Some Alarming Characters You Didn’t Want Trick-or-Treating at Your Door

Daniel Deronda

With Halloween only a few days in the rearview mirror, who are some scary characters in literature? Overtly scary, subtly scary, Richard Scarry…oops, he’s the children’s book author, and I rarely discuss children’s books.

Anyway, I’ll name 26 (13 + 13) scary characters, going back in time by the novel’s publication date. Some are scary in the horror-movie sense, while others are physically or emotionally abusive — or just generally villainous.

Perry of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (2014) is a wealthy banker with a hidden-from-society side of being a domestic abuser and sexual-predator sicko.

Lord Voldemort of J.K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter books (2007 going back to 1997) is a no-brainer (though he was more lacking a nose than brain). The (hor)crux of the matter: LV is pathologically evil and menacing, as Harry well knows.

Anton Chigurh of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2005) is a psychopathic murderer who even has one potential victim flip a coin to “decide” whether he’ll kill her or not.

Martin Vanger, a disturbed corporate CEO and serial killer in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005).

Francine Whiting of Richard Russo’s Empire Falls (2001) is an ultra-wealthy widow who basically controls a Maine town with meanness and manipulation.

Baby Kochamma of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997) — an adult despite her name — is so spiteful that she ruins the lives of several family members.

Real-life dictator Rafael Trujillo, a murderer, torturer, and rapist from Julia Alvarez’s historical novel In the Time of the Butterflies (1994).

Zenia of Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride (1993) wreaks havoc on the lives of three women who (initially) considered her a friend.

Nathan Locke of John Grisham’s The Firm (1991) is a thug who’s second in command at the novel’s titular law firm — a white-collar front for the mob.

Frank Bennett of Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1987) is a scarily abusive husband to Ruth.

Annie Wilkes of Stephen King’s Misery (1987) puts a captive writer through a mental wringer while also physically assaulting him in gut-wrenching ways. She has a history as a serial killer, too.

Esteban Trueba of Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits (1982) becomes wealthy as well as violent and right-wing, though he has some redeeming qualities.

Colton Wolf of Tony Hillerman’s People of Darkness (1980) is a chillingly methodical killer for hire — with one person doing the hiring another criminal: ultra-wealthy mining magnate B.J. Vines, who began amassing his fortune via mass murder.

Rufus Weylin of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (1979) is a despicable slaveowner and rapist — a two-strikes-you’re-out lack of humanity.

Nurse Ratched of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) holds sadistic sway over a psychiatric ward, and is not afraid to use lobotomy as revenge.

Cathy of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (1952) is cold and amoral enough to set a fire that kills her parents and shoot her husband, among other ghoulish deeds.

Undine Spragg of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country (1913) is so consumed with climbing the social ladder that she treats many people like dirt, even driving her second husband to suicide.

Gilbert Osmond of Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady (1881) is the cruel, narcissistic husband of protagonist Isabel Archer — and has a hidden unsavory past.

Fyodor Karamazov of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1880) is a bad husband, bad father, and all-round bad dude.

Henleigh Grandcourt of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876) is a wealthy, sadistic man who makes wife Gwendolen miserable. (They’re pictured above in a screen adaptation of the novel.)

Count Fosco of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1859) is a charming but chilling man who concocts a clever, dastardly scheme to make a financial killing.

Rigaud (aka Lagnier) of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit (1857) is a murderer and blackmailer.

Simon Legree of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) is another slaveholder — a cruel, brutish, heartless man.

Roger Chillingworth of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) is Hester Prynne’s nasty husband who returns after seemingly being lost at sea and acts fiendishly toward Hester and the man he suspects is the father of Hester’s born-out-of-wedlock daughter Pearl.

Henri of Alexandre Dumas’ Georges (1843) is a spoiled, scary racist. (One interesting fact about that lesser-known Dumas novel is that it’s the only one in which the part-black author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers heavily focused on issues of color.)

Brian de Bois-Guilbert of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1820) is a power-hungry, violent, and arrogant 12th-century military man who — like the aforementioned Esteban Trueba — has some redeeming qualities.

I’ve obviously just scratched the surface here. What fictional characters have you found to be alarming?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest weekly piece — which features a parade of weird trick-or-treaters — is here.

64 thoughts on “Some Alarming Characters You Didn’t Want Trick-or-Treating at Your Door

  1. The protagonist of “An American Tragedy”, Clyde Griffiths, is basically an alarming character. He is not so much evil as completely selfish and irresponsible, even though this novel probes deeply into his mind I found it hard to sympathize with him. I found that his mother Elvira and Roberta Alden, despite their faults and social limitations, to be more sympathetic since they are basically well intentioned.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alec D’Urberville in Tess of the D’Urbervilles would fit the description of an alarming character. He basically is the cause of the tragedy in this novel.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Dave, after reading this post, I was at the Library, I harldy saw any anti-trum books on the non – fiction shelves. I started going after 4 months of absense , and always stacked the new books on the shelves. There were so many all are pro-trumper books….what`s going on ?
        I saw one ” Seige” by Michael Wolf and I borrowed it, may not even read that.

        Very Strange, I also know the manager is anti-con-don, but….

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave, every single one of Lee Child`s Jack Reacher book has horrible scary Charactors.

    I am on his latest ” Blue Boon”, read one third of it after almost four months without reading a single book, oh you would LOVE it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mr. Hyde and Dorian Gray. Any of the vampires from Anne Rice’s novel “Interview With A Vampire”. Mr. Dark from Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. But tops on my list is Hannibal Lecter from Thomas Harris’s novels primarily because he seems to be the essence of evil ala Ted Bundy style being charming and intelligent yet a total psychopath which reminds me: Norman Bates of Psycho. Another great post Dave. Susi

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great list of scary characters, Susi! Thank you!

      I finally read “Something Wicked This Way Comes” a few months ago, and Mr. Dark is indeed alarmingly memorable. And while Mr. Hyde may just be one “half” of a person, he’s fully scary!


  5. This week’s topic makes my recent reading of LeFanu’s” A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family” fortuitous, though it would have always been pertinent to one of your abiding interests– since it has a credible claim as one source of inspiration for “Jane Eyre.”

    That inspiration being the unsettling appearance of a mysterious mad woman, who claims attention and engenders fear during the first few weeks of a new bride’s residence at her noble husband’s ancestral manse. in the LeFanu story, as in the Bronte novel, the mysterious woman is a foreigner, here a Dutch woman who makes what seem to be fantastic claims of marriage and betrayal. Unlike the Bronte novel, she is a more able and lucid and talkative sort, though blind, and her attempt to make a practical end to her troubles by dagger is described in frightening and memorable detail. Unlike the Bronte novel, the man of the house does not in the end disentangle himself from guilt or infirmity. Altogether more unsettling and somehow more realistic than “Jane Eyre”, if only because the resolutions of plot are more mundane, though more unnerving by far.

    I hope by making my summary above I have not revealed so much as to discourage your reading of the story, which you can find below.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, jhNY! I second Susi’s adjective of “fascinating,” and am very intrigued with the similarities in “A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family” to “Jane Eyre.” It does sound like Charlotte Bronte might have read it! I will read it myself as soon as I get the chance. Excellently described by you!


  6. Dave, bebe here, always anon in iPad for whatever reason.
    Great post.

    But, I just got Lee Child’s latest, “ Blue Moon “, only read two chapters now, Reacher’s kindness oozes through , but surely will get violent.

    Write more on the topic later.

    How about the real life of a con man , who lies all the time , in every sentence, all the time?
    The president of America.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe!

      Wonderful that you’ve started the latest Reacher novel! I can’t wait to get to it myself. Jack indeed can be very kind, in addition to always being ready to rumble.

      Yes, Trump is the worst lowlife of all, real or fictional. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have not read a book for months ith my situation. So time to start on that. Wathing TV is worthless, lies, lies and more of it.
        Today the polls are open to vote. Started going to the Library and saw this neighbor lives way down the street, he is a Church Paster and a staunch Democrat also has a position, I forgot what.
        I asked him, he normally does not talk opernly about politics. He tells me in OH they might take your name off from voting list if you are a Dem. so try to check it out.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Dave

    I’ve read quite a few Stephen King novels, but the only one that scared me was The Shining. Set in a scary hotel, it’s about to storm and the characters are going to be snowed in. I think I read it for a good 25 minutes without taking a breath. Well, obviously I’m exaggerating. Unless I’m a zombie now. I feel like it at times…

    I’m about two thirds through Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I must disagree with the author as Eleanor doesn’t seem fine at all. It’s a perfectly told tale, with just hints of how abusive Eleanor’s mother is. I think by the end, Carrie’s mother from King’s debut novel is going to look like Ron and Ginny’s mum from Harry Potter!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan!

      I agree that “The Shining” is quite scary, and did find some other Stephen King novels pretty scary as well (“Misery,” “The Dead Zone,” “Rose Madder,” etc.).

      You’re the third or fourth commenter who has mentioned “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine”! I definitely want to read it at some point. Ouch — the mom in that book sounds terrible, as you emphasized in the clever character comparison concluding your comment. (Okay, I overdid the alliteration there… 🙂 )


      • Dave, it’s not possible to overdo alliteration!

        I’m feeling quite sorry for Miss Eleanor Oliphant because of her mum, and yet it’s still a warm and touching book. I’m not sure how Gail Honeyman has done it, but it’s something that I highly recommend.

        I’m also about half way through Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap about an Australian barbeque where an out of control child is slapped by one of the other parents. It’s told from the point of view of eight of the people at the barbeque, including the parents of the child. In the beginning, you can kind of understand the knee jerk reaction of the parent wanting to discipline the child, but then you get into the head of the father, and he is just not a nice guy. Every time there’s conflict around him, he just wants to punch his way through it.

        I second Susi’s mention of Thomas Harris. All of his bad guys are the kind of creepy that make me want to sleep with the light on.

        And although I’m repeating myself, lulabelle’s reaction to the Shirley Jackson house made me think of The Shining again. Unlike the movie version where Jack Nicholson brings all the psycho, in the book, it’s definitely a case of the hotel made me do it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “…it’s not possible to overdo alliteration,” Susan? Happy you happen to have that hypothesis! 🙂

          “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” is in my future…

          “The Slap” sounds like an intense book! Your description of it reminds me a bit of the fateful also-in-Australia barbecue in Liane Moriarty’s “Truly Madly Guilty.”

          Loved the way you wrote your last paragraph!


  8. What a great list Dave! I might throw in Bellatrix Lestrange along with Voldemort! What a crazy woman she is, and very mean with her wand! 😦 I also wouldn’t want any Orcs or Dark Lords from LOTR showing up at my door either. As an avid reader of history, there’s also lots of folks there that I would probably send away empty-handed hahaha! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B.!

      Yes, many Harry Potter series villains to choose from — the skilled/evil/nutso Bellatrix (as you noted), Lucius Malfoy, Dolores Umbridge, Peter Pettigrew, Rita Skeeter… And DEFINITELY some scary creatures in “The Lord of the Rings.”

      Ha! I agree that some historical folks would not be welcome trick-or-treaters. Maybe Attila the Hun could just buy a bag of “fun-sized” candy bars at the neighborhood supermarket and leave individual residences alone…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I would draw the curtains and pretend not to be home if the following came knocking:
    Count Dracula 🦇
    The Wicked Witch of the West 🔮
    Dorian Gray 🖼
    Captain Hook 🐊

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL, Elisabeth! That would be VERY wise.

      And those four characters might scarily trick-or-treat together — they all first appeared only 14 years apart (1890-1904) and thus probably know each other. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment — and the emojis!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Howdy, Dave!

    — What fictional characters have you found to be alarming? —

    All of them! The human — and semihuman — ones, anyway. However, some are more alarming than others, such as:

    — Rufus Weylin in Octavia E. Butler’s “Kindred.”

    — Joe Cinnadella in Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” (and, of course, Winston Churchill in Hawthorne Abendsen’s “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy,” the novel within the novel).

    — Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”

    — Clyde Griffiths in Theodore Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy.”

    — Milo Minderbinder in Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.”

    — Iago in William Shakespeare’s “Othello.”

    — Nero in Henryk Sienkiewicz’s “Quo Vadis.”

    — Bohun in Sienkiewicz’s “With Fire and Sword” (the first volume of The Trilogy).

    — Kmita in Sienkiewicz’s “The Deluge” (the second volume of The Trilogy).

    — Azja in Sienkiewicz’s “Fire in the Steppe” (the third volume of The Trilogy).

    — Becky Sharp in William Makepeace Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair.”

    — Tom Driscoll in Mark Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson.”

    — The Eloi and the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.”

    Shudder, shudder, shudder . . .

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a GREAT list, J.J., with very nice before-and-after-the-list humorous touches. 🙂 Thank you!

      Raskolnikov is a tricky one. An anxiety-ridden double murderer, yet he somehow elicits some sympathy — and of course finds a measure of redemption at the end.

      In the Shakespeare realm, Iago is indeed villainous — and one could add many other Bard-ian miscreants, such as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth himself.


      • — Raskolnikov is a tricky one. An anxiety-ridden double murderer, yet he somehow elicits some sympathy — and of course finds a measure of redemption at the end. —

        Kmita’s an even trickier one, among Sienkiewicz’s greatest bad guys and among the author’s greatest good guys, depending on which page you’re on . . .

        Liked by 1 person

    • Greetings, J.J.!
      As to Iago: Jerry Lee Lewis played that part in a musical version of Othello titled “Catch My Soul” in 1968. Type-casting at its most inspired, I’d imagine.

      Liked by 1 person

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