The 10 Worst Betrayals in Fiction

Whether for love, for money, or just for the fun of it, hideous betrayal never fails to make for a compelling story. From classic literature to contemporary fantasy, some characters are the best of the best (or worst of the worst, depending on how you look at it) when it comes to disloyal shenanigans. Below, we’ve rounded up the ten biggest traitors on the page.

Peter Pettigrew, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Everyone put your hands together for the most hideous traitor in wizarding history. Peter Pettigrew not only sold out his friends to Voldemort, he allowed Sirius to take the fall for it while he himself lived a life of luxury as the Weasleys’ prized pet rat. If not for this son-of-a-blast-ended-skrewt, James and Lily Potter would still be alive—along with Cedric Diggory and all the many wizards who lost their lives during the second coming of the Dark Lord.

Winston, 1984
There’s no shortage of double-crossing in George Orwell’s bleak dystopian novel about a man struggling beneath the thumb—and constant surveillance—of an all-powerful government; Winston has been sold up the river several times over by the time he turns traitor himself. But the moment when he cries out, “Do it to Julia!” (the “it” in question being mauled to death by rats) is a stunner of a betrayal, as Winston gives up not just the woman he loves, but the last dying shred of his own humanity.

Brutus, Julius Caesar
Et tu, Brute? Damn straight, Ceezy. The whole Roman senate rose up to assassinate Caesar in Shakespeare’s political tragedy, but it was Brutus’ knife that cut the deepest —because in addition to doing serious damage to Caesar’s epidermis and internal organs, it also really hurt his feelings.

Charles Trask, East of Eden
Steinbeck’s novel inspired by the story of Cain and Abel is packed end-to-end with double-crossings and back-stabbings by three generations of perpetrators. Out of the book’s many betrayals, the moment when Charles Trask drugs his brother Adam and takes his wife to bed is a standout for sheer soullessness.

The Marquise de Merteuil, Dangerous Liaisons
This old-school epistolary dive into the sexual intrigues of the aristocracy in France’s Ancien Regime is rife with two-faced friends and lovers, but no one plays all sides like the beautiful, villainous Marquise. By the time she gets her comeuppance in the form of exile and a ruined face, she has betrayed basically every major character in the book—sometimes more than once.

Edmund Pevensie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The good news is, Edmund ultimately redeemed himself to become a crowned King of Narnia and a wise, just ruler, along with the rest of the Pevensies. The bad news is what he did to require redemption: he sold his sibs and Mr. Tumnus down the river for a few bites of Turkish delight—which makes him not just a traitor, but a traitor with abominable taste in candy.

Dennis Nedry, Jurassic Park
Granted, Nedry didn’t have a world-ending catastrophe in mind when he betrayed his employer, stealing a bunch of dinosaur embryos and shutting down Jurassic Park’s security systems in order to make his escape. He just wanted to make a quick, cool million bucks. But for sheer scale of consequences, Dennis Nedry is one helluva turncoat; even Benedict Arnold fell short of unleashing a horde of hungry velociraptors on an unsuspecting public in the process of changing sides.

Mr. Wickham, Pride & Prejudice
Bad, naughty Wickham made a play for the honor of Darcy’s sister, shamelessly flirted with half the Bennett daughters, and nearly brought the family to ruin when he seduced Lydia into eloping with him when he abandoned his military post. Not only is the dude a traitor to King and country, he’s a traitor to every basic Edwardian notion of common masculine decency.

Danglars, Mondego, and Caterousse, The Count of Monte Cristo
These so-called “friends” of Edmond Dantès were so jealous of his good fortune in life and love, they accused him of treason, kicking off a series of increasingly unfortunate events that culminated in Dantès’ imprisonment in a 19th-century island supermax jail. (Bonus extra traitor credit: Mondego not only sold Dantès up the river, he married the man’s fiancé to boot. Rude.) On the other hand, you don’t get this epic tale of adventure and vengeance without a big, stinkin’ betrayal to kick it off, so…thanks, gentlemen.

Gollum, The Lord of the Rings
Poor, pathetic Gollum battled his demons all the way to Mordor, but his heart always belonged to the One Ring—aka his preciousssssss. Hence, the ghastly moment when he stopped leading the heroic Frodo toward Mount Doom, and started luring him into the lair of a giant, Hobbit-eating spider.

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