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The Grotesque

"You are deformed. And you are ugly. And these are crimes for which the world shows little pity."

A character that induces both fear and pity in viewers because his deformities belie a perfectly normal, if not noble, personality. The pathos associated with The Grotesque is the implication that he could easily have become a well-adjusted member of society if not for the hideousness that he is powerless to remedy.

He is very rarely presented as the villain and frequently overlaps with the Reluctant Monster and Tragic Hero. The defining trait of The Grotesque is that his hideous appearance belies a gentle personality that is doomed to mistreatment because of society's shallowness. We, the viewers, are left feeling like the only ones who can see him for who he truly is, and want to comfort him with the knowledge that he's not alone in his quiet suffering.

The Grotesque does not necessarily have to be physically deformed; he can be mentally or socially deformed, so long as we continue to see the good within and wish that it can somehow overcome the badness masking it.

Don't expect any of that to allow someone this ugly to get a happy ending, especially if they're female. Grotesques are universally tragic characters.

Contrast Red Right Hand, where the outer deformity is symbolic of an inner corruption. Not to be confused with the kind of "grotesque" that adorns old gothic rooftops — see Our Gargoyles Rock. Compare Gentle Giant. May result from a Power-Upgrading Deformation.

Not to be confused with mindless violence film Grotesque.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Jinenji from the InuYasha episode "Jinenji, Kind yet Sad" is a huge monster with bulging eyes, but all he wants to do is farm medicinal herbs. The episode even had a mob of villagers with Torches and Pitchforks as a Shout-Out.
  • Oniwakamaru from the third episode of Samurai Champloo. He wasn't just ugly, he was also huge, and like Jinenji faced constant harassment by villagers with Torches and Pitchforks. Fuu befriends him, being perhaps the only person to ever look at him and not see a monster, but Mugen still kills him in the end.
  • Rurouni Kenshin has a number of examples.
    • All of the Oniwabanshuu are this, shunned by society but taken in by Aoshi and therefore loyal to him. Hannya is a particularly good example, since he was partly modeled on Joseph Merrick, the "Elephant Man".
    • Fuji, one of Shishio's minions, is about 20-feet tall and has been treated like a monster or a living weapon.
    • Yatsume, who works for Enishi also likely qualifies since for poorly justified reasons, his family turned him into Venom, which entailed stretching his limbs so they were freakishly long and doing something that gave him fangs and a long, lolling tongue.
  • Berserk.
    • The Child of Guts and Casca was conceived as a normal baby when the two made love, but then everything took a tragic turn for the worse when his mother was viciously raped by Griffith when he turned into Femto, thus tainting her womb with his demonic essence and turning the developing child into misshapen and deformed fetus, compelling him to take up a nature of evil and giving him supernatural powers at the same time. However, while instinctively "evil", the Child loves his parents to much to actually be evil. Sadly, his father does not feel much sympathy for what happened to him, seeing him as nothing more than a byproduct of a horrible event that he failed to prevent, and Guts would have even killed him had Casca not interfered. Nevertheless, the Child strives to help his parents whenever possible, up until the point of the mock Eclipse where the Child expends the last of his energy and powers to save his mother...
    • The Egg of the Perfect World (or the Behelit Apostle). During his life as a human, he was a nameless outcast of society who collected dead bodies at the base of the Tower of Conviction. When he came across a Behelit and sacrificed the world so that it may become perfected, he became the Behelit-shaped apostle that was in the present, though no one knew of his existence. The Egg of the Perfect World, though an Apostle, is one of the first to be introduced that wasn't evil or just crazy. In the final events at the Tower of Conviction, he comes across the weakened Child, whom he saw as kindred for being deformed, forgotten, and unloved. As an act of pity, he consumes the Child so that he could have one moment of tenderness in his life before he and the Egg of the Perfect World were killed during the mock eclipse, when Griffith reincarnates himself into the human world.

    Comic Books 
  • Arseface from Preacher. After blowing the left half of his face off imitating Kurt Cobain, he realizes the error of his self-pitying ways and vows to be a good person. Once he encounters the heroes, he ends up becoming a chart-topping singer even though no one can understand a word he says outside of Jesse. At the end of the story he meets up with a one-eyed girl who constantly hallucinates people's appearances, and sees him as a beautiful blond man.
  • Ephialtes from 300. Looks almost exactly like the Hunchback picture (top), showed the Spartan army the 'goats trail' that the Persians could use to flank them at the pass of Thermopylae, and asked to join the fight. King Leonidas's given reason for rejecting his aid is that his deformity makes him unable to form part of the Spartans' highly effective phalanx strategy (which is plausible up until the point where everyone immediately breaks ranks to leap into single combat). After being denied the right to fight alongside the Spartans, he went to Xerxes and told him of the goat pass and switched sides - which, one supposes, means his outer deformity eventually reflected his inner feelings of rejection and jealousy. That certainly fits with the ideology of the Spartans, who did in real life kill any children that were born deformed.
  • Ben Grimm, the Thing, from the Fantastic Four (at least at first— by now, he's the idol o' millions.).
  • Vlad from Hack/Slash plays with this trope, albeit with much less active persecution. (Except in Chicago, where, as the "Meat Man", he's blamed for a slasher's murders.) Most recurring characters get used to his appearance fairly quickly. He does wear a mask virtually all the time, though. He was also much more misshapen as a child — the butcher who raised him found him in a dumpster, obviously abandoned by his birth parents due to his deformities.
  • Much of the first volume of Swamp Thing involves the "muck-encrusted mockery of a man" inspiring fear in most people, when he is a kind scientist who wanted to help end world hunger. For a long time, very few people treat him as anything but a monster even when he saves their lives.
  • In X-Men, any mutant whose mutation affects their outer appearance. And, as part of the Fridge Logic inherent in X-Men, The Thing mentioned above is a celebrity while Nightcrawler is forced to use a holographic disguise to avoid attention.
  • The Thor character, Beta Ray Bill, was a warrior who was genetically modified to into a mighty, if ugly, monster to protect his people. During Bill and Thor's first encounter, each thought was a monster meaning to do harm. However, when Bill accidentally struck Thor's hammer when it was in its walking stick form, he was transformed into a variant of Thor himself yielding the hammer, a feat that could only be accomplished by the noblest of heroes.

    Film 
  • Dr. Peyton Westlake, aka Darkman, is a Super Hero version of this trope. At least, in his natural form.
  • Freaks mostly subverts this. We do not pity them, because they're all so damned cheerful, except for those tied up in the romantic plot (because Love Hurts everyone), but even they get a happy ending.
  • The title character in Edward Scissorhands. A bit of a twist, though, in that — being played by Johnny Depp — he's quite handsome. He simply has No Social Skills, and has the unfortunate tendency to cut things up by accident, due to being a golem with scissors instead of fingers.
  • Subverted in Batman Returns with The Penguin, who wants revenge on Gotham City for his parents abandoning him at birth due to his deformity. He blackmails Max Shreck, a Villain with Good Publicity, into making him appear to be kind and gentle so the citizens will elect him Mayor. When Batman reveals that the Penguin holds them in contempt, they immediately turn upon him, so he decides to forgo any pretense of humanity ("I am not a human being! I am an animal! Cold-blooded!", a sort of dark spoof of the above Elephant Man) as he proceeds with his master plan to kill all of the first-born sons in the city - a plan he had used the city's sympathy to further without their knowing it: "researching" his parents' identities (it's implied in the novelization that he actually killed them many years before "finding" their graves), he picked up the information about all the other parents who had sons from birth records. When Batman foils this plan, Penguin goes over the edge, instructing his penguins to kill everyone in the city, which Batman foils with the same electronic technique that he used to reveal the Penguin's villainy to the public.
  • Jaws, from the James Bond movies, becomes this after his Heel-Face Turn in Moonraker. The actor who played him, Richard Kiel, has acromegaly like Rondo Hatton, below. In a twist, not only does Redemption not Equal Death, but he manages to get himself a girlfriend out of the deal (and a Meganekko who's almost as strong as he is, to boot. Lucky bastard.).
    • Especially when said girl saves Jaws while he was pinned by debris after chasing Bond in a car that went over a cliff!
  • Sloth in The Goonies is deformed, dimwitted, very strong, and kept as a Bertha In The Attic by his family. Once he makes friends with Chunk, however, it's clear he's a good guy.
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The sole survivor of Dr. Totenkopf's uranium mining and experiments, presumably because of radiation poisoning and Totenkopf's genetics experiments.
  • Rocky Dennis from Mask, whose entire life is a Shaggy Dog Story (with a few good yanks for good measure).
  • Rondo Hatton (April 22, 1894 – February 2, 1946) was an American actor who had a brief, but prolific career playing thuggish bit parts in many Hollywood B-movies (i.e. The Brute Man). He was known for his brutish facial features which were the result of acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland. His primary role was 'The Creeper', a killer who crushed his victim's spines in a bearhug. However, the Creeper was played as a deformed, dim-witted character that acted as a foil to some other villain's ambitions. Some person would befriend this pathetic, angry hulk of a man, and then use him as a weapon. So partial subversion here.
  • Jason Voorhees already had some hydrocephaly. Then he drowned. And upon coming back to life, he's always suffering from both decomposition and injuries that he usually comes over. Believe me, the hockey mask is doing us a favor.
  • Francoeur from A Monster in Paris is a seven-foot-tall flea who's actually gentle, kind, curious, and passionate. The song that shares the film's title is a soulful lament about how his life thus far as a "monster" after being grown to his spectacular size in an accident has left him too hurt and afraid to show his true self.
  • The hunchback from 300 is one of those cases. He survived where other malformed Spartan babies were killed at birth and still wants to help the 300 fight the Persians. He gets rejected however, because Leonidas points out that he isn't really fit for battle but is spared out of pity, making it this trope. Rejected, he goes to accept the Persians' offer..

    Literature 
  • In Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, rejection by his Mad Scientist creator and the rest of society truly turns the creature into the monster he outwardly resembles, as sorrow turns to hatred and lust for vengeance.
  • Older Than Radio: Quasimodo of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an archetypal example.
  • Gwynplaine, of The Man Who Laughs, was, due to a bizarre torture inflicted upon him, not so much ugly as unbelievably disturbing-looking. This being another Victor Hugo novel, he didn't end too well.
  • The Phantom of the Opera; while he's supposed to be the villain, the book humanizes him after his act of mercy; the increasingly sympathetic view of the motives behind his actions in later film adaptations has largely overridden his villainous role. It doesn't help that the transfer from book to play and movie has the level of his deformity lowered from "Skeletor" to "Gerry Butler fell asleep while sunbathing, so his face is a little red".
  • Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire definitely fits the bill. He's a dwarf with a number of deformities, and his nickname is "the Imp." Tyrion was lucky to be born into a wealthy and influential family; although his father is a cold-hearted bastard, he recognizes his life would have been much harder if he was a peasant (if he even survived beyond childhood, that is). Still, he is hated by the "smallfolk" just for being ugly (even though he tried to be kind to them) and he is mistreated by everyone else except perhaps Jon Snow and his brother Jaime. You can't help feel sorry for him in one scene where he tells his henchman Bronn to find him a prostitute but to make sure to tell her beforehand what he is and how he looks, so she isn't repulsed by his appearance.
    • I think the smallfolk hate Tyrion for more than just being a dwarf. Remember him ordering their homes burned in preparation for the battle with Stannis? Or the mentions of his mountain clansmen raping and killing people in the city?
    • Even so, even the more reasonable and good protagonists have mentioned how they have heard he is he is supposedly the worst of the Lannisters, something that is so very untrue, and Tyrion has been told how he is blamed for the shortcomings of Joffrey among others (which he ascribes to this trope), and it is hard to escape the conclusion that his horrific appearance has nothing whatsoever to do with people's perceptions of him even if he has earned some ill will by his actions in serving his family.
    • Later, it gets worse; he takes a sword slash across his face in the battle of King's Landing, losing a large chunk of his nose, twisting his lips, and very nearly costing him an eye. The combination of the trauma of his further disfigurement and the fact that he can't take anything to help with the pain because Cersei's trying to keep him out of commission leaves him severely depressed, to the point where he barely even tries to defend himself when charged with Joffrey's murder.
    • The Hound suffers a milder version of this trope due to his horribly scarred face; he's certainly not gentle, but he's increasingly been shown to be a better person than most suppose, and he's certainly pitiable (I defy your heart not to twinge any time he cries). It's implied, however, that one of the reasons he's grown up so hard (his brother's horrible presence aside) is that people would immediately be repulsed due to his burns, assuming that such a frightening appearance must be indicative of a bad person. He once remarks, "Why believe them and not me? Couldn't be my face, could it?"
    • Brienne of Tarth is a female example. You won't read a chapter she's featured in without someone mentioning what an ugly freak she is. They mockingly call her Brienne the Beauty.
  • Precious in the novel Push (and The Movie, which was titled Precious) could be said to be this, although she is the main character. Precious is an overweight girl who was sexually abused by her father and had two kids by him. Her mother also physically abused her. She also is functionally illiterate, and is still in the 8th grade at the age of 16. But, she does show empathy for others and has a knack for poetry. Unfortunately, she also has the sad ending part. Near the end of the book, Precious' father dies and she finds out that he had HIV and passed it on to her.
  • Beldin from the Belgariad is a self-aware form of this. He's a hideously ugly hunchback, but he's also one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world. Nobody outside of his allies and enemies knows what he's capable of, though, because as he puts it, "They can't see past the hump on my back." He isn't nice by any means, being a horrifically crude and tactless jerk, but a certain percentage of that is a front, as he's firmly on the side of the heroes.
    • Although in the Malloreon he breaks out of this trope by getting a happy ending. Vella falls in love with him because of the whole "turns into a hawk" thing, and they are last seen, as hawks, disappearing into the sky.
  • The Pilo Family Circus has its own freakshow, led by the human-shark hybrid Fishboy, a textbook example of The Grotesque. Being the only performer who is consistently polite and welcoming, he is probably the only member of the Circus that doesn't have any rivalries with his fellow performers, and Gonko, head of the Clown Division refers to Fishboy as "the nicest bastard in this place." However, like all the Freaks, Fishboy wasn't born deformed: he was mutated by the Matter Manipulator (a flesh-sculpting sorcerer who lives in the Circus Funhouse) and forced to live out his life with the others as an object of disgust and mockery. In fact, this is why he starts an underground resistance movement against the Circus and it's managers, and why he and the other Freaks are the first to die when Kurt Pilo starts hunting for traitors.
  • Grim's Grotesques from Keys to the Kingdom ultimately end up being this, although they play villain for most of Grim Tuesday.
  • Ellie May in Tobacco Road, who would be easily marriageable if not for her harelip.
  • The Book of the Grotesque was the original title of, and the title of the preface to, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. Everyone in the town takes ownership of a truth, turning them grotesque and the truths themselves into falsehoods.
  • Quite a bit of this in the Harlan Ellison story The Abnormals, (titled in its television version as 'The Discards'). A group of people is living aboard a spacecraft after a virus causes them all to mutate and afterward be exiled to try and contain the virus. The leader, Sanswope, has an extra head. Another guy has a deformed chest and oversized arm. Many were described in the story and more were added for television.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The shapeshifters from Supernatural. Three episodes have focused on them as the Monster of the Week ("Skin," "Nightshifter," and "Monster Movie") and in two of them, each shapeshifter gets a speech about why he is what he is. Most of what we know about them are implied and hinted at in these two speeches: they are born to human parents, but they are supernaturally mutated and very hideous in appearance; they face physical abuse and then run away, but no one will take them in, and they're driven out of every community they go to; they then learn to harness their power of shapeshifting and take revenge upon the world, usually embodying some extreme form of a human flaw (such as aggression or greed). While they are probably the most tragic monsters on the show, the shapeshifters still break the one rule, so the handsome and heroic Winchester brothers must put a silver bullet through their hearts every time.
  • Several examples in The Outer Limits TOS episodes, such as Andro the mutant in "The Man Who Was Never Born", the Chromoite alien (a blob on legs) from "The Mice", and the scientist changed into a fake alien in "The Architects of Fear".
  • Doctor Who:
    • Sharaz Jek turns out to be horribly deformed by the mud bursts that nearly killed him, but covers it for almost the entirety of the one serial he's in by wearing a black mask (and kinky leather) and living amongst androids "because androids do not see as we see!". Evidently the mud didn't manage to destroy his vanity.
    • In the New Series episode 'Silence in the Library', Miss Evangelista fills this role...eventually.
  • The X-Files episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus" is about a man with two (more or less fully functional) faces, who gets treated a monster and almost lynched by the local populace. In the culmination of the episode, Mutato suddenly delivers a heartfelt monologue to the angry mob, revealing how he lived, suffered, and longed to be with other people, prompting one of the townspeople to exclaim "He is not a monster, he is alright!"
  • In Grimm the intern Ryan was wannabe Grimm believes that all Wesen must be killed. But its revealed that he's is in fact a Wesen and a very hideous one.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Ziggy. He doesn't cause fear in the audience, but pity. He's also pretty deformed compared to everyone else he interacts with. He's also tragic as mishap after mishap befalls him, as the comic's punchline.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The original Mankind character in the WWF was a villainous version of The Grotesque, being what happens when the disfigured, tragic soul decides to take out his anguish and pain on his "normal" tormentors.
  • Various "missing link" characters have fit this trope through the years, most notably George "The Animal" Steele. His grotesque, neanderthal-type appearance led to the "Beauty and the Beast" storyline with the beautiful Miss Elizabeth and his most famous feud against Randy Savage.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Nosferatu clan of both of The World of Darkness Vampire games have this as a defining trait.
    • In Vampire: The Masquerade Masquerade, the Nosferatu are all horribly disfigured; most of them look like their namesake, but a good number of them "just" have hideous growths and scar tissue that could stop a tank shell. It usually reaches the point that merely going in public uncloaked as a Nosferatu breaks the Masquerade.
    • In Vampire: The Requiem, they can still look butt ugly, but the "wrongness" about them is more of a floating quality not tied directly to appearance. One of them can be as pretty as a supermodel, but still disquiet people because they smell strongly of embalming fluid.
    • Requiem also features the Carnival, a bloodline founded by "the Andalusan Mermaid", a circus freak who was saved from her sadistic owner by a passing vampire. Every last one of the Carnival is deformed in some way or another. The book discussing them specifically warns that they tend not to be as nice as traditional freaks were. Their clan of origin, for irony's sake, are the Daeva.
  • The Slasher Sourcebook for New World of Darkness features Freaks and Mutants as Slasher archetypes. The Freaks draw from sources like The Hills Have Eyes — individuals who've turned reclusive and atavistic due to their deformities. The Mutants, their natural progression, draw more from sources like The Descent, as their mutations have caused them to become something other than human.

    Video Games 
  • Klungo, Gruntilda's henchman in Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Dr. Jaming from Dark Cloud 2 is described as a "Tragic Figure". He starts out as a bad guy, but is later said to have a change in heart shortly after you beat him. His grandson, who is just as ugly as he was, develops Ixion at his request to do something good and just.
  • Subverted with Street Fighter III's Necro. He's a young russian man turned into a freakish mutant by unethical experiments out for revenge against those who did it... But is mostly an easygoing, unangsty fellow who kinda likes the powers that came with the looks, and he even has a loving girlfriend.
  • Gonzales from Fire Emblem: Binding Blade is a recruitable axe fighter who has great deal of uglyness and a twisted, childlike mind even for a bandit's standard. Like a classic Grotesque character, Gonzales is a Gentle Giant who is bullied by people who judge him from his look and is sent into battle even though he doesn't want to hurt a fly. His traits are acknowledged by Lilina as she befriends him.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, which took many cues from the Tim Burton Batman films, the Penguin is almost this trope played straight. He's nowhere near as evil as, say, The Joker, but then again he's not even all that ugly (he's certainly less freaky-looking than the Tim Burton film version, though he also has deformed hands). It's implied that deep down he really wants to go straight, but he just enjoys stealing priceless artifacts too much — and he just can't keep from lashing out at people who make fun of him when he does try to reform.
    • Not just implied. In "Birds of a Feather", he goes straight and actually means it. Then he meets a beautiful woman who, unbeknownst to him, is only dating him for the thrill and attention she'll get from dating a former super criminal (She secretly finds him repulsive). He is head-over-heels for her, buys expensive gifts for her, and even saves her life from muggers, all the while so happy to be an accepted member of society that crime is the last thing on his mind. Like this he is surprisingly good-natured, brave, and kind. Too bad the truth comes out and he is so hurt and shocked by it that he dives head first back into supervillainy.
  • Used a few times in Cyber Six with a few of Von Richter's creations.
    • Terra, a massive blob monster made of mud, essentially has the mind of a child thanks to Jose messing up its creation. Even after being hit with a dose of Psycho Serum it ultimately saves Cyber Six's life with a heartbreaking Heroic Sacrifice.
    • The unnamed assassin from Daylight Devil, a lizard-fish woman that can turn invisible, is seemingly just following orders until she ultimately decides not to kill Cyber Six after the titular character tries to save her life.
    • Von Richter's monsters, the ones from the intro, are unleashed on Cyber Six in the finale. They all immediately attack Von Richter while one smiles at Cyber Six and points to the exit.

    Real Life 
  • Joseph Carey Merrick. He fits this trope to a tee, especially in David Lynch's film adaptation of his life, The Elephant Man.
  • One of the better examples of the "Horrid outside, beautiful inside" would be Grace McDaniels, the "Mule Woman", so-called due to facial tumors distorting the lower half of her face into a long "muzzle". She is remembered as being one of the kindest people to ever work the carnival circuit.


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