What better time than to celebrate our favourite scariest fictional characters? It’s almost Halloween: a time to revel in the ghoulish and the macabre. The obligatory Halloween reading list has become as essential to the holiday as cheap plastic witches’ hats and toothache.
While we covered some of our favourite scary books last Halloween on our blog, this time around we thought we’d list some of our all-time favourite creepy or terrifying characters in novels. With input from the CB and C&W teams, these are some of the characters who’ve really haunted our reading lives. We hope you enjoy the list (and the usual non-nightmare disclaimers apply).
Bill Sikes in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist
When Dickens toured the country in his later years, delivering public readings to rapt audiences, Sikes’ murder of Nancy would often be at the centre of his performance. It’s still an upsetting read to this day, and Sikes remains one of Dickens’ most memorable and terrifying creations.
Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
An obvious one you might say – but it’s true that our collective sense of the character is influenced more by the more suave aristo of the classic films (Christopher Lee, we’re looking at you…). Returning to Stoker’s source material reminds us of the truly grotesque, decrepit Count with monstrous physical strength, and a truly terrifying psychological power over his many victims.
‘Little Father Time’ in Thomas Hardy’s Jude The Obscure
Literature and film is littered with creepy children, and Hardy’s bleak final novel has perhaps the strangest of them all. Known as Little Father Time by his family, he is likely to stick in your mind long after you’ve finished this late-Victorian tome. Once you’ve read the final, heart-breaking chapters, you’ll have the phrase ‘done because we are too menny’ etched into your consciousness forever. Bone-chilling.
Mrs Danvers in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca
There’s something distinctly creepy about Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper at Manderley, who doesn’t seem too keen on the new Mrs De Winter at all. Danvers is the archetypal third-wheel, and smart critics have seen hints of repressed sexuality in her obsessional devotion to the memory of Rebecca.
‘Big Brother’ in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
What makes Orwell’s mysterious ‘Big Brother’ so sinister, is that we never really find out whether he exists. Is he real, or a symbol created by the government? Whatever he is, he represents the cult of totalitarianism in all its horror. And in our world of ‘fake news’, there’s not much more terrifying than that.
Miss Trunchbull in Roald Dahl’s Matilda
A sadistic and child-hating headmistress, a ‘fierce tyrannical monster’ – oh, and a calculating usurper and property thief to boot. Though, as with all Dahl villains, there is comedy as well as evil to round out the character – witness her flinging a child out of the playground by her plaits – this brilliant creation from the master storyteller is enough to put young kids off formal education for life.
Lord Voldemort in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books
For a generation of millennials ‘He who should not be named’ was synonymous with pure evil (and, when the film came along, left many wondering what they did with Ralph Fiennes’s nose). We were surprised to find out from JK herself that fans had been pronouncing his name wrong all this time. It should be ‘Vol-de-more’, as in the French word for death, ‘mort’.
The Devil in Andrew Michael Hurley’s Devil’s Day
Hurley’s astonishing debut The Loney freaked out readers across the country. His second novel doesn’t disappoint. Admittedly a bit of stretch here, as the Devil isn’t strictly a character in the traditional sense of the word. More of an embodiment of an idea of evil and fear, which is what makes Hurley’s fiction stand out so powerfully. The perfect Halloween read.
For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:
Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Sunday 21 January).
Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Sunday 28 January).
For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for:
Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sunday 4 February).
We are also offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ online courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:
Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 15 January).
Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).
Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).