Ok. I had this idea I would compile a top five every weekday for about a week or a week and a half, and then graduate school reared its ugly head. Wow. For your reference, graduate students complain a lot, and we make out like our work is constantly overwhelming, but we generally leave out the detail that it’s mostly of our own making. This week was an example of unavoidable, constant work.
But I’m back! And I want to write a little on some of my favourite characters that have turned up in the books and plays I’ve read growing up. It may be that I’m a sucker for nostalgia, but all my favourite characters come from books I’ve read a while ago. None of the characters from books I’ve read in the last two years makes the cut. To be honest, this is probably a bit hard to follow if you haven’t read a couple of these books, but this blog is already too long as it is!
5. The Mock Turtle (Alice in Wonderland by C.S. Lewis)
There are so many memorable characters in Alice in Wonderland, that it’s almost impossible to pick just one. In truth, the Mock Turtle more or less represents all of them for me, simply because I remember him, and his examples of that book’s amazing dialogue are my favourite examples. When Alice quizzes him on why the turtles called their schoolteacher ‘Tortoise’ the Mock Turtle informs her they “called him Tortoise because he taught us.” The Mock Turtle confuses us (and mocks us) just as he does Alice, my favourite part of one of my favourite books.
4. Bobby (In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul)
I think Bobby is a wonderfully drawn character, because underneath the more dramatic events he experiences and the more extreme of his personality traits, his character says a lot about colonial mentality in very subtle ways. Bobby feels a sense of superiority over his fellow colonizers through what he sees as a more sophisticated understanding of local society. That’s not an uncommon phenomenon, with much less dramatic examples.
3. Lt. Frederic Henry (A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway)
A Farewell to Arms is probably my favourite book, so it’s fitting its protagonist is one of my favourite characters. Henry suffers serious injury early in the book, and Hemingway matches the detail with which he describes this physical injury with the depth of emotional anguish Henry suffers later on. Henry’s ultimate failure to escape pain in its simplest form is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read.
2. S.B. O’Donnell (Philadelphia, Here I Come! by Brian Friel)
This play revolves around the mechanic of ‘private’ and ‘public’ Gar, two separate elements of the protagonist’s mind played by two separate actors. When both are performed well, it’s a wonderful play, but I’ve always been more interested in Gar’s father, S.B. O’Donnell. Friel uses S.B. to tell an old story of silence between father and son with amazing skill. Gar assumes his father doesn’t appreciate him, and waits impatiently to leave for America. S.B. suffers the inevitable loss of a son forever, but is completely unable to express himself in terms that could make Gar stay. S.B. as a character is gruff throughout and practically silent, but he says more than anyone else in that play.
1. Gollum (The Hobbit by J.J.R. Tolkien)
Ok. Gollum scared the crap out of me. It’s that simple. Peter Jackson’s team did a better job with Gollum than I had ever dreamed possible, but I don’t think anything on film can recreate the fear that character generated in me as a child. Gollum is fantastic. He’s completely focused on one thing, and nothing else matters. The fact that Gollum has departed from any form of morality makes him a scary character, but his personal anguish at being separated from his “precious” makes him absolutely terrifying. My favourite fictional character in print of all time.