The Most Terrifying Teachers of Children’s Literature
When your main characters are children, authority figures are always going to have the potential for evil, and teachers are no exception. Whether it’s unfair detention or downright torture, having educators abuse their power is the perfect way to render a pint-sized protagonist powerless. Here are a few scary teachers we should all be grateful we never came across.
Severus Snape, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J. K. Rowling): You’d expect that in a story about a British boarding school filled to the brim with evil plots and magical tomfoolery, there’d be at least one unsavory educator thrown in the mix. But why Professor Severus Snape? Why didn’t I pick Dolores Umbridge, of “I shall not tell lies” infamy? Or Alecto and Amycus Carrow, the perverse brother-sister duo of the seventh book? Or even the two-faced Quirrell and ersatz Mad Eye Moody?
Mostly because I really like talking about Snape.
Though you do bring up a good point, Internet reader, there are plenty of horrifying teachers sprinkled throughout the Harry Potter books. Sure, the Hogwarts potion master ends up a sympathetic character, but there’s no denying that his dark, overbearing presence is felt all throughout Harry’s school years. And no one knows how to properly cow a room full of first years, what with all that talk of “the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses.”
Mrs. Gorf, Sideways Stories from Wayside School (Louis Sachar): I’m just going to go on the record and say that any teacher who has the ability to turn her students into apples is no good in my book (though I suppose Hogwarts’ McGonagall is an obvious exception). It doesn’t help that Wayside teacher Mrs. Gorf is a little trigger-happy with her powers, and will fruitify the kids for minor infractions.
In fact between substitutes who can read minds and counselors who hypnotize students, I’m fairly sure ninety percent of the staff at that topsy-turvy elementary school could find a place on this list. At least in Mrs. Gorf’s case, the students manage to trick her into turning herself into an apple, and she is promptly eaten.
She does, however, haunt both the monkey bars and cafeteria mashed potatoes in subsequent books, so I’m not sure her demise was much of an improvement.
Mrs. Jeepers, The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids (Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey): The Bailey School kids really never catch a break. Whether it’s a werewolf camp counselor or students who may not be of this planet, everywhere they turn there’s a new monster just waiting to mess with them. I don’t know what kind of background check the school board is employing, but after the eighty plus books included in this series, it’s clearly not enough.
Though we never really know whether school teacher Mrs. Jeepers is a vampire or not, there’s plenty evidence against her. She’s originally from Transylvania, boasts nearly-identical relatives, and is moving into a house that is known to be haunted. It’s all highly suspicious, if nothing else. That being said, given that her predecessor was chased away by the unruly class, maybe her supernatural reputation is what keeps her students in check.
Miss Viola Swamp, Miss Nelson is Missing! (Harry Allard and James Marshall): When you’ve got an unmanageable class, sometimes you need to call in reinforcements. Not just anyone, mind you, you need someone who will deal with troublemakers mercilessly, who won’t stand for any nonsense, and who’ll teach these young whippersnappers some respect.
That person is Miss Viola Swamp, “the meanest substitute teacher in the whole world.” Miss Nelson’s class thinks it’ll be smooth sailing while their regular instructor is away, but after one day with Miss Swamp, their begging for her to return, even going so far as to fill out a police report.
As it turns out, Misses Swamp and Nelson are one and the same, but the kids have nevertheless learned an important lesson: Don’t drive away your nice teacher, you never know who’ll show up to replace her.
Miss Trunchbull, Matilda (Roald Dahl): Imagine, if you will, an Evil Principal Bingo card. It’s probably got a few innocuous things, like steamrolling teachers and taking over their classrooms, or upholding strange and arbitrary dress codes. But there are also probably a few, shall we say, out of the ordinary items, such as forcing children to eat an entire cake while sobbing or locking them in a supply closet with nails sticking out of all the walls (a room known charmingly as “the chokey”).
Matilda’s evil principal, the beautifully named Agatha Trunchbull, hits them all. And then some. Whether she’s defenestrating children or withholding her niece’s inheritance, the Trunchbull is a piece of work, and her eventual comeuppance is all the more sweet for it.
As for honorable mention, let’s not forget that Sherlock Holmes nemesis Professor Moriarty was once in charge of molding the minds of a new generation, or that The Magic School Bus’s Miss Frizzle was somehow never accused of child endangerment.
Did we miss anyone? Were there any more fictional educators who made your skin crawl? Let us know at @QuirkBooks!