When certain characters appear in books, you can almost smell the bad luck oozing off them. No matter what they do, no matter where they go, they’re going to have a tough time of it. From being unjustly accused of a crime to having their feet amputated (!!!), here are seven archetypes who just can’t seem to catch a literary break.
1. The Younger Child in a Jane Austen Novel
If a character finds themselves in an Austen novel, they better pray hard they end up being the golden eldest sibling. Those kids have all the luck. In Austen-world, it’s the middle and youngest siblings who tend to get the short shaft, whether we’re talking about Edmund Bertram, whose caddish older brother burns through the family money, or Mary Bennet, the nerdy middle sister who’s awkward at parties and can’t even attract the most odious of suitors.
2. The Hot Dude who Doesn’t Win the Girl Because He’s Stuck in a Love Triangle Opposite a Sensitive Dude
Hot dudes have a lot of things in life handed to them, but in YA novels, they often go without true love. Isn’t it tragic? Take Jacob from Twilight—all the werewolf pushups in the world won’t win him Bella’s heart. Or what about Daniel Cleaver from Bridget Jones’s Diary? He’s foxy and successful, but he’ll never truly win Bridget, because Mark Darcy just has way more feelings.
3. The Character Who Has a Phobia That’s Cruelly Exploited By the Author
Ever noticed how Ron Weasley, who has a terrible fear of spiders, is always encountering spiders? Can’t you just see J.K. Rowling cackling with glee every time she types “NEED MORE SPIDERS IN THIS SCENE” on her Macbook Pro? Or what about Captain Hook, who’s always being chased by his worst fear ever: the crocodile? It’s practically authorial sadism.
4. The Morally Upstanding Man Who Lives in a Corrupt Society Determined to Bring Him Down
This guy really wants to do good and make things right, but EVERYTHING ALWAYS GOES WRONG. Like Okonkow, from Things Fall Apart, who tries really hard to have a good reputation then accidentally kills someone. Buzzkill, amirite? Or there’s the ethical Charles Darnay from A Tale of Two Cities, who gets unjustly thrown into prison and stays there for a long, long time. Who says you can’t keep a good man down?
5. The Feminist Who Appears in a Novel Decades Before Her Time
While these characters usually get their happy ending, it’s pretty rotten luck to have the brains of a Ruth Bader Ginsburg but the social rights of a piece of cheese. Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet, Eowyn, Jo March—it wasn’t easy being spunky in a world determined to put you in a corset and keep you there for good.
6. The Girl in an Old-School Fairy Tale Who Gets Horribly Disfigured
Original fairytales are violent beyond all reason, and young girls who dare traipse through those darkly magical worlds often lose a couple of limbs. The Little Mermaid has to drink a potion that makes her feels like she’s walking on knives, and left without a voice to win her true love, she ends up dissolving into sea foam. And the protagonist of The Red Shoes? She gets her feet amputated. Just another day in the mind of Hans Christian Andersen!
7. The Non-Human Children’s Character Who Just Has the Worst Life Ever
Children’s characters often have the worst luck, maybe because they’re not human and so their cruel, cruel authors feel they can do anything to them. There’s the tree from The Giving Tree, who’s trapped in an abusive relationship. The Lorax gets run out of town after all his trees get chopped down. Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web gets worked to the bone and then dies. Bambi’s mother—well, we don’t need to go there. Sniff.