10/10/2013 02:12 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Fictional Characters We'd Hate to Meet

After I blogged last month about fictional characters we'd like to meet, several people suggested I write a post about literary protagonists we'd hate to meet. Hopefully you'll like meeting this follow-up piece.

Among the fictional characters we might want to avoid (if they somehow came to life) are murderers, liars, hypocrites, busybodies, racists, male chauvinists, militaristic men, rotten bosses, the money-obsessed and people who are just plain boring. Sure, some of those protagonists (other than the boring ones) can be kind of charismatic, but there are enough unsavory people in real life to make us prefer that their fictional counterparts stay confined to the page.

And did I mention corrupt and/or far-right politicians? Don't you wish the worst ones (such as the autocratic President Snow of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games trilogy) existed only in authors' imaginations? I'm surprised the Tea Party hasn't tried to deny health care to every non-rich character in literature.

Anyway, here's a small sampling of the fictional characters I would not want to meet. Then, I'd like to hear your picks!

One character I don't need to be in the same room with is Elliott Templeton of W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge. Elliott's a borderline choice because of his charming and generous side, but he is such a snob!

Also snobby, and thoroughly meddlesome, is Mrs. Norris of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. No wonder J.K. Rowling named an annoying cat after her in the Harry Potter series. (I love cats, so I hated to write that sentence!)

Speaking of the wizard world, few would want to breathe the same air as Lord Voldemort -- Mr. Evil himself. But Draco Malfoy's malevolent dad Lucius would also be "meet-unworthy," as would another Harry nemesis: nasty tabloid journalist Rita Skeeter.

Also containing more than one villain is Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White. It would be nothing but stomach-churning to meet Sir Percival Glyde, but charismatic criminal mastermind Count Fosco might make for a fascinating encounter.

Being bad yet sort of charming puts Fosco in a large category of fictional characters. One of many who comes to mind is Wolf Larsen of Jack London's The Sea-Wolf.

Or how about militaristic guys like the insufferable character known as "The General" in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s first novel, Basic Training?

Then there are tiresome sorts such as Maurice Mandrake in Connie Willis's Passage. He never stops yakking to Joanna Lander about his crackpot theories relating to near-death experiences despite it being crystal clear that she's desperately trying to avoid him.

Hypocrites? Mr. Brocklehurst of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre allows Jane and the other girls at the Lowood institution to live in miserable, half-starved conditions while the purported "good Christian" enjoys a life of luxury. And Gabriel Grimes of James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain preaches about living a godly life while committing adultery, treating his family like dirt, etc.

Yes, religious hypocrites -- don't want to meet those bozos!

I also wouldn't want to meet the chilling Roger Chillingworth, the estranged husband of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

Or Frank Bennett, who beats his kind and gentle wife Ruth before meeting a rather interesting fate in Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Or social climber Undine Spragg, in The Custom of the Country, whose amoral materialism makes it clear why Edith Wharton gave her the initials U.S.

Speaking of amoral, how about the cold, scary Cathy Ames in John Steinbeck's East of Eden?

Then there are amoral and racist characters, such as loathsome slave owner Simon Legree in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

My final example: the terrifying killer Anton Chigurh in Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. Anyone getting in his physical space might not live to recount the experience.

Which characters in literature would you not want to meet, and why?

(I'd like to thank the commenters who recommended some of the books mentioned in this piece. For instance, the last three novels I read -- Basic Training, The Razor's Edge and Passage -- were enthusiastically suggested by "gypsynomad," "Pax333" and "c-tom," respectively. They were right to be enthusiastic.)


In his part-humorous Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir, Dave Astor recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists, columnists and others such as Charles Schulz ("Peanuts"), Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Ann Landers, Hillary Clinton and Coretta Scott King. Contact Dave at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book -- which includes a preface by Heloise and back-cover blurbs by Arianna Huffington and Gary Larson ("The Far Side").