Holly’s top ten scary characters from children’s books

It was the night before Hallowe’en…

and we thought we would compose a list of the top ten scariest characters that Holly has come across in books!

(Of course, she didn’t really want to admit to anything scaring her so she has asked me to stress that other children might be scared!)

1. The Witches in The Witches, by Roald Dahl

There aren’t many adults who wouldn’t find this book spooky. When Holly and I tried to read it, we couldn’t get past a couple of chapters, though Holly has asked me to stress to you that this was when she was around 7 years old and therefore quite young. “I kept thinking that the witches could be real,” said Holly, “and that they could just crop up in people’s gardens.” I think what makes them frightening is how Dahl explains that they look like any other normal person but they lurk in areas where you would presume you are safe – even in your own back yard.


Image courtesy of sabotagetimes.com

2. The Snow Queen in The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen

Originally I put this lower down on the list but Holly insisted it go higher. “She’s scary because she sounds nice but then she comes and kidnaps Kay,” Holly shuddered. This is another example of the villain using her charms to lure the unsuspecting away. It just goes to show you that nasties who look like nasties aren’t as scary sometimes as the people who look normal and nice but who turn out to be wicked.


Image courtesy of snowqueen.us

3. Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

Holly has read all the books in this series now and has become accustomed to the evil guys but when we were making our way through the books, she often was alarmed when bedtime came and her mind kept thinking about Lord Voldemort. “Even though you know he’s not real, he’s still spooky,” shivered Holly. “Sometimes I look around my room at night and see something black and I think it’s his cloak.”


Image courtesy of en.wikipendia.org

4. A scary lady in The Ruby in the Smoke, by Philip Pullman

Sorry we can’t be more specific than this. Holly revealed to me today that her teacher at school has been reading Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke to the class and that it features his heroine Sally Lockhart. We’ve not read them at home so I can’t confirm who this scary lady is but she has made an impression on Holly. “She’s always after Sally, running after her, and that makes you feel nervous.”


Image courtesy of digiguide.tv (this is of Sally Lockheart, not the scary lady!)

5. Aunts Spiker and Sponge in James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

These are fine example of Roald Dahl’s wickedest adults, who mistreat James after his loving parents are killed in a rhinoceros accident. “When I was younger, I found them scary because they were so menacing,” explained Holly. “They locked James up in a cupboard!”


Image courtesy of dvdizzy.com

6. The Death Eaters in the Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling

JK Rowling has come up with some scary characters in her Harry Potter series, and Holly thought that the Death Eaters, Lord Voldemort’s assistants and friends, should be up there (but not the Dementors, oddly, which scare me). Of them Holly says: “They are always after people which is scary, but they are stupid too so that’s why they are not higher up in the list.”


 Image courtesy of fanpop.com

7. Mr Curtain – in the Mysterious Benedict Society series, by Trenton Lee Stewart

The novels in this series feature a classic opposition between the archetypal goodies and baddies of the world. The goodie is the man in the title of the series – Mr Benedict – and the baddie is his brother, Mr Curtain. So you  have sibling rivalry thrown in for good measure. “Mr Curtain is always out to take over the world,” said Holly, “and you dread what he’s going to do next, but it’s fun to read.”


 Image courtesy of mysteriousbenedictsociety.com

8. Primo Cell – in Molly Moon Stops the World, by Georgia Byng

Molly Moon is a talented hypnotist and mind reader but her skills are put to the test in this second story in the Molly Moon series. “Primo Cell is a villain who tries to kill people who don’t do as he says or who find out what he is up to,” said Holly.


Image courtesy of lookingglassreview.com

9. Tommy Brock (a badger) and Mr Tod (a fox) in The Tale of Mr Tod by Beatrix Potter

I was quite surprised to hear Holly cite a Beatrix Potter story amongst the top ten scariest characters. But she very clearly remembers The Tale of Mr Tod from the supposedly comforting audio CD we used to play her when she went to sleep at night (little did we know the last tale on the CD was so terrifying – bad parents!). “Tommy Brock kidnaps the baby rabbits of Benjamin Bunny and Flopsy and hides them in an oven in Mr Tod’s house,” shuddered Holly.


Image courtesy of childrensnursery.org.uk

10. Cruella de Vil in The Hundred and One Dalmations, by Dodie Smith  

A guilty hands-up here because we have never actually read the book. Holly based her opinion on this on the film, starring Glenn Close and chose it because of the kidnap theme again, which is one that truly does seem to terrify children. “She is evil for kidnapping the puppies,” said Holly.


Image courtesy of disney.wikia.com

Characters who didn’t make the list

  • Mrs Trunchbull in Matilda, by Roald Dahl: “She’s more amusing than scary because she is sooo over the top!”
  • The Dementors in Harry Potter, by JK Rowling: “They never really scared me,” scoffed Holly. (But they did me! – mum)
  • Mr Gum, in the Mr Gum series, by Andy Stanton: “He’s just silly, not scary!”

What I’ve learned from doing this list with Holly is that for children often the scariest characters are the ones that seem most normal. They’re not your blatantly hideous monsters but the ones that could be walking down your street, plotting their evil ways with no alarm bells ringing. They can seduce you with their kindness and then turn around and show their true colours.

Who are your scariest characters from children’s books? We’d love to know!



  1. “for children often the scariest characters are the ones that seem most normal.” – What an interesting observation! It really makes sense when you think about it.

    And what a great list of scary villains. The only ones I’m familiar with are #’s 3-6 and #10, but I totally agree!


    • I think it’s the familiarity that causes the distress. It can make children think that even the nicest of people has the potential to be evil, which is scarier than a big monster who is obviously out to get you.


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