Sunday, July 3, 2011

50 Characters Who've Stuck With Me: Part Two

40. Miller – Batman, The Dark Knight Returns

“This should be agony. I should be a mass of aching muscle--broken, spent, unable to move. And, were I an older man, I surely would... But I'm a man of thirty--of twenty again.”

Consistently considered the most complex portrait of the caped crusader, Miller's Batman is now fifty-five, retired and struggling to cope with his former identity. His choice to put the suit back on unleashes a series of events that culminate in one of the most rewarding fights in pop culture history. Perhaps more critically it also allows for a compelling look at how we cope with who we once were.

39. Lowry – The Giver, The Giver

“"Simply stated, although it's not really simple at all, my job is to transmit to you all the memories I have within me. Memories of the past."”

I must have been one of the first classes to read The Giver and, like most since, was struck between the eyes. The last remnant of a civilization lost he is profoundly isolated, yet this is not his principle characteristic. Rather his sage warmth resonates as a guide into the past.

38. Le Guin – The Child, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

“It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible.”

The Child in Le Guin's short piece of horror will haunt you. The story could simply have been an ethical allegory, but so much attention and detail goes into developing The Child that you, too, are convinced that you'd walk away from Omelas.

37. Spiegelman – Art Spiegelman, Maus

“Vladek started working as a tinman in Auschwitz in the spring of 1944...I started working on this page at the very end of February 1987.”

The semi-autobiographical work portrays the artist and son's challenges to come to grips with his father's Holocaust internment. The two processes are intertwined, and Spiegelman dutifully takes us through his difficulties along the way.

36. Christie – Hercule Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles

“He talked a lot about the little gray cells of the brain, and of their functions. His own, he says, are of the first quality.”

Poirot, as many accounts state, may be the only fictional character to get an obituary in the New York Times. He began as a detective of the Holmes-bent: he eventually alleviated the need for evidence almost altogether; he became the arch-rationalist of human motive and intent.

35. Satrapi – Marjane, Persepolis

“''Yes...But...When you run, your behind makes movements that are...How do you say...Obscene!''

''Well then don't look at my ass!''

I yelled so loudly they didn't even arrest me.”

Persepolis chronicles Marjane (the author) as she grows up, loses God, rebels (against her society) and revolts (politically). Part of Iran's initial liberal revolution her experiences are increasingly the template of Iran's urban, globally-connected, more savvy youth.

34. Lee – Boo Radley, To Kill a Mockingbird

“What Mr. Radley does is his own business. If he wanted to come out, he would.”

Scout is an amazing narrator, as anyone can relate to her. Atticus and Tom are tremendous heroes and moral guides. Boo might have been a literary McGuffin. But Lee succeeds in creating a mysterious figure who manages to reveal himself to the keenest readers.

33. Hemingway – Francis Macomber, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

“Francis Macomber was very tall, very well built if you did not mind that length of bone, dark, his hair cropped like an oarsman, rather thin-lipped, and was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records, and had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward.”

Hunting and war seem to be the premises that cowardly action is played out in most fiction. In Africa Macomber wants to bag a lion, but while he continues to try other forces in his life are unraveling as well. Despite his apparent advantages in life he cannot overcome these – with tragic results.

32. Graves – Claudius, I, Claudius

“My readers must not therefore be surprised by my practised style: it is indeed Claudius himself who is writing this book, and no mere secretary of his, and not one of those official annalists either, to whom public men are in the habit of communicating their recollections, in the hope that elegant writing will eke out meagreness of subject-matter and flattery soften vices. In the present work, I swear by all the Gods, I am my own mere secretary, and my own official annalist: I am writing with my own hand, and what favour can I hope to win from myself by flattery?”

And so Claudius introduces himself. An unremarkable Roman emperor, Graves manages to create a diarist, or annalist, whose observations reveal much about his own mind – defensive in response to his lame body and stuttering speech – which is sharper than those around him.

31. Abbey – George Hayduke, The Monkey Wrench Gang

“Time is relative, said Heraclitus a long time ago, and distance a function of velocity. Since the ultimate goal of transport technology is the annihilation of space, the compression of all Being into one pure point, it follows that six-packs help. Speed is the ultimate drug and rockets run on alcohol. Hayduke had formulated this theory all by himself.”

Hayduke had been a green beret in Vietnam, and readjusts back home by becoming an eco-terrorist. In an earlier era you can picture him just as gleefully terrorizing the West. But Abbey does not create a larger-than-life caricature: Hayduke consistently is only too human.

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