Joe Hill's latest novel, NOS4A2, is a spine-tingling story of supernatural suspense. Here is his essay, "So Bad They're Good." A longer version appears on Goodreads.
At some point, a few months after I started work on my new novel, NOS4A2, I realized I was working on a monster of a book...a book as long as my first two (Heart-Shaped Box and Horns) put together. I felt a story of that size needed a big engine under the hood, a bad guy on the same scale as the narrative around him.
Along came Charlie Manx, determined to save children from the harrowing, hard world of adults, a man who wanted kids to have fun for all eternity. Fun – and nothing but. No guilt, no unhappiness, and no regrets, not even after a good bloody game of scissors-for-the-drifter. Charlie Manx sees himself almost as a modern day Santa (which is, as we all know, ‘Satan,’ if you move one letter just a little to the right).
Some of us are connoisseurs of villainy; some of us (maybe most of us) are perversely fascinated by the bad guys. Be honest now… who doesn’t prefer the lightning to the lightning rod? Here are five other bolts of pure electricity, my personal best of the worst.
• Mr. Dark. In NOS4A2, Charlie Manx takes his prisoners to a fantastic amusement park called Christmasland, where every morning is Christmas morning, every night is Christmas Eve, all the rides are free, all the food is bad for you, and everyone is having such a good time, no one ever wants to leave. And so no one ever does. One inspiration for Christmasland was, of course, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, the terrifying traveling carnival at the heart of Ray Bradbury’s seduction of the innocent, Something Wicked This Way Comes. No one buys a ticket to Mr. Dark’s carnival and comes back undamaged.
• Anton Chigur. Chigur is the rangy, clear-eyed hitman who lopes through Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, using a captive bolt pistol – a kind of pneumatic nail gun designed to punch in a cow’s skull – to settle up with everyone who crosses him. Chigur’s unusual gun was what convinced me that Charlie Manx needed an iconic weapon of his own… hence Charlie’s shiny silver autopsy mallet.
• Abbot Enomoto. Like Moriarty, Abbot Enomoto is the spider at the center of a vast web of power and influence and crime; like Dracula, the holy abbot of Mount Shiranui is (maybe) an immortal who has survived for centuries by feeding on the blood (and spirits) of the weak. Abbot Enomoto casts his long cold shadow over the entirety of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, the tale of a young Dutchman swimming in the unfamiliar seas of Edo-era Japan, and finding himself vastly overmatched by an evil beyond comprehension.
• Amazing Amy Dunne. Give it up for the relentlessly chippy star of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Amy Dunne, who is like the charming, preppy, wickedly smart heroine of Clueless… if the Clueless gal was a laughing psychopath. Control freak Amy has icewater for blood, the soul of a maniacal wedding planner, and the heart of a crocodile.
• Ursula Monkton. Okay, so this last one is a bit of a mean tease, because at the time of this writing, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is still unreleased. So you can’t yet read about Ursula Monkton, a governess with impeccable manners, excellent taste, and a gift for tormenting the weak: think of her as the anti-Mary Poppins, poison in a spoonful of sugar (I understand it helps the medicine go down). Breathe easy, kids… Neil’s most supercalifragilistic book ever is out in just a couple more months, and as we all know, bad things come to those who wait.