Hi all, and welcome to Debatables, a new semi-regular column where literary questions of sometimes deep,
and often frivolous nature, are mulled over, pursued with flair, and debated in a spirited manner with commentary from readers.
My cohost and regular debate opponent is the personable Mike Allegra. Well-known for regaling humorous
tales of family, as well as encounters with home repair, his other talents include editor, doodler, and writer.
His newest chapter book series is under the pseudonym of Roy L. Hinuss, aka Prince Not-So Charming.
Mike is really, really funny. Check out his blog and you’ll see why.
On to Debatables:
Here are the ground rules: Each Debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a
previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than
Today’s Topic: Who is the scariest villain found in juvenile literature?
Cricket is nominating Cruella de Vil from Dodie Smith’s classic 101 Dalmatians.
Mike is suggesting: The cat from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (haven’t we been here before?)
Many of the most evil villains in history have one trait in common: they pretend to serve the best interests
of others. Hitler was elected on a promise to lift Germany out of its economic crisis. Lenin and Stalin
promised to give more power to the Working Man. And The Cat in the Hat promised an innocent boy and
girl a little fun on a rainy day.
What the Germans, Russians, and Seuss Kids ended up with, however, was far different than what they
Yet The Cat in the Hat is sneakier than the other villains mentioned above, for he has a talent for charm and
charisma—personality traits he uses to mask his villainy. The Cat is so skilled in this regard that many
readers fail to notice (or are happy to overlook) this felonious feline’s evil acts!
(Mike says Sally is being clotheslined–not exactly pictured)
“Oh, The Cat isn’t that bad,” some might say. “After all, he did clean up the house at the end of the book.
Shouldn’t that count for something?”
No, it shouldn’t. And here’s why.
In only 64 pages, that cat racks up a long list of terrible deeds. He breaks into a home, destroys property,
abuses an animal, abets assault and battery (via The Things), and endangers the welfare of two children.
He does it all with a smile on his face.
And he gets off scott free!
The Cat’s cleaning machine might erase the physical damage he created—but consider the psychological
damage. The Cat’s amoral actions would terrorize any child—and would almost certainly result in lasting—
perhaps lifelong—repercussions. His victims could end up suffering from recurring nightmares, anxiety,
trust issues, and clinical depression. That’s a lot of damage, and The Cat doesn’t have a machine to clean
that mess up, does he?
While I am amewsed Mike chose the Cat from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat,villains are a serious business
and dog gone it, selecting the scariest villain in juvenile literature leads to the one and only Cruella de Vil.
Before Disney catapulted her to fame as the diabolical dalmatian-kidnapper, Cruella de Vil held her own
in Dodie Smith’s 1956 story of Pongo and his attempts to save his fifteen puppies from becoming Cruella’s
newest fur coat. Right there, the fact that this woman wants to slaughter puppies to wear as a fashion
statement should make you twitter up a rage post.
Villains are aptly named. Dodie gave her readers a big hint: Cruella de Vil? A spin off of “cruel devil.”
Although Disney’s portrayal of Cruella is transfixing, Dodie defined her pretty well in the novel. Here are
eats everything with pepper and tastes like pepper (found out when nipped by a puppy)
drowned dozens of her Persian’s kittens
her family home is called Hell Hall
her fireplace fires are as hot as (see above)
her house interior is prone towards red
she drives a zebra-striped car with the loudest horn in England
expelled from school for drinking ink
her London flat was originally purchased by Count De Ville, an alias for Dracula
Here is an extra tidbit: ranked 39th on the AFI list of villains
A megalomaniacal tyrant with a streak of narcissism, she is a cruel devil of a woman who even
contemplated skinning the kidnapped puppies alive. Double yikes! This scary villain has found her way
into all sorts of popular culture, from song lyrics to movie lines to Lady Gaga’s choice costume. Puppy
stealer, kitten drowner, pepper eater, and related to Dracula–this is a way scary villain. Plus she is a terrible
driver. Lock up your puppies and stay off the roads if she is about.
Look at this illustration from the novel. Yikes!
Check out this song:
Cruella is evil. Very much so. But she wears her evil like a badge of honor, advertising it to everyone. Her
very existence is a harsh warning to stay away.
Now, if I may quote Kaiser Sose, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he
The Cat is the devil we didn’t know existed. He can hide his evil behind false innocence and a perceived
eagerness to please. This is the M.O. of the most effective predators: the fellow in the park “looking for his
lost dog,” or the friendly stranger who kindly offers “to give you a lift home.”
The Cat is cut from a similar cloth. Once he wins over his audience with a smile and a tip of his hat, he
becomes an agent of chaos. And, like The Joker from The Dark Knight, The Cat delights in the horror he
Mike implies Cruella wants people to stay away from her and that she advertises her evil like a
well-deserved medal. This assumption would mean she cares about what people think of her. Truthfully?
She could care less what people think of her. Her actions indicate she doesn’t care about anybody except
herself. All the havoc she creates from personal insults to animal abuse is because she is self-centered with
a hateful regard towards others. Her devilish behavior doesn’t require an audience like Seuss’s Cat.
Cruella’s evil deeds are not beguiling antics that are mischievous or even ambiguous in their intent.
Cruella is all about villainous, malodorous mayhem. She doesn’t care who she hurts and doesn’t try to be
charming—she is and will always be Cruella, Cruella de Vil.
If she doesn’t scare you then no evil thing will.