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Favorite Fantasy Villians Pt. 2

Ok, so a few days late (we had a few setbacks in my personal life) I'm getting to part two of my series on my favorite villains in fantasy fiction. Last time we covered Delores Umbridge from the Harry Potter universe. Today I want to discuss Petyr Baelish, called "Littlefinger", from the door-stopper fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire from George R. R. Martin.

A little background about the series, for the uninitiated. The feudalistic nation of Westeros was  initially divided into seven kingdoms before the conquering Targaryens, a trio of three siblings who commanded dragons, united them into one land. The Targaryens ruled  Westeros ruled for 300 years, until Robert Baratheon lead a major compaign against the last of them and took the throne. Under Robert's rule, Peter Baelish rose to prominence as Master of Coin, and began to plot a five-way civil war that would, eventually, bring a large chunk of Westeros (if not the entire nation) under his control. He's is the power behind at least three murders, including the Hand of the King Jon Arryn, Jon Arryn's widow (and later his wife) Lysa Arryn, and the murder of the boy-king Joffrey Baratheon, who took over his father's throne after Robert is fatally wounded hunting boar. He is also indirectly responsible for the murders of several people, notably Eddard Start (the Hand after Arryn's death), Robert Baratheon's death (which was not accidental, although Petyr isn't directly responsible), Joffrey's Hand Tywin Lannister, and his political machinations for civil war has ended entire noble houses as well as decimated the peasantry. 

First off, he is amazingly ambitious. He came from an impoverished noble house with a tiny holding on a rocky, barren coastline. He initially sought to improve his place through marrying a noble lady from a larger, wealthier noble house where he fostered as an adolescent. That offer was refused and later, when that lord discovered Petyr slept with his other daughter, he had Petyr promptly kicked out. He then uses his talent for financial matters and intrigue to rise to the position of Master of Coin, then goes on to orchestrate an entire civil war to cement his power base. As Martin has not finished the series, we aren't sure what his final end-game is, but we can assume that he wishes to rule himself or to be the major influence over the final King or Queen of Westeros. To go from being the heir to a very minor House to the ruler of an entire continent is pretty damned ambitious.

Furthermore, he shows absolutely no real emotions other than glee at his own success. He is never seen grieving for the lady he claims to have loved for nearly twenty years after hearing of her death. He may have faked sexual interest in his wife's niece to provoke his wife into a murderous and jealous rage (which gave him an excuse to "rescue" the niece and kill his wife), he definitely faked affection for a mentally unstable woman so he could marry her and take over her holdings, and he never once expresses remorse for the deaths he had a hand in. He seems to care about no one but himself and is capable to manufacturing emotions to suit his needs. "Cold" is the perfect word for him. 

Secondly, he's incredibly ruthless. Although he only once kills directly, he is the architect behind many murders and the aforementioned war. He pushes for murdering the Targaryen's last heir, a child of fifteen. He admits that he isn't trustworthy to a major player in the first book, just before said character is arrested for treason based on information that Petyr had provided. He frames Joffrey's own uncle for his murder, then takes his young wife (and the daughter of the "traitor,") under his wing after smuggling her into her aunt's holding. He marries the aunt, then kills her in front of her niece. He's betrayed most of his allies, but kept his own role in these political machinations a secret or framed others for his actions. He thrives in political turmoil, all while declaring that is for "the good of the kingdom." 

Here's the thing: he may not be wrong here. He may indeed be a better ruler for Westeros than any of the other candidates. Throughout the series we learn exactly how poorly the Targaryens ruled. For three hundred years it was a literal coin toss whether the king would wind up being a "good king" or a "mad king." That isn't to say there weren't Targeryens concerned with the well-being of the kingdom, but it's pretty much a fifty-fifty split between who's rule benefited the kingdom and whose rule was one marked by cruelty, madness, and armed bids for power. There have been several conflicts about succession, none of which were easy on the peasantry. Since the last Targaryen king was one of the insane ones, Robert Baratheon's rebellion and subsequent coronation as KIng was a welcome relief to both High Lords and the peasantry. However, Robert admitted that he was bored by matters of state, leading him to drive the kingdom into near financial ruin and mostly left the actual ruling of the country to his council. Petyr Baelish sat on that council, has read the history of the Targaryens and all of their follies, has an active interest in politics and a head for court intrigue. He may not necessarily be concerned with the wishes and lives of ordinary folk, but he also isn't likely to abuse them since he knows a happy populace ruled by a popular King will be a quieter population less likely to topple said King. It is concievable that he may genuinely be doing this for the good of the kingdom, because he's aware of all the pitfalls of ruling a kingdom. This makes him sort of a villain you can almost root for, if you disregard his methods of obtaining power.

He's also a very successful manipulator. A lot of his schemes are based on the fact that he can deduce how people will likely react, and when they don't react exactly as anticipated, he still manages to find exploitable weaknesses. Everybody knows he's a schemer, but they still put themselves in a position where he gains some kind of power over them, wittingly or not. He always has a lie at the ready that can cast a doubt on his involvement in any given situation or his true motives behind any given action. He has contingency plans up the wazoo, but rarely needs them. And more often than not, he keeps his deepest motivations to himself.  

So, basically, we have a cold, ruthless and ambitious villain that successfully pulls off several complex plays for power. His true ambitions, motivations and the extent of his involvement in several conflicts are never really grasped by the characters. His end-game remains shrouds in mystery, even though he has taken Sansa into his confidence about his plans for her to gain her cooperation. But remember, he's a very capable manipulator and could easily be feeding her lies  and setting her up for another double-cross. In short, he's one of the best villains to come out of fantasy fiction for the last twenty years. Not a lot of readers really LIKE Petyr, but they admire and respect him a lot more than they do many other characters.

And supposedly there are three more books in the series that Martin has yet to complete. I'm really hoping that as the series progresses, we get at least one chapter narrated by him. Most of our knowledge of his political machinations have come from other characters' points of view, so the reader hasn't really a chance to get inside his head. And even if there's no POV chapter for Petyr, at least we're guaranteed to get more of one of my favorite villains on fantasy fiction.  




punk starts early

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