Welcome to bookchat where you can talk about anything...books, plays, essays, and books on tape. You don’t have to be reading a book to come in, sit down, and chat with us.
As my friend Jeanette said recently, "I am part of the population that while not actually thinking fictional characters are real, I certainly feel like some of them are. Some of my dearest friends are fictional characters.”
Chitown Kev mentioned that he thought people still sent letters to Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street in London.
Imagine making a character who touches people’s hearts so he seems real and who lives for generations.
Shakespeare of course produced legions of them. Speak a name such as Macbeth and most people know something about him. They know the choices he made to believe the evil sisters and to impose his own desires on their predictions. He acted as he wished and he blamed them for deceiving him. He stood against the last of their prophecies and faced Macduff on the field of battle expecting to be victorious until Macduff explained the last half-truth that stilled Macbeth’s hope.
Macbeth has become an archetype as well as a famous character. Characters blinded by ambition, and goaded to do evil by others as Macbeth was by his wife (who thinks the blood can easily be washed away with a little water), do harm in many books.
The way we know what a character is like in a good book is:
1. What they say
2. What they do
3. What others say about them
In Alcott’s Little Women, we learn about Laurie as an older youth, (old enough to know better), when he puts Meg’s stolen glove and a love letter supposedly written by Laurie’s pining tutor where Meg will find it.
When the horrified Jo scolds him for this evil deed that has caused so much trouble and embarrassment to Meg who believed it, and the tutor John who loves her, Laurie tries to shrug it off instead of being repentant. By the time Jo is done with him, he is repentant but only because of the way she explains it to him. Thus, we see his immaturity and his lack of understanding about what is and is not “a joke”.
This act is one those things that lends credence later in the story to Jo refusing to marry him and saying that they are not right for each other. Though many of the readers are still upset about Jo’s decision, we were warned.
A fourth way we know what a character is like is seeing how they feel about others and how they treat them. Laurie goes abroad to study music as he has wished to do and roams about being pretty much a scapegrace and bum. This time it is Amy who has matured and who gives him a talking to that is honest and unsparing of his sins. The fact that he listens to her is illuminating. He has a second chance and he grabs it.
Later in the book, it is Jo’s turn to be given hard, but wise advice, by the Professor about the kinds of stories she has been writing. I have often wondered since Louisa did write some sensational stories if one of her friends said the same to her…Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, or her father?
A fifth way that we learn about a character is when they let us into their mind and they share their thoughts with us.
In Courtney Schafer’s book, The Tainted City, which is a sequel to The Whitefire Crossing, Dev tells us much about himself:
I hammered on a metal door painted with brightly colored snakes twining around a pair of crossed ice axes. Even after the long walk from the embassy into the depths of Acaltar district, fury still burned like magefire in my veins. I kept seeing Kiran’s despairing eyes, hearing the agonizing terror in his shriek while caught in his nightmare back in Tamanath. Was he screaming like that now?
A sixth way
is to see how they make a decision and what they do when they feel powerless.
True. Simon had been scary enough, but Ruslan? Might as well take on Shaikar himself. If I thought too long on my chances, I’d break and run. But I’d learned long ago in the mountains how to deal with insane levels of risk. Narrow the focus, take the ascent one step at a time, and it’s amazing what odds a man can beat.
It is important to see the character grow and change, to see how they are human and misunderstand things, but are redeemed. They make us care about what happens to them and we want them to win. We want them to find a solution and when they do, we cheer them on.
In Poul Anderson’s story, Young Flandry, we care about the hero because he is willing to try to save others besides himself. He tries to choose the right path despite problems. In one action scene, we see him using his skills while in deep trouble.
Pages 614, 615
Those worst injured were place in the safety-webbed chairs. The rest, jammed together down the aisle, would depend for their lives on the gee-field. Flandry saw Kathryn take her stand among them. He wanted wildly to give her the copilot’s chair; the field circuits might well be disrupted by the stresses they were about to encounter. But Ensign Havelock had some training in this kind of emergency procedure. His help could be the critical quantum that saved her.
A shudder went through boat and bones, the first impact on Dido’s stratosphere. Flandry shot free.
The rest was indescribable: riding a meteorite through incandescence, shock, thunderblast, stormwind, night, mountains and caverns of cloud, rain like bullets, crazy tilting and whirling of horribly onrushing vibrations shook brains in skulls and devils danced on the instrument panel.
Somehow Flandry and Havelock kept a measure of control. They braked the worst of their velocity before they got down to altitudes where it would be fatal. They did not skip helplessly off the tropopause nor flip and tumble when the crossed high winds in the lower atmosphere. They avoided peaks that raked up to catch them and a monstrous hurricane, violent beyond anything Terra had ever known, that would have sundered their boat and cast it into the sea. Amidst the straining over meters and displays, the frantic leap of hands over pilot board and feet on pedals, the incessant brutality of sound, heat, throbbing, they clung to awareness of their location….
By the time the boat was approaching a safe speed, its accumulators were drained. Overloaded, it had no possibility of a long ballistic glide. There was nothing to do but use the last stored joules for setting down.
We see him mourning the death of his men and wondering if he could have saved them.
Flandry closed his eyes. My man, pierced him. My men. My ship. How many are left? I counted…Twenty-three with only small hurts, plus Kathryn and me. Seventeen-sixteen- seriously wounded. The rest-Those lives were in my hands!
Many of us have heroes in common whom we admire and it is fun to talk about them to each other.
Emmet at Write On! asked us to consider the lesser characters whom we are given enough information to care about as well as the main heroes. The same thing applies to them. We learn about them and we care about them if they are not too shallow or cardboard.
Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride comes to mind. He is not the protagonist, but he makes a huge impression. We watch Westley climb up the cliff to fight him and we learn about both of them.
Vizzini, Fezzik and Buttercup depart the Ruins, leaving Inigo to prepare for the masked man. He looks over the cliff edge.
Inigo: Hello there! Waves. Slow going?
Man In Black: Climbing cliff. Look, I don't mean to be rude, but this is not as easy as it looks, so I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't distract me.
Man In Black: Tersely. Thank you.
Inigo: I do not suppose you could-a speed things up?
Man In Black: If you're in such a hurry, you could lower a rope or a tree branch or find something useful to do.
Inigo: I could do that. I've got some rope up here, but I do not think you would accept my help, since I am only waiting around to kill you.
Man In Black: Nods. That does put a damper on our relationship.
Inigo: But, I promise I will not kill you until you reach the top.
Man In Black: That's very comforting, but I'm afraid you'll just have to wait.
Inigo: I hate waiting. Begins to walk away, but turns and comes back. I could give you my word as a Spaniard...?
Man In Black: Strained. No good. I've known too many Spaniards.
Inigo: So's there any way you'll trust me?
Man In Black: Nothing comes to mind.
Inigo: I swear, on the soul of my father, Domingo Montoya, you will reach the top alive.
Man In Black: Throw me the rope. Inigo uncoils part of the rope from the rock and tosses it over the edge. The man in black climbs to the top. Thank you. Begins to draw sword.
Inigo: W-w-w-w-we'll wait until you're ready.
Man In Black: Again, thank you. Both sit. The man in black empties rocks from his boot.
Inigo: I do not mean to pry, but you don't by any chance happen to have six fingers on your right hand?
Man In Black: Still holding his boot. Do you always begin conversations this way?
Inigo: My father was slaughtered by a six fingered man. Was a great sword maker, my father. When the six fingered man appear and request a special sword, my father took the job. Draws sword. He slave a year before he was done. Hands to Man in Black.
Man In Black: Admiring the sword. I've never seen its equal. Returns sword.
Inigo: Six fingered man returned and demanded it, but at one-tenth his promised price. My father refuse. Without a word, the six fingered man slash him through the heart. Sheaths sword. I loved my father, so naturally I challenged his murderer to a duel. I fail. Six fingered man leave me alive. But he give me these. Points to scars on his cheeks.
Man In Black: How old were you?
Inigo: I was eleven years old. When I was-a strong enough, I dedicated my life to the study of fencing, so the next time we meet, I will not fail. I will go up to the six fingered man and say, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
Man In Black: You've done nothing but study swordplay?
Inigo: More a pursuit than a study, lately. You see, I cannot find him. It has been twenty years now and I am starting to lose confidence. I just work for Vizzini to pay the bills. It's not a lot of money in revenge.
Man In Black: Well, I... Rises. I certainly hope you find him someday.
Inigo: You are ready, then?
Man In Black: Whether I am or not, you've been more than fair.
Inigo: You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you.
Man In Black: You seem a decent fellow. I hate to die.
They begin to fight. Clang, clang, swish. Clang, clang, swish. Ting-ting-ting, ting-ting. Ting, ting, ting. (I'm just kidding, you didn't think I was actually going to do ALL the sound effects for this scene, did you?)
Inigo: You are using Bonetti's defense against me, uh?
Man In Black: I thought it fitting, considering the rocky terrain.
Inigo: Naturally, you must expect me to attack with Capo Ferro.
Man In Black: Naturally, but I find that Thibault cancels out Capo Ferro, don't you? Jumps down.
Inigo: Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa Jumps after him. which I have! Pause. You are wonderful!
Man In Black: Thank you. I've worked hard to become so.
Inigo: I admit it, you are better than I am.
Man In Black: Then why are you smiling? Forces Inigo toward the cliff's edge.
Inigo: Because I know something you don't know.
Man In Black: And what is that?
Inigo: I am not left-handed. Switches hands, they begin to move up the stairs.
Man In Black: You're amazing!
Inigo: I ought to be after twenty years. Begins to force Man in Black toward a balcony. His body moves the rocks.
Man In Black: There is something I ought to tell you.
Inigo: Tell me.
Man In Black: I'm not left-handed either. Switches hands and flourishes sword.
The Man in Black knocks Inigo's sword from his hand. Inigo jumps down to retrieve it. The Man in Black tosses his sword into a patch of grass. He flips over a beam and lands next to his sword, plucking it from the ground.
Inigo: Who are you?
Man In Black: No one of consequence.
Inigo: I must know.
Man In Black: Get used to disappointment.
Inigo: Shrugs. Okay.
They continue to fight until the Man In Black knocks Inigo's sword from his hands.
Inigo: Kneeling. Kill me quickly.
Man In Black: Circling Inigo. I would as soon destroy a stained-glass window as an artist like yourself. However, since I can't have you following me either...
The Man In Black hits Inigo over the head with the hilt of his sword. Inigo hits the ground, out cold.
Man In Black: Please understand I hold you in the highest respect. Runs off.
Which Firefly Character Are You?
I knew it…I am Shepherd Book…sigh. Could be worse, I guess.
In all the worlds of books…major or minor characters…who are your favorites?
Diaries of the Week:
Write On! You want Character on Those Extras?
Thursday Classical Music, Opus D104: Claude Debussy, Nocturnes
by Dave in Northridge
SNLC, Vol. CCCLVI / SN@TO 13: Les Troyens Edition
NOTE: plf515 has book talk on Wednesday mornings early
My apologies to those who love all the characters in the poll.