Bad to the Bone: The Worst Children in Literatureby Scott Laming
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
Missie from The Innocents
by Nette Hilton
Three words: 'psychopathic child killer'.
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
She may not murder but is 'quite a piece of work'.
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
The son of Ryuji, who belongs to a savage gang of boys who believe in “objectivity”
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
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 this boarding school would make Angela Brazil faint in horror.
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
This daughter is the queen of blackmail and deceit.
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
This infamous child is every parent’s worst nightmare.
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
While not evil like some on the list, this foul-mouthed reprobate has few virtues.
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
It’s nearly impossible for a parent to see that their child was born bad.
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 is a mysterious child with an absent poet of a father and a nose for trouble.
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)
He enacts terrible psychological punishment on classmate Margot.
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
A boy whose twin brother is intertwined with a series of deaths in a rural community.
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 is a sociopath who murders several classmates in a school massacre.
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
This child from hell turns out to be the antichrist.
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
Another example of demonic possession ruining a childhood.
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
A family struggles after their teenage son murders his girlfriend.
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
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
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 rapes a classmate at a school party with long-running, serious consequences for the victim.