05 May 2010

My Ten Favorite Literary Heroes (and Heroines)

Last week, I gave you my favorite bad guys. This week, I balance the equation out by listing my favorite good guys (and gals.) This is slightly skewed by the fact that I have forbidden myself to use any of the heroes in books I listed last time. Hence, some of my favorites are missing here, but that's not what's important. What is important is I am listing some of my favorite protagonists at an ungodly hour of the night (but not posting them until a more suitable hour) for your reading/comparison pleasure.

1. Hamlet (William Shakespeare's Hamlet): Okay, I know Hamlet is one of the biggest basketcases in all of literature. And he's possibly insane. And he can be really mean. And he has "issues" galore. However, that's exactly why I love Hamlet. He is such a complex character, which is something that I always adore, and he is not easily understood. Yet he is also extremely sympathetic (no matter how far off the deep end he is acting), brainy, philosophical, and most witty.

2. Beowulf (author unknown Beowulf): Last week, Scott mentioned Grendel as a worthy villain. Indeed! I almost put Grendel on my villain list, but he was ejected for Roger (Sadistic rock throwing Roger. Not creepy Puritan physician Roger.) That was a tough decision, but Grendel gets mentioned here in this very sentence, so that sort of evens out. (Do not argue with me. It most certainly evens out.) Beowulf is one of my favorites because he embodies the chivalric code of honor. And he kicks monster butt! And he probably has really cool armor. And he is pretty good with passive-aggressive insults, too. A man of both the sword . . . and the sharp tongue.

3. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre): I just adore Jane so much! She may not be pretty, but lovely heroines are sooooooooo overrated, anyway. (And so very boring, in my opinion.) Jane more than compensates with her smarts, her convictions, and her spunk. I am a sucker for literary orphans and Jane has long been one of my favorites. You go, girl!

4. any Jane Austen heroine (with the exception of Emma. God, how I hate her, though I still adore the book): I like Jane Austen's female characters, especially clever Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), long-suffering Fanny Price (Mansfield Park), and naive Catherine Morland (Northanger Abbey), because they are so three dimensional. Austen could portray her heroines as one dimensional period props, but, instead, she imbues her characters with a great amount of individuality, intelligence, and charm. Yay for Jane! I will add that her heroes, especially George Knightley (Emma), Frederick Wentworth (Persuasion) and that fellow named Darcy, are all nicely crafted and sympathetic in their own right.

5. Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby): I know that Gatsby is sort of a shifty character with a shady past and a penchant for dishonesty, but in spite of all of his, erm, well, flaws, I found Gatsby one of the most compelling characters I have ever encountered. In the end, Gatsby does have his own somewhat skewed nobility and I found his complete determination to succeed and his devotion for that utterly worthless Daisy (who I will not call vile names on this blog. I promise I won't. I can't promise I won't refrain mentally, but I'll behave here.) very touching.

6. Anne Shirley (Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables): Another one of literature's orphans whom I just cannot help adoring. I love Anne because she reminds me a lot of myself when I was her age (Same social awkwardness. Same nerdiness. Same temper. Same orneriness.) but without some of my more insidious traits. (She's more forgiving than I am and less cynical and more upbeat.) What I love most about Anne, though, is her spunk. No matter what comes her way, she's up for the challenge. Anne's intelligence and courage definitely qualify her for the hero/heroine list.

7. Atticus Finch (Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird): Finch is the perfect Southern gentleman: kind, wise, honest, and noble. Though I adore him for those reasons alone, that's not why I admire him so much. His courage in refusing to go along with popular opinion to do what is right makes him one of the few characters I can say I honestly admire. He also utters one of my absolute favorite quotes: "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience." Well said, Atticus.

8. Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories and novellas): I love mysteries and have many favorite detectives (I may do a list one day), but in my mind, my absolute favorite detective will always be Sherlock Holmes. Yes, Sherlock may snort cocaine and hate women, but he is still the epitome of Victorian gentleman and his ingenious detection methods are a delight to read. Sherlock is crafty, clever, courageous, and collected. Bonus points for his acerbic British sense of humor.

9. Moist Von Lipwig (Terry Pratchett's Discworld series): What do you mean I can't use a con artist on my hero list? It's my list! I can do what I want! *pouts and stomps feet* Moist may be many things that are not, ahem, reputable, but he's also witty and crafty and delightfully bad (in a good antihero type way.) Moist may be the cagiest con man on Discworld, but underneath his roguish exterior lies an essentially good heart. You just have to look long and hard for it.

10. Matilda (Roald Dahl's Matilda): What is there not to love about Matilda? She's smart and sweet and precocious. And she can control chalk with her mind and engage in a truly strategic round of psychological warfare when pressed into it. Gentle Matilda is not to be under-estimated, yet she always has my sympathy. And, oh yes, she loves to read. What further qualification does she need?

I noticed last week that most of my favorite villains were psychological menaces. Likewise, I have noticed that my favorite heroes are often intelligent, snarky, and deeply flawed but still essentially honorable. I find this psychologically interesting. :D

Who are your favorites?

Next Week: I'll be free from school! So maybe Yann Martel's new book Beatrice and Virgil. Or John Gardner's Grendel.


  1. I completely know what you mean about Hamlet. xD

    My favorites are:
    Malcolm from Macbeth- so what if he only has about five full pages of dialog in the whole book. But he's clever, witty, and the perfect prince. I mean, just look at his conversation with MacDuff. Well played Malcolm, well played. :D

    Miss Marple- you can't read Agatha Christie and not adore that sweet old lady. Such spunk.

    Harry Potter- Because he's awesome. Sure, he grew up through the books. At times he could be an impulsive, angsty, frusterated, guy with a saving people complex. But he's still awesome.

    Artemis Fowl- Don't judge me; so it's not the most perfect work of literature ever written, but I enjoy the writing style (Irish humor anyone?) and it definitely took some creativity.
    Artemis starts off as a little brat- a compelling, ingenious little brat. He grows on you. Fast. :D

  2. I despise Emma. I may be betraying one of my favorite authors, but she is just so spoiled and naive I couldn't stand her. But, *gasp* how does Lizzy not get her own category? SHE totally kicks butt. And does refined sarcsm very well xD

    There was always something sort of...off...about The Great Gatsby to me. I didn't hate it, there was just a particular feeling I got from the book that I can't quite describe...and this probably isn't making any sense.

    Anne, completely. I was in love with the series when I first read it, and I agree, I could relate to a lot of her characteristics (forgiving and optimistic, not so much).

    It had slipped my mind that Sherlock did crack...but I read Hound of the Baskervilles and got hooked on all of the books with him in it. The humor and suspense was always great.

    Atticus Finch = ultimate literary hero. (Scout, too, is pretty awesome) He was so clever and had fantastic ideas about life.

    East of Eden's Cal was one of my favorite heros; he was the most relatable and human, and you wanted him to win even though he did some bad things.

    And I agree with Feathery on the Harry Potter one; I liked how his flaws made him human. And I thought it was kinda brave to make a character angsty and a saving-people-complex, but it worked and he's pretty 3-dimensional.

    Artemis Fowl: Awesome. Teenage genius, what not to like?

    Is it wrong to say that a pig is one of my favorite heros? Because I rather liked Animal Farm. Portia in The Merchant of Venice is really clever also, as well as the narrator in Something Happened. The narrator in Death in Venice was honestly a tad disturbing...

    Ookay, I shall stop with my comment novel now...your posts bring out my literary nerd side...(in the best possible way xD)

  3. Yes on Beowulf, yes on Matilda, and YES ON MOIST VON LIPWIG! Woohoo! Great list, Zella. :D
    Another three are;
    Hari Seldon (yes, I'm taking another one from Foundation)--I love hero-geniuses that aren't too caught up in their work to be of no use in fighting the villain. And Hari is not. He's a genius, he literally saves the galaxy from twenty thousand years of the sci-fi equivalent of the Dark Ages. But he also knows a really awesome martial art, and uses it even when he's an old man. :D
    Ged from the Earthsea series by Ursula K. LeGuin. Awesome MC. A little quiet, but he always surprises you and he has so many sides! A soft side, a compassionate side, a tough side, an angry side...you never quite know what he's going to do, but you know he's going to do something unexpected.
    Phineas/Finny, from A Separate Peace. I know he's not really an MC, but the dude is just one of my favorite characters of any novel. And he is a hero, really. He just comes off the page. It's awesome.

  4. @Rebel: I think I know what you mean about Gatsby. I thought the characters were brilliant, and the story was certainly original...but I got the feeling something was "off", there's no other way to describe it. I mean, aside from the fact Gatsby was perhaps a liiiitle crazy from chasing *horrid word* Daisy for so long. The whole book just had this aura over it that aws sort of...but maybe this isn't what you meant at all, and I'm just crazy. xD

    And Scott, you've just made my summer reading list even longer. :D

  5. @Feathers: No, you're exactly right. I can't quite explain it; it was just an odd feeling I got from the book. Brilliant and all, but strange. I mean, the setting seemed realistic and the characters interested, but there's a sort of unreality about the whole thing...and *something* else. It's driven me crazy ever since I first read it.

  6. I am Anne Shirley!! At least as I child I was told that by several of my teachers. The whole wild imagination thing.

    I love your list. I don't think I can come up with a favourite literary hero, I love a lot of them. My least favourite hero's are probably James Adams from the Cherub series (he's a prick) and Tally Youngblood from the Pretties series (in my mind she's a slut).

    If I come up with some fave's I'll be back.

  7. Feathers, You're a fellow Agatha Christie fan? Yayayayay! I love Miss Marple, too! Have you read her first book--Murder at the Vicarage? One of my favorite Christies ever! We'll need to compare notes on favorite Agatha books! *dances with nerd joy* I have wanted to read Artemis Fowl for some time. What's this about Irish humor? I am all for it! Thanks for the recommendation!

    Rebel: A fellow Emma hater! I adore Jane Austen novels, too, but I found that character intolerable. You know . . . it's been awhile since I read The Great Gatsby, but that book *is* strange in a hard way to describe. I may need to reread it this summer to figure out why! I really need to read East of Eden. Everything you tell me about it is so good! It is on the summer reading list. :)

    Scott: *slaps self* How could I forget Finny? I adored him so much! He's just so carefree and fun. He is certainly one of the most real characters I've ever read about. I really need to read Foundations. You have me intrigued! What is the Earthsea series about? Is it good? :)

    Penguins: Yay for fellow Anne twins! Vivid imaginations are always the best. LOL I love your analysis for the least favorite ones. I wanted to use similar descriptions for Daisy. (Oh, how I hate her.) I can't wait to read some of your picks! :)

    Thanks to all of you for commenting and for the great book recommendations! :D

  8. Eeep! I forgot to add: Rebel, I love Animal Farm, too! Did you see my review for it back in February (or maybe March)?. It's just so funny and profound and disturbing all at once. Have you read 1984, too? I love that one, but Animal Farm is still my favorite Orwell classic. :D

  9. @Rebel: That's exactly how I feel about The Great Gatsby, I'm glad it's not just me. ^_^
    I've started to think the unreality and "off-ness" of the situation is partially caused by the fact that the characters are so absolutely wrapped up in themselves. But that can't be the whole thing.
    Oh goodness, I'm suddenly inspired to write a science fiction novel centered on the Great Gatsby, just to explain the eeriness. xD

    @Zella: Oh yes, I absolutely LOVE Agatha Christie! I haven't read all her works yet, but I've read a great deal of them. Twelve Little Indians was my favorite. And yes, Artemis Fowl is that clever, understated Irish humor that I adore. Some of the books are better than others though. I've read the first three and the last one twice each, the were the best.

  10. Feathery! I love Agatha, too. In fact, my very first blog post here was a list of my favorite Christies. I think I've read about thirty, but that's less than half. I have some reading to do! I love that one, too! Have you read The Murder of Roger Ackryod? It's brilliant. :D

    I'll definitely look into Artemis Fowl. Irish humor is great. Thanks so much for the recommendation! :D

  11. I love Beowulf, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes, and Matilda. I think I read every Sherlock Holmes story in existence when I was younger, and I made a reading list in 6th grade based on the books Matilda read at her library. And i adore Jane Austen heroines (and heros: I want a Knightley or Wentworth of my own!) I'm currently finishing Mansfield Park, the last Austen novel I haven't read. I have to disagree with you on Emma. I love and hate her. She is foolish and annoying, but I see a lot of my flaws (magnified) in her, and I like that she undergoes a character change by the end of the novel--I love dynamic characters. Plus, I just love her. I want to slap some sense into her sometimes, but I love her all the same :)
    I have to second the Artemis Fowl recommendation. It's juvenile fiction, and it isn't perfect by any means, but they make a relaxing and fun read. Plus, the series gets better as it goes on (in my opinion). The first book is good, but the second is better, and I think they keep improving.

  12. Hehe Serena, you and I have so much in common, it's a little scary. Last winter, I did a binge where I read all of Sherlock's stories. And when I was little I did a Matilda-inspired reading list, too. Yay for kindred spirits! :D

    Hmm . . . I can see your point about Emma. She does undergo a change and that always makes a difference. Perhaps I should reread that one. I do remember that I just adored her hypochondriac father. :P

    Ooooh, I like seeing when more than one person recommends a book. I'll definitely try my best to try some Artemis Fowl novels. Thanks so much! :)

  13. I know! It is a little crazy. I think you're better than I was... even though I aspired to read Matilda's books, at the age of 11 I was more interested in Nancy Drew than The Red Pony.

    Although I love Emma, I can see why people would dislike her. I read somewhere that Jane Austen herself said about her "Now I'm going to write a book with a heroine that no one except myself will really like" (I don't remember where I read that, and it isn't an exact quote, but that's the gist of it.)

    I realize this is an extremely late reply... I always forget that Blogger doesn't notify me when someone else comments after I do!