It’s Hard Being Indifferent to Characters This Different

Literature is filled with memorable characters, but which are the most original?

There are probably almost as many answers to that question as there are readers, so I’ll give you some of my picks and then ask for yours.

By original, I mean characters who have a rare set of skills, or possess an unusual combination of personality traits, or have done amazing things, or are unusually good, or are unusually evil, etc. They’re so original that it’s hard to find similar protagonists in literature, and so original that it’s difficult to find real-life people like them.

Given that I just finished reading Stieg Larsson’s riveting “Millennium Trilogy,” I’ll start by naming Lisbeth Salander — whose one-of-a-kind nature especially blazes forth in book two: The Girl Who Played With Fire. The 20-something Salander is under five feet tall and weighs less than 100 pounds, yet she can take care of herself against much larger bad guys — fueled by rage against all the wrongs done to her by men in high places. She’s antisocial, stoic, resourceful, a brilliant computer hacker, and more. Original enough?

Another 21st-century novel, Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, features a North Korean character whose name is reminiscent of the generic “John Doe.” But Jun Do has a non-generic set of abilities. He’s a kidnapper (involuntarily), a radio operator, a learner of English, a hard worker on the lower rungs of society, and a survivor extraordinaire as he deals with physical and mental pain and deprivation. Then, to top it off, he audaciously manages to become a bigwig under a different name in an already existing family — and even gets his “wife” to watch…Casablanca!

Despite his part-African ancestry, French author Alexandre Dumas rarely featured black characters in his novels. One exception is the titular hero of Georges, which in some ways is a precursor book to The Count of Monte Cristo. The multidimensional Georges is cultured, educated, and has many hobbies and skills. His skin color allows him to pass as white, but he’s so outraged by racial injustice that he becomes a fierce military man leading a revolt against slavery on what’s now the island of Mauritius.

(As an aside, there are many similarities between The Count of Monte Cristo‘s Edmond Dantes and Lisbeth Salander. Both are falsely accused, both become rich, both are out for revenge, and both are very capable of exacting that revenge.)

Another 19th-century novelist, Jane Austen, gives us the impressive Anne Elliot in Persuasion. Anne is kind, smart, mature, cool in a crisis, adept at dealing with a difficult father and difficult siblings, and in love with a man — Frederick Wentworth — who’s self-made rather than born rich. While sad and frustrated for many years about her thwarted relationship with Wentworth, Anne doesn’t give in to despair despite being “old” (27) for an unmarried woman of her time.

Darryl Brock’s If I Never Get Back stars Sam Fowler, a 20th-century man thrust back in time to 1869 — where he joins the legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings. Sam is only so-so at baseball, but he has some boxing ability and lots of entrepreneurial instincts — even “inventing” the ballpark hot dog! And when he gets sick of America’s crappy 19th-century cuisine, he visits a Chinese neighborhood to pay a random resident to cook him some decent food. Sam also falls in love with the widowed sister of one of his Red Stockings teammates, and gets involved in major intrigue after meeting Mark Twain.

A few other nearly unique characters: Mattie Ross, the religious, fearless, stunningly mature 14-year-old who seeks to avenge her father’s death in Charles Portis’ True Grit; Wolf Larsen, the sadistic, handsome, and immensely strong ship captain who’s brilliant but not quite brilliant enough in Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf; and Cathy Trask, the amoral psychopath in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

Also: Charles Strickland, the selfish, people-hating stockbroker who makes an astonishing career change to become a legendary painter in W. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence; Dinah Morris, a very rare female preacher for her time (18th-century England) in George Eliot’s Adam Bede; and Reggie Love, the brainy, brave, compassionate woman who rises above an abusive marriage and alcoholism to become a crack attorney in John Grisham’s The Client.

Also: Owen Meany, the small boy with a high-pitched voice and lots of smarts who predicts his own unusual destiny in John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany; Oscar Wao, the nerdy Dominican-American who’s into stuff like cartoons and sci-fi before things get scarily serious in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; and Ignatius J. Reilly, the slobby, delusional, neurotic, narcissistic, modernity-disdaining “wise fool” in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.

Who are some fictional characters you’ve found to be very original, and what makes them so different?

Thanks to everyone in 2014 who read my weekly blog posts, and left comments about literature and other topics! Those comments were wonderfully knowledgeable and friendly (and often humorous). This blog started on July 14, 2014, and by the end of the day on Dec. 31 there were 4,200 comments and 13,690 views from 85 countries during those five-and-a-half months.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else. Also, please feel free to read through comments and reply to anyone you want; I love not only being in conversations, but also reading conversations in which I’m not involved!)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here. I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

204 thoughts on “It’s Hard Being Indifferent to Characters This Different

  1. Even seemingly unique characters may be inspired by characters in previous literature, myths, legends, etc. I am just not knowledgeable enough to know about authors’ sources of inspiration.

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  2. The horribly deformed and deaf Quasimodo from Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was a very unusual protagonist especially at the time when the novel was published.

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  3. I only read an abridged version of Jack London’s “White Fang” when I was in my early teens. I don’t remember much of the plot but the wolf dog protagonist was definitely unique. It is seldom that an animal is the protagonist in a novel where it is not treated anthropomorphically.

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  4. I suppose that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre would be considered a rather original character back in 1847 when the novel was published. A heroine in a love story who was physically plain and outspoken would probably be considered somewhat of a novelty back then.

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  5. In more or less realistic fiction, Diggory Venn the reddleman in Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” is a rather unique character, his skin and clothes were stained red due to the red dye that he sold. However, he is a supporting character in the novel and is not as three dimensional as the two protagonists.

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  6. Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Doctor Jekyll/Mr. Hyde was quite original when the novella was first published in 1886. However this character with a dual personality has become a part of popular culture and is overly familiar so that its uniqueness has been lost.

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    • Thank you, Tony! Great point that what was original long ago doesn’t seem as original now after many imitations followed. The same can be said for, say, detective stories, which were kind of groundbreaking when Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle did them but now are a dime a dozen — though some more recent ones are of course quite good.


  7. Rima the bird girl who wears a dress spun by spiders in W. H. Hudson’s “Green Mansions” is a rather original character. She symbolizes nature in the South American rain forest in this fantasy adventure novel which has a emphasis on ecology.

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    • Rima is more a symbol than a well developed three dimensional character in “Green Mansions” but the concept behind this character was rather interesting. Hudson was a naturalist who was at his best writing about the flora and fauna of South America rather than characters, dialogue, etc.

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      • Thanks for that information, Tony. Symbolic characters can be interesting, even with the lack of three-dimensionality. And it sounds like the author knew his strength amid his writing weaknesses.


  8. I find that the most original literary characters are found in fantasies rather than in realistic fiction. The most unique character that I can think of is the Cheshire Cat from “Alice in Wonderland”. I can’t think of a similar character even in myths or fairy tales.

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    • Thank you, Tony! Nice Cheshire Cat mention!

      Very true that there are many very original characters in fantasy. I guess that genre can give authors the “license” to let their imaginations run wild in creating their fictional casts. One obvious example would be the characters in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”


  9. Two of my most memorable characters are from John Cheever’s short story “The Cathedral.” The narrator, who is completely shut off from his emotions and society by binge eating, smoking, doing drugs, etc ,meets his wife’s friend a blind man, who stays overnight in their home. Robert, the blind man, is so amiable and good matured that he is able to draw out the emotions of the narrator and they both learn so much about themselves, from each other, while drawing a cathedral that the narrator views and describes to Robert.

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    • Those characters — and that short story — sound VERY memorable, Eric! Terrific summary. I’ve never read John Cheever; I will do so as soon as I get a chance, and will look for that story first.


      • Actually, “Cathedral” is a short story by Raymond Carver, another excellent short story writer. John Cheever wrote tons of stories for the New Yorker over the years and is in my opinion the 20th century master of the form. I’d recommend in particular “Goodbye My Brother” and “The Swimmer” (expanded into a film with Burt Lancaster). The collection ‘The Stories of John Cheever’ (with a big bright red cover) is a great place to start with him. ‘The Collected Stories of Raymond Carver’ is a good place to start with him. Carver was a generation or so later than Cheever but very influential to the trend in fiction in the 80’s.

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        • Thanks, bobess48! I read a Raymond Carver collection many years ago, and his stories are offbeat and very interesting. (I’m thinking “The Cathedral” wasn’t in that collection, because I don’t remember it.)

          When I look for a John Cheever collection in the library, I’ll search for one with the two stories you named. (With that red cover, I assume?) I remember you mentioning “The Swimmer” before; it sounds like a very original, memorable tale.


          • Yes, both of those stories and dozens of other excellent ones are in that collection. I believe it won the Pulitzer Prize that year. Cheever received a lot of well-deserved recognition in the wake of that collection over the last three or four years of his life after years of battling alcoholism, plus the fact that he was a very closeted gay man. He died in 1982 I believe?

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            • Thanks, bobess48!

              Sounds like Cheever had a very interesting life, for better or for worse. And it’s relatively rare when a short-story collection wins the Pulitzer — among those honored collections being Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge” (stories grouped almost into novel form) and Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies.”


              • Another memorable character was the incorrigible, Sammy, from A&P by John Updike. I am sure it was Updike, this time. Who at some point in their life, did not think that a job was beneath them or we had contempt for doing something in which we felt was beneath us and “made fun of” the people around us, only to realize that if we carry this behavior forward in life, that life will be “hard.”

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                • Thanks, Eric, for the excellent and interesting addition to this discussion!

                  I shop each week at A&P but am woefully remiss in reading anything by John Updike. Yet I saw him speak once at a National Cartoonists Society event I was covering; he was there to receive an award for having done some cartooning before becoming an author.


        • Even in class, I get them mixed up after reading both of their biographies. The hard-drinking lifestyle of writers was just so entertaining. I even got them mixed up in class today.

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  11. I’ll chime in first with my current mania: the amazing Lee Child’s amazing Jack Reacher, capable drifter. He’s a former major US Army with the MPs, holder of shooting awards, 6’5″ tall and supremely winning in hand to hand combat, who also has a mind fascinated by numbers and history, and righteous inclinations to summary justice. No credit cards, no ID beyond a bank card, no debts, no job, no house, no plans. He wears a set of new cheap clothing for three days, then buys new– no laundry. He does always have a toothbrush in his pocket.

    Surprised nobody mentioned Gregor Samsa, so I fixed it. Right here.

    Here are two outliers, comparatively:

    Edmond Du Chaillu, chief character in Jean Dutourd’s A Dog’s Head, who is, according to the book’s liner notes, “a boy born, to the horror of his bourgeois parents, with the head of a spaniel.” For a time, he suffers human love and aspires beyond his fate, but eventually, inevitably, he goes to the dogs.

    Sharik, the chief character in Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog– who is transformed, scientifically, surgically, from a mongrel to an Engels-reading city official who gets a job in the purge section– purging the city of cats. His upstart political denunciation of the miracle doctor who thus transformed him results in a final operation, in which dog is made to revert to dog.

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    • Hi, jhNY! Interesting that you should mention Jack Reacher, because last night I finished reading my first Reacher novel: “61 Hours.” That Lee Child-created drifter IS a fascinating character — a loner, terse, (mostly) fearless, etc. You described him VERY well. (And the bitterly cold South Dakota weather in “61 Hours” is almost a character in itself!)

      Speaking of terse, I loved your brief/wry mention of Gregor Samsa from Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” About as “one of a kind” as a human/insect-like creature can be. 🙂

      Thanks, also, for the excellent summaries of those two other characters!


      • That Reacher just won’t let me be! In attempting to read Henry James, he has inserted himself between me and my best intentions four times in the last few weeks. I am still plugging away, though fitfully, on The Wings of the Dove– funny how much I live so much the WAY the man puts things, and find myself caring so little for his choice of subjects and concerns.

        As to those dog-human characters– the two books live side by side here on a shelf. I am ready, whenever I learn of another part-dog, part-man character, to add its tome to the line-up. Talk about a niche!

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        • I know what you mean, jhNY. Books like the Reacher novels are very addicting. After reading “61 Hours” and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy in recent weeks, I will get at least a couple 19th-century novels out of the library soon — perhaps one of them by that Henry James guy you mentioned. 🙂 James’ novels are rarely page-turners, as you know, but they can be quite rewarding, as you also know.

          LOL re that part dog-part man niche!!! Why couldn’t Albert Payson Terhune have written “Lad: a Dog-Man”?


            • You’re welcome– I see that you have a chance to bring some discipline to your appreciation of the series. Me, nowadays, whenever I see a Reacher, I’m a reader ASAP. The airport in Nashville proved my undoing– about a dozen titles, all in their very own section of the store! I limited my purchases to a mere 4: 2 first trip, a month later, 2 more….

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              • Well, the way “61 Hours” ended with Jack Reacher’s fate undetermined means I have to read at least one more of those novels… 🙂 (But I’m sure I’ll read several!)

                Nashville’s airport sounds like Mecca for Lee Child fans!


                • Nashville’s airport is a site of miracles. I met a man and his falcon there, trip before last. Their job: keeping down the sparrow population inside the terminal. Amazing, yet not so amazing as:

                  Trip before that, my flight bumped repeatedly forward in time, I eventually weakened and bought food– in my nihilistic desperation, hardly caring whether I lived or died– barbecue. Yes, I bought and consumed and even thoroughly enjoyed airport barbecue, without incident or upset. Now that’s a miracle!

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                  • Wow! An airport falcon and excellent airport barbecue!

                    Before I stopped eating meat, I think the best barbecue I ever had was in Austin, Texas — but nowhere near the airport. 🙂


                    • I was a vegetarian from time to time, till 9-11. I determined we had truly entered the Age of Kali, and altered my diet accordingly.

                      But I am liable to return to my meatless ways ere long. It was lovely to walk in a field with cows knowing they couldn’t smell any of their friends on my breath.

                      Finding good barbecue in Austin is unsurprising, as compared to my airport setting. Born in NC, I prefer Carolina style to the TX variety. De gustibus, etc.

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                    • Somehow I left off my jhNY before posting– the result being that I too have now sent in something as by Anonymous– and I ain’t that guy.

                      Interestingly, a little, that my usual graphic design showed up, ‘Anonymous’ though I was categorized.

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                    • “It was lovely to walk in a field with cows knowing they couldn’t smell any of their friends on my breath” — love that line, jhNY!

                      Yes, Austin has many great barbecue places, so it was indeed no surprise to find one. Pretty darn good music scene, too.

                      I’m not sure of the exact terms, but I understand some restaurants/regions specialize in “dry” barbecue and some in “wet” barbecue. Is that the Texas vs. Carolina difference?


                    • jhNY, as I’ve told others, I’ve also sometimes accidentally logged in as “Anonymous.” Not sure how or why it happens. As Dave Barry might say, “‘Anonymous’ would be a great name for a rock band!” 🙂


          • Lad:A Dog–

            seems as if this title could be perfect as-is, as an addition to my collection of dog-man tomes! The part before the colon works, and the part after.

            Wouldn’t need to change a thing about the original– except the contents.

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      • Ironic, given how many I’ve read, that you managed to find one of the few in the Reacher series I haven’t. But I will. Of this I am certain– barring fatality.

        Child is good with weather. Echo Burning, happening in TX, is a fine place to find descriptions of the heat there.

        Child is a man with a plan, having mapped out his character and his own place among crime thriller writers like a general in charge of an offensive. He even chose his last name because of where it would fit on a bookstore shelf: between Chandler and Christie.

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        • That IS ironic, jhNY! “61 Hours” was one of the Reacher books recommended by the three people who suggested I try Lee Child; obviously, you weren’t one of the three to mention that specific title. 🙂 “61 Hours” is well worth reading, as I assume all the Reacher novels are.

          Child indeed excels at describing weather. I could practically feel the South Dakota cold as I read “61 Hours” — aided by the winter draft coming through my apartment windows!

          From reading your great last paragraph, I’m impressed with how methodical and organized Child is. Brilliant stroke to make sure he got his name between those other two “Ch” authors with a “bit” of fame.


          • He describes his tactical approach to writing what he writes in “Killing Floor”, his first in the series, should you wish to read another– I’d recommend it for that intro alone, just so you can see how he mapped out his campaign to win over a passel of readers in the genre. It worked awfully well; he won prizes from the beginning, and more importantly, quite the fanbase. More such stuff is available at his website.

            Also, unlike so many compensators in fiction writing, Child is good-looking and 6’4″. The apple of his writer’s eye didn’t fall far from the tree.

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            • I had looked for “Killing Floor” in my local library — figuring it was logical to start Jack Reacher’s adventures from the beginning — but it wasn’t among the 10 or so Lee Child books there. It WOULD be interesting to read that intro.

              Yes, the Child photo on the jacket of “61 Hours” does remind one of Reacher himself.

              That would be an intriguing column: writers who were/are “good-looking” (which of course is very subjective). Some that come to mind, off the top of my head, include (especially in their younger years) Melville, Hawthorne, Colette, Daphne du Maurier, Alice Walker, Zadie Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri, Khaled Hosseini, John Irving, Jonathan Franzen, etc.


              • Antonin Artaud,poet and theater theorist, was remarkably handsome, and can be seen in The Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent picture directed by Karl Dreyer (of Vampyr fame)– itself a haunting, ‘must-see’ piece of cinema. He’d have to top my off-the-top-of-my-head list, then Byron, then Hemingway, then Hammett. William Hazlitt, in the little drawing with which I am familiar, is also somewhat of a looker. Simone De Beauvoir– lovely. Also Virginia Wolff.

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    • Nice jhNY, Bulgakov’s Woland/Satan from his remarkable Master and Margarita novel had occurred to me which in turn reminded me of Dostoyevsky’s famous remark “we all came from under Gogol’s Overcoat” I think Kafka and much other fantastical literature was made accessible to modern readers because of their familiarity with works like The Nose and Dead Souls.

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      • Love that quote! Makes me want to dig out Gogol from my tottering hoard again, as he always delivers….

        I think you’re on to something here; I also think such lit also crawled out from under ETA Hoffmann’s coat earlier, and that it traveled very well, having even earlier come to light from under the coats of Horace Walpole and Matthew Gregory Lewis, the fellow who wrote “The Monk”. But that’s a different thing,in that I am tracing a lineage through writers, and you are pointing out how such writings were taken up by modern readers.

        Haven’t read the Bulgakov title you cite– will do, next chance I get.

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  12. Dave, I think the most unique character I keep recalling is Christopher Snow from Dean Koontz’s “Moonlight Bay” series. His genetic disorder creates for a very interesting person in how Snow handles himself. If I recall you were looking to read the two books published so far, but I don’t know if you got the chance.

    Other memorable characters show up all the time, I don’t think I’ll ever forget Margaret Atwood’s Offred, or Aragorn from “The Lord of The Rings.”

    I suppose a entirely different category could be forgotten influences. About characters who made far more famous ones who they are.

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    • Thanks for the excellent comment, GL!

      I did read Dean Koontz’s “Seize the Night,” which I believe was the second book in that series. I thought it was excellent, and Christopher Snow is indeed a very different protagonist. There are some nicely original secondary characters in that novel, too.

      Offred of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is also quite original, as are other Margaret Atwood characters such as the “femme fatale” Zena in “The Robber Bride” and the overreaching Crake in “Oryx and Crake.”

      And “The Lord of the Rings” is packed with singular characters: Aragorn (as you wisely note), Frodo, Samwise, Gollum, etc.

      A forgotten-influences post. Interesting! 🙂


      • Well we know about Poe’s character Dupin being the start of detective fiction, but its not a well know thing. There is also in the comic world, Flash Gordon, who is the base influence in the way all comic books are drawn and the way stories are plotted out. He even influenced Superman due to the latter being published years later.

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        • Very true about Dupin, GL! “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and other stories he starred in came decades before Wilkie Collins’ “The Moonstone,” Sherlock Holmes, etc. Poe was also pretty early on in the time-travel genre, with “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains.”

          I didn’t know that about “Flash Gordon”! I used to cover the newspaper-comic world, but don’t know a lot about comic books. Lee Falk’s “The Phantom” syndicated comic strip was very seminal in the masked- or caped-superhero genre — also predating Superman, as well as Batman.


          • Yes, “The Phantom” and “Flash Gordon” strips ran in my local paper. It was a weekly one so we also got “Popeye.” “Flash Gordon” was the longest running comic strip when it finally ended in 2003, though I don’t think it holds that title anymore. Of course “Buck Rodgers” influenced the comic and both took inspiration from pulp novels like the “Barsoom” series and “War of the Worlds.”

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            • GL, it’s amazing how long some of those comic strips run, as they’re passed down from one cartoonist to another. The 1918-launched “Gasoline Alley,” for instance, will turn 97 this year.

              I think the current longest-running strip that’s still (at least partly) done by its original creator (Mort Walker) is the 1950-launched “Beetle Bailey.”

              Hadn’t thought of a comic having influences such as H.G. Wells. Interesting!


            • Love that early Buck Rogers strip, and have a reprint of several early years that came out in the ’70’s. Interestingly, Buck Rogers the strip grew out of an earlier pulp fiction prose creation, published in something like Amazing Tales…

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        • Poe’s Dupin character is A start, but not THE start of detective fiction, as I have repeatedly noted on this blog. See Madame Scuderi, by ETA Hoffmann, to learn more.

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            • Well said, GL.

              Another example of that is some people thinking “Don Quixote” was the first true novel. I’m not sure which book is the first true novel, but “The Tale of Genji” preceded Cervantes’ work by nearly 600 years.


              • First European novel, anyway, that Cervantes book… and in its way, given its impact on writers on that continent, the only ‘first’ novel one needs to trace the history of the novel in Europe.

                Which is not to say I don’t appreciate Genji, though I have not read it cover to cover. I have the old Arthur Whaley version, and a more modern one. The Whaley reads better, but the newer one is undoubtedly more accurate and entire.

                An interesting footnote–Lady Murasaki’s creation, and her subsequent fame in court, brought about, through envy and emulation, Lady Shonagan’s Pillow Book, a fascinating, gossipy collection of observations and incidents of contemporary court etiquette. So the world’s first novelist almost immediately had a rival of sorts.

                Sometimes envy and the sense that one might do what another has done, and just as well, if not better, makes for inspiration. Without this impulse, we may never have had Johnny Burnette, fellow truck driver at Crown Electric, Elvis’ old place of employment, make rock and roll. And without Burnette, no Paul Burlison, the guy who first figured out loose tubes can make for great amp distortion, without which, his guitar riff on their cover of “Train Kept A-Rolling” would have sounded weak, instead of wonderful. And without their version of “Train”, we have no idea what old chestnut Aerosmith might have later revived….

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                • jhNY, you could very well be right about “Don Quixote” being the first European novel, though one wonders if there were some semi-novelistic works in Europe before that.

                  I read an abridged version (about 300 small-print pages, if I’m remembering right) of “The Tale of Genji” about a year ago, and found it fairly novel-like in its structure — though the plot/narrative arc wasn’t super strong. But it did hold my interest.

                  I’ve heard of but haven’t read that “Pillow Book.” Interesting that a quasi-rival soon emerged! I wonder if “Don Quixote” quickly inspired some (lesser) rivals now lost to history.

                  You’re right — that competitive theory also applies to music. Nicely stated! As is of course BEYOND well known, the 1960s “British Invasion” owes a lot to American rock ‘n’ roll of the second half of the ’50s and the early ’60s, and of course rock was influenced by rhythm ‘n’ blues, and…blah, blah, blah — all stuff you know a lot better than I!


                  • Just realized, by re-reading your remark about the the British Invasion, that I’d left out The Yardbirds– who covered Train Kept A-Rolling after Johnny Burnette, and before Aerosmith. Also, that the original version by Tiny Bradshaw, sounds jaunty and peppy and not at all tough– and not much like rock and roll– making the Burnette arrangement the crucial jumping-off point for all subsequent ones.

                    I know there’s nearly nobody who would care to know this much about so little– but….

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                    • The Yardbirds! So influential, with some members who later joined other legendary bands.

                      Thanks, jhNY, for the interesting information! I’ve learned a lot about music reading what you have to say in various comments.


        • I have a pet theory: story boards for movies and comic strips grew up next to each other at around the same time, and are intimately related.
          Too late to qualify as as foundational, but at least one great director tried his hand at strips first: Fellini.

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          • Intriguing, jhNY. I hadn’t thought of that.

            In a related thing, some early movies were animated — such as the “Gertie the Dinosaur” short by newspaper cartoonist Winsor McCay (“Little Nemo in Slumberland”).


            • I think Mr. McCay gets credit for having made the first animated cartoon anywhere… a labor of love, but mostly, I’d think, a labor– every frame was drawn by hand, backgrounds, foregrounds– everything!

              I’ve seen Gertie and one other he made, and have looked over a few Sunday Nemos, which I love.

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              • Animation was indeed VERY labor-intensive back then.

                McCay’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland” drawing was spectacular — gorgeous and detailed, with exquisitely rendered dream sequences. The writing? So-so. But the art more than made up for it.


  13. Reading your excellent essay a host of extraordinary ,original characters occurred to me many of whom come up often on these pages . Solomon Gursky and I see below the great ,diminutive Oscar Matzereth from The Tin Drum has pooped up. As I view both novels as attempts to tell part of national history and mythology via the devices of a kind of magical realism I like to think of them in conjunction with each other and some of the great Latin American works that are better known under the heading Magical Realism. As you recently read and enjoyed Aunt Julia and the Writer I imagine the bizarre Florentino Ariza occurred to you . Pretty unique courtship of a childhood sweetheart considering he did it by single mindedly sleeping with more partners than any 5 of us lesser mortals put together. Still if you thing about it much of Literature involves grappling with the extremes in human nature. One of my favorite short novels ever and one that had the most impact in the actual world perhaps in the modern era would be One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The title character is a simple , common “everyman” in whom circumstance and a natural, grounded goodness produces one of the more remarkable hero’s I’ve ever encountered in a book. ironically a character who presumably never read a book in his life had his greatest effect on the world view of the higher intellectual class.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Solomon Gursky and several other characters in Mordecai Richler’s novel — definitely original!

      And I’m glad you brought up magical realism. Some VERY singular characters in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits,” etc. And of course, as you mentioned, Florentino Ariza in Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” — which has a lot less magical realism than “One Hundred Years of Solitude” but is immensely memorable in its more straightforward, fewer-characters way.

      Last but not least, Donny, thanks for the great thoughts on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”!


  14. Hi Dave, you pose an interesting question. I agree with you about some of the characters you mentioned, Jack London’s Wolf Larsen left a strong impression when I read the book years ago (went on a Jack London marathon in my early 20’s). I have not read “If I Never Get Back”, but your synopsis of it made me think of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” – the main character, Hank Morgan, also tried to introduce technology from his time. I thoroughly enjoyed that novel BTW, I am a Mark Twain fan.
    One character that I have never forgotten is the protagonist in Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther”. Even though when I first read the book I was young and prone to romantic fantasies, I thought Werther was a silly boob , because no matter how infatuated he was with Lotte, killing himself just because she married someone else was ridiculous. I guess I never bought into the whole overwrought “Sturm und Drang” thing, I could not help seeing a parallel between it and the old-school dramatic actors who chewed the scenery with the same intensity, regardless of the situation. (Some still do!) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stellar comment, Clairdelune. Thanks!

      Wolf Larsen is so queasily charismatic. I also went on a Jack London binge a few years ago, and my four favorites of his (not necessarily in this order) were “The Sea-Wolf,” “The Call of the Wild,” “White Fang,” and “Martin Eden.” Also interesting was London’s “Before Adam” — set FAR in the past.

      There are definitely some similarities between “If I Never Get Back” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” — even beyond Mark Twain appearing in the former. 🙂 Introducing modern technology into the past almost always makes for fascinating, albeit potentially scary, literature.

      “The Sorrows of Young Werther” stars a VERY singular character, who can indeed be extremely annoying yet is rather memorable. Glad you mentioned that novel. I read it for the first time a few months ago, and it’s quite something — especially given that Goethe wrote it in his mid-20s!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I guess that what you describe in you last sentence is more or less an outgrowth (scenery-chewing acting) of certain themes and treatments in early Romantic literature– you see parallels because the two phenomena are related….

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Good afternoon Dave…Tiny Lisbeth Salander and full of power and inside strength. I am thrilled you finally read the books..funny, the umpteenth time some of us talked about them in your days at HP I thought you almost knew the whole story. I give you a lot of credit of reading all through it.

    Just found out having guest,s four of them from Thursday through must prepare myself for that.

    But i`ll be back..when time permits. Have a fantastic day..bitter cold in here and will be worse next two days..but it is winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good afternoon, bebe! Sorry you’re getting that bitter weather. Ours has been strange in New Jersey — some snow on Saturday, then in the 60s yesterday, and now cold again (and windy).

      Now that I’ve read Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, I can’t believe I waited so long! (Especially with all the great things you and others said about the books back at HP.) I can understand why that trilogy has sold more than 75 million copies. I couldn’t stop reading the thing, and I’ve rarely experienced a better courtroom scene than the one near the end of the third book (“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” of course.) Lisbeth Salander is a sublime character creation.

      I’m now more than halfway through Lee Child’s “61 Hours,” and while it’s not quite “Larsson-riveting,” it’s terrific. That Jack Reacher novel also gave me an idea for my next post this coming Sunday.

      Good luck preparing for your post-holiday guests!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. David “Pudd’nhead” Wilson was a very unique and unforgettable character. His foray into fingerprint collection was a first, but unfortunately, it placed him on the “outs” with townspeople who felt his hobby was strange and had no significance to their community, nor society period.

    Towards the end during the trial of the Capello twins, his eccentric hobby made sense. This is one of my all time favourite courtroom scenes in literature. When I first read Pudd’nhead Wilson years ago, and was approaching the trial, I didn’t think he’d be successful in defending the twins because of (1) the public ridicule from earlier in his legal career and (2) the education level and sophistication of the jury…would they even understand the concepts of science, fingerprint analysis, and data collection?

    Puddn’head successfully did the impossible: used fingerprint evidence to help solve a murder -unheard of in the 19th century- but also revealed racial family secrets and deception. And to accomplish all of this in the antebellum South, an environment hostile to progress, science, good race relations, and reason, was truly a miracle. That’s what made this book stand out from other mysteries set in the 19th century, IMO.

    “…Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

    This is the second post where you’ve mentioned this book (you included it in your “Cops in Canons” piece). I want to re-read it now. Think I’ll pull it off the shelf to help break up my Alistair MacLean monotony.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an excellent mention, Ana! The “Pudd’nhead” Wilson” novel was a bit sloppy (Mark Twain apparently wrote it quickly because he desperately needed money in the 1890s when his investment in a printing press went bust). But the title character is memorable for all the reasons you eloquently stated, the courtroom scene was indeed great, and the novel’s racial version of a “Prince and the Pauper” switch was fascinating.

      In addition to being an iconic writer of vernacular prose, Twain was also kind of a pioneer in detective fiction (with the fingerprint stuff) and time-travel fiction (with “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”). Not that I’m telling you anything you don’t know!

      “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is definitely memorable, and I also learned a lot about Dominican Republic history via Junot Diaz’s footnotes on various pages of the novel.


      • I never knew that financial problems prompted Twain to write Pudd’nhead Wilson. And you’re so right about it being a little…umm…sloppy (ok, I was trying to come up with a nicer term, but failed, lol). David Wilson is introduced at the beginning, but the Tom-Roxana story seems to dominate the majority of the book. I’d completely forgotten about Pudd’nhead until the murder.

        Aren’t those footnotes great? They are just as intriguing as the actual story. I’m sold. Will place the book in my shoulder bag to take to work and read tonight during my break.

        Have a good day, Dave.

        Liked by 1 person

        • A shame that Twain had so much (self-inflicted) financial trouble in the 1890s. He and his family had to leave their amazing mansion in Hartford, Conn., before eventually embarking on a world lecture tour that was interesting but exhausting.

          Yes, the uneven “Pudd’nhead Wilson” wasn’t structured as well as many of Twain’s other works. But, as you know, the good parts of it are quite good!

          Footnotes can often be deadly, but Junot Diaz expertly mixes humor and sarcasm with the seriousness in “Oscar Wao” footnotes.

          Have a good day, too!


          • I’ve read about his lecture tour in reference to Cascadia history. He spent time in British Columbia, Washington state, and Oregon.

            The Tacoma library has a very extensive collection of well-known and obscure historical facts on the Pacific Northwest. I remember reading how challenging the tour was for Mark Twain because of bad weather conditions (yep, our weather is legendary), his health problems, and the competition from other lecture circuits plus various major shows/events that were playing at the time. He overcame that and was quite successful throughout the Puget Sound, in Portland, and parts of British Columbia.

            Going back to what you said earlier about Pudd’nhead Wilson being quickly written to earn some income, if I’m remembering correctly, that book was not financially successful. So the one book that Twain was depending on to get him out of financial ruin did not deliver. A world lecture tour was the last resort. Pretty big gamble, but it paid off.

            Liked by 1 person

            • That’s right, Ana! It was a successful cross-country tour as well as a successful global one. Great that he got to America’s Pacific Northwest and part of Canada. Adding to the difficulties you aptly described was (as you know) travel being so much more difficult back then. No opportunities for plane rides in the first-class section. I was also struck by how hard it was to get around when reading Twain’s “Innocents Abroad” from the late 1860s, when travel was of course even more primitive than in the 1890s.

              I wonder if Twain had any REALLY successful books after 1889’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” I think his 1896 “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” historical novel is excellent, but I’m not sure how well it sold.


              • He lectured in all of the major cities here (Portland, Olympia, Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver). The last North American stop was on Vancouver Island before sailing to Australia.

                Innocents Abroad is such a great book. I’m a huge fan of travel literature anyway, with Reuben Gold Thwaites being my favourite author from that genre. The geography lover in me enjoys following along with the book(s) while discovering unfamiliar locations on a map. That’s a little…odd hobby from my youth that I still indulge in today:)

                The last Twain title you mentioned is not familiar to me. My go-to bookstore does not have it in stock, but the library does. I’d like to get it this weekend (ok my card has some fines on it that I keep forgetting to pay, so I’ll use my husband’s card just this once, lol).

                Talk to you later.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Thanks, Ana, for mentioning Twain’s wide-ranging itinerary in your neck of the woods! I think he also visited New Zealand after Australia.

                  “The Innocents Abroad” is so interesting and funny! I forgot if I mentioned this before, but I think it may be my favorite travel book ever. I’m not surprised, given how much you travel and your interest in different parts of the world, that you’re a big fan of travel lit.

                  Ha ha — nice to have a second library card in the family! 🙂 I hope you like that Twain book. He spent many years researching “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc,” and it was actually his personal favorite — though of course millions of his fans prefer the adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.


                  • I learn something new everyday. Didn’t know about New Zealand. This is cool how we’re tossing facts about his lecture tour back and forth, like a tennis match or something. I’m Serena Williams; you’re Andre Agassi. What we lack in fame, athletic ability, celebrity status, and wealth, we make up for in…literary prowess (?) LOL.

                    Not surprising that most Mark Twain fans consider Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as his greats. I think you did a column on HP about that…something about authors who are best known for 1-2 books. I picked up “Personal Recollections…” yesterday, and started on it last night. I was only going to read a few pages, but I didn’t stop until the middle of chapter 3. This is such a good book. Thank you for the recommendation, Dave:)

                    (And I paid all of my library fines, so now I’m in the clear. LOL).

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Great tennis metaphor, with added hilarity! Serena Williams has to be the best female tennis player ever, and perhaps the best any-gender tennis player ever. Now I’m trying to think of literature in which some tennis is played or watched; I’m currently drawing a blank!

                      Good memory — I did write a post about authors best known for certain works. Interesting how many of those authors wrote lesser-known works that are nearly as good, as good, or even better than their most famous ones. I think Twain’s “Joan of Arc” is in the nearly as good category, and it’s one of his few works with a female in a very significant role. Glad you’re liking it so far!

                      Ten or fewer days ’til my next library visit. I’ll report back to you which Alistair MacLean novel I find. 🙂

                      Library fines in most places remain very low; it’s nice that at least institution these days doesn’t try to rip people off!


                  • thread’s maxed , so:

                    isn’t there a tennis-playing scene in The Sun Also Rises? And though now I don’t recall one, I’d be shocked to learn that there isn’t one someplace in The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night and/or The Last Tycoon…

                    For that matter, somebody’s novel re the French Revolution would be obligated to mention the tennis courts where various parties gathered…

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • I’m sure you’re right, jhNY! It has been a number of years since I read the four novels you mentioned. Speaking of sports, I think Jordan Baker was a golfer in “The Great Gatsby.”


                  • Tennis in Literature. Expand on that. Sports in Literature.

                    In Anne Moody’s autobiography, she talks about her basketball skills in high school. Her good grades combined with superior athletic ability helped her win college scholarships.

                    Killing Mr. Griffith – One of the 5 teens accused in the kidnap and murder of their English teacher was a star on the basketball team. This could also fit last week’s topic because a movie version was released in the late 1990s…I want to say ’97-’98.

                    Fences – (never saw the play, but I have read the book) Troy’s son Cory is a high school football player who’s being recruited by several colleges.

                    Well that was easy. LOL. Duty calls, so enjoy the rest of your day.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Sports in literature! Maybe I should do a column with that theme. Many moons ago (2011?), I wrote an HP piece specifically about baseball novels, but I could widen that. Hmm… 🙂

                      That said, thanks for the great comment! It reminded me that in Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom,” the major character Patty was a former college basketball player.

                      I’ve never seen “Fences,” but did see August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (on Off-Broadway and Broadway, respectively), and they were fantastic. Wilson was a stellar playwright.

                      Have a good rest of the day, too!


                    • That’s it, Ana! Nice “detective” work. 🙂

                      If I do write a “sports in literature” piece, I might reference some of that previous piece but expand it to include other sports as well as athlete/former athlete characters in non-sports novels. And I would of course give you credit for suggesting the idea!


              • Some of your other pieces came up as well. The two I’ve read so far are really funny! I had to give you a virtual high-5 for the “Bugged by Food Shoppers” article because you spoke the absolute truth. With that one article, you perfectly expressed the feelings of every person in America who’s had *that* type of clueless shopper in front of them.

                “Then, when it comes time to pay, some shoppers who have done everything but bag suddenly realize they forgot to do one very important thing — get out their credit or debit card. So another minute or so elapses as these shoppers fish for their plastic.”

                LOL…too true. I’ll read more at a later time. Good stuff, Dave.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Thanks for the kind words, Ana! Much appreciated! Supermarkets can be “interesting”… 🙂

                  I started contributing to HP in 2009, and for the first two years mostly wrote humor pieces before stumbling into the “Books” section. (I had suggested a Margaret Atwood appreciation to another freelance client I had at the time; they didn’t want it so I figured I’d post it in HP’s “Books” section, for which I had never written before. It got a lot more response than my HP humor pieces, so I kept writing about literature after that.)


                  • Oh, that was before my HP time; didn’t register with them until 2011. I actually came across your column by accident. I meant to click on an article that was, I believe, right above yours on HP Books, but I clicked on your article instead. Fanned you after reading and posting in that article….been a fan ever since. I’m loyal like that:).

                    Enjoy your weekend, Dave.

                    Liked by 1 person

          • My mother read us P. Wilson when I was but a brat, so I never noticed its sloppiness, being entirely engaged, as a white boy in the 50’s South, in consideration of the fractional distinctions my forebears made regarding race. Strange stuff.

            Liked by 1 person

  17. Of the novels that I’ve read in 2014, there are two characters that seem to fit into your topic. The first is the Judge in McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”. I know I keep bringing up this novel in my posts to your topics, but this character had great impact on me – intelligent, deliberate, philosophical, unforgettable, and evil incarnate.
    The second memorable character is Jeeter Lester from Caldwell’s “Tobacco Road”. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more worthless example of a human being – some say his love of the land, and his faith therein, are the redeeming qualities of this character, but I disagree. He is a most pitiable excuse for a human being that can’t get out of his own way, making for a reading experience that is tragic and hilarious at the same time.
    A third character I want to mention is Oskar, from Gunter Grass’s “The Tin Drum”. He chooses to stop developing at age three (not that he remains childlike, except in stature, since he is fully mature in his childhood). This character is indeed unique and mesmerizing, as he experiences the throes of the Second World War. It’s been awhile since I’ve read this book, but I think it will be very worthwhile to reread this novel- something I rarely do.


    • Three VERY original characters, drb19810! Thanks for describing them so well and so colorfully!

      I read “Tobacco Road” a number years ago, but still chuckle thinking about. Also a very serious novel in many ways. Erskine Caldwell’s “God’s Little Acre” has a similar combination, and is similarly excellent.

      And the Judge in “Blood Meridian”? What a one-of-a-kind, scary fictional creation! He is indeed unforgettable, as in the stuff of nightmares. His huge, bald physique combines with his personality in making him so singular.

      I also haven’t read “The Tin Drum” in a long time, but I remember being mesmerized by it (and by the movie version). In my column, I mentioned John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” and apparently Irving was influenced by Oskar in creating Owen.


      • The Judge and many of the incidents as brutal and surreal as they read were based on real people and actual history . I too was blown away by the writing in that novel although I enjoyed Sutree quite a bit more . The Met museum has a web site that offers tons of free courses , movies , recordings Etc. One marvelous find is a series of courses by a professor of Lit at Yale. She does two twenty plus minute classes devoted to Blood Meridian , I’ll hunt them down and link .

        Liked by 1 person

            • I stayed up late last night watching both lectures. Thanks again for the link – it was very enriching, and made me appreciated the book even more, especially with the allusions to history, the Bible, Paradise Lost, and Moby Dick. Although I was not a English lit major in college, I did take a number of literature courses, so watching these lectures was very nostalgic and reminded me how much I loved them. I look forward to watching all the other lectures – some of the books I’ve read, some not, so I’ve added some novels to my list. THANK YOU SO MUCH for the link!

              Liked by 1 person

        • So true, Donny — the ultra-violent/ultra-compelling “Blood Meridian” is partly historical fiction. Cormac McCarthy’s writing is indeed off-the-charts masterful.

          And “Suttree” (which you recommended to me back in the HP days) is a WONDERFUL novel. Not as intense as “Blood Meridian,” but so absorbing in its episodic way.

          I look forward to watching the “video lecture,” and I’m sure drb19810 does, too. 🙂


  18. Howdy, Dave!

    — Who are some fictional characters you’ve found to be very original, and what makes them so different? —

    Earthling by nature, Martian by nurture, Valentine Michael Smith, Robert A. Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land,” appeared so original to me as a young collegian that I described in an essay the book he protagonized as the greatest science-fiction novel in the history of the multiverse. My literature professor was duly unimpressed and handed me a note with the names of five other sci-fi novels she claimed were even greater: They encompassed the same author’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.”

    Of course, she was right, and I was wrong.

    But I still grok “Stranger in a Strange Land” in general and Valentine Michael Smith in particular.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Earthling by nature, Martian by nurture” — that alone would make a character very original! Thanks, J.J., for mentioning Valentine Michael Smith and Robert A. Heinlein’s novel in your VERY engaging comment.

      A big hole in my reading is having read only one Heinlein novel (the relatively minor “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls”). I’ll try to look for “Stranger in a Strange Land” or another of his books soon. “Stranger in a Strange Land” is certainly one of the best titles of a novel ever.

      Do you happen to remember the names of any of the other four sci-fi novels that professor named in addition to “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”?


      • — Do you happen to remember the names of any of the other four sci-fi novels that professor named in addition to “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”? —

        Sure, Dave. I mean, it was less than five decades ago. Alphabetized by the author’s last names — key to those of us with obsessive-compulsive disorder — they were Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy (remember, this was long before the prolific hunt-and-peck typist began adding to the series), Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End,” Clifford D. Simak’s “City” and A.E. van Vogt’s “Slan.”

        Liked by 2 people

        • “Sure, Dave. I mean, it was less than five decades ago” — LOL! But, seriously, it’s amazing how some things stay in the brain and some things don’t. I can still remember the lyrics to “The Addams Family” TV show’s theme song after 50 years… 🙂

          Thanks for naming those four books, J.J. I’ve read the Asimov and Clarke ones, but not the other two. I just put them on my list.


        • J.J. McGrath, you just listed my absolute favorite science fiction novels. Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy, together with all the books he wrote connected to that universe, are astounding. The worlds he created are so complex and believable, and “Foundation” is prophetic – some of the political events and intrigues bear an uncanny similarity to what has been happening over the past half-century.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Howdy, Clairdelune!

            — you just listed my absolute favorite science fiction novels. —

            I owe it all to one Emily Hoag, who had impeccable taste. Wait! Let my check my college transcript. Yes! Impeccable taste.

            — Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy, together with all the books he wrote connected to that universe, are astounding. The worlds he created are so complex and believable, and “Foundation” is prophetic —

            That’s psychohistory for you! Meanwhile, I once covered a Dr. A discourse on “The Future of Man” at one of my almae matres, and he opined in his set speech that humanity could handle all the many challenges before it, except overpopulation, which, until our DNA makes a move outward to the colonies yet unborn, still appears compelling in its logic, but I hope unprophetic, given the world’s population is estimated currently to be 7,286,033,000, no, 7,286,033,001, no, 7,286,033,002 . . .

            All Hail The Mule!


            Liked by 2 people

            • Given the human penchant for reckless reproduction, and the number of religions that are all in favor of it as the means to increase their legions of devotees… and given the lack of interest on the part of the megacorporations in encouraging a technology that could result in the mass migration to other planets of their underpaid serfs, alas, I have little hope…

              Liked by 1 person

      • In keeping with the topic of your column, Dave, another very interesting Heinlein novel is “Methuselah’s Children” (I believe it’s the first of a trilogy) that introduces Lazarus Long, a very interesting character belonging to a group of people who have learned to extend their lifespans by a century or so – can’t recall exactly by how long.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Clairdelune! Lazarus Long made an appearance in the one Heinlein book I’ve read, “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.” If I’m remembering right, he was several hundred years old in that novel — or maybe even a thousand or two. 🙂 I will keep “Methuselah’s Children” in mind — another wonderfully titled book.

          Your reply to J.J., beginning with “Given the human penchant for reckless reproduction…,” is superb. Depressing, but you eloquently expressed the sobering reality of things.


  19. Hi Dave, I’ll go with an obvious character, Sherlock Holmes, who is eccentric, possesses an amazing intellect, is a master of disguise, and is an expert in the forensic arts, at least as were known at that time. I love that he plays the violin, and he is a loyal friend (Watson) and brother (Mycroft). It’s difficult to think of any other character who has been the subject of so many other books, movies and TV shows. Just to name a few: the novel and movie written by Nicholas Meyer, “The Seven-Percent Solution;” the mystery series written by Laurie R. King,.in which Holmes falls in love with and marries the narrator, Mary Russell (not sure I care for this idea at all!); the Basil Rathbone movies; and of course, the great mini-series starring Jeremy Brett. I know, I mentioned this in last week’s comment, but it really is a terrific series; in fact I refuse to see the movies with Robert Downey, Jr. or the modern-day TV show “Elementary,: just as a matter of principle. Oh, and not to forget the Disney animated film, “The Great Mouse Detective,” which was rather cute and funny.

    I so agree with you about Lisbeth Salamander, who really was a unique character. I’m curious, Dave, did you find that the series got better as it went along, or did you think the first was the best?

    Liked by 2 people

      • Sherlock Holmes — great one, Kat Lib, and a great comment! Holmes seems kind of familiar now, because he became so famous and because so many subsequent detectives in literature have some of his traits and quirks. But in his day, he was about as original as they come.

        And, yes, Sherlock has inspired countless movies, TV shows, etc.!

        I LOVED all three novels in Stieg Larsson’s series. Probably my favorite overall was the second (“The Girl Who Played With Fire”) — partly because Lisbeth Salander was most prominent and active in that book. But the suspense (the attack on Mikael Blomkvist, the closed court trial, etc.) in the latter part of book three (“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”) was almost unbearably thrilling.

        How about you? Which of the three novels did you like best?


        • It’s been a while since I read them, but I remember thinking each one was better than the previous one. I almost gave up after the first one, not because it wasn’t very good, but there were some very disturbing scenes in it. However, I’ve now read so many other Scandinavian crime novels, which can often be rather dark, that I’ve become somewhat inured to the violent or otherwise disturbing acts that occur. I really shouldn’t single out the Scandinavians, because most crime fiction these days (other than the “cozies”) have come a long way from Miss Marple or Father Brown!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks, Kat Lib! Stiegg Larsson’s writing certainly kept improving as the trilogy went along. Sort of like J.K. Rowling and her “Harry Potter” series.

            And so true — some VERY disturbing violence in the first (and subsequent) books. I’m sure a lot of people think Scandinavia is basically a gentle social-democratic region. Larsson’s fiction, and the fiction you mentioned, paints a more complicated picture! And, as you say, disturbing stuff in crime fiction is by no means limited to Scandinavian literature.

            I’m currently reading Lee Child’s excellent Jack Reacher novel “61 Hours,” and there’s certainly some mayhem in there!


    • Kast Lib, amen about Sherlock Holmes and the Jeremy Brett series! He was/is the quintessential, definitve Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey Jr. played Sherlock like a mad rock star, and “Elementary” is ludicrous. Watson becomes an Asian female sidekick? Really!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree as to Brett, and as to the inferiority of other portrayals and conceptions of the Holmes character. But I do enjoy each modern teevee version– Cumberbatch and the other fellow Johnny Lee ?– for what they are: entertaining enough for an hour or so. I will not sully my mind in consideration of the Downey Holmes….

        My wife’s family claims relation with an American actor whose fame has been effaced by time– William Gillette. His mansion on the Connecticut River is now a state park, and looks like a stage set (Macbeth’s), as per plan. He was, in his day, right before the film era, world-famous for his portrayals of two of the most enduring characters in modern fiction: Count Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. I believe I recall reading that he was Doyle’s favorite in the role of Holmes. I suspect these stage portrayals, which toured the world for years, did nearly as much to advance the fame and popularity of the characters as the books from which they were derived– until film.

        My favorite dramatization of the Dracula story was a 70’s teevee movie starring Darren McGavin– The Nightstalker, which is set in Las Vegas (!) — scary, scary stuff…. so I may be more ready to accept reconceptions and modernizations of characters so deathless and enduring as these.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. Hi Dave … I’m so glad to have found you again! What a wonderful brain-teaser this one is. I love your reference to “East of Eden’s” Cathy Trask — talk about a character who was evil to the core! So, would Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray fit into this discussion? Dorian Gray was self-absorbed to the exclusion of his own soul. In terms of being shallow, vain, narcissistic, hedonistic, and just an all-around useless human being, Dorian Gray was pretty much the full package 🙂 … (ps: I accidentally pasted this under “Anonymous” and couldn’t figure out how to delete it afterward)

    Liked by 1 person

      • Pat, thanks so much for your kind words and excellent comment!

        I just deleted the duplicate comment under “Anonymous.” I’ve accidentally posted replies under “Anonymous” a few times myself, which, given that it’s my blog, is sort of weird. 🙂

        Terrific mention of Dorian Gray! Certainly a VERY singular character. As we all know, a protagonist doesn’t have to be admirable to be original! (Cathy Trask being a prime example.) You described Dorian with a perfect combination of adjectives.

        Last but not least, welcome back! Your great comments have been missed.


    • Hi Pat, I’ve also posted anonymously a few times, but I put that down to posting too early in the day, rather than too late. And I didn’t even notice ‘pasted’ until you pointed it out.

      Great mention of Oscar Wilde. Dorian Gray is probably one of my all time favourite characters. But when you put it the way you have (which is very eloquent indeed) I have to ask why I liked him so much. He WAS pretty usless

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Great post which indeed indulge readers to react. Of the few books i read the most fascinating character i encountered is the Wife of Bath from Chaucer. She made me laugh because i could feel that she has the upon hand on me to the point that they would marry her. She is kind of avant-gardiste in her way of thinking. Above all, she knows how to use all her assets as a woman to achieve her goals. It’s been years i’ve read that book, may be i should read it back. This would be the collateral effect of your post. Thank u for that.:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, kateskidsclub, for the kind words and the GREAT mention of The Wife of Bath! Definitely the most memorable character in “The Canterbury Tales.” (Chanticleer the rooster is up there, too.) You described her perfectly. 🙂

      I reread “The Canterbury Tales” about five years ago in a modern English version, and it really is an incredible work — although some parts of course hold one’s attention more than others.

      Thanks again!


  22. I love that you mentioned Reggie Love who is one of my favorite characters. Another absolutely “one of a kind” characters that I adore is Idgie Threadgoode from “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe”. She was unique during the time and place that she lived in that she had no prejudice and was totally compassionate to the plight of those suffering. Her sense of right and wrong was unchanged by what people thought of her, and she did have an absolute sense of right and wrong, no matter what the consequences. AND she could even charm the bees right out of their honey!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, lulabelleharris, for the superb comment!

      Reggie Love is indeed a memorable character, and I loved the attorney-client relationship she had with 11-year-old Mark Sway in John Grisham’s page-turning novel.

      Totally agree about Idgie Threadgoode of Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe,” a fantastic novel you recommended a year or two ago. You skillfully described her to a “T” (the first letter of her last name 🙂 ). Along with everything else, Idgie was gay — and gracefully lived her life “her way” in a difficult time and place for that.

      “…she could even charm the bees right out of their honey” — love that!

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Very interesting post, I really enjoyed it, thanks. I’m not sure if he’s already been mentioned but Tom Ripley is an amicable, amoral, psychopathic serial killer in The Talented Mr. Ripley. I guess that makes him interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your kind words and excellent comment, Jean!

      I haven’t read “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” but from your great description and from what I’ve heard about the book elsewhere, that book’s title character seems to be a VERY singular person who fits right into this discussion. Villains are of course often more interesting than admirable protagonists. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  24. An exquisite compilation, Dave. I particularly appreciate the memory jog that Georges had part-African bloodlines, a very insightful device on Dumas’ part given France’s colonial domination in certain parts of that continent. Bravo, sir!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate the kind and interesting words, Telly!

      From what I remember reading, “Georges” didn’t come anywhere near the sales of Alexandre Dumas’ other works (including, of course, “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers”) despite being one heck of a good read. I imagine many people in France and elsewhere in 1843 didn’t want to read a novel depicting colonialism, slavery, and so on.

      Dumas, whose part-black father served with Napoleon, himself had very conflicted feelings about his heritage.


              • I am envious of her knowledge and facility with that language– I have gathered what I know from translations only. As a small child, I could speak Spanish, as a small child can, due to a year in Bogota when I was 2 years old, but upon arriving back home, I refused to speak it, and eventually lost it, without since picking it back up or any other language. I am stuck inside my first language today.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Ironically, I was much better at Spanish than in French when I took each language in school for several years apiece. But I didn’t end up marrying a Spanish prof. 🙂

                  Today, I know a smattering of French and some Spanish, but, like you, I’m essentially “uni-lingual.”

                  Interesting spending a year in Bogota! (Though of course you were too young to now remember much of it or anything of it.) Were your parents working there or taking some sort of sabbatical or vacation there?


                  • I remember more of those years than you might expect– including incidents occurring on ship (a freighter with room for a few passengers) even though I was but 2 years and four months old at the time. I was a very precocious talker– first calling my parents “baba” when I was around 6 months old. If the wrong one came to my call, I would call out “baba” till the right one appeared (I don’t remember this, natch). I think my early acquisition of language helped me fix memories from my early daze.

                    I remember the day it snowed in Bogota (first time in a decade-plus), a fireworks display, being taken up to the top of a nearby mountain, being whisked away from a riot during which students were shot (one of the rioting students, a friend of the family’s, hiding in our apartment till the danger passed), eating plantanos and mangoes, getting cowboy boots, winning a rubber ball in a drawing held in a movie theater, a few of my neighbors, my sister, learning to walk, toddling into a tottering pile of books— in short, plenty, given my extreme youth, and plenty more I have been kind enough not to list…

                    My father was researching his dissertation on a Fullbright there; the rest of us, for better or worse, went along for the ride.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Wow, jhNY — those are a LOT of vivid, interesting memories for that young age. I guess being in a different place helped imprint certain things on your brain — and you were indeed precocious.

                      I wonder if Gabriel Garcia Marquez ever passed your family in the street? 🙂


                    • Thread’s maxed, so:

                      Could have easily passed him in the streets, although he may not have hit the big city in 1953-54. My father was mostly, in those early days, acquainted with book-sellers and librarians, as well as other foreigners in that remote spot. Later, he became friends with a Franciscan friar there, and eventually, with many members of the old aristocracy, about whose forebears (his focus was on the mid-19th century) he wrote and studied.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Sounds like your father had a VERY interesting time in Colombia, whether he ran into GGM or not. And so exciting to have the experience you had so young.

                      My father had the modest job of being a radio/TV repairman. It’s possible Colombia was pictured briefly on a TV he fixed. 🙂


  25. Speaking of Walker Percy, who wrote the enticing foreword to Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole, a must for your interesting collection of outliers is Ignatius J. Reilly. Nowhere else in literature is there a character in such solipsistic revolt against the entire modern age, not only as his massive body lies abed as he rails against the world and everyone in it, but whose hilarious adventures outside of the New Orleans house, he shares with his nemesis mother, result in altered lives for a number of unwitting victims of Ignatius’s Don Quixote-mad fixations.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Well, since it’s very fresh in my mind from reading it, Binx Bolling of Walker Percy’s ‘The Moviegoer.’ Binx is outwardly conventional, a stockbroker in New Orleans. Even his amorous pursuits of his secretaries is conventional in the ‘Mad Men’/John Cheever/’Revolutionary Road’ era. However, his obsession with movies combined with his relentless Search and his need to create a unique lexicon for experiences (‘repetitions,’ ‘rotations,’ ‘the malaise’ etc.) certainly set him apart and if displayed publicly in certain conservative circles would possibly result in at least a few recommendations that he be insitutionalized. He is a misfit hiding in plain sight.

    Liked by 1 person

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