Recurring Characters Are Not Just in Series and Sequels

Obviously, there are recurring characters in novel sequels and series. Some are sleuths who star in mysteries, and many are non-sleuths who hail from other genres. Memorable, widely known recurring characters include Harry Potter, Jack Reacher, Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander, Sherlock Holmes, Anne Shirley, Miss Marple, “Easy” Rawlins, Harriet Vane, Frodo Baggins, etc., etc.!

Then there are characters who appear in more than one novel despite the books not being sequels or series per se — which will be the subject of this blog post. In a number of cases, they’re a minor character in one novel, and a major character in another.

One advantage of recurring characters is that they add to the illusion of reality — the worlds that authors create can seem more believable when readers encounter the same people in different books. And if readers like and/or find those characters interesting, they are thrilled to see them several times. Also, multiple appearances by characters give authors the opportunity to depict them in a more nuanced, complex way than might be the case with one-novel appearances.

Emile Zola was among the writers who mastered this. For instance, he introduced Claude Lantier as a supporting character in The Belly of Paris before making that troubled artist the full-fledged star of The Masterpiece, and gave Nana Coupeau a relatively modest role in The Drinking Den before making her the main protagonist in Nana.

Zola may have gotten the recurring idea from earlier-in-the-19th-century French author Honore de Balzac, whose perhaps most prominent use of the device was having Rastignac appear in Old Goriot and about a half dozen other novels.

There was also Mark Twain, who made Tom Sawyer the star and Huck Finn a supporting player in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and then made Huck the star and Tom a supporting player in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Tom was subsequently featured in two lesser, late-career Twain novels: Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective.

In 20th- and 21st-century literature, authors who have gone the recurring-character route include Kurt Vonnegut (Kilgore Trout appeared in or was mentioned in various novels), Margaret Atwood (“Snowman” was prominent in Oryx and Crake and not so prominent in The Year of the Flood), Robert Heinlein (the long-living Lazarus Long had a role in about a half dozen novels), and Fannie Flagg (who put characters such as the Norma/Macky couple, Aunt Elner, and radio host “Neighbor Dorothy” in Welcome to the World, Baby Girl, then Standing in the Rainbow, and then Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven).

Can you name some recurring characters from non-sequel, non-series books? And, heck, if you want to mention your favorite characters from series and sequels, be my guest!

(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.)

I’ve finished and am now rewriting/polishing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am 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 “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in 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.

112 thoughts on “Recurring Characters Are Not Just in Series and Sequels

  1. Mr. Rochester appears as a character in both “Jane Eyre” and “Wide Sargasso Sea” (which I haven’t read, I only heard about this novel when I google Jane Eyre) even though the two novels were written by two different authors more than a century apart.

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    • Dave, please change that to ”…two novels were written by two different authors…” . I should have used the past tense, please delete this comment. Thank you for your kind attention.

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      • Fixed!

        Yes, Rochester appeared in both books. Excellent mention! I’ve read both, and the “prequel”-ish “Wide Sargasso Sea” is quite good — rich prose, and a whole new perspective on “the woman in the attic” in “Jane Eyre.”


  2. Apropos of nothing pertaining to topic, I finished reading “Ethan Frome” this week, and was reminded of an old saying of an old uncle: “Rough sledding today! No snow!”

    Now I have learned there are even rougher sleddings when snow is on the ground.

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    • Cleverly said. Yes, quite a tragic sledding incident in a very intense book. I think it’s a great novel, and so different from Edith Wharton’s also-great upper-crust-in-NYC works (“The House of Mirth,” “The Age of Innocence,” etc.).


  3. Dave, I saw where you and bebe were talking about the Nobel Prize for Literature being announced this week. I’m sure you’ve already heard that Bob Dylan won it, which has shocked many people, including myself. I’m a fan of his, at least of his early work, but I can’t think of anything that he’s done since “Blood on the Tracks.” I tried to read his memoir, “Chronicles, Vol.1,” but didn’t make it even half-way through before eventually tossing it when I moved. If I were going to nominate a songwriter, it would be Leonard Cohen, who at least published a whole book of poetry as well as some great songs (many of them recorded by one of my faves, Judy Collins). What do you think about Dylan?

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    • Thank you, Kat Lib, for your thoughts on Bob Dylan and his Nobel honor!

      I was surprised, too. I’m sort of a fan of his and sort of not, although he’s undeniably a great lyricist. You’re right that it has been decades since he wrote his best (or at least his most famous) music, he seems to be a rather off-putting person, and the prizes he should get are more of the Grammy variety than a Nobel.

      If a North American was going to win, I would have much preferred someone like Margaret Atwood or Cormac McCarthy.

      Oh well — if the Nobel people wanted more attention for their Literature prize, they got it!


      • I did like the ‘Chronicles Vol. 1’ quite a bit, although in typical idiosyncratic Dylan fashion, he focused on three or four separate eras in his life with no apparent rationale. It is very well-written but so are other rock’n’roll biographies by Ray Davies and Pete Townshend. And of course, here we are about 13 years later and there is still no ‘Chronicles Vol. 2’. So I knew going into it that it was going to be just ‘selfies’ of particular times in his life. It was interesting getting his take on various figures as well as his perception of all the hype surrounding him. Needless to say, he did not welcome all the intrusion and seems to have let his music speak (or mumble if you go by his live performances for the past several decades) for itself. I would never give him a Nobel Prize for Literature, though, especially when there are so many other deserving writers that have been writing first rate literary work for decades that have still not been acknowledged.

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        • Well said, bobess48! I haven’t read that Dylan book, but have certainly listened to the lyrics of dozens of his songs. I also don’t think the Nobel Prize for Literature was warranted for him. As you noted, so many other first-rate writers haven’t received it. It will also be interesting to see how anti-social and eccentric he might be at the Nobel ceremony.

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          • How confusing just like Dylan’s becoming Nobel Laureate Dave, I did not realize I was posting in your previous blog. I simply do not know how that happened..oh my. 🙂

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          • I believe Bob Dylan is the most important and influential pop music figure of the 1960’s. Proof: The Beatles (L&M) wrote You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, but Dylan wrote no Beatlesque song. The Rolling Stones (J&R) wrote Get Off of My Cloud, but Dylan wrote no corresponding Stones homage. Then there’s that legion of solitary figures with battered acoustic guitars who all felt themselves to be the next next Woody Guthrie right after they dropped the needle on The Freewheelin’ etc. He even gave, by example, Jimi Hendrix, the courage to sing, such as he was able. He changed what pop songs could be about, and we’re all of us richer for it. Dylan’s lyrics approached poetry more than occasionally, and his eyes were those through which a significant portion of a generation or so chose to see the wider world.

            But he’s a pop music figure nonetheless, his painting and Tarantula and subsequent non-lyric efforts notwithstanding. (By the way, and completely off the subject: want to be impressed by a pop star’s paintings? Check out John Mellencamp’s– he’s really got something.)

            I remember being angered occasionally, in school, when, say, an essay on the play was assigned, to have the teacher later single out a student for special praise who had chosen instead to build a model of Macbeth’s castle out of pipe cleaners and papier mache– after the rest of us had merely done as we were instructed. Why should sculpting get credit as an essay for English class?

            In the Dylan-Nobel case, we have a fellow who cheerily made sculptures in one room, only to discover he’d been given a prize by a committee of teachers whose subject was not sculpting, for sculpting that has been misidentified as another art form entirely. Can’t blame the cheery sculptor, though, who may of may not even show up for the award he never sought or knew he might be given.

            The committee, on the other hand….

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            • Very eloquently said, jhNY! Dylan was clearly a transcendent pop-music/pop-culture figure, and his lyrics indeed were often poetic or approached poetry. But, as you noted, that doesn’t mean he should win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Perhaps he should get another truckload of Grammys, but not the Nobel.


              • I agree with both of you about Dylan, but it did make me think of a Holly Near song, “Something About the Women,” because I would put Joni Mitchell up there if another singer-songwriter were ever chosen by the Nobel committee. She is a much better singer and painter than Dylan, and I’d call many of her lyrics poetic, though she did write some rather silly songs in her early days. She also dabbled in folk, pop and jazz, and I’d think many women singer-songwriters would have found her very influential and inspiring..

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                • I was around, a young teen, when Bob Dylan first burst on the music scene in a big way, and I always liked him, admired him, was awed by some of the lyrics he wrote, etc.

                  But in my own life, Joni Mitchell’s lp Blue was central, essential and a balm to the spirit. As much as I liked Dylan, nothing he put out got as close to me as this lp did for a few hard months after a break-up.

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                  • Yes, “Blue” is one of those records that you remember the first you heard it. In my case one of my college girlfriends from Madison was visiting me in Minneapolis. After listening to the entire record, we went for a walk around the lake we lived on, and it was such a nice evening.

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                • Yes, Kat Lib! If another songwriter-singer were to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, I could see it being the immensely talented and influential Joni Mitchell. What a lyricist, among her other abilities. And, as you say, a much better voice than Dylan’s.

                  Holly Near is a really good singer-songwriter, too. I have one of her albums, and saw her in concert way back when — 1980s?


                  • As I was googling Holly Near to come up with the exact title of the song about women, I happened across the lyrics to one of her songs, “I Am Willing.”

                    I am open and I am willing
                    To be hopeless would seem so strange
                    It dishonors those who go before us
                    So lift me up to the light of change

                    There is hurting in my family
                    There is sorrow in my town
                    There is panic in the nation
                    There is wailing the whole world round

                    May the children see more clearly
                    May the elders be more wise

                    May the winds of change caress us
                    Even though it burns our eyes

                    Give me a mighty oak to hold my confusion
                    Give me a desert to hold my fears
                    Give me a sunset to hold my wonder
                    Give me an ocean to hold my tears

                    I’m not sure when she recorded or wrote this song, but it certainly seems applicable today.

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              • Thanks, bebe! I just watched the clip. Cobie Smulders seems like an articulate actress, and Major Susan Turner is an excellent role. Interesting to see all that violence on screen rather than in one’s mind’s eye when reading.

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      • This whole kerfuffle reminded me of a song written by Joan Baez, “Diamonds & Rust,” which I thought was a great song with great lyrics about her relationship with Dylan years ago. The original song ended with the lyrics something like, “And if you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve already paid.” Joan released a live album in 1995, “Ring Them Bells,” which featured her singing most songs with many women singers and songwriters that I admire greatly. She performed “Diamonds & Rust,” featuring Mary Chapin Carpenter, and changed the last two lines to “And if you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ll take the diamonds.” 🙂 The audience cracked up as did I.

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  4. One Recurring Characters Dave is ” Darcy”, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I see plenty of novels by other writers to this day trying to be Jane Austen by continuing the story. Just other day there was a movie in Lifetime about one Darcy like character and I believe we will see more of it.

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    • Thank you, bebe! You brought up a VERY interesting angle to this discussion — characters who appear again in novels by different authors, often after the original authors are dead. That’s the case with novels channeling Jane Austen (as you note), with “Jane Eyre”/”Wide Sargasso Sea,” with “Gone With the Wind”/”Scarlett,” etc.!

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      • bebe and Dave, I know what you’re referring to, as I see supposed “sequels to “Pride & Prejudice” all the time, as well as having Jane Austen as the “detective” in some mystery series. The only one that I’ve read is “Death at Pemberley,” because it was lovingly written by one of the all-time greats in mysteries, P.D. James. I tried to read one such sequel to the Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane novels, but it left me cold, as it is one of my most favorite mystery series ever and you know it’s just not going to be the same. It reminds me of the many books out there who are written by James Patterson and so-and-so ghostwriter. Off-topic, but I’ve read an article by the ghostwriter of “The Art of the Deal,” who now claims he wrote the entire book, because Trump had the attention span of a gnat (or something like that). He couldn’t sit still for interviews, so the author had to follow Trump around all the time in order to get anything worthwhile writing about, and he (Tony Schwartz) regrets taking money for this endeavor, but is now very sorry for it and is going to donate his royalties to some good cause.

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        • Yes, Kat Lib, so many writers have glommed onto Jane Austen. Usually not a good thing, though P.D. James had already been rich and famous for a long time before “Death Comes to Pemberley” so it didn’t seem mercenary.

          In general, I’m also not a fan of “sequels” to dead authors’ novels written by other authors.

          I’ve read about how disgusted that “The Art of a Deal” ghostwriter is with the disgusting Trump. It seems that almost everyone who has worked with or for The Donald doesn’t think much of him, which is really revealing.


  5. In 1994, author Amanda Moores published “Dream Palace”, her first novel, with Carroll and Graf. In it, a female bartender named Sheila appears in one scene. In 2015, she arranged for her second book, “Grail Nights”, to be printed in a limited edition of 100 copies. In it, the first person narrator is a female bartender named Sheila.

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    • Thanks, jhNY! A character going from a “bit” player to the major protagonist is an approach that can definitely work. Sometimes, the star power of a fictional character (such as Sheila in the excellent “Grail Nights”) must be acknowledged and used. Heck, not just the case in literature. For instance, Calvin and Hobbes were originally secondary characters in an early Bill Watterson comic strip before a syndicate suggested he make that boy and tiger the stars. And of course there are TV shows that take secondary characters and put them in spinoffs, such as “All in the Family” leading to “The Jeffersons” and “Maude.”


  6. Dave, at the risk of sounding repetitive or boring, I must confess that I immediately thought of Stephen King again this week. So many of his stories contain shared characters, locations, and even references to other King novels. In the last book of the “Dark Tower” series, Stephen King himself is discussing “Cujo” and how the book differs from the movie. In the same series, while Roland and his gang are travelling around, they stumble on a version of Kansas where the population has been killed by the same superflu that created “The Stand”. Much, much later, they meet Father Callahan, the same priest who tried to help kill the vampires in “Salem’s Lot”. R.F. is often the initials of King’s bad guys. Randall Flagg tries to ruin the party in both “The Stand” and the “Dark Tower”. I think R.F. is supposed to be the ultimate evil, who appears as different people in different times and places.

    While King has many different cross over characters, it’s the ones from the “Dark Tower” that I most remember. And King himself has said that the world he created for his epic series is THE world. It ties all of his other novels together, and is where all of the characters originate from.

    PS. I started to draft this comment earlier in the week, however due to new work obligations, was only able to post just now. When I saw that Pat had commented, I thought ‘bet I won’t be the first to mention Stephen King.’ But even though I was right, I figure SK is entertaining enough to mention again. I look forward to finding out why you have him and Donald Trump in the same sentence next week!

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    • Thank you, Susan! Stephen King is always worth mentioning twice. Or maybe even 11, 22, or 63 times… (And, yes, the very mixed JFK was still a lot more palatable than Trump.)

      GREAT examples of “shared characters, locations, and even references” in various King novels. That definitely makes things even more interesting for his readers. And so many novels across four decades to tie together in certain ways!

      Hope your new work obligations are welcome, or not too onerous.


      • Thanks, Dave. Am in training for a new role which I’m very excited about. But I’ll be providing cover for someone’s holidays next month, and am in no way ready! Sadly, that means less time for reading. Though I am finally getting to the bottom of the mystery in Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White” which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It’s my first Collins, so I’m not sure if he has recurring characters.

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        • Susan, great to hear that your new work role is a positive thing — tempered by the not-readiness for covering that person. 😦 Good luck with that.

          I LOVE “The Woman in White”! Glad you’re reading it in what little non-work time you have. A brilliant mystery, with memorable characters. What a villain the sometimes-charming Count Fosco is!

          I’ve read four Wilkie Collins novels (“The Moonstone,” “Armadale,” and “A Rogue’s Life”), and don’t remember any recurring characters. As you know, “The Moonstone” was one of the first detective novels. “Armadale” has a villain (Lydia Gwilt) as interesting and three-dimensional as Count Fosco. And the short, so-so “A Rogue’s Life” has a protagonist who ends up in…Australia!


          • “As you know…” – you give me too much credit, Dave. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of Collins until I picked up “TWiW”. But now that I know who he is, I’ll be adding his other novels to my list. A female Count Fosco sounds fascinating! Though Collins has done a great job writing the ‘good’ female characters too. And the good male ones, and the villains, and everything in between! A beautiful way with words that has created such an engaging story. And while I don’t normally rush out to see film adaptations, I may have to make an exception for this. Any movie that gets the casting of the VERY charming Count Fosco right, must have a lot of other things going for it too! Thanks for the recommendation, jhNY.

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            • Susan, Wilkie Collins was definitely an interesting author and person. Close friends with Charles Dickens, had a serious medical condition (became a drug addict because of that), led a double life with two women ( 😦 ), and so on.

              You’re right that Collins was very skillful (better than Dickens) in depicting three-dimensional female characters — good and bad. As you’ve been seeing, for instance, Marian Halcombe of “The Woman in White” is quite a creation.


  7. Hi Dave … great topic, and a lot of interesting responses. I’m sticking with an easy one: Stephen King not only references characters from one book to another, but most of his books have some connection to Maine, specifically Castle Rock, Maine. Hope you’re having a great week, Dave. As always, I look forward to your next column.

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    • Thank you, Pat!

      Stephen King IS great with recurring characters — and, as you aptly note, it certainly helps that a number of his novels are set in one town/state.

      Coincidentally, I will be mentioning a King character in my next column, which has kind of a topical element inspired by the beyond-vile Donald Trump.

      Hope you’re having a good week, too!


  8. I’m not much of a mystery reader, Dave, but my friend, mystery writer Nancy Pickard, (we graduated from Mizzou J-school together) has had detective/investigator Jenny Cain show up in several of her early books, including “Generous Death.” If you don’t know Nancy’s work, start with “The Scent of Rain and Lightning,” a 2010 work that is becoming a movie.

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    • Thank you, Bill! “The Scent of Rain and Lightning” is a great title — and it’s great that your friend’s book is becoming a movie! I’m not much of a mystery reader, either, but I do read/enjoy some of them here and here.


    • Bill, I read many of Nancy Pickard’s mysteries back years ago and enjoyed them very much. I don’t think I’ve read the book you mentioned, but I’ll now have to pick it up to read one of these days.

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  9. Wow! I feel overwhelmed after reading the other comments. I need to expand my reading list. I was going to suggest Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Bean Trees” and it’s sequel about a woman who finds an abandoned child and adopts her. Along the way they both learn who they really are, much more than they originally thought.

    While the two books I’m about to mention do not contain the same characters they are based on the same theme, finding who you really are and your place in the world according to Australia’s Real People, otherwise known as Aborigine. “Mutant Message Down Under” (Marlo Morgan) is about an American woman who is invited to be a luncheon speaker and ends up travelling with the Real People for several months and accepting their teaching of Oneness. She learns to live that truth in the outside world. “Mutant Message from Forever” follows Aborigine twins separated from their mother at birth. The girl is raised in an orphanage, then sent out to work at age 16. She eventually finds a group of Real People and at this point in the story is learning her place in the Universe. Her brother is taken to the US. His adoptive family makes sure he knows he is there because of their charity. Along the way he learns that he is a talented artist and seeks to learn who he is. At this point he is in jail for a murder he doesn’t remember committing. I’m hoping he eventually finds his way with the Real People.

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    • Yes, “The Bean Trees” and “Pigs in Heaven”! Two great, early, related Barbara Kingsolver novels. Thanks for mentioning them, energywriter!

      Thanks, also, for your paragraph about “Mutant Message Down Under” and “Mutant Message from Forever.” Excellent description; they both sound like VERY interesting books.

      Speaking of books that share a theme but not the same characters, sort of an example of that is Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy: “All the Pretty Horses,” “The Crossing,” and “Cities of the Plain.” The first novel stars the character John Grady Cole, the second book features Billy Parham, and the third book spotlights both Cole and Parham. I realize this is not exactly comparable with the two “Mutant” books, which, from what you said, don’t share any characters.


  10. Hi Dave, this was a tough one for me, for as you know, I read a lot of sequels and series, mostly of the mystery and sci-fi genres. I’ll keep thinking about it, but the only novels that fit this column (very loosely, I must say) are those by Lisa Scottoline in her series of the all woman law firm set in Philly. Though most of her books have many of her characters show up somewhere, there are usually one or two of them who are featured in the storyline.

    Again, this is not exactly what you’re referring to, but Alexander McCall Smith has a series,”44 Scotland Street,” and is much the same as the above. Characters come and go in this series set in Edinburgh, though there are a few more prominently featured than others. I did get a kick out of one of the novels that had Ian Rankin play a cameo role; he is a real life writer of mysteries set in Edinburgh. I had to assume that these two are friends or at least acquaintances in real life.

    I’ll let you know if any better examples come to mind.


    • Thanks, Kat Lib! I knew this would be a tough one to come up with examples for. I was having trouble myself, which is why the column is so short. 🙂 But your comment is great, despite the difficulty!

      I read one of those Lisa Scottoline books: “The Vendetta Defense” — excellent! (After you recommended Scottoline’s work.) And one day I want to try Alexander McCall Smith, including the first of his “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series.

      It IS fun when an actual person appears in a novel. Another example of that is when a real-life boxer had a cameo in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Unfortunately, he got rather beat up, while acting heroically.


      • Another series that I thought about is Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache novels that take place in Quebec. I just finished the 11th book in the series, and I’ve started to read the 12th. Aside from Gamache, his lovely and intelligent wife Reine-Marie, his two protégés (Inspectors Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste), most of the action takes place in a tiny village named Three Pines, which doesn’t even appear on a map of Canada, nor even Quebec. It is on the other hand filled with a recurring cast of characters in Three Pines: Clara, the portrait painter who walks around with paint and food crumbs in her hair; Myrna, the black ex-psychologist who owns the new and used bookstore; Gabri and Olivier, the gay couple who own and run the B&B where most everyone hangs out; and the VERY eccentric; and elderly poet Ruth Zardo who has a duck as a pet and a filthy mouth (when someone hears the word “f**k, they aren’t sure whether it has been said by Ruth or her duck Rosa). I’m sure I forgot someone; oh, and yes, Gamache’s German Shepherd, Henri. These books have primed the pump so to speak, to get me reading again, after a reader’s block for almost a year. Thank goodness!

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          • If anyone wants to read Penny’s novels about Gamache, my sister and I were talking the other day about telling people to start with her 4th or 5th novels, as she gets better and better with each novel. She also just lost her husband to complications from Alzheimer’s so we don’t know if she’ll come out with a 13th book in the series.

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  11. Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mocking Bird” and its somewhat disappointing, mediocre sequel? “Go Set A Watchmen” had several characters from the first, highly praised book, one of your favorites. Then again, maybe we did not need this pseduo sequel in the first place. If ” it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” if you will.

    They were in a series, but the James Herriot books, “All Creatures Great And Small’, ” The Lord God Made Them All” and others were depicted wonderfully on PBS about the veterinarians of Northern England, the Yorkshire Dales.

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  12. Howdy, Dave!

    — Can you name some recurring characters from non-sequel, non-series books? —

    A brilliant common thread runs through the resplendent tapestry woven by the three books constituting Henryk Sienkiewicz’s signature Trilogy (“With Fire and Sword,” “The Deluge” and “Fire in the Steppe”), but I do not categorize them as constituting a series in the same sense as, say, the three books making up J.R.R. Tolkien’s own signature trilogy (“The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King”), which I read as a single novel (i.e., “The Lord of the Rings”).

    Bearing this distinction in mind, I am impressed with multiple recurring characters in Sienkiewicz’s Trilogy. Among my favorites are Yan Skshetuski, Michal Volodyovski and the perpetually surprising Yan Zagloba, who has more things up his sleeve than any dozen Merlins at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles: Even though I do not believe the author’s Trilogy is a series in a conventional sense, I think it is worth reading in chronological order simply to track the remarkable development of Zagloba. Genius!

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • Great point, J.J. Some trilogies read like one novel divided into three, while others read like three related books. In that respect, maybe a better example of recurring characters in Tolkien’s work than Frodo Baggins (who I mentioned) might be those who appeared in both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” — Bilbo Baggins, Gollum, Gandalf…

      Thanks for your excellent thoughts on Henryk Sienkiewicz’s trilogy! Yan Zagloba sounds beyond intriguing. I still mean to read Sienkiewicz — and I will!


      • — [M]aybe a better example of recurring characters in Tolkien’s work than Frodo Baggins (who I mentioned) might be those who appeared in both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” — Bilbo Baggins, Gollum, Gandalf… —

        Makes sense to me!

        — Yan Zagloba sounds beyond intriguing. —

        The metamorphoses of Saul of Tarsus into Paul the Apostle, Gregor Samsa into a big buglike creature, and Malcolm Little first into Malcolm X and then into El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz may be more familiar to American readers than the transformation of Zagloba into Zagloba, but they are nowhere near as entertaining . . .

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          • — That’s some transformative company that Zagloba out-entertains! —

            Indubitably. Meanwhile, I should mention that Zagloba at his most entertainingly superficial initially recalls to mind another recurring character in another writer’s works, namely, Sir John Falstaff, who appears in three of William Shakespeare’s plays: “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” “Henry IV-Part 1” and “Henry IV-Part 2.” Of course, Zagloba becomes increasingly Zaglobian and Falstaff remains more or less Falstaffian as the characters proceed along their respective space-time continuums.

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                • A bit ironic!

                  Perhaps the closest equivalent to Falstaff in modern literature is the hilarious/eccentric/plus-sized Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces.”


                  • I might nominate The Good Soldier Schweik as closer equivalent, but neither he or Reilly has anything like Falstaff’s expansive gregariousness or fierce and dependable loyalty to a cause greater than themselves (in F’s case, Prince Hal).

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                  • After calm reflection, and a bit of a wikipedia top-up, I now nominate Major Amos B. Hoople as most apt comparison to Falstaff:

                    “Hoople has been compared to the type created on-screen by W. C. Fields, but was probably closer to Falstaff,” writes comics historian Maurice Horn. “A retired military man of dubious achievement like Shakespeare’s [comic figure], he boasted of soldierly exploits that were perhaps not all invented, and his buffoonery sometimes concealed real pathos.”

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                  • — Perhaps the closest equivalent to Falstaff in modern literature is the hilarious/eccentric/plus-sized Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces.” —

                    Certainly, Ignatz (as I call him fondly hereabouts) is among my favorite such fellows, although his social skills are comparatively lacking relative to either Falstaff or Zagloba. It is regrettable Reilly did not have a chance to become a recurring character himself.

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                    • “Ignatz”…nice “Krazy Kat” allusion, J.J.! Yes, Reilly’s social skills were virtually nonexistent. And it is indeed sad that a character who appears in a book finally published years after the author died can’t be a recurring character (unless an unknown novel is unearthed or another author uses that character — a la Jean Rhys putting Rochester of “Jane Eyre” into “Wide Sargasso Sea”).


                    • — [I]t is indeed sad that a character who appears in a book finally published years after the author died can’t be a recurring character (unless an unknown novel is unearthed or another author uses that character . . . ) —

                      “‘Stop!’ I cried imploringly to my god-like mind. ‘This is madness.’”

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                  • Have yet to read Sienkiewicz, and will be on the look-out for his trilogy. Quo Vadis I may read , though maybe not so soon. I am more intrigued by historical fiction after Salammbo and after Stendahl.

                    Thanks for giving me another set of books for my list, which never grows shorter.

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      • Another example of a loose trilogy is Faulkner’s ‘Snopes’ books–‘The Hamlet’, ‘The Town’ and ‘The Mansion’. The Snopes family is a pack of poor white trash that actually become successful and actually give the aristocratic families of Yoknapatawpha County such as the Compsons (of ‘The Sound and the Fury’, ‘Absalom! Absalom!’ and stories such as “That Evening Sun”) a run for their money. Flem Snopes is the antihero of ‘The Hamlet’, the only one of the trilogy that I’ve read. However, other Snopeses get in on the action in the second and third volumes. All of them have colorful names such as Mink and Montgomery Ward. They usher in a crass commercialism (kind of like a gang of backwoods Trumps) into the area.

        Another trilogy that came out just a few years before ‘The Hamlet’ are a trio from a writer from Florence, Alabama, T.S. Stribling. Some have stated that Faulkner read and was possibly influenced by Stribling when he wrote his Snopes books. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it is another trilogy of books set in the South in a slightly earlier time period. Stribling wrote about Florence without pulling any punches and the townspeople appreciated it about as much as the citizens of Salinas, CA liked how John Steinbeck portrayed them.

        Here’s a Wikipedia entry on him:

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        • Very interesting stuff, bobess48!

          And I like the phrase “loose trilogy.” As you might have seen in my reply to energywriter’s comment, Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy would be another example of three sort of related but not completely related novels.


        • Howdy, bobess48!

          — Another example of a loose trilogy is Faulkner’s ‘Snopes’ books–‘The Hamlet’, ‘The Town’ and ‘The Mansion’. —

          I am a big fan of William Faulkner’s work, but I have not read his Snopes trilogy. In any case, I believe your mention of the author in the current context is well warranted because he also has recurring characters elsewhere in his nonserial tales of Yoknapatawpha County: Among them are assorted Compsons and Dilsey Gibson, who are featured in both the novel “The Sound and the Fury” and the short story “That Evening Sun,” also known as “That Evening Sun Go Down.”


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          • “That Evening Sun” title derives from the first line of WC Handy’s St. Louis Blues (published in 1914), in case anybody might have wondered:

            I hate to see ‘that evening sun’ go down
            ‘Cause my baby, he done left this town

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  13. This is a topic that has fascinated me for many decades. Zola was a disciple of Balzac and was trying to portray a slightly later cross section of French society with the all-encompassing depth of Balzac’s ‘Comedie Humaine”.

    Rastignac did appear in at least one of Balzac’s novels before ‘Old Goriot’–‘The Wild Ass’s Skin’. He is one of the attendees to Raphael’s orgy, presumably in his post-gauntlet tossing declaration at the end of ‘Old Goriot’, which would make ‘Goriot’ a prequel to ‘Wild Ass’ in a sense. I think Balzac got the idea to make the novels a loosely connected series about three or four novels in and, of course, increasing his use of recurring characters once that conception became more conscious. Balzac was so absorbed with his fictional world that a rumor/legend arose that, in a delerious state on his death bed, he called for a doctor–Bianchon, a fictional character in the ‘Comedie Humaine’.

    I have only read two of Zola’s novels so far so I don’t know if his use of recurring characters is as pronounced as Balzac’s, but I do know that Etienne Lantier, the strike organizer in ‘Germinal’, is the brother of Nana, the titular character in that novel. That fact is never really brought out in ‘Germinal’ as little mention of his family is made. TANGENTIAL OBSERVATION–The other day I finally watched on Amazon video the 1993 film adaptation of ‘Germinal’. Having read the novel only about six months ago the events of the novel are still fairly fresh but from what I could see, it was VERY faithful to that novel and included all of the essential characters and plot elements. It was also an excellent visualization of that world. Appropriately grimy and gritty–literally, as most of these characters are covered in coal dust most of the time and you see them all taking turns in a small wash tub washing it off of them. The wife periodically pours fresh boiling water into the tub but you can see that bathing in that coal-infested water would become a futile endeavor to anyone other than the first bather. The film also includes gruesome events such as the women’s castration of the vile merchant that has extracted sexual favors from them for a long time in exchange for merchandise from his store, complete with the bloody severed ‘member’ in the hands of these wild and furious women. I thought that was probably what some rabid women would like to do to old Donald in the wake of the latest revelation of his appetites.

    But back to the topic: William Faulkner was also a disciple of Balzac and wanted to do for his fictional Yoknapatawpha County what Balzac had done for early 19th century France. The tormented Quentin Compson from ‘The Sound and the Fury’ also appears at Harvard pre-breakdown in ‘Absalom! Absalom!’, trying to explain the South from his experience to his Harvard roommate Shreve, getting steadily more intense in his grappling with it. Boon Hogganbeck, a near-retarded (as I recall illiliterate field hand of the McCaslin’s is one of the hunters in the novella ‘The Bear’, included in the collection ‘Go Down, Moses!’. He and, I believe, the same Ike McCaslin from ‘The Bear’ also appear in Faulkner’s last novel ‘The Reivers’, made into a movie in 1970 with Steve McQueen not cretinous like in the novel but his usual “Steve McQueen” ne’r do well character. Those are just a few examples of the gallery of characters that pop in and out of his novels.

    As you said, Kurt Vonnegut also adheres to this ‘school of recurring characters’. Howard Campbell, the main character of ‘Mother Night’, is a visitor along with some Nazi cronies to the slaughterhouse where Billy Pilgrim is a POW, pre-Dresden bombing. Obviously he survived as ‘Mother Night’ takes place mostly in the 50’s to early 60’s when Adolph Eichmann is in a prison cell next to him. Elliot Rosewater also appears somewhere in ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’–don’t recall if Billy knew him in the war but he’s in there somewhere. After all, ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, like its protagonist, is an ‘unstuck in time’ novel so he could be anywhere. Rosewater, of course, becomes a title character in the novel just before ‘Slaughterhouse’, ‘God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater’.

    I agree with your statement that the use of recurring characters fleshes out a fictional world. Also, we get to see characters from another angle in other novels from the ones we’re used to seeing them in. Tom Sawyer is a prime example of that. In ‘Tom Sawyer’ he’s just a rambunctious, overly romantic, probably ADHD kid where Huck is his simple-minded sidekick. In ‘Huck Finn’ we see much more of Huck’s life and thoughts and Tom is just an irritating and, to a certain extent, unwelcome intrusion into Huck’s world. Wasn’t he part of the world Huck was trying to run away from anyway?


    • Thank you, Brian! It IS a fascinating topic. And I appreciate the wide-ranging comment!

      Yes, Zola was definitely influenced by Balzac when it came to recurring characters and having many interconnected novels that took a mega- and micro-view of French society.

      From my experience reading Balzac and Zola — about five novels by the former and perhaps eight novels by the latter, I think Zola used recurring characters as much, if not more, than Balzac. Etienne and Nana are indeed siblings.

      I’ve never seen the “Germinal” movie, but it sounds impressive and pretty faithful to the novel. Zola would have had a field day skewering Trump.

      What an amazing deathbed anecdote about Balzac!

      Oops — forgot that Rastignac appeared in what is also called “The Magic Skin” before “Old Goriot.” Will tweak the column a bit after posting this comment.

      I didn’t realize Faulkner had recurring characters — guess I haven’t read enough of him yet. Thanks for citing some of them, and for naming other recurring characters in Vonnegut’s work. Also, a very nice paragraph about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn!

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