Berserk Button / Literature

When a nice, normal character suddenly goes into a rage, you've hit his Berserk Button.
  • Rugaard from E. E. Knight's Age of Fire series hates being called by any derogatory nickname, and finally snaps when called "Batty" (because of his pet bats) to his face by one of his fellow trainees in the Drakwatch, turning what started off as an ordinary brawl into an Unstoppable Rage as he takes on all three of his bunk-mates at once. Then again, it's understandable when you consider the fact he was without a name as a hatchling and as The Unfavorite was flat out told by his father he didn't need or deserve one.
    • Shadowcatch, the dragon who eventually becomes the adult RuGaard's bodyguard, takes the giving of an oath seriously, and is infuriated by the concept of betraying an oath once given.
  • Zoe Durant never sees red in Ahriman Trilogy until her mage is facing an unfair schoolyard fight.
  • Whenever Sunny does something that resembles her maternal grandmother in Akata Witch, Sunny's father takes it very, very badly.
  • Animorphs:
    • Best not to insult Andalites around Ax...his arrogance will start to come out. Also don't compare Andalite technology to Yeerk technology.
    • Claiming to be an Andalite bandit around Visser Three will probably get you missing some body parts very soon. Ditto with just failing him in general.
    • Never, and I mean NEVER get in Ax's way if he wants the delicious and narcotic food he loves SO much...cinnamon buns.
  • Anne Shirley's hair, especially if you compare it to carrots. She's violent about it. Poor Gilbert...
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Craster reacts extremely poorly to the suggestion that he may be illegitimate: "WHO CALLS ME BASTARD?"
    • If you dare mention the fact that he isn't a lord to "Lord" Vargo Hoat, or, heaven help you, mock his thpeeth impediment.
    • Like Craster, Ramsay does not react well to any mention of his low birth. Just using the word "bastard" or "Snow" in his presence will likely lose you the skin on your face, if he's in a good mood.
    • Lord Tywin Lannister hates being laughed at or made the subject of any kind of fun. He cultivates a reputation as The Dreaded, so this doesn't happen to him often, but it supposedly stems from his troubled youth when his father Tytos was reduced to a laughingstock that almost led House Lannister to ruin with his weak leadership. By extension Tywin hates seeing any Lannister being laughed at, although this is more about preserving family dignity than any kind of personal concern for them.
  • Jack London's famous novel The Call of the Wild features a grizzled older sledding dog named Sol-Leks, with one blind eye. Buck, the mutt protagonist of the novel, takes a nasty bite when he approaches Sol-leks from his blind side and is careful never to do it again.
  • Do not call Yosyp Kazakov a Russian. He is not Russian, he is Ukrainian.
  • Merely being around the fluffy bunnies of a particular cartoon universe turns the main villain of Craig Shaw Gardner's Cineverse Cycle into a ranting Gargamel expy.
  • Don't show interest in the Author Avatar if you are looking for Franco Rocafirme in Conciencia y Voluntad, or you risk a monumental beating.
  • For the love of all things holy and French, do NOT make fun of Cyrano de Bergerac's nose. You will be publicly outwitted, humiliated, and stabbed.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld has quite a few examples:
    • The Librarian is famous for his hatred of being called a monkey. (He's an orangutan, and orangutans are apes, not monkeys.) Even saying monkey around him is dangerous, although possibly not as dangerous (one of the rare few times when he let someone get away with a warning was when they, someone he already liked for other reasons, used the m-word to refer to a different, actual monkey). And don't even think about damaging, or threatening damage to his books, unless you fancy having to flee to the other side of the continent. That last one's official policy.
    • In Night Watch, Carcer — a rather psychopathic villain who would rather kill you for your watch rather than ask you the time — becomes inordinately angry when his rank of Sergeant is abbreviated to "Sarge."
    • Subverted in Hogfather, in which the villain Jonathan Teatime (who will usually kill people for no reason at all) gets very mildly annoyed when people mispronounce his name (it's pronounced "teh-ah-tim-eh"), at one point tiredly commenting "Please don't try to distract me."
    • Played straight with Medium Dave Lilywhite in the same book: "If he had a fault, it was a tendency to deal out terminal and definitive retribution to anyone who said anything about his brother."
    • The monk Marco Soto in Thief of Time has a very un-monk-like mass of long black hair. He is a calm, tranquil person... unless you try to touch it. The real life person the character is based on and named after is much the same way. Not that you'd want to touch his hair anyway. It eats combs, people. In the same book Pratchett actually refers to this trope, although by another name. As he puts it:
      Everyone has their own private exemption clause. "But not on a Sunday," "Only if I feel like it" or in this case "Not the hair. Nobody touches the hair, okay?"
    • Don't sort people by importance in front of Sam Vimes. In Thud! he gets scary when he is prevented from reading to his son at 6:00. "That! Is!! Not!!! My!!!! Cow!!!!!"
    • Don't call Mort a boy.
    • Never mess with a wizard's hat. Even the normally harmless, cowardly Rincewind will go ballistic on you if you touch his hat.
    • However, one of the few times Rincewind is ever genuinely angry comes in Interesting Times , when the rebellion decides to play the Doomed Moral Victor card. To Rincewind, who lives by the rule that you only have one life and everything else is replaceable, this is utterly disgusting, and he lets them have it.
    • Lord Vetinari, the sober, serious, Magnificent Bastard Patrician of Ankh-Morpork kills people who hurt his dog, Wuffles. He also sentences mimes to death-by-scorpion, for crimes against humanity.
    • If you don't want to get the crap beaten out of you (and nailed to a wall if you're another troll) by Detritus, don't deal drugs.
    • Don't deliberately keep your clock excessively fast if Jeremy Clockson visits you a lot.
    • Also, dwarfs can be quite touchy about their beards and (especially) their heights. The degree of anger ensuing may vary with the dwarf and the book, but it's usually better not to risk it. Careless use of the right insults generally can usually send a dwarf pretty mad; one of the worst, in their own tongue, translates as "lawn ornament".
  • Mr. Marson in DO NOT TAKE THE SHELLS flies into a rage when he sees Harris wearing a necklace made from the eponymous shells, calling it "witchcraft".
  • Angels in the Dresdenverse are generally extremely pleasant in demeanor and very much the Good Guys. There are two things that can piss them off. 1: Insisting that they make a choice. Angels cannot choose, at all, and are a little bit pissed about it. 2: Shortening their names. Names are power, and they are very powerful creatures. Dresden finds this out when he calls Uriel "Uri." Considering the two letters he chopped off mean "of God," you can understand why the angel was displeased.
  • In the 87th Precinct novel Ice, "man of the cloth" Brother Anthony does not take kindly to people who don't think his somewhat... er... ample girlfriend Emma is as sexy as he thinks she is. And don't think for a second that Emma doesn't return his affection. Tim, the novel's Big Bad and Brother Anthony's killer, found this out the hard way after he got off scot-free for his main crimes; she killed him in return.
  • Farworld: Riph Raph is *not* a lizard. He breathes fire.
  • Examined in The Sleeping Dragon, the first of Joel Rosenberg's stories about a group of college kids transported to a fantasy world. A dwarf warrior needs to go berserk to break the group out of a bad situation. He understands that he needs to find a point of anger and build on it. Cue flashbacks to life back on earth, where he was wheelchair bound with MS. Not enough, no matter how deep he goes. Finally in despair he finds the button "So here I am, just as helpless as I've been my entire life." Last words of the chapter: "He went berserk."
  • In The Girl From The Well, the ghost Okiku hates the number nine, which relates to the circumstances of her death. When confronted with a set of nine objects, she flies into an Unstoppable Rage until one of them is destroyed.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Professor McGonagall really hates it when people play dirty, particularly in Quidditch matches. On several occasions she's shown to forget herself in rage when she witnesses foul behavior (the most notable incident happening in the third book, when several Slytherin players attempted to sabotage a Gryffindor/Ravenclaw match by dressing up as Dementors to scare Harry, who justifiably sics his Patronus on them for the effort— and she didn't think the Patronus alone to be punishment enough for the offending parties).
    • If one values his/her own life and dignity, Don't! Ever! Call the Centaurs half-breeds in front of them, or else they will go extremely berserk on them.
    • Never insult Albus Dumbledore in front of Hagrid. This makes sense considering when he was expelled from Hogwarts after being falsely accused of opening the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore was the only one who believed in his innocence, and gave him a job as gamekeeper.
    • Go ahead and mention anything even remotely magic-related in front of Uncle Vernon. I double-dare you.
  • From A Harvest Of War:
    • Touching a Wild's food is a good way to commit suicide.
      • Don't even touch your Wild friend's food without their permission unless you want to be yelled at.
    • For Wild Rhona, slavers and slave overseers. To a much lesser extent, knights.
    • Queen Thyll has a bunch:
      • Don't take it too far when questioning her judgment. You don't have to be a Yes-Man but know when to STOP.
      • The word "economy".
      • Any implication that she's not a contender for World's Most Beautiful Woman.
    • Downplayed Trope with Ayan: Cussing will get her most violent reaction to anything: shouting.
  • Hercule Poirot hates it when you call him French. ("Eye yam BELGIAN!")
  • Don't interrupt Horatio Hornblower's morning walk on the quarterdeck. When Lady Barbara sends her maid up to invite him to breakfast, he positively explodes. In another book, a new crewman is hustled out of the way by an experienced hand before he can commit the cardinal sin of crossing Hornblower's path. The morning walk is the closest thing to solitude he can contrive for himself, and he tends to get so deep in thought that he doesn't know what's going on around him.
  • The Hunger Games: Just don't mention Katniss to Peeta in the third book. And especially don't leave her in the same room with him.
  • In the Jeeves and Wooster story "The Love That Purifies" Aunt Dahlia has a bet with a friend that her son Bonzo can behave better than her friend's offspring Thomas while a mutual acquaintance is staying with Bertie; Bonzo is toeing the line so he can be worthy of movie star Lillian Gish, who he has a big crush on. But Thomas is behaving even better and all looks lost - until Jeeves suggests to Bonzo that he speak ill of Thomas's beloved Clara Bow...
  • Journey to Chaos:
    • Don't call Tiza a "lady", not even respectfully. It's always an insult.
    • Don't touch Basilard's family sword, BloodDrinker. He'll notice even if he's unconscious.
    • Don't touch Old Man Aaloon's scrolls. He'll label you a thief and smack you with his staff.
    • Don't call Kallen a "lab rat". She insists that she was a "patient of experimental therapy". This is one of the few things that makes her genuinely angry.
  • Kill Time or Die Trying: Dylan's bald spot is a literal Berserk Button, James in particular likes to press it, or draw on it if he gets the chance.
  • The Kingdom and the Crown: Simeon has one when it comes to the Romans, especially after he was nearly killed by one of them.
  • From The Kingdoms of Evil: Kendrick and anything from Skrea.
  • In the David Gemmell book Legend, Rek's quality as The Berserker first comes out when someone tries to reach into his mind and he loses it in spectacular fashion.
  • In his few appearances in the Dark Elf books by R.A. Salvatore (the ones about Drizzt Do'urden, for those who don't already know), a neat freak Dwarven sage by the name of Fredregar "Fret" Quilldipper has a rather interesting berserk button. Get his immaculately clean clothes dirty at all, or even threaten to, and he will threaten your life at best (to the point in one instance of backing down a battlerager by the name of Thibbledorf Pwent), or will go completely nuts and use his little hammer to beat the target of his rage into a bloody pulp. (This, by the way, will often result in blood and gore getting on his clothes, which causes him to go into an even stronger killing frenzy against the target or targets of his anger.)
  • Matilda: Miss Trunchbull hates many things, but one thing she apparently really can't stand is pigtails.
  • In The Name of the Wind Professor Lorren is an almost completely stoic man, so much so that Professor Exl Dahl has a running bet that no one will ever get him to smile. However, God forbid you ever, EVER threaten his books in any way, shape, or form. Kvothe got off lightly.
  • In Needful Things, don't call Danforth Keeton "Buster." He just might kill you. And not "just might," as his wife discovered when she did it.
  • The Other Kind of Roommate has its entire opening scene describing the aftermath of Alex and Xander's latest argument, during which utterly everything in their apartment was smashed during the fight - including Alex's face. The reason? Xander didn't get to go Starbucks.
  • William Maldonado's Outsourced has the main character, Isaac Fisher responding poorly to assertions that his wishes are just a phase.
  • Do not criticize Sgt. Escrima's cooking unless you're a masochist or enjoy hospital stays.
  • In President's Vampire, Cade is usually calm and composed, not to say serene, but whenever Johann Konrad appears in vicinity, his Red Oni, Blue Oni relationship with Zach gets instantly reversed and he's inches short from killing the man on spot.
  • Eugene, from Purple Hibiscus, does not like it when you question Christianity.
  • In Puss-Cat Mew, you don't EVER diss the title character in Joe's hearing. He will turn you and your companions against each other and then kill you.
  • Hey, want a good time? Take Belinda, the Spoiled Sweet Princess Classic from Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock. Still with me? Great. Now just sneak up behind her and cut off a lock of her hair — just one, to mess up the symmetry! Go on! It'll be fun! I'll be in the next county if you need me.
  • Sawyer Snipe in Robyn Manx's novel The Rebel practically never gets angry...unless you insinuate that his band's music is drug-induced.
  • Anything in The Exiles Series that reminds Collan of his slave past will result in injury and/or death. Also harming his children.
  • The Secret Garden: Colin hates when people look at him.
    • He also has one connected to finding lumps on his back until Mary tells him in no uncertain terms that he doesn't have any.
  • Barbara, the hero of the Special Circumstances series, is rather nice and accepting of others' religious beliefs. If someone speaks badly of Christianity, however, all bets are off.
  • The Stand:
    • Stu does not take kindly to doctors who don't do full disclosure and keep him locked up.
    • Randall Flagg does not take kindly to drug use. Just don't go there unless crucifixion appeals to you.
Star Wars Legends:
  • In the Wraith Squadron books, Tyria Sarkin, the worst pilot in a squadron of Last Second Chances, responds to a teasing offer from a squadmate that he hack into the database and raise her scores by lunging over the table, bringing him to the ground, and repeatedly punching him in the face. Her Reasonable Authority Figure, while putting her on report, tries to get her to explain herself, but she doesn't. He'd thought she was the steadiest of the new recruits. Later she confesses to being the victim of a scam during training - she'd struggled with her scores, her best instructor wanted to have her get him an X-Wing to sell on the black market, and when she refused he revealed that he'd been boosting her scores all along, and if she turned him in he'd turn her in. So she did nothing and graduated at the bottom of her class.
  • In Survivors Quest, Luke muses on the fact that it is a bad idea to mess with his wife Mara's ship. It was damaged and temporarily disabled and Luke says it will not be good if she ever catches up with the guy that did it.
  • John Collier's short story "The Touch of Nutmeg Makes It" features a man acquitted of killing another man for no apparent reason. Some time later he is relaxing with a friend, musing on all that happened; in the course of things the friend offers to make him a cocktail. The man begins to give him instructions on making a specific type of drink, in particular giving a dash of nutmeg. He is very particular about the nutmeg, because a man that would dare to leave out the nutmeg, the man that would dare do such a vile thing...
  • Trapped on Draconica: Zarracka can't stand the song 'goblin queen' because she had to play the role of 'goblin queen' whenever she played with her sister, Daniar. Singing it in her earshot drives an already sadistic girl to homicidal fury.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Ned Land discovers that he must never surrender to The Empire while Nemo is The Captain at the Nautilus.
  • In Up in the Air, don't try to cash in Ryan Bingham's frequent flyer miles. Just don't do it.
  • In Vampire Academy, calling Janine Hathaway's relationship with Abe, "you just screwed him". She punches Rose in the face for that one.
  • If you ever find yourself in the world of Warrior Cats, do not attempt to touch Jayfeather's stick. He will murder you.
  • Lanfear of the The Wheel of Time does not take kindly to being addressed by her real name. It's Mierin Eronaile, by the way.
    • That's nothing compared to her meltdown if you insinuate that Lews Therin/Rand doesn't love her or slept with another woman.
    • Demandred's Start of Darkness happened because he found himself perennially Overshadowed by Awesome compared to Lews Therin Telamon. Do not tell him he's second best, ever. Also, don't try to kill Lews Therin (or Rand, by extension) without letting him have his shot.
    • Keeping with the theme of the Forsaken, don't tell Moridin that he's irrelevant. He's also liable to throw offers of redemption square in the face of the person making them.
  • Due to hideous mistreatment on his part, the title character of White Fang goes insane when laughed at for much of the book.
  • For Elphaba in Wicked, Animals, animals, even insects are a bit of an obsession. She has a major freakout when Killjoy goes after Chistery, as well as when the children at Kiamo Ko are bothering him.
  • Nowhere Island University has Salim, an Al-Qaeda terrorist. He really doesn't like it when you imply that he's Ax-Crazy, especially if its combined with suggesting he's Not So Different from various people he hates.
  • In Tim Dorsey's novels Torpedo Juice and Shark Skin Suite, using Molly's guest towels—at least if you get them dirty—could get you dead. Molly is not your maid.
  • "The Silver Codex" Hanlowa is the Muse of Horror so it's not a good to piss her off by calling her a demon or endangering one of her Scribes. She knows what scares even hell.
  • The Stormlight Archive:
    • The Parshendi have a race-wide Berserk Button. They hate it when the bodies of their dead are disturbed, to the point that they will endanger the living in order to protect the dead, and they always step respectfully around the corpses of their men on the battlefield. The Parshmen, the docile Slave Race version of Parshendi, share this quirk. They're allowed to take care of their own dead, as it's the only thing they seem to be passionate about.
    • The Way of Kings: When Kaladin gets really desperate, he straps Parshendi bones to his armor to distract the Parshendi while his men charge their lines, unarmed and unarmored. The entire Parshendi army starts shooting at him, to the point that they ignore Sadeas' army even as he's killing them.

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