Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Motley Array

As an avid reader, I've "fallen in love" with many characters over the years. But there are just some that stick with you so that they become literally a part of you. Characters that wormed their way into your heart so well you know they'll never come out. Sometimes they are annoying. Sometimes they are endearing. Sometimes they're just plain stubborn and stick there because you can't forget them, not by any great doings on their part. Abigail wrote a post recently on Straw-Men, then followed it up with a post full of examples of perfectly flawed characters we love. Because like we've discussed here before, you can't endure perfection in a mortal. Anyone who has read the Elsie Dinsmore books will concur. We were all in awe of that plaster of Paris child, but she wasn't relate-able, and hence unlovable. At least by me. But this is all hogwash without examples. It's a fantastic exercise in formulating your own characters, this digging up the ink-people who have stuck to you through the years and figuring out where they went right. Here are some of my tops, and why I love them so.

I am not certain what C.S. Lewis meant for us to do with this Marshwiggle creature, but I reacted to him by getting a deep, "groaner" fondness for him. I can't take him seriously, but he's stuck in my heart forever. Perhaps what I liked best about him was the fact that, for all his grumblings and pessimism, there was a warm heart under the muck. And at the end of The Silver Chair when even Jill and Eustace are beginning to doubt Aslan, it is Puddleglum who gives the Lady of the Green Kirtle a run through the wringer with his blind faith. That, my friends, is the unforgettable moment of an unforgettable character.

Ralph Touchett
This rather obscure character from The Portrait of a Lady somehow wormed his way into my heart too. He is an invalid and a bit foolish, but faithful as a Labrador. He loves Isabelle Archer to the point of ridiculousness, yet never pushes himself at her. He knows she doesn't love him, but if he can't be her love, at least he'll be her friend. When he *SPOILER* dies at the end of the book *END OF SPOILER* I cried. I really did. It was so sad to see him go. And yet what did he do? Nothing much. Just a stupidly stubborn man with a soft heart and death in sight.

Sydney Carton
Abigail did cover him, and yet a character that makes me cry and entirely redeems a book I was so-so about till the end, must have his corner of fame. Until the last third of A Tale of Two Cities, there was no real reason to love him. He was mysterious, yes, and inadvertently did some good. But there was nothing riveting about him...until his marriage proposal was rejected and then, then, he did not go off to sulk as pretty much everyone AHEM (Mr. Cox?) AHEM does, but instead became the man it had always been in him to be if he'd only taken a bit of trouble. And the trouble he took? That was what made me cry. A selfless act that turned A Tale of Two Cities into one of my favorite books of all time.

Chet Morton
Okay. The Hardy Boys hardly counts as literature, and yet I absolutely cannot forget about Chet Morton. (Perks to Abigail Taylor for reminding me that he counts. ;) My reading career and my first foray into mysteries began simultaneously with The Bobbsey Twins, quickly moved to The Hardy Boys, and finished with Nancy Drew before I realized what literature really was. But all that to say, I love Chet. No reason. He's just Chet. Along the same vein, I love Gus-Gus in Cinderella. They are conjoined in my mind. Truly. I think of one, I think of the other.

You knew I'd mention him, didn't you? Dear little Gavroche. In Les Miserables, he's the chap who stole my heart. Marius? Posh. Enjolras? Aw, poor guy died. Gavroche? Brave to the bitter bitter end, and all the braver because he was under ten years old.

Samwise Gamgee
He almost doesn't make this list because I do consider him a hero. But somehow in the mainstream, Frodo takes top-notch spot and I disagree. So Sam? Have your party here because I love you. Samwise is just one of those characters whose friendship you feel extends past the pages of the book and to you, personally. I never felt he was just Frodo's friend. I felt he was my friend. And if you think that's sappy, just you try to resist the urge to slap someone when Sam gets blamed for everything. ARGH!

Nicholas Higgins
In North and South, Higgins is pretty much my favorite character. Excluding Mr. Thornton, of course who, while being very flawed indeed, is still definitely "hero" material. Too much so for this list. Higgins is pugnacious. He's agnostic. He's stubborn and rough and "a terrific firebrand". And yet he is one person I can never get out of my head when I think of North and South. Perhaps it was because he was so essentially man, hewn, as he was, out of the stone of the upcountry. Higgins, while being mostly flaws, also has the distinct virtue of being a family man. He loved his daughters. He didn't turn away when Boucher dies and leaves all his kids alone in the world.

Phil & Mr. George
This pair from Bleak House are just so tenacious. Mr. George is a fighter. He's the black sheep of the family through his own fault. He ran away from home and he's too proud to come back. But no one can match the two of them for decency and loyalty.

Rachel Lynde
Okayyyyy. I know you'll probably not agree, but I had to throw her in here. I mean, if Anne Shirley hadn't had a nemesis (because to be honest we all loved Gilbert and couldn't see him as the antagonist, right?) then there would have been very little pizazz to her story at all. (and there's not much of it now, much as I love the books) Rachel Lynde is one of those people who sticks to me like a burr. Possibly because if I was an old lady living in a sleepy country town and I didn't write or read or broaden my horizons in any way but gossip, I might be an awful lot like her. Plus our names are similar. Scarily so.

I will be brief about him, because really, he's a villain. Yep. I said it. And he's from With Fire and Sword which I doubt anyone else has read. (looks for a show of hands) I don't know why I liked him. The whole book is definitely melodramatic (Bohun even more than the others), but somehow I had a soft spot for him. Poor dude. I respected him for not taking advantage of Helen even though he had ample opportunity to do so. And his reckless passions were not liable to resisting temptation. So when he did resist you had to give him a nod. In that case, I must also mention Zagloba and Pan Podbipyenta who I also loved. Oh! and what's-his-name...this little fierce one. Michal. Yes. Him. That book was full of such characters. I mean honestly--at 1200+ pages, you had plenty of time to get attached.

These are my people. Who are yours?


Emily Chapman said...

Might I add a little Narnian correction? For 'tisn't Polly and Digory in The Silver Chair, 'tis Jill and Eustace. ;) (Just could not let that mistake pass by being a Narnia fanatic myself) ;)

Rachel Heffington said...

GAH! Emily, you are right! Someone that didn't sound right and I couldn't figure out where it went wrong. Rats in a rubber basket. I shall fix that immediately.

Jack said...

I adore Puddleglum. I feel in love with him when I first saw him sitting at the marsh, fishing. And when he met Jill and Eustice and complained about the wood I knew I'd found a new friend. He will always be one of my favourites from Narnia.

I think what you said about Sam is very true. He isn't just Frodo's friend, he is the readers as well. A friend one can always rely upon to be there.

I also love Gavroche and cry when he dies. And Higgins, I like him as well. He confuses me some in the book, but he is one I can easily relate to.

Anonymous said...

That makes me mad. I totally forgot Gavroche dies. :-(
Anyway, I have always been a fan of Rachel Lynde. I can't say she is necessarily a major influence of my life, but I think I can be rather like her skeptical side on occasion.

I love Nicholas Higgins and John Bates from Downton Abbey. (It has nothing to do with the actor either. They are both men of such strong moral fiber and courage.

I love and have never gotten over Billy in "Where the Red Fern Grows." He may border on perfect, but he is just a country boy who has a dream and won't give up on it. That has spoken from the very first time I read it.