December 19, 2017

Our picks for the ten most horrific non-human characters in children’s literature

It’s been a joy to enter into world of Philip Pullman's re-imagined Oxford now that The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage is available to read and savor. In this first book of his new trilogy, Pullman introduces the skin-crawling, tortured, three-legged hyena daemon of Gerard Bonneville, the main antagonist in the novel.

Bonneville's hyena daemon is simultaneously horrific, piteous, and terrifying. We see her peeing on the road in disdain, gnawing on her leg stump, and laughing and screaming in hysterical fits. During the novel, she acts in ways that set her apart from even the most terrible daemons we have met so far (golden monkeys even). One of the most upsetting scenes shows Bonneville beating his own daemon -- a violation of Pullman’s imagined psyche which only the most twisted of mind and heart would do.

Encountering the hyena daemon had the NoveList KidLit team thinking of other creepy creatures from our reading pasts and we’re sharing our top-ten list with you. Like the hateful hyena daemon, these beasts live on forever in our nightmares. 

In no particular order:

  1. The Dementors from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

These wraith-like creatures who dress in oversized robes suck all the happiness out of a person. They also make you cold and smell like death. Need we go on?

  1. Gmork from The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

Lurking in the shadows and haunting the hero's every step, Gmork is terrifyingly relentless. Not even death can de-fang this shapeshifting wolf.

  1. Shift the Ape from The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

A symbol of greed and lust, Shift’s evil deeds accumulate throughout the story. He lies, manipulates, and finally murders, all in the name of power, ushering in the end of one of kidlit's most beloved fantasy worlds

  1. Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood (traditional folklore)

The second wolf on our list tricked Red Riding Hood, ate her grandma, and tried to do the same to Red before being stopped by the woodsman. This fearsome creature has inspired tons of fairy tales, horror movies, and reminded kids everywhere: Don't talk to strangers!

  1. General Woundwort from Watership Down by Richard Adams

Fiver and his friends encounter many enemies while looking for a new home. But none is as fierce as this gigantic militant rabbit who is unwilling to share resources with the new folks. He is ruthless, oppresses a rabbit warren, and is almost unstoppable . . .  until the dogs find him.

  1. Harold from Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones  by Alvin Schwartz

    This scarecrow was built to keep birds away from the gardens, but after lengthy abuse from its creators, Harold becomes animate and exacts a horrible revenge. The story alone is horrifying, but Stephen Gammell’s disturbing illustrations are what remain etched in our minds.
  2. Shelob from The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien

Afraid of spiders? Shelob is a giant man-eating spider with many eyes that eats Orcs for a snack. Her favorite pastime is paralyzing her victims so she can enjoy them at leisure later.

  1. Manny Rat from The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban

Sleazy dump-king Manny Rat rules the world of waste by forcing innocent wind-up toys to do his bidding. But can he be redeemed in the end? Wise old Elephant thinks not, noting "Aside from the fact that he's a black-hearted villain, and not for a moment to be trusted, I find him personally offensive."

  1. Baby-snatching goblins from Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak

These picture books characters might still be giving kids nightmares. Dressed in hoods, they come into your house and steal children away. We aren't sure how Maurice Sendak got away with these illustrations, but we are pretty sure many parents take a pass on this picture book. It's one of my favorites, though.

  1. Wasp Queen from The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

For those who loathe creatures with stingers, the wasp queen in The Nest is sure to give you nightmares. The queen seems angelic at first, but her intentions are anything but. 

There you have it, the non-human creatures that gave us the creeps. Did we name your favorite?

Looking for more ways to stay on top of reading trends? Don’t forget to sign up for our Book Squad newsletters. 

Lindsey Dunn is a Readers' Advisory Librarian at NoveList, and member of the Youth Book Squad. 

Rebecca Honeycutt is a Readers' Advisory Librarian at NoveList, and a member of the Youth Book Squad. 

Autumn Winters is a Readers' Advisory Librarian at NoveList, and a member of the Youth Book Squad.

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