1984 by George Orwell

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:

  1. Big Brother from 1984 by George Orwell
  2. Hannibal Lecter from the novels by Thomas Harris
  3. Pennywise the clown from It by Stephen King
  4. Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  5. Count Dracula from Bram Stoker’s novel
  6. Annie Wilkes from Misery by Stephen King
  7. The demon from The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
  8. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  9. Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  10. Voldemort from the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling

Read three author's thoughts on literature's scariest characters.


Your Thoughts on Big Brother

"The idea of an all-seeing, all-knowing being, one that is aware of your very thoughts, what could be scarier?" - Robin from Harpenden, England

"Big Brother is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, as well as chillingly inhuman" – Lesley from Northampton, England

"The others, you have a chance of avoiding, or getting away from. Big Brother, once in his purview, smothers all possibilities" – Daniel from Manhattan, KS, USA

"Big Brother watches us constantly and influences the way we think. He is more an amorphous cloud than a real human being. Scary" – Dave from Tucson, USA

"Because it is so easy to relate to what is happening now that we seem to be living through 1984" – Sylvia from Manchester, England

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Thoughts on Hannibal Lecter

"I think the scariest characters are those you could find everyday, and even be friends with. Those nice, amusing, charming, intelligent persons that transpire nothing of their wickedness" – Cristina from Buenos Aires, Argentina

It by Stephen King

Thoughts on Pennywise the Clown

"The fact that Pennywise can represent your deepest, darkest fears means you can't escape him! That kept me awake for hours after I put the book down" – Matt from Cardiff, Wales

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Thoughts on Nurse Ratched

"Scary, creepy woman who has all the power in the world and you can't get away from her, she's supposed to be the person you go to for healing, but is the source of torture instead" – AJ from Chicago, USA

Dracula by Bram Stroker

Thoughts on Count Dracula

"Dracula doesn’t have to chase you down, or break into your house, or threaten you at all... you will invite him in because he is beautiful" - Terry from Pompano Beach, USA

Misery by Stephen King

Thoughts on Annie Wilkes

"I still have nightmares! The utter detachment of her cruelty is bone-chilling" - Elaine from Toronto, Canada

The Exorcist by William Blatty

Thoughts on the demon in The Exorcist

"The way that William Blatty described the demon seducing Regan through the TV show scared the hell out of me" – Paul from Illinois, USA

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Thoughts on Patrick Bateman

"From his extreme fashion and grooming obsession to his excessively articulate and horrifying torture/murder methods, (Bateman) is the MOST disturbed, terrifying, intense and insanely sick character to ever have graced the page" – Becky from Woodford, Australia

Authors' Thoughts on Literature's Scariest Characters

Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong, author of the Women of the Otherworld fantasy series, released her first crime novel, Exit Strategy, earlier this year.

"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.

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."

Matt Haig

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."

Robert Hough

Robert Hough, author of just-released The Culprits and also The Stowaway and Commonwealth Prize nominated The Final Confession of Mabel Stark.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

"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."