Marcus Aurelius once said that the best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury. Sure, it’s sage advice, but where’s the fun in that? After all, nothing gets a reader’s pulse rate up more than a deliciously plotted revenge story, and we’re really bringing you the best of the best with this list. Whether it’s entire nations seeking vengeance against their archenemies, or one victim plotting a brilliant comeuppance against a pack of rivals, these are our seven favorite tales of revenge. Be sure to serve them cold.
The Iliad, by Homer
Not only is this the grandaddy of all revenge stories, it features multiple layers of devastatingly petty infighting. Menelaus seeks revenge against Paris for stealing his wife, Helen, and he brings the entire Greek army with him. Then, Achilles hunts Hector down to deliver comeuppance for killing Patroclus. Even the gods are playing the revenge game, taking sides in the fallout of a disastrous beauty pageant. The question with The Iliad is not who is seeking revenge, but who isn’t?
Carrie, by Stephen King
The remake of Carrie comes out next Friday, with Chloe Grace Moretz taking over the iconic role from Sissy Spacek. But no movie can fully re-create the raw power of King’s novel. This story of a bullied teenage girl’s brutal revenge on her peers at prom is both horrifying and totally captivating.
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
Hey, have you heard of this one? Shakespeare’s Hamlet is by far the most iconic play about revenge ever written. You wouldn’t think that a production that mostly takes place inside the titular character’s head could be so riveting, but that’s why we never underestimate good ole Shakes.
True Grit, by Charles Portis
Mattie Ross may only be a 14-year-old girl in the rough world of the American west, but she is downright unstoppable. A coward thief named Tom Chaney shot her father dead, and she will not rest until she avenges her blood. This is one of those rare cases where the film adaptation is as great as the book, so get ‘em both!
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
What with Hamlet and True Grit, we’ve really established a running theme of stories about avenging paternal murders. So why not shout out the ultimate incarnation of that quest: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” The Princess Bride is full of amazing narrative threads, but Montoya’s dedicated pursuit of the six-fingered man will always have a special place in our hearts.
Sin City: The Hard Goodbye, by Frank Miller
The very first volume of the Sin City mega-series is a pure, unadulterated revenge diamond. Marv loves Goldie. Goldie gets killed. Marv figures he should pay her death forward. Warning: the result is not for the faint of heart.
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
Dumas’ tale of the labyrinthine revenge of Edmund Dantes is practically the gold standard for all other tales of this archetype. This book invented so many of our most popular narrative tropes that it’s difficult to imagine what fiction would look like without it. It’s a story about romance, imprisonment, religion, fate, human nature, justice, and legacy. But most of all it’s a story about revenge. Hard-won, meticulously plotted, and totally satisfying revenge. As Dantes says in the final chapters: “How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure.” How utterly badass.
What are your favorite literary revenge stories?