Sunday, February 19, 2012

9 of my favorite literary characters (so far)

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I define a 'good character.' I think about several of my favorite characters from years of reading and I wondered if they had anything in common - any physical traits or behaviors or backgrounds. Looking at this list I've created, I'd say that they most, if not all, exemplify bravery in some way, and are loyal to friends and/or a cause. They've got spark, heavy personalities, and are never, ever boring!

So out of my long list of favorite and highly memorable characters, I wanted to take the time to write about 10.

These are not ranked in any order.

Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings trilogy
+ honorable mention to Ian McKellen's portrayal in Peter Jackson's film series
(J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954-1956)
Quick character info:
Why he makes the list: Gandalf is the quintessential 'wise old sage' character type. He predates Albus Dumbledore by nearly forty years (and I'm absolutely convinced that Gandalf is at least part of the inspiration for Dumbledore) and did you know that Gandalf is an Istari, a being most similar to our concept of an angel? And he battled a balrog - and won. And he battled Saruman - and won. And, in the movies, he whacked crazy old Denethor upside the head with his staff. And he talks to eagles! 
Yes, how could Gandalf not be part of this list?!
Also, I definitely agree with author Mary Hoffman, who said that Gandalf is "the best white wizard in fiction."

Standout quote: [Frodo has said, "I wish it need not have happened in my time."]
"So do I," said Gandalf. "And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide.All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

Fflewddur Fflam from the Chronicles of Prydain series
(Lloyd Alexander, 1964-1968)
Quick character info: Fflewddur Fflam is a fun but hapless bard who joins the protagonist on many adventures throughout the series. His most prized possession, an enchanted harp, breaks its strings every time he, colors the truth.
Why he makes the list: Fflewddur has such a fun personality: he's witty and incredibly eccentric, but he also has moments of great depth and insight. You can always count on good ol' Fflewddur to lighten a somber mood or provide non-preachy words of encouragement.

Standout quote: "By all means," cried the bard, "A Fflam to the rescue! Storm the castle! Carry it by assault! Batter down the gates!"
"There's not much left of it to storm," said Eilonwy.
"Oh?" said Fflewddur, with disappointment. "Very well, we shall do the best we can."

Reepicheep from the Chronicles of Narnia series
(C.S. Lewis, 1950-1956)
Quick character info: Reepicheep, who first appears in the fourth (by chronological) book, Prince Caspian, is a talking mouse, one of the descendants of the mice who chewed the ropes off Aslan's body in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He provides counsel to Caspian, and makes further appearances in Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle.
Why he makes the list: Reepicheep is feisty, fierce, and, let's face it, has a wicked awesome name: REEP.Ih.CHEEP. Know what else? He's a freaking warrior. With a sword. And he wears a red plume. Legit. I'm also willing to bet that Reep played a role in inspiring Brian Jacques' Redwall series, which is populated with all sorts of battle-savvy mammals. Plus, I like that Reep is descended from noble mice who served Aslan (gives some color to his lineage). But what I like best about Reepicheep is that he is loyal and always attempts to stand for what he believes to be right.
And - personal opinion here - there is something dadgum awesome about a talking mouse. Seriously.
Standout quote: "My friendship you shall have," piped Reepicheep. "And any Dwarf - or Giant - in the army who does not give you good language shall have my sword to reckon with." (Prince Caspian)
"Stop it," sputtered Eustace, "go away. Put that thing away. It's not safe. Stop it, I say. I'll tell Caspain. I'll have you muzzled and tied up."
"Why do you not draw your own sword, poltroon!" cheeped the Mouse. "Draw and fight or I'll beat you black and blue with the flat."
"I haven't got one," said Eustace. "I'm a pacifist. I don't believe in fighting."
"Do I understand," said Reepicheep, withdrawing his sword for a moment and speaking very sternly, "that you do not intend to give me satisfaction?" (Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Percy Jackson from the Percy Jackson series (& Heroes of Olympus spinoff)
(Rick Riordan, 2005-2009; 2010-ongoing)
Quick character info: Percy Jackson begins the series as a troubled 12-year-old boy (and ends the first series as a 16-year-old), dyslexic and with ADHD. At a mysterious summer camp, he learns that all the gods, heroes, and monsters from Greek 'mythology' are real, and that he is the son of Poseidon, god of the sea. Powers are recognized, quests are undertaken, friendships are forged, chaos ensues, and hilarity is ever present as Percy narrates his adventures over five books.
Why he makes the list: In all my years of reading, Percy's character stands out to me for a number of reasons. What gives him an edge over all the other good, noble, and virtuous characters I've read is his voice. It's snarky, sardonic, incredibly witty (sometimes bitingly so) and refreshingly youthful. And yet, rarely ever is he flippant or careless. There's an underlying sensitivity to him that I think is an excellent quality in a boy. If Percy's commentary could make college professor snort, that's proof enough that this is way more than just a 'children's series.'

Standout quote: There are so many hilarious Percy quips, but for this post, I'll pick his commentary on the appearance of one of the series' antagonists: He'd changed since the last summer. Instead of Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt, he wore a button-down shirt, khaki pants, and leather loafers. His sandy hair, which used to be so unruly, was now clipped short. He looked like an evil male model, showing off what the fashionable college-age villain was wearing to Harvard this year.

Todd Hewitt from the Chaos Walking trilogy
(Patrick Ness, 2008-2010)
Quick character info: Todd Hewitt is the youngest boy in a remote village of a newly colonized world. The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book in the trilogy, focuses mainly on Todd on the run from the men of his town, who desire to add him to their 'perfect' army. The later books of the series revolve around Todd's physical and mental growth as he tries to resist the power and corruption around him, against the backdrop of war.
Why he makes the list: Todd makes the list of best characters largely because of his powerful narrative voice. The first thing you notice when you read the Chaos Walking trilogy is that Todd's narrative is written in the vernacular. Though hard to understand at first, it also adds a strong element of reality to Todd's character. But more than Todd's narrative, I loved his inner goodness and humanity, even when faced with some outright brutal situations. In fact, Todd Hewitt is everything that Ender Wiggins from Ender's Game should have been, but wasn't (and that might only make sense for those who have read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card). And the way Todd interacts with the other major character, Viola, is just about as heartfelt and genuine as can be expressed in literature. Their relationship progression was like seeing the steps to a perfectly solved equation (if that makes any sense). I could go on for hours about all the inherently good qualities that make up Todd Hewitt...but I won't.

Standout quote: "Here's what I think," I say, and my voice is stronger and thoughts are coming, thoughts that trickle into my noise like whispers of truth. "I think maybe everyone falls," I say. "I think maybe we all do. And I don't think that's the asking." I pull on her arms gently to make sure she's listening. "I think the asking is whether we get back up again."

Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings series
+ honorable mention to Sean Astin's portrayal in Peter Jackson's film series
(J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954-1956)
Quick character info: Samwise Gamgee is the hobbit gardner of Frodo Baggins and accompanies him from the Shire all the way to Mordor and back again. After the One Ring is destroyed and the Shire is restored to order, Sam marries and becomes Mayor of the Shire. Eventually, as the last of the Ring-Bearers, Sam leaves Middle-Earth to join Frodo and Bilbo in the Undying Lands.
Why he makes the list: If ever there was a character who epitomized the concept of "loyalty," Samwise Gamgee would be it. Sam is definitely my favorite character in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy (brilliantly acted by Sean Astin), and now that I'm re-reading the Lord of the Rings series, I'm experiencing Sam from the books, and he's just as loyal and servant-hearted as on the big screen. His bravery and unfailing loyalty to his friend, Frodo, and to his cause, makes him the most moving and inspiring character I have ever, ever encountered in a fictional work.

Standout quote: "Come Mr. Frodo!" he cried. "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo. Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he'll go."

Eugenides from the Queen's Thief series
(Megan Whalen Turner, 1996-ongoing)
Quick character info: Eugenides is the eponymous thief of the series. As an extended member of the royal family of Eddis (a fictional realm similar to a Greek city-state), though, he functions more as a spy than a common street thief. He usually finds himself firmly placed in the midst of political intrigue and upheaval, and as a result, reading about his adventures is usually entertaining.
Why he makes the list: As I'm finding out, I appreciate characters with a good sense of humor but also a little bit of snark. Not too much snark, and I usually don't like snark in girl characters, but more to the point, Eugenides almost always knows exactly what to say to make his point and get what he wants. And the few times when his circumstances render him speechless, those scenes are probably even more dynamic. Plus, there's the whole name thing going on. Eugenides. EU-GEN-ih-DEEZ. Now that is a wicked awesome name.
Standout quote: "This is the stupidest plan I have ever in my career participated in," Xenophon said.
"I love stupid plans," said Eugenides.

Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series
(J.K. Rowling, 2003-2007)
Quick character info: Luna Lovegood first appears in the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She is known as "Loony Luna" and has a reputation for being, to say the very least, socially awkward. Despite her seriously unconventional nature, Luna forms a strong friendship with Harry Potter and is one of the only people to believe his claim that the Dark Lord Voldemort has returned. She rises to prominence (and social acceptance) in the series as she joins the student-led Order of the Phoenix and plays an important role in the two novels that follow, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Why she makes the list: Loony Luna is my absolute favorite character in the whole series (slightly ahead of Professor Snape) and she is basically the reason I picked up the series again and finished it (I'd initially stopped reading the series after the fourth book's publication). I saw Evanna Lynch's Luna on screen and thought, "that girl is seriously legit," and I had to find out more about her. To be absolutely honest, I see a lot of my adolescent self in Luna. Like her, I had different interests and styles that made me feel at odds with my classmates. But I love her gentle spirit and her quiet determination to do what is right. As zany as she is, Luna is one of the bravest of Hogwarts' students, and she continually proves her worth. Plus, I have to love a character JK Rowling describes as the "anti-Hermione." After all, I have never liked Hermione (though I'm probably one of the only readers who doesn't), and I like a character who's not so boringly and bossingly logical. Luna's whimsy, coupled with her fierce loyalty and bravery, are what make her my favorite Harry Potter character.

Standout quote: "Mistletoe," said Luna dreamily, pointing at a large clump of white berries placed almost over Harry's head. He jumped out from under it.
"Good thinking," said Luna seriously. "It's often infested with nargles."

Peeta Mellark from the Hunger Games trilogy
(Suzanne Collins, 2008-2010)
Quick character info: Peeta Mellark is the baker's son who, along with Katniss Everdeen, ends up as the tributes from District Twelve (and we all know that the 'tributes' are the designated two children/teens from each district who compete in the deadly Hunger Games). As the series progresses, he becomes a key member in the rebellion against the capital and is one of two guys who compete for Katniss' affections (the other guy, Gale, will never make a 'favorite character' list on this blog. EVER).
Why he makes the list: Okay, let me get one thing straight: I had a weird reading experience with this series. I absolutely adored the first book, somewhat liked the second one, and loathed the final one. And I'll just go ahead and say that I despise Katniss Everdeen as a character and if I ever made a WORST literary characters, she'd be on the list. Yeesh. Oh, and I'm not impressed that he's going to be played by Josh Hutcherson in the movie, and in all likeliness, I will not see the movie.
So why on earth does Peeta make this list? Because he was really the only thing that kept me going through Catching Fire, and the only reason I picked up Mockingjay at all. I hated what happened to him in that book, and I felt sorry for the guy that he got stuck with sad-sorry-excuse Katniss.

So that's my list! Stay tuned, because I'll likely post 10 more favorite characters in the future.
Which literary characters would make your list of favorites? If anybody has a post about favorite characters, leave the link so I can add it to the end of this post!

Blog designed by Dreamy Blog Designs using Joifa Designs Birght Night and Cozy kit