Books, characters, favorites

Favorite Literary Heroes

As I did favorite literary heroines last week, I thought it only fair to turn my attention to the men this week! Ready? I promise, I will try to be less wordy this time around. So, without further ado, I give you …

Lord Peter Wimsey (Dorothy L Sayers):

I first met Lord Peter in a library in Pennsylvania, a few years after getting married. I’m ashamed to admit that, newlywed though I was, I promptly fell head-over-heels in love and have never recovered. It took me ages to reconcile myself to Harriet Vane! (Possibly partly due to the fact that the first book I read featuring her was Have His Carcasse, so I got to see all her anger and bitterness without having a clue why – which made her very unlikeable. I mean, if you’re going to be Lord Peter’s love interest, at least be worthy of him!) I did eventually come to accept Harriet, and amusingly enough, Gaudy Night is now one of my favorite books – one of those I would take to a desert island if I was going to be stranded there a year.

Sigh. Lord Peter. It’s a good thing I met him after I got married. And a good thing my husband already knows about all my literary crushes, else this post might be slightly awkward!

Taran of Caer Dallben (Fflewddur Fflam) (Lloyd Alexander):

Taran Wanderer is another one of those books I would want to take with me to a desert island. It is the ultimate bildungsroman, a perfect coming-of-age story. I absolutely love how Alexander takes all of Taran’s notions about heroism and honor and glory and turns them on their heads – and then how Taran has to do all that he dreamed about as a boy, only it has lost its appeal, and he wishes to be a simple Assistant Pig-Keeper again. I also appreciate how the one thing he wanted to be the most he couldn’t quite master – because isn’t that how life really is? We don’t always get to live out our dreams; sometimes we have to let go of what we want the most and accept what life gives us instead.

As for Fflewddur, he is just a delight to read about. His tendency to stretch the truth because reality is so dull, his valor and nobility, his boredom with being king of such a well-run kingdom … such a joy!

Eustace Scrubb (CS Lewis):

Don’t get me wrong, I like Peter, Edmund, Digory, Caspian, Rilian, and Tirian as well – but Eustace tops them all. Perhaps because he is such an Everyman – we can’t all identify with High King Peter the Magnificent, or King Caspian the Seafarer, etc, but who hasn’t been an obnoxious jerk at some point in their lives? And to be redeemed from that so beautifully – not to a kingship, as with Edmund’s redemption, but simply to living a better life as Eustace – is wonderful to read.

And, I like his practical outlook on life, and his occasional snarkiness even after he is un-dragoned.

Martin the Warrior (Brian Jacques):

We had Mariel among the heroines, and now Martin for the heroes. Martin is everything a hero should be – brave despite his small stature; noble; loyal; true-hearted … he even has a secret sorrow from his past! His friendship with Gonff the Prince of Mousethieves is one of my favorite friendships in all literature (even better than Sam and Frodo, because there’s no nonsense about master/servant between Martin and Gonff). Martin leaves a legacy that carries Redwall through every danger and strife. He may be a mouse, but he has the heart of a lion!

Roger Hamley (Elizabeth Gaskell):

Roger Hamley is another one of those characters I wistfully wish was real. Although he does remind me of my husband in many ways … ahem. He is good and kind; he is loyal and faithful; he is both gentle and strong; he sacrifices his own desires over and over again for the good of others. Along with Molly Gibson, the reader learns to love him gradually over the pages of Wives and Daughters, and I, at least, always wanted to shake him for his incredible stupidity in falling in love with the charming but shallow Cynthia instead of valiant and quiet Molly!

Gilbert Blythe (LM Montgomery):

For any girl who grew up reading and loving the Anne books, Gilbert Blythe automatically became her ideal beau (I think – at least I’ve never met anyone who loves Anne and not Gilbert). Despite the fact that Montgomery doesn’t, in fact, flesh his character out very much beyond the first book, he remains one of literature’s best heroes. Anne’s House of Dreams is one of my favorite books of the series, not just because it introduces Leslie Moore, who is such a rich and full character, but because of the deeper glimpses we get into Gil’s character. The struggle he goes through in having to choose between the right thing and what his (and his wife’s) heart wants … he is truly a good man. And he loved Anne so faithfully for so many years, even when it looked like there was no hope – who could resist that?

Henry Tilney (Mr. Knightley) (Jane Austen):

Will I lose all credibility if I confess that I’ve always found Mr. Darcy rather stupid? I do, however, positively adore Henry Tilney. His sense of humor, the fact that he is not above teasing Cathy, his close friendship with his sister, his sense of honor and duty … he is a real, three-dimensional person, and a fun one, at that.

Mr. Knightley is on here both for his goodness (he is a true gentleman) and for the fact that his love does not blind him to the flaws of his beloved. In fact, he loves her so much that he has to do everything he can to help her become the very best person she can be, even if she never loves him in return. That didn’t sound very romantic to me as a kid, but now? Swoon.

Rush Melendy (Elizabeth Enright):

Rush is the ideal older brother, I’ve always thought. He almost always makes time for Randy, even when he is exasperated by her; he listens to her; he shares her same impetuous nature. Plus, when given a choice of anything to do by himself on a Saturday afternoon, he chooses to go see an opera. Siegried, no less, which brings back happy memories for me of staying up late on Sunday nights with my sister and parents to watch the Ring trilogy on PBS – my sister and I had never thought much of opera before then, but Wagner fascinated us. So I can identify with Rush there! I’ve also always like how he overcomes his reluctance to teach piano in order to raise money for the war (especially the unexpected outcome of his lessons with the school bully). He, like all of Enright’s characters, is a very human, very likable kid.

Will Stanton (Susan Cooper):

At age eleven, Will Stanton discovers he is not a normal mortal boy at all, but the last-born of the Old Ones, and is thus swept into a life of danger, adventure, and sorrow. Yet through it all, Will maintains his practical outlook on life, and his humanity even when he has to make the hard, cold choices. The Dark is Rising series is one of my long-time favorites, not just for the Arthurian thread that runs through it, but for Will himself. The youngest of a large family, friend to the Pendragon, quester for the Signs, nemesis of the Dark Rider … yet what makes him such a relatable hero is his utter normality through it all, the fact that you feel, but for the odd gift of being born an Old One, he could be anyone you know – the boy next door, maybe, or even you yourself. (And his attempts to learn the Welsh language always make me giggle, every time I read them!)

James Tarleton (Patricia C Wrede (and Caroline Stevermer):

In my heroines post, I mentioned how much I relate to Kate. Yet oddly enough, I see nothing of my husband in Thomas. Instead, he is very much a James. Almost everything about James makes me think of Carl, especially in The Grand Tour, when Kate is exhausted and weary and says how much she misses English toasted cheese, and James merely comments that she should get some rest, and then she’ll feel better. That is exactly the sort of thing Carl would do. Of course, Kate thinks about how glad she is that she isn’t married to James, as it would be very squelching to have a husband like that, but somehow, Carl and I get along just fine as we are.

Brother Cadfael (Hugh Beringar) (Ellis Peters):

I blame Brother Cadfael for giving me a romanticized view of monastic life in the medieval age. Not that Peters whitewashed anything (at least, I don’t think she did), but Brother Cadfael made being a monk seem AWESOME. You could have close communion with God and still have a hand in everything that happened in your corner of the world. Nothing happened without Cadfael knowing about it, and certainly his understanding of grace, hope, and love were advanced far beyond his day and age.

Hugh was of a different sort, but just as terrific. As under-sheriff and then sheriff, he recognized his liege’s flaws, yet stayed by him loyally. He upheld the law to the letter, and conveniently turned a blind eye to Cadfael when morality and justice didn’t quite match the law. He could not go against the law himself, but he could let his friend do so without a qualm. Cadfael and Hugh’s friendships is one of the best in all mystery literature, not least because it is most definitely not Holmes-and-Watson. Hugh is not the idiot sidekick, but a worthy detective and human being in his own right.

Wil Ohmsford (Terry Brooks):

The Elfstones of Shannara was the first Brooks I ever read. I got it from the library without ever having heard anything about Shannara or Terry Brooks; I picked it out based solely on the cover art and the fact that “elfstones” sounded really cool (I was young at the time!). Despite the fact that much of it was probably too old for me, I devoured it and loved it (the only other Shannara book our library had at the time was Druid of Shannara, which meant that for the next several years I bounced between both Shannara series, never knowing for sure which era each book I discovered was going to be set in, and getting completely confused until I had finally read all of them and could start setting them in order in my mind … proof of good writing, that I didn’t just give up out of frustration!). Wil, I liked not just for his part-human, part-elven heritage, which was a fairly new concept to me at the time and seemed very daring. It was his reluctance to do his part of the quest – not just because he didn’t think he was worthy (although that was part of it), but because he was morally opposed to what he was being asked to do (kill), and yet it was the only way to save the world, and he the only one to do it. That battle that he went through was what really drew me in, and what kept me coming back to the Shannara books even though I could never keep straight who went where and what happened when!

Well, that wasn’t quite so lengthy as the heroines. As with last week, which ones do you agree with, which ones would you have left off the list, and who would you add?

Next week, I think, will be favorite literary families (which will most likely be a much shorter list). Will your favorite be on it?

characters, favorites, heroines

Favorite Literary Heroines

I’ve been seeing a few posts around the blog-o-sphere lately compiling a list of people’s favorite heroes, heroines, couples, families, you name it. Well, thought I, I have my favorites too. Why not share? I was only going to do ten, but I found I just couldn’t cut it past twelve (plus a few who are so closely connected to each other I just put them in the same entry).

Ready? Here goes!

Eilonwy, Princess of Llyr (Lloyd Alexander):

When I think of favorite literary heroines, Eilonwy is the first to come to mind. Which is appropriate, really, as I cannot imagine the outspoken princess ever taking second place to anyone, for any reason. If I tried, I am sure her response would be, “Louise of Bates House, I am not speaking to you!”

Eilonwy is delightful for so many reasons. She’s spunky. She doesn’t sit around and wait to be rescued – in fact, she is quite often the one doing the rescuing. She tells the hero exactly what he needs to hear, and never pampers his ego. She is brave and strong, but realistic, too – she is frightened at times, and mourns the losses of those she loves. She can be unexpectedly kind, too, which is a nice trait in a heroine.

She can use magic, but gives it up to fulfill a greater destiny. She can ride and fight and quest (though I have to wonder how and where she found armor and weapons to fit her small stature in The High King). And though she is beautiful, she is happiest when dressed in practical, comfortable clothing, and doesn’t really care about her appearance at all. Ah, Eilonwy. If and when my girls get to the “princess” stage, I am going to encourage them to be a princess like you!

Mara Jade (Mirax Terrik) (Timothy Zahn and Michael A Stackpole):

These two might strike some as a little odd (or at the very least, they show my geek side), as they both come from the Star Wars Extended Universe novels. The beautiful and deadly Mara’s first appearance is in the Thrawn trilogy, while Mirax and her smuggler’s ship Pulsar Skate grace the pages of the X-Wing series. I love them both.

Not just because they get to fly (and fight) circles around the boys of the Star Wars universe. Not just because they, along with Leia and some others, provide great heroes for the females of this world who happen to like Star Wars (there are more of us out there than many realize). Not just because they are both beautiful and smart.

It’s for all of these reasons, and a few others. They are strong and brave, and yet still vulnerable at times and in places. They aren’t perfect. Mara is about as flawed as you can get, but she fights to become better, to overcome the tragedies in her past. She doesn’t wallow. They neither of them are all about the angst – they are much more apt to go blow something up instead of burst into tears.

That’s my kind of heroine.

Anne Shirley (LM Montgomery):

Is there any little girl who didn’t grow up loving Anne? (Aside from little girls who grew up on PEI and had her shoved down their throats so much they can’t stand her – I’m thinking of you, Andrea!) she was an orphan. She had red hair. She was spunky and smart. She had a ferocious temper. She lived on a beautiful, magical island with two wonderful guardians. She had an amazing imagination. She got into, and out of, scrapes with charming regularity. She had a best friend who adored her. She chased her dreams and found them. She had Gilbert Blythe. Need I say more?

Miranda “Randy” Melendy (Elizabeth Enright):

Thimble Summer is the best known of Enright’s books, and I do like Garnet of the long wheat-colored braids; I have also always been tremendously fond of Portia from the Gone-Away books. Randy, though … possibly because she is in four books instead of one or two … Randy has always had a special spot in my heart.

She is the second-youngest in a family of four. Her older sister Mona is beautiful and poised, a talented actress. Rush, one step above Randy, is a brilliant mathematician and remarkable pianist. Randy? She likes to draw and dance, but she always feels inadequate in her older siblings’ shadows. Yet she doesn’t mope about it – for the most part, she just admires them intensely, and pursues her own path.

I always felt like my older sister was good at everything, while I was just the clumsy little sister (just like Randy – although I never fell out of a boat in Central Park, or ran my bike into the back of a bus) (I have, however, sprained my ankle ice skating). Like Randy, though, I tried not to let it affect me too much; my parents always told me to focus on what I liked, instead of always thinking my sister could do it better. Which explains the writing!

I think Enright’s illustrations also affected my fondness for Randy. That mop of curly dark hair, especially when she’s leaping and pirouetting, that snub nose … she just looks delightful. More than that, she looks like the kind of girl I would have wanted for a best friend when I was ten and eleven. What more could you ask from a heroine?

Anthea (Bobbie) (E. Nesbit):

I have searched and searched, but I can’t find Anthea’s last name anywhere. She is the second-oldest of the Five Children and It children, whom I first met, actually, in The Phoenix and the Carpet. Nicknamed “Panther” by her siblings, Anthea is smart, kind, practical, and thoughtful. One of my favorite parts of Phoenix is when the carpet has taken the Lamb away, and Anthea makes Cyril hit her hand with the poker so she has an excuse for her tears when she goes up to Mummy’s room. Bravery, practicality, self-sacrifice – all in one simple scene.

Bobbie from The Railway Children is the same sort. When she find out by accident what happened to her father, she joins forces with her mother to keep the secret from the younger ones. When she wistfully wishes to the injured Jim that she was a boy, he reassures her that she is just fine as she is (did anyone else want the two of them to get married when they grew up?). And that final scene where she sees her father coming off the train and runs to him … I havenever been able to read that without sobbing desperately. Oh yes, I love Bobbie.

Elizabeth Warrington “Betsy” (or Betsye or Bettina) Ray (Maud Hart Lovelace):

Betsy is a bit like Anne to me – how can you not love her? It always saddens me to hear of people who did not grow up with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib. I’ve always appreciated so much that Lovelace takes us from when Betsy is five all the way to when she’s a young bride. I grew up right along with Betsy and the Crowd, and they were all so real to me, from mischievous Winona to demure Carney to gallant Cab to that idiot Phil Brandish. And Joe, of course! Betsy and Joe are one of my all-time favorite book romances.

Betsy is a writer, and wrote from the time she was a child (just like me!). She was also a thoroughly normal girl, concerned about her looks, her popularity, BOYS, family, being a better friend and person … I first read about her struggles and triumphs as a newlywed when Iwas a newlywed, and I felt like finally, I wasn’t alone in trying to figure out all this living-with-another-person business!

Plus, she lived during one of my favorite time periods in history. Her clothes … oh, I’ve always been so grateful to Lovelace for providing such rich detail of what it was like to live back then!

Mariel Gullwhacker (Brian Jacques):

What’s that? You weren’t expecting to find a mouse on this list? Silly you! Mariel whacks gulls and searats and all sorts of vermin. She doesn’t ask for pretty compliments, but if you don’t show her respect you just might fight a knotted rope between your ears! She is as brave as a badger and loves her father beyond all reason. She is my kind of mouse!

Anne Elliot (Jane Austen):

I like Elizabeth Bennet, but my absolute favorite of Austen’s heroines is Anne Elliot ofPersuasion. Not impossibly good, like Fanny of Mansfield Park, but steadfast, noble, and quietly brave. She has one of the finest characters in all literature – truly someone to aspire toward! Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel (with Emma a close second), and Anne is the main reason.

Well, Anne and Lyme. Someday I will travel to England and visit Lyme!

Elizabeth Ann “Betsy” (Dorothy Canfield Fisher):

Another Betsy makes the list! This one from Understood Betsy, one of my favorite childhood books. She starts out horribly smothered, but by partway through, Betsy becomes another one of those strong heroines I love so well. Her resourcefulness is what really draws me to her, though – her constant question of “What would Cousin Ann do?” and then figuring out the best solution to her problem – so remarkable! How she rescues little Molly from the Wolf Pit … how she learns to overcome her math phobia (oh, how well I empathized with her difficulties there!) … her plan for helping the little boy at school get adopted … most especially how she figures out how to get herself and Molly home from the fair after they’ve been abandoned there. At only ten years old, no less!

My mother’s family is from Vermont, and so I think I was drawn to Betsy even more because she went to live on a farm in Vermont. Reading descriptions of the old farmhouse made me think of my great-grandparents’ home, which in turn always made me feel cozy and comfortable while reading Betsy’s exploits.

Kate, Lady Schofield (Caroline Stevermer (and Patricia C Wrede)):

The Cecy and Kate books, though I didn’t discover them until after I was married, have become some of my all-time favorite YA lit. I suspect, had I read them when I was a teen, Cecy would have been my favorite. Her impulsive behavior, her “we must do something” attitude, her not-always-justified self-confidence … all traits that would have appealed greatly to my teenage (or younger) self.

As an adult, however, I found myself empathizing much more with the more cautious and clumsy Kate. Oh, especially her clumsiness! The fact that she never feels herself adequate for anything until the crisis comes, at which point she stops thinking about herself entirely and simply does what is necessary reminds me, in my most honest moments, so much of myself. When she doesn’t care one whit about what people think about her, but panics over the thought of disappointing her husband or damaging his reputation? Oh yes, all me. Yet she always, always rises to the occasion, which is not so much me but what I want to be.

Curiously enough, though, the man I married is more a James than a Thomas … but that’s a topic for another post!

Tuppence Beresford (Agatha Christie):

Thanks to my mother, I began my love affair with Christie’s books at age twelve. Poirot, naturally, was my favorite at first … until I met Tommy and Tuppence.

Dear, terrier-like Tuppence, with her good instincts and plans that should never work yet somehow always do? She delights me. As detectives go, Miss Marple is now probably my favorite of all time, yet Tuppence still remains one of my favorite heroines, simply for her outlook on life. And I love the fact that she and Tommy look upon their marriage as a great adventure, and a joint partnership. That’s the kind of mentality Carl and I have always tried to have for our marriage!

Lucy Pevensie (Tarkheena Aravis and Jill Pole) (CS Lewis):

I could not – could not – just pick one favorite from Narnia! I know many people don’t think Lewis was very fair in his treatment of women in Narnia, but these three have been examples of bravery, spunk, determination, faith, and strength since I was a very little girl. Valiant and loving Lucy, wood-wise and independent Jill, fearless and honest Aravis … Lucy follows her heart when no one else believes; Jill travels through bleak lands to rescue a prince and fights by the side of a king; Aravis leaves privilege, comfort, and everything she knows for a life of freedom. I would be proud to call any of these three strong girls friend!

Whew! This turned out to be longer than I expected … and I’m sure, as soon as I hit “publish,” I’ll think of more I should have added. Oh well!

Next up with be my top twelve favorite literary heroes. Ooh …

Did your favorite heroines make the list? Who would you have included that I didn’t? Who would you have left off? Opinions welcome, the stronger the better!