The children from The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
The children from The Midwich Cuckoos
by John Wyndham

Children can be innocent, inquisitive and the embodiment of hope.   But those characteristics make for boring stories.  Sometimes authors enjoy creating a fictional child that is just plain nasty. Draco Malfoy might be a bigot and a bully, but he’s rarely dull and is a vital ingredient in the Harry Potter novels. Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would not be such a tasty read without greedy Augustus Gloop, bratty Violet Beauregarde and the spoiled Veruca Salt.

While Draco, Augustus, Violet and Veruca may be distasteful, they are actually quite mild-mannered compared to some of the horrible children literature has to offer. Authors have not restrained themselves from portraying children as utterly evil. We plumbed the depths of fiction to find 25 examples where authors have not restrained themselves from portraying children as utterly evil. Then we topped that list off with 10 more reader suggestions.

While these books are fiction, and human evil-doing is prevalent in literature, there is something especially unnatural and disturbing when the perpetrator is a child, as if it represents the perversion of innocence itself. Be warned, some of these books have the potential to be distressing, particularly for parents. Some of the young characters in this selection abuse, torture, murder and commit demonic acts with barely a second thought. David Seltzer even gave us a youthful antichrist, Damien from The Omen.

Pinkie Brown from Brighton Rock and Frank from The Wasp Factory are two examples of how evil characters can also be extremely complex. Skilled authors can make the reader ponder the key question of why a child has become bad to the bone, while being so young.

 

The Worst Children in Literature - Reader Submissions

Flashman from Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes
Flashman from Tom Brown's School Days
by Thomas Hughes

Flashman, the notorious bully of Rugby School is Tom Brown's nemesis. He also got a redressing care of George MacDonald Fraser.

Missie from The Innocents by Nette Hiltons
Missie from The Innocents
by Nette Hilton

Three words: 'psychopathic child killer'.

Pandora and Marmaduke from Who was Oswald Fish? By A.N. Wilson
Pandora and Marmaduke from Who was Oswald Fish?
By A.N. Wilson

A pair of nine-year-olds blackmail their elders to the point of causing their suicide.

Mary Tilford from The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman
Mary Tilford from The Children’s Hour
by Lillian Hellman

She may not murder but is 'quite a piece of work'.

Frank from The Boy Who Followed Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Frank from The Boy Who Followed Ripley
by Patricia Highsmith

He murders his father then seeks out career criminal Tom Ripley.

Noboru from The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima
Noboru from The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea
by Yukio Mishima

The son of Ryuji, who belongs to a savage gang of boys who believe in “objectivity”

Angelo Saint from Wicked Angel by Taylor Caldwell
Angelo Saint from Wicked Angel
by Taylor Caldwell

Cherub faced youngster with no moral compass or remorse

Josephine Leonides from Crooked House by Agatha Christie
Josephine Leonides from Crooked House
by Agatha Christie

Manipulates her family by saying she knows who killed the family patriarch.

The Girls of St. Trinians in Hurrah for St Trinians by Ronald Searle
The Girls of St. Trinians in Hurrah for St Trinians
by Ronald Searle

The girls of this boarding school would make Angela Brazil faint in horror.

Cathy Ames from East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Cathy Ames from East of Eden
by John Steinbeck

She ages through the book, but this is a terrible child who becomes a worse adult

Other Children Gone Wrong:

Veda from Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
Veda from Mildred Pierce
by James M. Cain

This daughter is the queen of blackmail and deceit.

Frank from The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Frank from The Wasp Factory
by Iain Banks

It’s hard to describe Frank and his rituals – he’s very, very twisted.

The Baby in Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
The Baby in Rosemary’s Baby
by Ira Levin

This infamous child is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Rosalind from The Woods by Tana French
Rosalind from In The Woods
by Tana French

As the older sister of a murder victim, Rosalind becomes entwined in the investigation.

Vernon Little from Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
Vernon Little from Vernon God Little
by DBC Pierre

While not evil like some on the list, this foul-mouthed reprobate has few virtues.

Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Regan MacNeil from The Exorcist
by William Peter Blatty

It wasn’t Regan’s fault that a demonic spirit possessed her.

Rhoda from The Bad Seed by William March
Rhoda from The Bad Seed
by William March

It’s nearly impossible for a parent to see that their child was born bad.

Pinkie Brown from Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Pinkie Brown from Brighton Rock
by Graham Greene

The 17-year-old Pinkie is a merciless thug in this classic.

Rynn Jacobs from The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane by Laird Koenig
Rynn Jacobs from The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
by Laird Koenig

Rynn is a mysterious child with an absent poet of a father and a nose for trouble.

Christine Hargensen from Carrie by Stephen King
Christine Hargensen from Carrie
by Stephen King

‘Chris’ is the mean-spirited snobbish teenage girl who leads the torment of Carrie.

Leading William from All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury (Found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury)
Leading William from All Summer in a Day
by Ray Bradbury (Found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury)

He enacts terrible psychological punishment on classmate Margot.

Matilda from The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis
Matilda from The Monk
by Matthew Gregory Lewis

Coleridge said Matilda was “superior in wickedness to the most wicked of men.”

One of the Twins in The Other by Tom Tryon
One of the Twins in The Other
by Tom Tryon

A boy whose twin brother is intertwined with a series of deaths in a rural community.

Ben from The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
Ben from The Fifth Child
by Doris Lessing

This grotesque, violent and hateful child is tearing a family apart.

Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin
by Lionel Shriver

Kevin is a sociopath who murders several classmates in a school massacre.

Jack from Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Jack from Lord of the Flies
by William Golding

He epitomizes the worst aspects of human nature in this must-read.

Damien from The Omen by David Seltzer
Damien from The Omen
by David Seltzer

This child from hell turns out to be the antichrist.

Regina Afton from Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
Regina Afton from Some Girls Are
by Courtney Summers

After terrorizing others she is cast out of her clique to become the victim of her own bullying. 

Gage Creed from Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Gage Creed from Pet Sematary
by Stephen King

Another example of demonic possession ruining a childhood.

Nick from Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Nick from Hate List
by Jennifer Brown

In order to impress his high school sweetheart, Nick goes off the rails.

Jacob from Before and After by Rosellen Brown
Jacob from Before and After
by Rosellen Brown

A family struggles after their teenage son murders his girlfriend.

The boys from Boy A by Jonathan Trigell
The boys from Boy A
by Jonathan Trigell

Boy A and Boy B were both convicted of murdering a young girl. 

The Children in Let’s Go Play at The Adams by Mendal W. Johnson
The Children in Let’s Go Play at The Adams
by Mendal W. Johnson

A group of children are left alone and run amok in ways you would never imagine.

Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson

She cares for her sister Constance but something is not right with this 18-year-old.

Andy Evans from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Andy Evans from Speak
by Laurie Halse Anderson

Andy rapes a classmate at a school party with long-running, serious consequences for the victim.

 

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