Top 5 Most Frightening Monsters in English Literature

Throughout the entire existence of humanity, people have always taken a deep, dark interest in the occult. Why? Because, truth be told, we absolutely love a good ghost story from time to time. Now, it’s no secret that in Hollywood, horror movies mean big bucks. So very much revenue, in fact, that a film initially made on a $15,000 budget (such as Paranormal Activity 4, for example) can make up to $161,830,890 at the box office alone (which it did, according to Investopedia).

With tales of ghosts, goblins, and other creepy crawlies and boogey-men so deeply inlaid into our culture, it’s no small wonder why our fears have so much power over us. The following fearsome five are all creatures taken from the early days of fright, when pages did the talking, and “movies”, as we call them, didn’t quite exist yet. They are the Most Frightening Monsters in English Literature — of all-time!


5. Grendel (from Beowulf)

Grendel, as depicted by Henrietta Marshall, 1908

Long story short, Grendel ate a lot of people. And I do mean a LOT of people. Until, finally, he became enough of a nuisance that Beowulf ripped his arm off and sent the creature back to his lair to die. A descendent of the Biblical Cain, Grendel is referred to in the old Anglo-Saxon tale as “very terrible to look upon”, and becomes greatly irritated at the sound of Christian hymns.

Some would even argue that he is the earliest representation of evil ever recorded. Grendel is the truly original “bad guy”, and that’s why he’s here at number five.


4. Mr. Hyde (from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Perhaps one of the most striking statements on the duality of human nature, Mr. Edward Hyde represents the evil found in every human soul, committing a spree of murders wherever he goes, and soiling the good name of his upstanding citizen alter-ego, Dr. Henry Jekyll.

Because Mr. Hyde does represent the darkness found deep within all of us, it should be a no-brainer as to why he’s considered so “scary”. Especially when he finally overpowers the saintly Dr. Jekyll, bringing both of their lives to a sudden, bitter end.


3. The Jabberwocky (from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There)

The Jabberwocky

English film great Sir Alfred Hitchcock knew the true secret to inspiring fear in the hearts of men, as did the creators behind the 1979 science fiction/horror movie Alien (which just so happens to be one of my favorite films). So, what exactly is the key to scaring the bejeezus out of folks?

Mystery, of course. Keep the killer/monster hidden. Don’t let your audience see it. And when they do finally catch a glimpse of it? Make sure its only just a glimpse. A claw, maybe, or the tip of its tail. THAT’S how you frighten an audience.

Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky”, while mostly nonsensical at first glance, utilizes that same sense of eeriness which comes with keeping the killer in the dark. “‘Twas brillig,” Carroll wrote, “and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe…” I don’t know about you, but I don’t know what the author meant by “brillig”, “slithy toves”, or “wabe”. In short, the Jabberwock seems heavily hidden to me. AND scary.


2. Frankenstein’s Monster (from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus)

Frankenstein cover

Inside cover of the 1831 issue of the novel

The most frightening thing about Frankenstein is not actually the monster itself, but rather the lesson it conveys to its readers. Victor Frankenstein’s foolish attempts at becoming a force mightier than God are what ultimately destroys him, and that, perhaps, is the most “scary” concept of them all.

Don’t believe me? Just imagine being ruthlessly hunted, day in and day out, by a monster of your own creation.

Still skeptical? Liken it to the atomic bomb, as well as all of the destruction people have caused through the use of powerful weaponry over the years, and you’ll have therein a situation almost equivalent to Victor’s yellow-skinned, fire-fearing abomination.


1. The Devil (various accounts)

Satan before God

Satan, the fallen angel, before God in this work by Giaquinto

Lucifer, Satan, the Devil; all names which call forth horrifying images of darkness, death, despair, and deceit. In Hebrew, his name means “the accuser”, or “the adversary”. In both the Bible, as well as the epic poem Paradise Lost, Lucifer is cast down into Hell to serve as its fallen ruler (being, of course, where he earns his new nickname). He is best known for his treachery against God and his fellow angels in a futile attempt to overthrow the kingdom of Heaven.

Frankenstein’s monster compares himself to Satan when he is rejected by his father, and both Grendel and the vampire Dracula are often described to be the Devil’s sons. (After all, Lucy is the indisputable root of all evil.)

Not only that, but nearly each and every religion around the world believes in some variation of the Devil. Even the ancient cultures, such as the Greeks and Mayans, had their gods of evil, suffering, and death (like Hunhau, the Mayan god of the underworld). Satan has been capturing — and corrupting — the hearts, minds, and souls of human beings ever since the dawn of our Creation. And what could be more frightening than that?


And there it is, friends; my top five scariest monsters, from mildly fearsome to excruciatingly spine-tingling. These five were taken only from English literature, and I’m stickin’ to ‘em.


About Kristina Casteel

Kristina Casteel is a freelance writer and video game enthusiast from Harrisburg, Illinois. She enjoys all sorts of geekery, from arts and crafts, to Dungeons & Dragons
Scroll To Top