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Properly Paranoid / Literature

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Justified paranoia in literature.

  • Shirley Jackson published a short story titled Paranoia in the New Yorker article in 2013 about a man who thinks everyone is out to get him, and in the end someone does get him - his wife. It is not ever explained why though.
  • In Malinda Lo's Adaptation., most of Julian's conspiracy theories about aliens and Area 51 turn out to be true.
  • Kanayama no Hachirozaemon from the late 16th/early 17th century Japanese short story Akimichi. Letting down his guard with Kitamuki is what gets him killed in the end.
  • Most of the Animorphs books mention this to some degree, but the first book from Marco's perspective addresses it best.
    Marco: I live in a paranoid world. But just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean I don't have enemies. I have real enemies. Enemies that would freeze your blood if you only knew.
  • Jack Parlabane from a number of books by Christopher Brookmyre. As he points out to his fiancée shortly after an attempt on their lives in Country of the Blind when she reproaches him for hiding a gun in the house: "Well, funnily enough, I had this outrageous idea that it might come in useful if someone happened to break in and attempt to murder us."
  • The novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is the source of this famous quote:
    "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you."
  • Circleverse: In Circle of Magic, Dedicate Crane and a phalanx of assistants are trying to figure out a cure to the plague that's ravaging their hometown. To do this, they have to work with samples of the disease itself, and do multiple repetitive tasks over and over again, for hours on end, without ever making a mistake in their recordings or spilling anything; to make it worse, Crane is constantly watching everyone, demanding they be cautious and shouting at anyone who makes the slightest slip-up. It would be easy to dismiss Crane as a sadistic Drill Sergeant Nasty, except for the part where one of these assistants does make a mistake, and, because of it, Rosethorn nearly dies from catching the disease. The moral of the story is that medical and sanitation measures are very Serious Business.
  • Owen from the Deathstalker series has an emergency yacht, that only he knows about, stashed away and it comes in handy when he and Hazel are on the run.
    "Paranoia doesn't just run in my Family, it gallops. Part of the territory that comes with being a Lord."
  • In Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky, Sherkaner Underhill thinks that aliens from outer space are influencing world politics by altering information as it flows through the internet. To combat this, he sets up an intelligence division that consists only of his immediate family and who only communicate to each other in person, and pretends to go senile so nobody takes him seriously.
  • In The Discreet Princess, the titular character is being married off to the late Big Bad's Prince Charming brother. Afraid he might hold a grudge against her, she places a Sleeping Dummy in their bed. Turns out the prince doesn't hold a grudge per se... but his brother made him swear to kill her at the first opportunity. That, in fact, is one of the two Aesops stated explicitly in the story (the other is not to be a Lazy Bum).
  • Another Terry Pratchett example is in the Wizards from Discworld. Completely justified, as promotion among wizards means killing your predecessor. It's said (and paraphrased here) that when a wizard is sick of looking for deadly scorpions among his bedsheets, he's sick of life. The lone exception was the Bursar, whose job is dull enough that nobody else was ever interested. The practice finally died out when Mustrum Ridcully became Archchancellor, as he proved to be impossible to kill, leaving the other wizards to deescalate to more conventional office politics instead.
    • Commander Vimes's paranoia increases with the price of the Assassins' Guild contracts on him... his paranoia is quite practical and minimally psychological. He often has a chat with failed would-be assassins as they work out where they went wrong and try to wriggle out of his near-fatal deathtraps. It doesn't help that he's a lifelong cop in the most cynicism-inducing city on the Disc. He enjoys it when someone tries to kill him... It means he's annoying people that should be annoyed.
    • Then there's Rincewind, who reacts to good luck with terror, since he knows it just means the universe is saving up to be really nasty to him later on. He's a favorite of Lady Luck The Lady; there's a reason the inhabitants of the Disc mostly hope the gods will leave them well enough alone, and she's one of the few that nobody dares worship.
    • Susan Sto-Helit fixes "monster under my bed" fears in children not by assuring them that there are no monsters but by giving them a big stick with which to clobber monsters in case they attack. "They didn't need to believe in monsters... but they could be made to believe in the poker." Of course, being Death's granddaughter has its perks; while normal adults have a Weirdness Censor that prevents them from noticing anything out of the ordinary, Susan can see what's really there, including the monsters that come for her wards.
  • F'lar from the Dragonriders of Pern series. In the first book, he was the only one who believed in a 400-year-old threat that was soon approaching, and his many efforts to prepare for it were regarded as superstition and paranoia by the rest of the world. And then it happened, and surprise, the world wasn't ready for it.
  • In Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly:
    "Why?" Gareth bleated. "What's wrong? For three days you've been running away from your own shadows..."
    "That's right," John agreed, and there was a dangerous edge to his quiet voice. "You ever think what might happen to you if your own shadow caught you? Now ride—and ride silent."
  • The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden approaches this, with good reason. In one book we learn it's contagious; his friend and sometime medic Waldo Butters puts on a bulletproof vest and grabs garlic and a cross as soon as he hears that Harry needs help.note  After all, you never know if that pretty girl asking for help is secretly a cultist being hunted by a sorcerer's ghost, or if that strikingly lovely Femme Fatale is actually the Winter Queen, or if that guy who looks like your resident paranormal consultant is actually a ghost wearing his face, or if those otherwise ordinary-looking humans are Red Court vampires...demon-possessed terrorists, body-jumping necromancers, life-sucking succubi, Navajo skinwalkers, and White Council Wardens can all look like perfectly ordinary humans in this setting.
    Dresden: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face.
  • Given the love of assassination and other intrigue in Dune, it's no surprise that one of the first words of Gurney is a reminder to never sit with your back to a door.
  • Everyone in Duumvirate has to balance this and being able to get things done. Too little paranoia, and you take a railgun through the chest. Too much, and your organization cannot get any new members because they might be spies.
  • In the Erebus Sequence, the precautions that Rafaela took against the possibility of Golia poisoning Lucien required a lot more paranoia about the future than Lucien had, which is presumably why she didn't tell him she was feeding him poison for years. She was right, though.
  • Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp lives like this. It annoys his wife quite a bit. But that's not a problem anymore, since he slipped up with this just once...but that was enough to kill her.
  • In Good Omens, many denizens of Hell tend to be this.
    "Hastur was paranoid, which was simply a sensible and well-adjusted reaction to living in Hell, where they really were all out to get you."
    • Shadwell repeatedly demonstrates this, though he's incorrect in his assumption that Aziraphale is a demon.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody, to the point that he's notoriously suspected to be insane due to his tendency to see danger around every corner. And he's right. Moody has spent years working as an Auror, catching criminals and sending them to Azkaban, some of them getting out due to money or information and he's not going to let himself be caught off guard. Moody only drinks from his personal hip flask to avoid being easily poisoned, carefully inspects his food before eating it, is constantly on guard to defend himself at a moment's notice, and even has a magical eye that allows him to see in all directions and through things, including invisibility cloaks. Despite all this, the bad guys still catch him off guard, and he spends effectively the entire fourth book trapped in his own trunk while a Death Eater successfully impersonates him.
    • Harry Potter towards the end of the series. Specifically, he manages to guess correctly that Draco is a Death Eater despite the lack of concrete evidence. That said, it's more likely that he was accidentally correct; it certainly wasn't the first time he'd assumed that Draco was behind a plot.
    • It turns out that everyone who refused to say Voldemort's name was this. The majority of characters refer to him as "You-Know-Who", "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" or "The Dark Lord" throughout the series, something that is treated like a baseless superstition by Dumbledore. It turns out that that superstition exists for a very good reason, though, because after Dumbledore dies and Voldemort takes over the ministry, Voldemort promptly casts a spell called a Taboo on his name that allows him to find out the location of anyone who is brave enough to say it. The only ones brave enough to say his name are generally the people who are most likely to oppose him, many of whom are Dumbledore's former supporters.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • A Peep officer in Echoes of Honor deduces that the prison planet of Hades has suffered a prisoner revolt and been taken over by its prisoners. The Hades facility is one of the most secure prison facilities in existence, it is located on a planet whose local flora and fauna cannot be eaten by humans, whose animals are large and vicious and do not know that they can not digest humans, the management and control facilities are separated from the prisoners by an ocean, there is no technology above muscle-power available to the prisoners, and the prison officers have access to orbital weaponry equal to a squadron of superdreadnoughts. He deduces this revolt because the latest courier dispatch does not include a chess move from Warden Tresca. He is absolutely correct.
    • Bodyguards, most notably Honor's armsmen, are always paranoid and frequently right. In Field of Dishonor, Honor's head armsman is uncomfortable when she changes her plans and decides to go to a restaurant, though he doesn't really think anything will happen. Halfway through the meal, half a dozen thugs come through the door and start shooting.
  • Robert Neville near the end of I Am Legend when meeting a human for the first time in a few years. He's also proven to be completely right, as it turns out she's actually one of the vampires.
  • The paper-thin James Bond parody Fission Chips (Agent 000005) from The Illuminatus! Trilogy is seen as a bit of a Bunny-Ears Lawyer by his superiors, with his obsession with BUGGER (Blowhard's Unreformed Gangsters, Goons, and Espionage Renegades) and gentleman spy antics. However, without knowing it, he's actually closer on The Illuminati's trail than anyone—including he himself—knows.
  • In Death: Alice Lingstrom from Ceremony In Death turns out to be a combination of this and just paranoid. She had been gang-raped by a Satanic cult, as well as witnessing the leaders murder a young boy in a sacrifice. Even though she left, the cult continues to harass her. She thinks one of the leaders is a shapeshifter, which is certainly not true. The cult also sent her threatening phone messages, which would certainly be cause for concern. In the end, she panics when she sees one of their illusions and runs out onto the road...right in front of an incoming car. What a brutal Kill the Cutie moment!
  • Journey to Chaos, A Mage's Power: For Kasile, no threat or conspiracy to her throne is too small or silly to ignore. She's positive that there's something brewing in the shadows and she's right but she fingers the wrong person. Her fears are exploited by Duke Selen Esrah in his Evil Plan for the throne. He uses her paranoia to paint the Ceihan Ambassador, and when she jumps into action, accuse her of being manipulated by someone else with designs for the throne.
  • ARM, Earth's State Sec in Larry Niven's Known Space universe, prefer to employ paranoid schizophrenics. They're implied to be responsible for the ease at which humanity's "unarmed" starships before the Man-Kzin wars became weapons.
  • In the alien-invasion novel The Kraken Wakes, Phyllis has the foresight to brick up a large cache of food in her and Mike's seaside cottage long before things get really bad, allowing them to survive later.
  • In The Laundry Files, the Laundry seems like a mix of excessive Cold War paranoia and modern bureaucratic nonsense, including such things as paperclip audits, ostensibly to make sure employees aren't stealing the stationery. Except the Laundry is an occult intelligence agency in a world where the Cthulhu Mythos is true and magic is real. The paperclip audits? Because of the Laws of Sympathy and Contagion, paperclips from the same batch can be used to track one another, so an errant paperclip lost on the way home could be used to locate other top secret documents and give away secret locations.
  • Errtu from R. A. Salvatore's The Legend of Drizzt novels is also viciously paranoid, believing that anything bad happening to him is evidence of some sort of conspiracy against him. Given that he's a balor living in the Abyss, he's not too far off the mark.
  • In the Weatherlight Saga of the Magic: The Gathering novels, the powerful planeswalker Urza plots for a millennium to defend against invasion by the Phyrexians. He's definitely crazy, and everyone assumes he's just being paranoid. But when the Phyrexians show up by the million and start killing people, he's the one who leads the (barely) successful salvation of the world.
  • In The Millennium Trilogy, Lisbeth is bitter to the extreme; she claims there was a government conspiracy which suppressed the events of her father's accident and discredited her to keep people from taking her seriously. As a result she refuses to co-operate with anyone in the medical profession. Many think she was over reacting or actually is crazy, but she's right.
  • In The Mortal Instruments, Alec, after finding out a bit of Magnus's romantic past, is shocked by how many people and the kinds of people (namely the various species and genders) his boyfriend has been with. Needless to say, he becomes a bit paranoid about it. Later that day, they are at a party with a group of their friends and Magnus mentions to a werewolf boy they had just met that he once knew the werewolf that founded the organization the boy was part of. Alec, who had been quietly sulking until this point coldly asks, "Did you sleep with him, too?" This comes off sounding like an overreaction and paranoia about someone casually mentioned as an icebreaker. That is, until you read Clockwork Prince, where it is revealed that Magnus was indeed involved with him at some point. The author stated that she did this to show that Alec had a right to be paranoid about Magnus's romantic past.
  • In Pact and Pale, any magical Practitioner or sapient magical "Other" who wishes to avoid death or A Fate Worse Than Death needs to be paranoid. The world is filled with Malevolent others and malicious Practitioners ready to take advantage of a moment of weakness or a poorly-phrased statement or oath. This is particularly important because anyone who lies loses power, and anyone who is caught breaking an oath can become Forsworn, basically turning them into an outlaw with no power who is fair game for predation. Being able to speak using Exact Words and catching it when another uses them is an important survival skill.
  • Lawrence Watt-Evans wrote a fantasy short-short story "Paranoid Fantasy #1" which features a protagonist who goes through a whole series of elaborate protection rituals as part of his daily routine, then bumps into his obnoxious and unprepared neighbor, who immediately gets set upon, trussed up and hauled away by a band of cackling trolls and gargoyles. The protagonist then mentally comments that these kidnappers are the easy threat to deal with, and the really bad stuff comes out at night...
  • In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian starts out improperly paranoid about his portrait. But he becomes very Properly Paranoid indeed the moment that James Vane shows up.
  • Many of Thomas Pynchon's characters fall under this trope. Every single character in Gravity's Rainbow to some extent, but subverted in Slothrop, whose knowledge of many conspiracy theories leads him to create imaginary ones in his head, suspect everyone he knows and eventually lose his mind.
  • Safehold:
    • In the first book, Zhaspahr Clyntahn, Grand Inquisitor of the corrupt Church of God Awaiting, convinces his fellow church leaders to launch an attack on the kingdom of Charis out of a paranoid delusion that the innovative nation is out to subvert the church's will. Though, as Charisian Archbishop Maikel Staynair lampshades, Clyntahn is actually correct about this, as this is the goal of the Brotherhood of St. Zherneau.
    • The Brotherhood of St. Zherneau themselves can also be considered this. Given that they're the only known holders of the true origins of Safehold's people in a world that's been raised to view high technology as either evil or the powers of the Archangels, the Brethren are frequently remarked to be "insanely" cautious about who they'll authorize to be let into the Inner Circle. But as much as the protagonists gripe about it, not once is their caution said to be unwarranted.
    • Book 10 mentions Anton Sugawara, the anthropologist who first postulated the existence of the Gbaba, the Absolute Xenophobe species who drove humanity to the point of needing to establish the Lost Colony of Safehold in the first place. It's mentioned that most people, in both the general public and the government, didn't believe his theory. At least, the government didn't publicly believe his theory, while quietly beginning to turn their navy into a real military force, and appointing Sugawara the first Navy Minister.
  • In Sandokan:
    • The Tigers of Mompracem are Crazy-Prepared because they have seen or read what modern (for the time) technology could do and expect the Royal Navy to attack them in any moment (even when they have no more reason to do it), and tend to collect anything that could be useful, like the King of the Sea (bought by Yanez when he encountered her by chance) or a mad scientist claiming his electrical device can blow up enemy ships' magazines (guess what blew up that ship...), even if they don't really believe in it (the mad scientist. Yanez was skeptical, but suggested to keep him just in case). They also tend to not be surprised when Sandokan shows off (the most surprise he ever got from him was mild astonishment the first time he broke some chains and a question about overkill when he resorted to biological warfare to help Yanez).
    • The Royal Navy too. One of their officers, after having captured Sandokan and put him in chains, approached him with two rifle-armed sailors and fully armed, even without knowing that Sandokan had broken the chains just to prove he could to one of his pirates captured with him. When Sandokan faked his death, the lieutenant was willing to throw the body in the sea to prevent it being desecrated, but he first had the ship's surgeon check if he was really dead (he wasn't, but the poison was very good at making appear he was).
    • Even the lowly soldiers of the British Empire are this. That time Sandokan and Yanez hid in a stove, a group of soldiers looked at the stove, concluded it was too small for two grow men to hide in it, and then checked anyway for good measure. If it wasn't for the horrible lighting, Sandokan and Yanez would have died then and there, not by the hand of some formidable warrior but shot by some lowly soldiers who used their brains.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events:
    • Olaf is the Baudelaires' Implacable Man. As Klaus put it regularly for the adults: "We see him everywhere because he is everywhere."
    • Aunt Josephine was an extremely paranoid woman who avoids using various things because of various grave safety hazards that would only occur in ridiculously specific scenarios. Let's just say that after a storm that virtually destroyed her house shortly after she was kidnapped by Olaf, her paranoia about these things is perfectly justified... at least in the film version.
  • Bean does this in Shadow of the Hegemon and Shadow Puppets, to the point where it almost becomes funny. He writes cryptic, hidden-meaning-filled messages to allies, encodes them, then encrypts and password-protects the emails themselves. And then changes email address every few days, between migrations from city to city. He gets his closest friends to do this as well, and it turns out to be for good reason: the moment one of them tries flying under their own name, their plane is shot down.
    • One example is when he and Petra are going their separate ways by taxi. Bean notices three taxis in line, but doesn't like the look of the first two drivers, and insists that Petra take the third one, whose driver wears a friendly smile. He takes one of the other two himself. Turns out that, yes, the drivers of the first two cabs were agents of his enemy, and try to kill him. The driver of the third cab was an agent as well, but of someone friendly to Bean and Petra, so she's taken to a safe place.
  • Sherlock Holmes is careful to check any packages he might receive in the mail, which turns out to be a very wise decision when Culverton Smith sends him a spring box in an attempt to infect him with a deadly disease.
  • In The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin, John believes he's constantly being watched by someone or something. He is, and it's possessing him.
  • Jerusha PalaThion, the Hegemony's police commander on Tiamat in The Snow Queen Series, is convinced that the eponymous character is targeting her personally, in an effort to break her. At times, PalaThion almost manages to convince herself she's being irrational, as she can see no reason Arienrhod would do such a thing. But Arienrhod has her reasons, and PalaThion is right.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • The Hobbit: Bard is notorious among the Laketowners for predicting all kinds of disasters, like floods and poisoned fish. When the glow of the approaching dragon is seen in Laketown, the more naive townsfolk believe that the river is turning into gold, while Bard immediately assumes that the dragon is coming. He is mocked for it, but before long it turns out he was right, and the preparations urged by Bard allow the townspeople to put up a temporary defense.
    • The Fall of Gondolin: Even though the hidden city has remained safe for four centuries, Princess Idril is convinced that Morgoth will find and destroy Gondolin before long; and since her father will not listen to her misgivings, she builds a secret escape tunnel leading towards the mountains. Idril is also certain that her cousin Maeglin, the King's most favored advisor, will sell them out to Morgoth out of jealousy and spite, so she commissions tailor-made chainmails for her and her son Ëarendil. Her foresight saves many lives, including her son's, when Morgoth attacks the city and Maeglin attempts to murder Ëarendil and kidnap her.
  • The title character from the story "The Vigilant Rabbit" from David Sedaris' Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk thinks that he's this. There's a deconstruction/subversion in that he keeps harmless but inquisitive animals out of the territory he's supposedly protecting—doing so on point of death or maiming—but doesn't figure on the real dangers that appear at the end.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Maul: Lockdown: Eogan insists to his father that CO Voystock will take their bribe money and then try kill them rather than help them escape. That fear is correct.
    • By the tail end of Galaxy of Fear, Zak Arranda has understandably become wary and convinced of the danger in situations that appear safe. His sister feels less so, just because she's Force-Sensitive and is usually warned. In a contrast from the early books, it becomes Tash who wants to take some pleasure in wherever they are now, and Zak who is wary and anxious. Who's right is up in the air—Tash is perfectly ready to accept that strange things are real and isn't careless of her brother's fears.
  • Tairen Soul: In Lord of the Fading Lands, upon beginning to court Ellysetta, Rain insists that she keep a squadron of Fey soldiers near her at all times. Ellysetta — whose life was peaceful and completely ordinary just hours ago — protests, claiming that she can't possibly be in that much danger. And then the assassins start coming. And the evil mages. And her best friend, who is now Brainwashed and Crazy... Additionally, Rain's lifeforce is tied closely to Ellysetta's, so even if she didn't have people out for her blood, she would be still be hunted by Eld who wanted to off him.
    • Gaelen refuses to abstain from wielding Azrahn, citing that it could mean the difference between Ellysetta's life or death. The other Fey despise him for this, but come the second book's finale the fact that he uses Azrahn and her attackers don't is the only thing that saves her life.
    • King Dorian tests his closest advisers and family for mage marksnote , something his wife is deeply insulted by. Not all of them pass the test.
  • Taken to an almost comical extreme in This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman. The only people who're paranoid enough to pilot a spaceship into hyperspace and come back alive are functionally insane, and in our own dimension they require massive amounts of medication to do more than lie on the floor whimpering.
  • Tortall Universe: In Trickster's Choice, Aly insists that Mequen keep a sword by his bedside — just in case the nobles visiting plan to assassinate him — ignoring his protests that doing so is rude and unnecessary. Mequen still dies in the ensuing battle, but Sarai is able to use the sword to save the rest of their family.
  • Captain Smollett from Treasure Island instinctively distrusts the crew of the Hispaniola from the moment he first lays eyes on them and makes an effort to keep the voyage's true mission from them while keeping alcohol and firearms from them to minimize the risk of them causing any trouble. Squire Trelawney thinks him "umanly" for being so suspicious and distrustful, but the later events of the story prove that Smollett was right to think the worst of the crew. Not even Smollett, though, could have have forsaw most of the crew actually being pirates.
  • Azania in Victoria is basically "feminazi" in a literal sense, a Lady Land whose politics are fascist, militarist, paranoid and misandrist. They are, however, entirely justified by events, in that there is indeed an international conspiracy to isolate, invade and destroy their country being fomented by their arch-enemies, the Christian fundamentalists in the Northern Confederation, who find the very existence of a "feminist" state intolerable. And then they need every bit of internal security and armaments they have in the struggle against the invaders.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Commissar Ciaphas Cainnote , of his self-titled series, is a stunning endorsement of this trope, as the only reason he hasn't been killed hundreds of times is that he always suspects something more sinister lurking under the surface, and he is always correct. In his very first appearance even, the short story "Fight or Flight", he looks at a cult of Genestealers several star systems away and loss of communications with a nearby fleet and immediately thinks "incoming Tyranids", his preparations preventing the planet being eaten long enough for the fleet to arrive and kill all the bugs.
  • Alvie from When My Heart Joins the Thousand was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia at age ten partly because she told the doctor truthfully that everyone at school was against her.
  • In the historical novel Wings of Dawn: If Lord Hawkwood would just stop going through the I Know You Know I Know routine, he and Thomas could've joined forces and solved each others' problems a lot sooner. It doesn't hurt to be cautious when you're the only person you can trust to keep the Dark Ages from lasting indefinitely, though.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide points out that being Crazy-Prepared to the point of paranoia isn't a bad thing in the midst of an actual Zombie Apocalypse. To quote the book, "It's one thing to believe that everyone is out to get you. Quite another when it's actually true."