Wednesday, July 6, 2011

50 Characters Who've Stuck With Me: Part Three

30. Camus – Dr. Rieux, The Plague

“He knew quite well that it was plague and, needless to say, he also knew that, were this to be officially admitted, the authorities would be compelled to take very drastic steps. This was, of course, the explanation of his colleagues' reluctance to face the facts.”

Rieux emerges, gradually, as the center of Camus' best work. In a small town beset by plague, his wife outside of the city with her own recovery on his mind, he goes about the work of saving lives. He is stoical, but in a particularly French existential way. Which is not a bad thing.

29. Stoker – Count Dracula, Dracula

“"You think to baffle me, you with your pale faces all in a row, like sheep in a butcher's. You shall be sorry yet, each one of you! You think you have left me without a place to rest, but I have more. My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side. Your girls that you all love are mine already. And through them you and others shall yet be mine, my creatures, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed. Bah!"”

Dracula is a fairly chilling character. He is intelligent, but in a cunning, destructive, way. His immense powers are diverse, but he understands his weaknesses: so much so that he applies himself fully to ensuring his plans will not fail. The reader anxiously reads on to see if his cares pay off.

28. Dickens – Ebeneezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol

“''You will be haunted,'' resumed the Ghost, ''by Three Spirits.''

Scrooge’s countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost’s had done.

''Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?'' he demanded, in a faltering voice.

''It is.''

''I—I think I’d rather not,'' said Scrooge.”

Scrooge approaches his reform like many of us, in the classic Augustinian tradition – "make me a saint, but not yet." Using his wit as a shield he tries to parry the extraordinary sights and happenings throughout the classic, but in the end is overwhelmed with sincerity.

27. Kerouac – Dean Moriarty, On the Road

“It was drizzling and mysterious at the beginning of our journey. I could see that it was all going to be one big saga of the mist. 'Whooee!' yelled Dean. 'Here we go!' And he hunched over the wheel and gunned her; he was back in his element, everybody could see that.”

The embodiment of recklessness, Dean is the kind of guy who thinks freedom is “a full tank of gas and an unlimited credit card”. He and his group ended up being a generational inspiration: a new adventurer for postwar adults.

26. Tolkien – Gandalf, The Lord of the Rings

“You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow. You shall not pass!”

Before Gandalf the sorcerer was Merlin. Arguably, Gandalf is now seen as the quintessential wizard. His age, his knowledge, and his abilities keep us captivated throughout. Tolkien clearly depicts him as the linchpin for the fellowship, the most respected and appreciated of all the epic's characters.

25. Ware – Jimmy Corrigan, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth

“''W-who was that on your answering machine this morning?''”

Like others on this list Jimmy sticks with you in an unpleasant way. A man entering middle age he cannot navigate life successfully. His mind isn't childish, though, which is disturbing. He'd be easier to accept, as a character, if he was easily classifiable as 'feeble-minded'. We are provoked since he isn't.

24. Proust – The Narrator, Swann's Way

“I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?”

He goes on to define it in nine volumes of recollection.

23. Steinbeck – Lennie Small, Of Mice and Men

“Lennie covered his face with huge paws and bleated with terror.”

The man with the child's mind, Lennie is a deeply sympathetic and tragic character. Steinbeck's laborers are all portrayed with pathos, but Lennie is not being overwhelmed by historical forces – his personal struggles are of his own actions and grasping to do the right thing.

22. Shelly – The Monster, Frankenstein

“''I felt emotions of gentleness and pleasure, that had long appeared dead, revive within me. Half surprised by the novelty of these sensations, I allowed myself to be borne away by them, and forgetting my solitude and deformity, dared to be happy."”

Compare the above recollections, when the Monster engages his creator with the story of his flight and persecution, to that of Boris Karloff's portrayal, later inspiration for Lurch. Abandoned by his creator his struggles have us thinking his nobility is greater than that of Frankenstein's selfish obsessions and loathing for the life he has made.

21. Conrad – Kurtz, Heart of Darkness

“''Oh, but I will wring your heart yet!'' he cried at the invisible wilderness.”

Not Kurtz's most famous line, but emblematic of his peculiar relation to the wilderness. Achebe has condemned Conrad's work for its blatantly racist depictions of Africans; but the psychological aspect of Kurtz and our protagonist is the reason for its classic status. Kurtz doesn't so much stick with, as haunt us.

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