Friday, 4 November 2011

Reading Habit's Top 10: Fictional Male Literary Characters


Just as certain books leave an indelible mark on our lives, so do particular literary characters, and in some cases these characters leave more of an impression than the book itself. Heroes, villains, mischievous scallawags, action men, and romantic protagonists, are just some of the traditional male fictional character profiles that endear us and enrich our reading experience. Putting a list together of my own top ten male fictional characters was difficult. At first, my list looked like that of a lovelorn romantic, but after some further thought and rationalisation, I’m really happy with the final result. Though the dashing heart throb is well represented, so are the evil villains, the father figures, the lost boys, and the heroes. In no particular order, I’ll get started.

Owen Meany (of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving)
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is one of my favourite books of all time. The fact that I fell in love with little Owen Meany probably has a lot to do with it. Owen Meany is anything but your typical teenage boy. He’s puny, undersized and has a weird pale luminescent skin. Whilst other boys his age, including his best friend John, are struggling to find themselves, Owen is sure of his destiny in life and intends to follow it. He has a powerful religious faith and believes himself to be god’s instrument. What I remember most about Owen Meany is his weird high pitched nasal voice, which John Irving represents in capitals whenever Owen speaks. His voice may only be words on paper, but to this day I swear I can hear Owen Meany in my head. Owens’ unwavering faith is what I admire most about him as a character. I envy his belief, bravery and conviction. Owen Meany is a unique character, dwarf-like in size, but big in heart.

Captain Frederick Wentworth (of Persuasion by Jane Austen)
When we first meet Captain Wentworth he is a man slighted by love several years earlier who is now determined to settle down and find a wife. However, he soon finds that despite his best efforts to suppress his former love for Anne Elliott, it is slowly rekindled. Wentworth is a gentleman wrapped up in a sailor’s uniform. He is distinguished and his person demands respect. Not surprisingly, he is the target of many a young woman, but in the end it is the steady character of Anne that once again wins his heart. I love Wentworth because he represents the constancy of love and the beauty of second chances.  Wentworth’s letter to Anne at the end of the novel always brings a tear to my eye. It’s a love letter that effuses such passion for, and devotion to, Anne that you can’t help but wish the letter was written for you.

Kevin Khatchadourian (of We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver)
Let’s get one thing straight. When I declare that Kevin is in my top ten fictional characters of all time it’s not because I love him, it’s because I hate the very idea of him. So why put him in my list? We don’t have to love a character for them to impact upon us, and Kevin certainly made an impression on me. The mere thought of him frightens me. Unlike the imagined monsters of horror novels, Kevin is the human manifestation of evil incarnate, and thus is infinitely scarier. In truth, it is not the character of Kevin himself that has stayed with me, but what he represents. Kevin’s existence gives weight to the theory that evil is born, not bred, and that’s not a very comforting thought. I don’t want to spoil the ending of the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I do want to say that the last scenes are some of the most chilling I have read. For me, Kevin is one of the most confronting villains in literature. He could be any young troubled boy and he is society’s worst nightmare – a cold blooded killer. 

Gilbert Blythe (of Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery)
I apologise sincerely to my husband, but Gilbert Blythe was my first love. He was charming, gallant, intelligent, handsome, and the desire of all the teenage girls on Prince Edward Island. He was perfect husband material - steady, kind and constant. Back when I still believed that boys who teased you actually really liked you, Gilbert gave me hope that the popular guy in school would one day turn around and realise that you were the love of his life. It’s completely ridiculous, believe me I know, but I was only 13. Having said all of that, I think the real reason I admired Gilbert so much was because despite her carrot top, fiery temper and ability to find herself in scrapes, Gilbert loved Anne. I loved Anne, therefore I loved Gilbert. 

Samwise Gamgee (of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J R R Tolkien)
While everyone usual pats whinging Frodo Baggins on the back for destroying the ring, I prefer to give Samwise Gamgee a big hug. In my eyes, Samwise is the chief hero of J R R Tolkiens masterpiece. Frodo is the chosen one, he bears the weight of the ring for most of the journey, and he does eventually destroy the cursed thing, but it’s Samwise that gives Frodo the strength to do it. Tolkien once wrote that he modelled Samwise on the English soldiers he knew in 1914, and you can definitely see the resemblance. Samwise is courageous. He is willing to die for the cause and above all protect Frodo from harm, displaying the kind of brave loyalty that all covet, but few have the strength to follow through with. Samwise represents the most important qualities in a best friend. For me, Samwise is the good mate that we’d all choose to have by our sides in a spot of bother.

Atticus Finch (of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)
Atticus Finch is one of the most admirable characters in literary history. He is a man of high morals who walks the path of reason in a society gone crazy with hatred. As a father figure, he tries his best to set a good example for his two children and instils in them the importance of living without racial hatred or prejudice.  Atticus is all about strong character, dignity and goodness. His most famous line in the novel, spoken to Scout, probably sums his personality up best – “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Some may argue that if there is any fault to be found with Atticus Finch it’s that he is almost too perfect and is not a realistic portrayal of the average father. This may be true, but I look at it differently. I see Atticus as the shining example of what we all should aspire to be.

Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy (of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
Do I even need to explain? Fitzwilliam Darcy, of Pride and Prejudice fame, might be a too obvious choice, but I couldn’t seriously compile a list without him in it. I tried very hard not to put two Jane Austen heroes into the same list, but to quote Darcy himself, “In vain I have struggled. It will not do.” Yes he’s hot, in a 19th century kind of way, but what I love most about Darcy is his recognition of his flaws and his determination to become a better man. This comment probably reflects the nature of all women to want to change a man, but it’s definitely what hooked me. Darcy’s passion for Elizabeth despite his pride and internal struggles endears him to the reader and I, for one, came away just as in love with him as Elizabeth herself. Darcy in all his manifestations, on screen and off, and even as a vampire, has certainly endured the greatest test of all – time. His popularity is booming and as a leading heroic protagonist he is only rivalled today by a bespectacled youth who I think you’ll find next on the list.

Harry Potter (of the Harry Potter novels by J K Rowling)
In my estimation, there is something extra special about Harry Potter. He is one of only a handful of fictional literary characters that have managed to capture the hearts of both children and adults alike. For this reason, I have a real soft spot for the boy wizard. Harry is a reluctant hero who has expectation thrust upon him, but bears it with a courage and determination beyond his years. Many dismiss the importance of Potter in a literary sense, because he’s just a kid who does magic in some young adult novels, but that’s the beauty of Harry and fantasy in general. Harry is consumable for children and teenagers. He is warm, emotional, tough, forgiving, brave, and honest. In terms of role models for the youth of today, he outshines most. There is one last thing that makes Harry Potter stand out for me and it has nothing to do with the character himself, but rather the revolution he caused. Quite simply, Harry Potter charmed a world of young boys and girls into actually becoming readers, and as a bookseller I will always thank him for that.

The Man (of The Road by Cormac McCarthy)
Picking a character that doesn’t have a name may seem a little curious, but his anonymity is the main reason I included him in this list. The man in Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel is a father, but because we don’t know his name McCarthy enables us to see him as everyone’s father – yours and mine. The man is the ultimate protector of his son and embodies the notion that parents would do anything to keep their children from harm, including forsaking their own moral code. He is a man of action, not words, who in a bleak world where death seems inevitable represents the fierceness of a father’s love. At one stage, the man thinks the best thing he can do is kill his son and put him out of his misery, but his love is so intense that he knows he can’t bring himself to do it. What I find most touching about the man is that throughout the whole novel he knows he is destined to leave the world very soon, but he’s determined not only that his son will survive, but that his son still understands the importance of hope and belief. 

Rhett Butler (of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell)
Swoon. Rhett Butler is the classic anti-hero, the bad boy of the American civil war, the very definition of a dashing scoundrel, and the only man to put Katie Scarlett O’Hara in her place. This is all true, but what I love about Rhett Butler the most is the soft underbelly he shows in his devotion to his children, his kindness to Mammy, and his all-consuming passion for a woman that is seemingly unrequited. I like the action hero Rhett Butler as he rescues Scarlett from the Yankees, but I simply adore the broken man who is eaten away by love and who eventually finds the strength to let it go. Now, I love Scarlett dearly, but she was a twit to pine away for boring Ashley Wilkes when she could have had Rhett Butler. What was the girl thinking? In a love story that for once doesn’t have a happy ending, Rhett eventually sets Scarlett straight just like we all wanted him to, and as a result scores the best line in the novel, “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” Clark Gable added the ‘frankly’ for the movie, and I admit that for me it’s hard to separate the on paper Rhett Butler from Clark Gable’s on screen version. I will never forget Gable standing at the bottom of that sweeping staircase, elbow resting on the banister, with eyes glinting dangerously at Scarlett under a furrowed brow. Swoon again.

People always want to know who just missed out, so I apologise to Alexander Portnoy (of Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth) who made me roll on the floor laughing out loud, Peter Pan (of Peter Pan by J M Barrie) who embodies the human desire to hold onto youth, Mr John Thorntorn (of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell) who made me swoon just as much as Rhett Butler, Mr Edward Rochester (of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte) whose disfigured person I’d fight Jane for, Hannibal Lector (of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris) who would give Kevin a run for his money, and Huck Finn (of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain) whose grand adventure down the Mississippi brightened my otherwise dull high school reading experience. 

I’d love to know what you think of the list. Who do you think is missing and who do you think shouldn’t be there? Lists are designed to divide, so comment away!!