The 13 Biggest Backstabbers In Literary History, From Peter Pettigrew To Jamie Lannister
Beware, bookworms, for the Ides of March are upon us, and you know what that means: you better watch your back, unless you want to end up like Julius Caesar with your bestie's knife in your back. Brutus's treasonous murder of his BFF may be the most famous case of betrayal there is, but there are plenty of other backstabbers in literature who make his double-crossing look like child's play.
March 15 is a day that will forever live in infamy, thanks to William Shakespeare's 16th century drama, Julius Caesar. In the famous dramatization of the assassination of Julius Caesar, a a soothsayer cautions the emperor a month before his death to "Beware the ides of March." A month later, on March 15 , a.k.a. the Ides of March, Caesar is stabbed to death by members of the Roman Senate, including his closest allies and best friend, Brutus.
For centuries, Brutus has held tightly to the title of World's Worst Friend, but the troubled assassin is far from the only backstabber in books. In fact, the literary world is full of traitors, betrayers, colluders, deserters, and dirty double-crossers. Without them, some of your favorite books would be happier, sure, but they'd also be a whole lot more boring.
From murderous mistresses to backstabbing besties, these 13 literary betrayers will have you shouting, "Et tu, Brute?" at all of your books.
WARNING! There are spoilers below.
Peter Pettigrew from The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
For a children's series, there are a fair amount of backstabbers and betrayers in Harry Potter, but none are worse than Peter Pettigrew, a.k.a. Wormtail, a.k.a. the reason Harry Potter is an orphan. During the First Wizarding War, it is Wormtail who tells Lord Voldemort where the James and Lily are hiding. After betraying his best friends, he proceeds to frame Sirius for his crimes, go into hiding, and later, help resurrect the Dark Lord. Needless to say, there is no redemption for this rat.
Winston Smith from '1984' by George Orwell
In George Orwell's dystopia, few are innocent of backstabbing, but its Winston's betrayal of his lover, Julia, that feels the most abhorrent. After being caught by the government and resisting their violent tactics for an impressive amount of time, 1984's fallen hero eventually gives in and begs that Julia, not himself, be tortured by angry rats. They say love can conquer anything, but clearly they didn't know Big Brother.
Jaime Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R. R. Martin
They don't call him the Kingslayer for nothing. Although he is far from the worst backstabber in George R. R. Martin's popular fantasy series, Jaime Lannister certainly deserves the title. I mean, he literally stabbed someone in the back: during the Sack of King's Landing, the Kingsguard murdered the man he was sworn to protect. Sure, he had his reasons, but that doesn't make Jaime's betrayal any less significant, and begs the question: Who will he doublecross next?
Edmund Pevensie from 'The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe' by C.S. Lewis
Apparently, Edmund never learned to say no to strangers offering him candy, because that is all it took for the youngest Pevensie brother to betray his siblings and all of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Sure, the White Witch enchants him, but Edmund is still willing to turn over his family in return for some Turkish Delights. Thankfully, the young King of Narnia was able to overcome his sweet tooth and redeem himself with a little help from his magical friends.
Gollum from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
As if the repetition of "My precious!" wasn't a big enough hint that nothing mattered more to Gollum than the Ring, his choice to betray Frodo in The Two Towers certainly is. Once a kindly hobbit, the One Ring turns Gollum into a heartless monster who will do anything — including lure the hobbits into a lair of giant spiders and bite off Frodo's finger — to be its master. While he can't really be blamed for his constant backstabbing, he can't *quite* be forgiven for it, either.
Fernand Mondego from 'The Count of Monte Cristo' by Alexandre Dumas
In what is perhaps the greatest revenge novel of all time is, of course, the greatest backstabber of all time: Fernand Mondego. Not only does this class-A jerk falsely accuses his best friend Edmund of treason before having him imprisoned for 14 years, but Mondego also steals Edmund's fiancé, Mercédès, and basically causes his father to die, broke and alone. Let's just say, this guy gets whats coming to him.
Maven Calore from the Red Queen Series by Victoria Aveyard
He may have been manipulated by his mother, but Maven Calore is still a no good double-crosser nonetheless. Not only does he betray his brother to secure the throne, but he helps his mother murder his father, imprisoned and kills Newbloods, and makes Mare his prisoner. Will he redeem himself in the series' final installment? We will have to wait until War Storm, the final installment in the series, hits shelves in May to find out.
Charlie Kahn from 'Please Ignore Vera Dietz' by A.S. King
Perhaps one of the most sympathetic backstabbers in a young adult literature is Charlie Khan, Vera's best friend and the book's resident dead boy. His entire life's narrative is tragic, but what makes it all the more heartbreaking is his choice to turn on his BFF and throw actual dog feces at her shortly before his devastating death. Luckily, Vera does what any good friend would in the end: forgive him, and avenge him.
Briony Tallis from 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan
For a 13-year-old, Briony the Backstabber is able to do a lot of damage to the people in her life, and all it takes is one little lie. By falsely accusing her sister Cecelia's lover of being a rapist, she sentences him to an unfair prison sentence, breaks her sisters heart, destroys her family, and helps the real criminal go free. Not only does Briony betray the characters in the book, she even double-crosses readers by leading them to believe her story had a happy ending when the truth is anything but.
'Something Borrowed' by Emily Giffin
Without backstabbing, there would be not Something Borrowed. Luckily, Emily Giffin created the complicated character of Rachel, a 30-year-old single girl who betrays her best friend Darcy by sleeping with her fiancé. Sure, it sounds awful, but without Rachel's double-crossing, readers wouldn't have a delightful and addicting duology about love, friendship, and growing up.
Iago from 'Othello' by William Shakespeare
Brutus's backstabbing of Caesar was far from Shakespeare's only turn at writing a juicy betrayal plot. There are instances of backstabbing in so many of his works — Macbeth, King Lear, Titus Andronicus — but the dirtiest double-crosser is Iago from Othello. Thanks to his expert manipulation and flawless ability to betray those who trust him most, Iago directly or indirectly takes the lives on Desdemona, Emilia, Roderigo, and Othello. Forget Brutus, I think it's Iago who deserves the title of the World's Worst Backstabber.
Fredo Corleone from 'The Godfather' by Mario Puzo
Though it is more dramatic in the film versions of The Godfather, Fredo Corleone's decision to betray his brother Michael and attempt to get him killed is one of the most intense plotlines in this classic gangster story. It is also one of the rare cases where the backstabbing bastard gets whats coming to him, but you'll have to read Mark Winegardner's The Godfather Returns to learn more.
Charles Trask from 'East of Eden' by John Steinbeck
Speaking of brotherly betrayal, few cut so deep as Charles Trasks's. By the end of John Steinbeck's masterpiece, there were few characters who weren't guilty of wrongdoing in one way or another, but Charles's decision to drug his brother and sleep with his wife takes the cake and makes him the biggest backstabber of the novel.