ming somewhat. Lately, the Master has been quite human looking, John Sim’s Master was given a more in depth backstory. It might be argued that the Doctor has always been a representation of the Other. They are both 3D characterizations, and more understandable and likeable for their rounded personalities.

In the Steampunk genre, Otherness may equate to
• Femininity, and in particular nonconforming women.
• Being ‘Foreign’
• Non-heteronormative sexuality
• Living to the precepts of an Alternative Philosophy to Capitalism
• Not being a human (like a Timelord or Frankenstein’s monster)
• Being poor (or, rarely, extremely rich)
• Being a criminal
• Being under or over educated.

Mustrum Ridcully

Now, we can all think of villains that are examples of these sorts of Otherness. In fact, using Otherness to create a villain is overdone. Otherness can also be used as a virtue when creating characterization. Terry Pratchett was the supreme master of this: Captain Carrot, Granny Weatherwax and Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully.


Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson is a six-foot-tall dwarf (by adoption), and could pretty much be the poster boy for Otherness. He is in a serious relationship with a vegetarian werewolf. He is a policeman who is the opposite of street smart, being kind to a fault, trusting, and believes everyone is good at heart. He is a simple man, but never confuse simple with stupid, because he is also one of the most intelligent characters in the Discworld universe. He is clever enough to hide this, though his close companions have a fair idea of his genius. More criminals have been caught due to Carrot’s apparent naivety than ever by cunning. And before you point out that he is a tall, white man in a position of power … remember that context is everything for defining Otherness.

Yep. Carrot is a redhead, but that isn’t how he earned the name.


So, if you are contemplating making your villain one of the Others, recall that this is using a stereotype and lazy writing. Think about how scary a villain might be if he appears completely bland and normal, a razorblade hidden in a slice of bread. How much deeper will be your characterization, and you will give your audience much more to think about.


There you go, Erin! A deeper discussion of Otherness.

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Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Doctor Who, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, The Other, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

Richard Owen: the Real Victorian Dinosaur

Owen: the most distinguished vertebrate zoologist and palaeontologist… but a most deceitful and odious man.”

— Richard Broke Freeman in Charles Darwin: a Companion, 1978
Richard Owen

Richard Owen -the gifted palaeontologist who coined the word ‘Dinosaur’, and best remembered for his opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

In his day, Sir Richard Owen was a controversy magnet, as well as a talented and highly intelligent English biologist, comparative anatomist and palaeontologist. However, he was also inclined to not give credit where academic credit was due, was argumentative and opinionated, and this tended to undermine his real achievements. He was a complex man, and it impacted on his legacy as a scientist.


Owen with a Moa bone in 1846

The Good:

Personally, I believe Owen’s support for the founding of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington is his outstanding achievement.Work  on the building that houses the museum began in 1873 and was completed in 1880. The museum was officially opened in 1881, although the move from the old museum was not fully completed until 1883.The collection has both historic as well as scientific value, as many of the specimens collected were by scientists like Darwin or Banks.

Owen did do a lot of original work. It was Owen who first explored the differences between reptiles and dinosaurs, and went on to name Dinosauria – the terrible lizards. It was Owen’s interest in the Dodo that helped with documenting and preserving the remaining partial specimens. He theorised the existence of Moas from a single femur bone, sent to him by a Doctor John Rule of Sydney, who had received it from his nephew in New Zealand, John Harris. Owen named the new species Dinornis. It was his work on fossils that he is best remembered for in the scientific community. Several of his academic text books are still in use today, like Odontography, or are the basis for further work in the field of anatomy.

Owen's Archetype

Owen’s Archetype

Owen was granted right of first refusal on the corpses of any freshly dead animals from the London Zoo, and made significant contributions to the science of taxonomy. This created some amusing situations; Owen’s wife once arrived home to find the carcass of a rhinoceros in her front hallway. However, it was his work on fossils that he is best remembered for. One of Owen’s most notable accomplishments was his description of the vertebrate archetype. There he provided a theoretical framework to interpret anatomical and physiological similarities shared among organisms. Owen saw these mutual features as manifestations of a common blueprint. He defined the archetype this way: “that ideal original or fundamental pattern on which a natural group of animals or system of organs has been constructed, and to modifications of which the various forms of such animals or organs may be referred.”


The Bad:

Darwin and Owen started out as colleagues. But Owen was in two minds when Darwin’s The Origin of Species came out; his own theories along similar lines had been much ridiculed in the press and by the scientific establishment. Much later on, he was inclined to publicly agree in the concept of evolution, but was dead against the theory that natural selection was the underlying cause. This brought him the enmity of Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin’s greatest supporter and a member of the X Club. (I told you I would get back to the X Club eventually).

“I often saw Owen, whilst living in London, and admired him greatly, but was never able to understand his character and never became intimate with him. After the publication of the Origin of Species he became my bitter enemy, not owing to any quarrel between us, but as far as I could judge out of jealousy at its success. Poor dear Falconer….had a very bad opinion of him, being convinced that he was not only ambitious, very envious and arrogant, but untruthful and dishonest. His power of hatred was certainly unsurpassed. When in former days I used to defend Owen, Falconer often said, “You will find him out some day”, and so it has proved.”

Charles Darwin, 1887



The Ugly:

Owen plagiarised the work of others, and used his influence to hinder the publication of other scientists’ work. In 1846, he was awarded the Royal Medal for a paper he had written on belemnites (an extinct Order of cephlapods).  What Owen had failed to acknowledge was that the belemnite had been discovered by Chaning Pearce, an amateur biologist, four years earlier. It was then that other scientists noted similar behaviour in regards to the late Gideon Mantell. His antagonism towards Gideon Mantell and sabotage of Mantell’s reputation as the original discoverer of the Iguanodon was uncovered. As a result of the ensuing scandal, he was voted off the councils of the Zoological Society and the Royal Society, and denied the presidency of the Royal Society. He didn’t learn a lesson from these incidents.

As he grew older, he ruined his own reputation with his arrogance and ill tempered attacks on other scientists. Not only had he alienated and offended supporters of Darwin like Huxley and Hugh Falconer, he attacked Joseph Hooker – another member of the X Club – and Kew Gardens, and joined up with the reprehensible Acton Smee Ayrton. Owen thought Hooker and Kew Gardens were threatening the success of the Natural History Museum, and again took to using his influence to ruin the reputation of others. It backfired. In the midst of his troubles, Hooker was elected as President of the Royal Society in 1873. This showed publicly the high regard which Hooker’s fellow scientists had for him, and the great importance they attached to his work.

There had been an official report on Kew which had not previously been seen in public. Ayrton had caused this to be written by Richard Owen. Hooker had not seen it, and so had not been given right of reply. However, the report was amongst the papers laid before Parliament, and it contained the most unscrupulous attack on both the Hookers, and suggested (amongst much else) that they had mismanaged the care of their trees, and that their systematic botany was nothing more than “attaching barbarous binomials to foreign weeds”. The discovery of this report no doubt helped to sway opinion in favour of Hooker and Kew (there was debate in the press as well as Parliament). Hooker replied to the Owen report point by point in a factual manner, and his reply placed with the other papers on the case. When Ayrton was questioned about it in the debate led by Lubbock, he replied that “Hooker was too low an official to raise questions of matter with a Minister of the Crown”.

From Wikipedia

Owen had worked hard to contribute to the science of biology, and in the end he muddied his own reputation more than anyone else’s. He spent the last half of his career working as the superintendent of the natural history department of the British Museum and then his Natural History Museum, and even managed to taint that legacy. In 2009, his statue  in the main hall of his museum was replaced with a statue of Darwin (oh, the irony).

In my Steampunk work-in-progress, Owen is only mentioned in passing. But I considering upping his presence…



Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Dinosaurs, Historical Personage, History, Richard Owen, Science, Steampunk Genre, The X Club, Victorian Era, writing

Nasty Pieces of Work: Real-Life, Victorian-Era Villains


Rufus Wilmot Griswold

Charles Augustus Howell

Villains were easy to find in Victorian times. This is a quick glimpse at two of my personal favourites: Rufus Griswold and Charles Howell. Both men can claim to utter scoundrels, and both were two-faced to their purported friends.

Edgar Allan Poe – lucky to be so talented as to survive a smear campaign after his demise.

No one is quite sure what disease or defect killed Poe, but for a long while people were convinced he died of alcoholism. This is because Mr Griswold wrote Poe’s obituary – under the pename of ‘Ludwig’ – and then set about blackening Poe’s name. He also went on to fraudulently become Poe’s literary executor. He had a document where Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm transferred her power of attorney to Griswold, dated October 20, 1849, but there were no witnesses signatures and Maria Clemm wasn’t even Poe’s closest relative – legally, his sister should have been left the rights to Poe’s works. Still, Griswold got what he wanted, full access to Poe’s papers.

Griswold went on to a biographical article about Poe called “Memoir of the Author”, in which he depicted Poe as a drunkard  and a drug-addled madman. Most of his claims and facts were distortions and downright lies. As Poe’s work became popular and their as increased academic recognition of his literary influence, further research into his life and legacy uncovered Griswold’s small-minded attempt to destroy Edgar Allan Poe’s reputation as a writer.

Engraving of Rufus Wilmot Griswold – a heart of darkness well disguised .

And why was Griswold so bent on removing Poe from the literary canon?

Griswold wanted American poets to be added to the American curriculum, which at that time was dominated by English poets. A noble ambition, you might think. He even went on to print a textbook with this aim in mind, The Poets and Poetry of America. Poe had the audacity to criticize the book, commenting that it ‘unduly favoured’ New England writers. Before that, the men had been on relatively friendly terms.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti – even though he looks a bit grim, he isn’t the villain, but the victim.

Charles Augustus Howell was a liar, art forger, and blackmailer, that that is only the high points of his character. It really is hard to know where to start with this chap. These days, he is best known for persuading Dante Gabriel Rossetti to dig up the poems he buried with his wife, Elizabeth Siddal. He went on to have his lover, Rosa Corder, to forge drawings in Rossetti’s style. To top things off, his reputation as a blackmailer inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to use him as a basis for the antagonist in Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”. He really was two-faced, seemingly friends with the very people he was robbing and blackmailing.

Charles Augustus Howell – a bad hat.

He made up a new story of his childhood every decade or so, so his childhood is something of a mystery. Therefore, it is somewhat ironic that the circumstances of his death are somewhat muddled. In some reports, he died of tuberculosis. In others, he was found murdered outside a Chelsea public house, with his throat slip and a coin jammed between his teeth. The coin was thought to symbolise an accusation of ‘slander’.

These two are exactly the sort of men you expect to tie damsels to a train tracks.


Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Genre, Victorian Era

Napoleon Bonaparte’s flintlock pistol

As part of the characterization of my antagonist in my Steampunk novel, my villain is a huge fan of Napoleon. I think it would be quite in character for him to carry this little pistol. It suits the flamboyance and drama of his nature quite well.


Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Steampunk Work-in-Progress

The Forty Elephants – the All Girl Gang of Victorian-era England: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

The topic of this article was inspired by the episode ‘Toronto’s Girl Problem’ of Murdoch Mysteries (Season Eight)

The Forty Elephants was a 19th-century all-female gang who specialized in shoplifting. Their centre of operations was the Elephant and Castle district, but they were known to range further in the hunt for worthwhile targets. One of their favourite strategies: the whole gang would descend on a large store and ransack it, entering through numerous entrances to confuse staff and then fleeing the scene just minutes later, while the staff were still confused as to what was happening. The gang members wore special clothing with extra pockets to conceal the stolen items. Like any other gang, the members of the Forty Elephants often resorted to brutal beatings for exacting revenge on enemies, using knives and metal bars.The gang was still in operation in the first half of the Twentieth century.

Gang members were  chosen for having attributes of either stylish beauty or exceptional brawn. The stylish women often attended parties in the homes of the wealthy, to get a good idea of the floor plan for burglaries, or to steal items of value from their hosts. Sometimes they took work as maids with the same intention, burglary and theft. Individual gang members lived the life of Riley, with plenty of cash for luxuries. When gang members were arrested, the Forty Elephants could always afford the money to bail them out.

Alice Diamond

The television show Murdoch Mysteries recently had an episode that was obviously inspired by the Forty Elephants’ gang – ‘Toronto’s Girl Problem’. It even included a fact about how diamond rings could be used to good effect as knuckle dusters – the signature move of Alice Diamond, who was also known as Diamond Annie or Queen Alice because of her fistful of vicious rings. She was the head of the gang at one point, a tall woman with the will and the physical strength that was greater than most men.

And now I have been inspired in turn. I am adding a female character to my villains. I am adding a powerful mother to the father & son duo of antagonists. No longer will this woman die in childbirth. Instead, she is going to complete a ‘power of three’ setup. She will be a mathematical genius … and a fanatic about eugenics. After all, why should the boys get all the fun?


Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, History, Steampunk Feminist

The Characterization of a Steampunk Antagonist

Cute man

For those who don’t know what an antagonist is, an antagonist is your bad guy, your villain, who wants to smash the world for her own gain, who wants to dominate mankind to fulfil his evil ambitions. They don’t have to be a human being; a robot, an alien invasion, a giant gorilla, even a plague can be your antagonist. The protagonist, your heroine, is the person who is trying to stop them. Without a protagonist, all that would be left would be no drama, no plot, and a very short story. The rest of this article will focus on human antagonists.

If your antagonist is a human being, she needs to be a rounded character, just like your protagonist. She needs to have believable motivations for her actions, even if they are world domination … WHY does she want to dominate the world? Does she want to stop world hunger, and feels she is the only woman up to the job? Was your villain very poor as a child, and never wants to be that poor again? Is he a Luddite, who thinks that the rise of technology will rot the pillars of society?

A good villain can be someone we love to hate, or someone we secretly sympathise with. Just like a good hero should have some flaws, your villain should have some virtues. If you can relate those virtues back to his motivations, even better. It gives your characterization the complexity to make your villain a believable personality.

Do not confuse your antagonist with the sexy bad girl or sexy bad boy, often a secondary character used to confuse and muddy the romantic subplot, or sometimes the hero’s-sidekick-in-disguise. They are a Steampunk staple, and are often an Airship Pirate who is secretly a rebel – think of the equivalent of a Steampunk Han Solo or some such. The real villain might do an about face if they can be made to see reason, but the Airship Pirate is only ‘naughty’ and never the inventor of world-smashing bombs. Nor should you confuse an antagonist with an antihero, like Verne’s Captain Nemo, Captain Mal from ‘Firefly’ or Avon from ‘Blake’s 7’. Antiheros blur the lines between what defines a protagonist and an antagonist, but they are still not villains.

The Steampunk Antagonist can be pro-Science or a Luddite, but some association with the new technology should be made. In my Steampunk Work-in-Progress, I have a father-son team as my antagonists, and both are talented scientists. They support the idea of eugenics, and are kidnapping all the greatest scientists in the world to create the kernel of a new super-race. They don’t feel the need to wipe out the rest of the human race, as they are expecting the human race to wipe itself out. They see themselves as noble saviours of the best of mankind, while at the same time being kidnappers, thieves and thugs.

If you are writing into the Steampunk genre, you have to keep the genre markers in mind. Your villain should exist in a Steampunk setting, like a factory or a laboratory or a submarine city … have fun with making their lair. Your antagonist needs to be a child of their time, and so keep the Vicwardian Aesthetic for their dress and decorative features, and should have values that fit in with that era. But these aren’t terrible restrictions … so let you imagination go to town.


Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Genre, Genre Markers, Steampunk, writing