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8 Favorite Literary Horror Heroines

Merricat Blackwood

Merricat Blackwood

Merricat is unique in our list of literary horror heroines in that in addition to being the protagonist of her horror story, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, she’s also the monster. The textbook definition of an unreliable narrator, Merricat is the youngest surviving member of the Blackwood family, most of whom were poisoned several years before the story begins. Merricat’s the only one of the Blackwoods who has any contact with the nearby villagers, who shun the family out of their belief in older sister Constance’s guilt. It’s only near the end of the novel that we find out Merricat is the one who murdered her family.

The revelation doesn’t come from nowhere—seeing the story through her eyes, it’s apparent that something’s not quite right with Merricat. She never admits the murders, though, even to herself, which makes the following exchange, after Constance and Merricat have escaped a mob of angry villagers, all the more unsettling:

One of our mother’s Dresden figurines is broken, I thought, and I said aloud to Constance, “I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”
Constance stirred, and the leaves rustled. “The way you did before?” she asked.
It had never been spoken of between us, not once in six years.
“Yes,” I said after a minute, “the way I did before.”

I wouldn’t expect anything less from Jackson, though; one of the few commercially successful female writers of the ‘50s and ‘60s, she’s best known for short story The Lottery and seminal horror novel The Haunting of Hill House, neither of which skimp on the creepiness.

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  • MickeyDousedInBlood

    Um, if you watch the original “Let the Right One In” Eli is a boy, a castrated boy, but a boy all the same. I believe the book is also pretty clear on that.

  • elaine!

    Love that you have Jane Eyre and The Yellow Wallpaper in this roundup!! And agreed on Count of Monte Cristo, too. Count of Monte Cristo and Jane Eyre were the first books I read on my Kindle because they’re public domain, not to mention AWESOME. I’ll have to add the Jackson book to my Goodreads, that’s a new one to me.

  • Helen

    I’m SO glad you included Sabriel!!

  • Dana Kay Bach

    Thank you thank you thank you for including Sabriel and Lirael!!! Those books are hands down my favorite horror fantasy, definitely my top five series of all time.
    Nix needs better PR because Sabriel is an amazing role model, so much better than stupid Bella…

  • ALittleBitNerdy

    Hey! The “view all on one page” link isn’t working and I usually prefer that to going page to page to page for a few paragraphs. could this be remedied please? thanks!

  • Anonymous


  • ALittleBitNerdy

    whoa fast! thanks!

  • Elle C

    I don’t think it’s clear at all that Eli identifies as a boy. We see that she once had male genitals, but that’s not really the same thing. It’s also worth noting that she refuses boy’s clothes and wears dresses. She says, “I’m not a girl,” but she never tells us what she is.

  • Amanda LaPergola

    A list that includes Jane Eyre, Michonne, and Batwoman just seems…right.

  • Bel

    Still no Integra Hellsing? You guys are missing out.

  • Rudiger Dingobait

    Coraline does “curl up in a ball and cry” when she finds out her parents are missing. That’s the first thing she does.
    Not that it’s a bad thing. I couldn’t stand the way that nothing in Oz ever seemed to phase Dorothy; giving Coraline the capacity for sadness allows her rising above it to actually mean something.

  • Lee Ann Cox

    I wondered if Jane Eyre would make the list. There’s so much to that novel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for Merricat – “We Have Always Lived In The Castle” is a longtime favourite of mine.

  • Laura Truxillo

    The Yellow Wallpaper is still one of the scariest things I’ve ever read.

  • Rose – HeroineJewelry

    Ah, I hadn’t seen Sabriel in such a long time! And I’ve always loved the Yellow Wallpaper. Victorian (& surrounding society) absolutely terrified me once I realized how they treated women. Good for Charlotte for sticking up for herself. Great list!

  • Rhodri James ‘Llewelyn’ Gillha

    Sabriel was one my favourite books when I was younger. Still is. For horror heroines, while it’s principally Urban Fantasy, there’s more horror than most horror books in the Dresden Files. So I think Karrin Murphy, head of CPD’s Special Investigations (vastly underfunded monster hunters and undisputed masters of creative report writing). Five foot and change, she once took out an Ogre with a chainsaw and laid down the gauntlet to several thousand vampires, some of which were worshipped as gods. But not without her vulnerabilities, having come under vicious psychic attack on prior occasion.

  • Jen Roberts

    My favorite part of Jane Eyre is when Jane – who is poor, young, a governess, and a woman – looks her rich, older, male employer in the eye and tells him that she and he are EQUALS…and HE AGREES WITH HER. For that time period, it was pretty daring stuff. :)