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Our Bugbears Are Scarier

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All bugbears, all different, all terrifying.note 

The idea of a monster can mean a lot of things, right? In fact, we have a whole list of tropes about just that. However, a lot of works of fiction — especially ones aimed at children — seem to default to a very specific kind of generic "monster", at least when they aren't using the standard Vampire/Werewolf/Frankenstein Monster Mash.

These monsters tend to be vaguely bear- or ape-like in shape, but not otherwise based on any real animal. They're usually massive and hairy, and often tricked out with a whole laundry list of features like scales, tentacles, fangs, extra eyes, colorful fur and so on and so forth. They're hardly ever so disturbing-looking that they become an Animalistic Abomination, though. Regardless of the outward details, though, the image is a stable one — these monsters are immediately recognizable for what they are when they appear, and the concept of a child fearing "a monster" in a closet or an attic immediately brings to mind images of these beasts.


While this type of monster isn't always assigned any more specific name than "monster", it has been traditionally referred to by names like "bugbear", "bogey" or "bugaboo". These names date back to the Middle Ages, and referred to hairy, fanged, bearlike creatures that would be used to frighten children into being well-behaved. The "bug" part is derived from the archaic word "bugge" ("scary thing"), which is notably also ancestral to the "bogey" of "bogeyman". While the term "bugbear" has fallen from use, the image it suggested — a large furry creature that exists to scare children — has not.

These bugbears are usually depicted as spending their time lurking in creepy places and scaring people. Exactly why they do this varies greatly between portrayals, but generally tends to focus on them doing it either For the Evulz, because they physically need fear as some sort of resource or because they're out-and-out Emotion Eaters who feed on the fear they cause. In some cases, they may even be creations of children's imaginations, existing as physical manifestations of their conscious or subconscious fears in a manner similar to Tulpas. However, especially in modern depictions, these monsters are rarely truly evil, and indeed they've become more common as heroes— or even, in a reverse of their original roles, as defenders and allies of children — than anything else.


The word "bugbear" has also been used to refer to a specific type of fantasy monster, usually a bigger, hairier and nastier variant of goblin — essentially the Elite Mook of the goblin family — which is usually depicted with certain bearlike traits, such as thick hair or ursine noses and claws. This was first used in Dungeons & Dragons, and is most common in fantasy works directly or indirectly inspired by it. In this form, they might be considered the fantasy equivalent of Ursine Aliens.

See also Things That Go "Bump" in the Night, a trope describing the bugbears' most common activity, and Our Monsters Are Weird. Contrast Cartoon Creature, which describes characters who also have no defined species but are designed to be cute and friendly rather than intimidating and mean.


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    Comic Strips 
  • The Far Side tends to default to using big, fanged hairy monsters to represent the Things That Go "Bump" in the Night when a specific creature or a particularly elaborate design isn't required.
    • One strip features two tusked, apelike bugbears lying beneath a frightened kid's bed... while commenting on the unnerving possibility of there being something on top of the bed.
    • Another strip features, very literally, things that go "bump" in the night in the form of a burly bugbear knocking its head against a low doorframe.
    • A third strip features a more wolfish bugbear finishing up his breakfast while commenting to his wife that he's running late for his job lurking in little Billy Harrison's closet.
    • One horned, scaly bugbear is show hiding behind a door while a mother assures her son that he didn't see a monster, since he can't even describe it... because the monster is also wearing a paper bag (with horn holes) over his head.
  • The few times we see the monsters under Calvin's bed (which may or may not be real) in Calvin and Hobbes, this is what they look like.

    Films — Animation 
  • Monsters, Inc.:
    • Sully, one of the two main monster characters, is an archetypal big, hairy, bearlike monster, with horns, purple-on-cyan spotted fur and spikes down his back as extra details. He goes around scaring children much like traditional bugbears, but in his case it's not done out of malice — children's screams are the main source of power in the monster world, and he's just doing his job for the energy company he works for. Even this is averted at the end, when it turns out that children's laughter is an even better energy source.
    • Minor characters also fit this mold, including another professional scarer named George Sanderson, a large hairy... something... with yellow-and-brown striped fur and a single horn growing from his forehead. Monsters University also includes a number of these designs among the students, including the blue-furred, tusked and bull-horned scarer prodigy Johnny Worthington III.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Babadook, the Babadook behaves in this way: He does not appear until someone who lives in the house learns about him by reading his book, upon which he'll remain in that person's home. He also draws strength from the subject's fear and grief. Unlike most depictions of this trope, the Babadook is shown to be genuinely a threat and will menace adults and children alike.

  • Bugbears originate from British folklore, where "the bugbear" (or boogeyman, or bogey, or bugaboo, or so on) was a nonspecific monster whose threat was used to intimate children into behaving — "don't go into the woods, or the bugbear will get you; go to bed after supper, or the bugbear will snatch you up".

  • Harry Potter: Hagrid mentions a blood-sucking bugbear as a possible culprit for his roosters being killed at one point in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, although its appearance ins't elaborated on.
  • The Monster at the End of This Book is mostly about Grover learning about this titular monster and trying to persuade the reader not to go the end of the book, becoming increasingly desperate as the end of the book approaches. Grover is the monster, and it's referring to him as a species, not his behavior.
  • Scary Godmother: Bug-A-Boo, one of the beings native to the "Fright Side" where various monsters live, is a big, round, blue-and-black striped monster with sharp claws, horns, a mouth full of sharp teeth that extends a good ways past the sides of his face, and a large number of yellow eyes dotted freely around his cranium. He's the sort of monster that hides in closets, basements and other dark crannies, always knows what people are most afraid of and apparently frightens children for a living — although he's quite clear about the fact that he doesn't actually harm them.
    Bug-A-Boo: If I went around eatin' all the clients, I'd be out of work!"
  • The Stragglers Mask features as its main character a bugbear named Peal: rather than a big terrifying monster, he's a small, twitchy rabbit-creature, living in a burrow with many others of his kind, literally scared of his own shadow (believing it to be his soul trying to flee his body), and knowing nothing else than how to keep quiet and out of sight. At the premise of the story he's kicked out of home and struggling to survive in the wider world, but by the end he's grown to be more or less competent as a hero in his own way. When he returns home, he finds his people being frightened of him for all the things he's seen out there under the sun.
  • Where the Wild Things Are: The titular Wild Things are a group of monsters brought to life by the protagonist's imagination, or existing in his imagination, or living somewhere accessible by his imagination, or something along those lines. They're big and hairy, fierce and fearsome, and none look alike — some have horns, one has duck legs and another human feet, one has the head of a bull and another has the head of a bird. They threaten Max when he encounters them, but he intimidates them and becomes their king. According to the author, he based the Wild Things on caricatures of his aunts and uncles he drew when they visited his house in his youth.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Muppet Show: A lot of the monster-type muppets — who tend to share characteristics such as blue or purple fur, horns, fangs, giant noses, giant back eyebrows, nonspecific humanoid frames and occasional weirder and role-specific traits, and show up whenever a scary, creepy or menacing minor character is needed — edge into this trope. An especially notable example is Zero Mostel's song "Fears", where the titular singer confronts a sequence of increasingly large and menacing furry things bedecked with fangs, feathers, staring eyes and hooked noses, which represent his fears. He faces and dispels them — as they are, in the end, figments of his imagination — until the final fear, a lumbering snaggle-fanged green bugbear, comes along and faces and dispels him... for he is just a figment of the fear's imagination.

  • The Adventure Zone: The Adventure Zone: Balance has the bugbear Klarg, the first major boss the party ends up facing and the leader of a goblin clan. He presents a pretty terrifying picture, right up until Taako successfully casts Charm Person and he immediately apologises for being so rude and offers the party a Spot of Tea. He even calls himself a "hubear" afterwards. Klarg would go on to reoccur several times through the series, sometimes charmed and harmless, sometimes decidedly not. As it turns out, Klarg's entire family underwent neurological modifications to make them more docile and helpful by the scientist Lucas Miller. Klarg escaped and founded the gang, but leftover modifications makes him extremely easy to Charm, which explains how the approximately-level-one Taako was able to do it so easily. Unfortunately, this often means that Klarg's mood can vary wildly depending on who the last person to Charm him once.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Bugbears are a type of large, hairy, beast-like goblinoids known for their brutality and savagery. D&D's bugbears are also the Ur-Example of bugbears as powerfully built and barbaric goblin-like humanoids.
  • Pathfinder's bugbears stick the the D&D mold for the most part, but hew closer to the bugbear of folklore in their habits. They're very literally addicted to the smell of fear, and spend most of their lives coming up with ways to utterly terrorize others in order to get their fixes. There are no lengths they won't stoop to to terrify victims, and they're uncannily good at fitting into places that by all rights shouldn't hold their bulky shapes — like behind a door, or under your bed...

    Video Games 
  • EverQuest II introduced Bugbears in the "Secrets of Faydwere" expansion. After 500 years of various global cataclysms, the dwarves had to abandon their hometown of Kaladim, which were then taken over by numerous underground dwelling races like goblins, ratonga, fungusmen, gnolls, and Bugbears. Bugbears are inspired in design by their usual depictions from Dungeons & Dragons — pointed ears, tusks, very hairy, primitive weaponry, and violent dispositions.
  • In Koei's old strategy game Gemfire, Bugbears are a type of recruitable monster for your not-medieval British armies. Its method of attack, notably, is to make enemy troops flee in terror, unlike pretty much every other unit in the game (who simply use violence to thin enemy units' ranks).
  • Kingdom of Loathing has bugbears — big bearlike monsters — as one of its stock enemies. Some of them are bugged bugbears, in both the "bothered" and "glitched" senses of the word. And in one special challenge path, alien bugbears invade the Kingdom.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers and Persona 5 have Bugs or Bugbear, a monstrous teddy bear which has skulls in its unstitched open stomach.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick: As with the D&D source material, bugbears are large, hairy goblins that live in isolation in the frozen north (so no scaring children). They are considered goblinoids but have some cultural differences and complain of mistreatment by other goblin races. The one bugbear character we see is more Affably Evil or even Blue and Orange Morality than a serious threat, though she is allied with the main villains.
  • Skin Deep's bugbears are saber-toothed bear-like creatures with really long claws, glowing eyes, the uncanny ability to know where a person is at any given time, teleportation, and a habit of scaring people for shits and giggles. They also seem to possess an affinity for "creepy" animals — spiders in the case of one bugbear character, bats for another — which they can seemingly control or even create. They mostly use this ability as another way to creep people out.

    Web Original 
  • Bogleech: Bugbears are discussed in a couple of Halloween articles, which talk about their common traits, their origins as a generic monster invoked to scar children into behaving, and the general recurrence in fiction of the archetype of the big, scary, hairy creature that isn't usually identified as anything more specific than "a monster" but immediately brings to mind the idea of a child-scarying beast lurking in the woods or the dark corners of the house.
  • The Midgaheim Bestiary describes bugbears as a type of boogeymen, a family of The Fair Folk which also includes goblins, orcs and trolls and specializes in forming connections between Fairyland and the mortal world, allowing the fairy world to consume small portions of mundane reality to maintain some measure of internal stability. Bugbears themselves are very physically variable, but tend to resemble chimeric, bestial bipeds with brightly — often garishly — colored and patterned fur, adornments of horns and spikes, and often too many copies of standard tetrapod organs (such a cluster of three red eyes where a single eye socket should be, for instance). They can fit in extremely small spaces, despite themselves being very large, and can suck a targeted house into Fairyland within a couple generations of work.

    Western Animation 
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Eduardo is an Imaginary Friend who resembles the archetypal bugbear: big, furry, and bearing huge horns and tusks. Personality-wise, though, he's the exact opposite, a tenderhearted Lovable Coward, and was originally created to be a protector and guardian for his original child and her little brother.
  • Looney Tunes: Gossamer certainly fits the description, being a giant mass of red fur with a face, claws, and sneakers. In every appearance, he plays the role of a generic monster to antagonize Bugs Bunny.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, a bugbear is a monster that is a cross between a bee or wasp and a panda.
    • In "Slice of Life", one that has escaped from Tartarus attacks Ponyville during the preparations for Cranky Doodle Donkey and Matilda's wedding, having come there while tracking down the pony that sent it to Tartarus in the first place.
    • The bugbear reappears in Tartarus in "School Raze", where it's one of the monsters that volunteer their innate magic to allow the main characters to escape and "disassembling" into a wasp and a panda when its magic is gone.


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