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 Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which features a parade of weird trick-or-treaters — is here.