Top Ten Jerks in Literature

Top Ten Tuesday 2

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I chose one of the past topics that I’m pretty sure I’ve never done. It’s pretty easy to think of jerks in books—what will be harder is deciding who are truly the worst!

1. The Beast, from The Magicians (Lev Grossman). I don’t want to give up any spoilers, so I’ll try to keep this vague, but the Beast is a creature from another magical dimension who wreaks havoc when he is accidentally conjured into ours. Pretty jerky move, especially once the Beast’s identity is revealed.

2. Henry Bowers, from It (Stephen King). Henry Bowers, the 12-year-old fifth-grader from It, is the ultimate bully. Remorseless, full of hate, and just as dumb as he looks, Henry haunts the nightmares of most children in Derry, but he has it out for the Losers Club in particular. His innate tendency to do harm makes him an easy target for evil, and It uses him on more than one occasion to do Its bidding. That part, of course, isn’t Henry’s fault. But the rest of it—yeah, yeah it is.

3. Mr. Willoughby, from Sense & Sensibility (Jane Austen). Willoughby is a dashing, charming man who claims Marianne’s heart and the promptly stomps on it, which lands Marianne in bed for weeks on the brink of death. While I find Marianne kind of annoying and weak (really, you almost die because some guy who courted you for a few weeks dumped you? Come on), Willoughby is still a pretty big jerk—and actually a significantly bigger jerk to another woman than he is to Marianne, but I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t read it. (You should!)

4. Jim Rennie, from Under the Dome (Stephen King). Rennie is one of those small-town tyrants that King is so great at portraying. Rennie, the second selectman, presides over Chester’s Mill with an iron fist while also running a multitude of sketchy businesses behind the town’s back. When a mysterious dome drops down on the town, trapping the townspeople inside, chaos ensues—and Rennie, convinced that the Dome is an act of God, becomes increasingly despotic in his rule of the town. Rennie is a scary guy. Read Under the Dome if you’re not convinced.

5. Joffrey Baratheon, from A Song of Ice and Fire (George R. R. Martin). Joffrey is the embodiment of every spoiled child you ever met, except he’s about a zillion times worse because he’s a prince and, eventually, a king. He is such a little shit that I can’t help but think (SPOILERS AHEAD BEWARE) that his death is a significantly easier one than he deserved. He is a horrible person enabled by wealth and royalty and every word that comes out of his mouth makes me want to punch him in the face and kick him in the balls at the same time.

6. Humbert Humbert, from Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov). Lolita was an incredible book, but holy crap, was it creepy. Nabokov actually makes you sympathize with Humbert, a straight-up pedophile who preys continuously on a young girl named Lolita. Humbert is incredibly disturbing in his relatability.

7. Jack Derber, from The Never List (Koethi Zan). A full-on psychopath, Derber is a seemingly-normal professor who abducts Sarah and Jennifer, two college freshmen, and holds them captive in his basement with two other women for three years. The Never List was an incredible, disturbing read with lots of similarities to that case in Cleveland from a few years ago when they found all those women in that guy’s basement. Scary stuff.

8. Rebecca, from Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier). I can’t tell you just why she’s a jerk just in case you haven’t read the book, but rest assured, she’s a pretty terrible person.

9. Bonzo Madrid, from Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card). Bonzo, threatened by how successful—and how young—Ender is, bullies him relentlessly until Ender fights back.

And my top literary jerk is…

10. Severus Snape, from Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling). I don’t really buy that he’s “good” in the end. Yes, he was working to protect Harry the entire time. But why? Because he believed in the cause of the Order of the Phoenix? Because he was truly remorseful about the acts he committed as a Death Eater? No, because he wanted to bang Harry’s mom. And for seventeen years, he needlessly tormented any and all students who weren’t part of his house—i.e., students who weren’t guaranteed to be pure-blood. Having a crush on a woman who died almost two decades ago doesn’t give you license to be a straight-up sociopath, Snape. I still think you’re just about the biggest jerk in literature—a single chapter in Deathly Hallows about how you loved Lily doesn’t redeem you.

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15 thoughts on “Top Ten Jerks in Literature

  1. I completely agree about Snape. Yeah, so he defied the Dark Lord. He was still a terrible, terrible teacher and needlessly bullied kids who did nothing to deserve his ire except not being potions geniuses. Eff that guy.

    Great topic!

    • Thank you! I think you’re one of the few people I know who would agree with me. I actually wrote this whole screed about Snape that I decided to save for another day—probably sometime in July when I do Harry Potter theme week on my blog!

  2. Definitely about Willoughby and DEFINITELY about Snape! People give him too much credit. He’s not suddenly a saint just because he had a crush on a girl who rejected him. He’s a mixed bag just like everyone else (and unfortunately leans heavily on the side of jerkishness)

    • Whew, glad people aren’t coming at me (yet) with torches and pitchforks about Snape! 🙂 But yeah, he’s pretty much the worst. Willoughby too.

  3. Hmm, I understand where you’re coming from regarding Snape. I think there’s more to his story than Rowling has told us, which is why I wish she’d give us a Snape backstory prequel.

    I totally agree with you on Willoughby and Rebecca. Bonzo is a jerk, but Ender isn’t much better until the end of the book.

    • I’m sure there’s more to Snape; I just don’t think he’s as irrevocably redeemed as others seem to think. I know part of me just doesn’t WANT him to be good, which isn’t exactly fair, but I stand by my opinion that having a crush on Harry’s mom doesn’t make all the terrible things he’s done go away.

      As far as Ender goes, I think I have to disagree. Ender doesn’t seek out violence and he’s not a bully; he just responds. He doesn’t necessarily respond in the best way—he makes a point of noting that he responds in such a way that the instigator will never bother him again, which makes sense, though he obviously takes things too far—but in the end, he’s simply responding the only way he knows how. And he feels remorse, much more than I would imagine Bonzo ever did or would.

  4. I think I would put Achilles from Ender’s Game/Shadow, etc. as my number 1. I also would put Umbridge over Snape, but I’m definitely with you on thinking he’s a jerk. Saying “always” doesn’t make him a good person, but at least he never scarred Harry.

    • Good points. I totally forgot about Achilles (haven’t read Ender’s Shadow in a while) and I was kicking myself earlier for forgetting Umbridge. She’s literally pure evil.

  5. What a good idea. Joffrey – must be the most hated person in literature! Plus Rebecca is a reather excellent choice.
    I must confess that I quite like Snape – or do I just like Alan Rickman!
    Lynn 😀

    • Hah! I think a lot of people probably just like Alan Rickman =P (although I think he was miscast looks-wise—Rickman is far too flabby to fill my mental notion of the scrawny Snape!)

  6. I completely agree with Joffrey, though I’ve only seen the tv show. He’s an awful, awful, terrible, really horrible, very bad character. Gah. I was so happy when he…well you know. 🙂

    Lolita’s on my list of Classics to eventrally read someday. As is Sense and Sensibility.

    I want/need to read Ender’s Game too.

    • I’ve never actually watched the Game of Thrones TV show, but in the books he’s horrible so I can only imagine that it’s worse when he’s actually brought to life on the screen. I’ve seen pictures of the actor who plays him, and just on looks alone he seems like he’s perfectly cast.

      You definitely need to read Ender’s Game! It’s soooo good. 🙂

  7. Great list, love the inclusion of Joffrey! There has to be some joke about Joffrey, Big Jim and Henry Bowers walking in a bar…wish I could think of it! 🙂

  8. I haven’t read the books for Song of Ice and Fire, but I have to say in the HBO series at least Joffrey seems really to stand out, not only in his cruelty but in his one-dimensional nature. He seems almost as if written by somebody less skillful than Martin. I always felt irritated that the character was so easy to hate, unlike most of his other characters, even the villains.

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