Big Brother from George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 has been voted the scariest character in literature in a worldwide poll conducted by AbeBooks.
With the increased use of closed circuit TV, phone tapping, GPS tracking from space and online monitoring, booklovers clearly believe Big Brother is more threatening than ever. Published in 1949, Orwell’s dystopian nightmare mirrored the totalitarianism of Hitler and Stalin. Big Brother is rated as scarier than classic evil creations like Bill Sikes, the vicious Victorian thug created by Charles Dickens, and Hannibal the Cannibal from the modern publishing era.
The 10 scariest characters in literature according to visitors to AbeBooks:
Authors' Thoughts on Literature's Scariest Characters
"Fiction is full of terrifying monsters. The ones that made the greatest impression on me weren't the unstoppable fantastical creatures like vampires and zombies, but those most recognizable as human. My choice, then, for literature's scariest creation would be the title character from R. L. Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
"Dr. Jekyll doesn't set out to be a monster. He's trying to divide the nature of man (good and evil) into separate entities, so he can suppress the evil. In most horror stories, poor Jekyll would then find himself forced, against his will, to become the sociopath Mr. Hyde and commit crimes Jekyll would never dream of. But Stevenson takes the more interesting route. Jekyll decides he likes being Hyde. He enjoys indulging his worst nature. He has, at some deep level, dreamed of committing those crimes and now he can...with the excuse of being Hyde. In trying to isolate the evil in his nature, he is eventually consumed by it.
The true horror of the story is that Jekyll isn't possessed by a demon or infected by an outside contaminant. His "monster" is a part of himself. And, in some small way, it's a part of all of us - the primal, self-absorbed id that wants what it wants, with no regard for others. If left uncontrolled, it can consume us. But, perhaps, if suppressed and denied, it will do the same."
British writer Matt Haig has three novels under his belt - The Last Family in England, The Dead Father’s Club, and Shadow Forest, which was published as Samuel Blink and the Forbidden Forest in the US (Read our interview with Matt).
"There are, essentially, two types of scary character in fiction. There is the traditional notion of scary that might be embodied by a Hannibal Lecter or a Count Dracula, and these characters scare us because they might suck our blood or wash down our liver with a nice Chianti. These characters could be described as 'externally scary' because they are always 'other', something outside ourselves.
"For my money though, the truly fearful type of character is the one which presents us with a distorted mirror, and makes us confront a universal element of human nature and the threats that exist inside us all. This type of 'internally scary' is perhaps embodied best by Victor Frankenstein. Victor's crime is simply that he is too idealistic. As a student of natural philosophy he is taken by the notion that he can create life from the inanimate. This can be seen as a metaphor for any amount of human follies, from wanting to believe in life after death to simple career ambition. Anyway, the results are monstrous.
"The moment Frankenstein's creature comes to life Victor's dream turns into a destructive and fatal nightmare. He had pursued his aim 'with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that it had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.' Never have the internal forces that work against us been better illustrated than by Victor Frankenstein, so that's why he gets my vote."
"The scariest character in modern literature? Easy – any of the bad-asses in Yukio Mishima's The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. It's not so much their casual attitude toward murder, voyeurism, wanton destruction and animal torture that is so chilling, but their pursuit of a cold, psychopathic creed they call "absolute dispassion." It's a book about how ideas can be generated to justify any behavior, no matter how vile, and in so doing it proves that philosophy can be way scarier than any monster, ghoul or madmen. Oh, and one other thing. They are children."
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Read three author's thoughts on literature's scariest characters.
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