There is nothing quite as gratifying as a good comeuppance—it can even outmatch a good revenge, in some cases. Although the two definitely overlap, revenges are engineered by mere mortals. Comeuppances, however, read as if the universe itself stepped in to make sure that justice is doled out properly. Here are our favorite examples of karmic retribution in literature:
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
This juggernaut of a novel was also on our list of best revenge stories of all time, and it would also make it onto the list of best adventure, romance, and historical novels, too. That’s how all-encompassing Dumas’ masterpiece is! Sure, watching Edmund Dantes raise himself to godlike status is a rewarding narrative arc, but there’s something even more satisfying about the devastating fall of his enemies. Not only does Dumas force the ones with a conscience to stew in guilt, he allows the anxiety of the others to be drawn out over a period of months, so that they’re practically begging for their comeuppances by the end. The lesson? Never mess with Edmund Dantes.
Island of the Sequined Love Nun, by Christopher Moore
Moore has the most delightfully weird ideas for books, and Island of the Sequined Love Nun is no exception. Pilot Tucker Case finds himself banished to a small Micronesian island, because he can handle neither booze nor the allure of a pretty lady. His forced sobriety and abstinence wake him up to the fact that something is not quite right with his employers on his new isolated home. Revealing more would be spilling the beans, but let’s just say every character gets what’s coming to them in this deliciously funny novel.
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Crime and Punishment: demolishing people’s brains since 1866. This famously intense read follows the inner machinations of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished student who convinces himself that because he is smart, he’s above the law. His “punishment” is carefully wrought and full of brilliant insights into moral relativism, class tension, and individualism. We expect nothing less of Dostoevsky, whose books are basically riveting philosophical Rubik’s Cubes.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
This is really the best bang for your buck in terms of awesome comeuppances. Practically every character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory gets their just desserts…literally. Dahl is not known for pulling punches when it comes to children’s tales, and the running joke of having each child in the Wonka tour meet with a fate that perfectly matches their own avarice is sweeter than candy.
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Ouch! Is there any romantic comeuppance that hits quite as hard as that? Rhett Butler has finally had enough of Scarlett O’Hara, and wipes his hands clean of her never-ending parade of drama. Though there are times where the reader can’t help but root for Scarlett, there’s no denying the pure joy of seeing her not get her way for once in her life.
Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
Talk about a compelling double comeuppance! One of our favorite parts about Macbeth is that the titular lord begins paying for his crime before he even commits it. He chases imaginary daggers around and mumbles about his destiny, and as the play progresses, he gives himself over to madness without a fight. The real driver of the play’s action, Lady Macbeth, is forced to cover for his breaks with reality, but even she’s not tough enough to bear the burden alone. The result is a play that’s so shockingly frightening that even after four centuries, drama nerds still won’t even refer to it by name. Well done, Billy Shakes.
Pyramids, by Terry Pratchett
Nobody doles out ironic justice quite like Terry Pratchett, and Pyramids is the ultimate example. The change-resistant High Priest Dios ends up with such a perfectly calibrated fate that you almost feel bad for the guy, despite how much he has it coming. Revealing any more would be spoiling the ending, but it’s a Discworld novel, so you can be sure there will be rifts in the space-time continuum and reanimated Pharaohs. You know, basic Pratchett stuff.
What’s your vote for the most satisfying comeuppance in fiction?