The Five Most Frightening Monsters in Literature

Michael Plassa ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Even in the time surrounding Halloween, it seems that literary horrors often play second fiddle to their more visual counterparts in film or television. People too often seem to forget the written word’s ability to scare in ways which films could never accomplish; in honor of that, here are the top 5 literary monsters who don’t need to be seen to be scary:

5. Pennywise the Clown (It – Stephen King)

Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in It.

Childhood traumas aside, the reason why It, the titular monster in Stephen King’s seminal 1986 horror novel, often takes the form of a clown is perhaps even more terrifying than that grisly clown visage itself (played in the 1991 miniseries version of the novel by none other than Tim Curry). Though “It” normally finds its victims by taking the form of whatever it is they fear the most, the monster uses Pennywise to lure in children too young to know to be afraid of it. It is a horrifying blend of fear and childhood naïveté which King uses to full effect in what many would call his scariest novel.

4. Dementors (Harry Potter series – JK Rowling)

A Dementor in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
A Dementor in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Though the seven Harry Potter novels are rife with fantastic (and terrifying) beasts, the Dementors are unique in that they are scarier in concept than in form. Dementors sense and feed off of the positive emotions and memories of their victims, leaving nothing but endless negativity to anyone who the monsters come into contact with. Though their silent, floating, faceless black shape is certainly the stuff of nightmares, it is their ability to strip their victim of his or her capacity for happiness which makes Dementors the most disturbing creatures in the Harry Potter universe.

3. Count Dracula (Dracula – Bram Stoker)

Gary Oldman as Count Dracula in Dracula. Photo Credit: American Zoetrope.
Gary Oldman as Count Dracula in Dracula. Photo Credit: American Zoetrope.

Though he has long since become one of the most clichéd Halloween horrors, the character of Dracula as originally written by Bram Stoker is still good for a fright. Dracula plays to the basest of human fears; he is charming and nearly impossible to tell from your average human, he feeds off of blood, one of the most precious and important commodities which humans have, and he is nearly impossible to beat. Though vampires have since been taken to some seriously strange places in literature (particularly in recent years), the original, archetypal Count is still the best.

2. Robert Neville (I Am Legend – Richard Matheson)

Will Smith as Robert Neville in I Am Legend. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Will Smith as Robert Neville in I Am Legend. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Though one wouldn’t know it by watching the Will Smith film, the real monster in I Am Legend, the influential 1954 sci-fi novel by Richard Matheson, is Robert Neville, the main – and only fully “human”- character whom readers meet in the story. Robert, immune to the mysterious disease which has turned the rest of humanity into vampire-zombie hybrids, spends his days researching the most effective way to kill the infected, and his nights sneaking into their encampments and slaughtering as many of them as he can find. After being captured and sentenced to death by the otherwise peaceful “New Society” of vampires, Robert realizes that to those infected, he is the monster, murdering their innocent by night for no reason which the civilized vampires can discern. Though Robert may not be frightening in the traditional sense, Matheson uses the character to flip the script on the traditional monster novel in interesting and as-yet-unmatched ways.

1. The Other Mother (Coraline – Neil Gaiman)

The Other Mother in Coraline.
The Other Mother in Coraline.

Much like Pennywise from Stephen King’s It, The Other Mother (or the Beldam, to her ghostly former victims) is effective because it is a terrifying and twisted representation of something so familiar and comfortable. Coraline meets her “Other Mother” – who looks exactly like her real mother, but with shiny black buttons sewn into her eyes – by crawling through a long hallway hidden in her family’s new apartment. At first, the Other Mother is kind to Coraline in a way that her real mother isn’t; however, she quickly resorts to terrorizing Coraline in her real home and kidnapping her parents in an attempt to convince her to sew buttons into her own eyes and become a member of her disturbing “other family”. There is just enough ambiguity mixed in with the Beldam’s familiarity to make her one of the most unsettling monsters in literature.

The genre of horror in books contains no shortage of strong characters and scary monsters. Next time you’re at a loss for an original and interesting Halloween costume, rather than taking inspiration from the plethora of modern horror movies, look to your favorite horror novel; you’ll be sure to find an idea both unique and thoroughly terrifying.



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