Characters With Special Powers

Reading literature can be a magical experience — sometimes literally.

Yes, some novels feature protagonists with powers beyond that of mere mortals. An obvious example includes the witches and wizards in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but many other fictional works and genres also include characters who do astounding things.

One such genre is magic realism. So we have someone like Clara in Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits who’s clairvoyant and telekinetic, and Remedios in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude who eventually ascends into the sky…without boarding an airplane.

Which reminds me of how Margarita in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita flies with some help from the devil. Certainly, special powers can be used for good or for evil — or some combination of the two, because Margarita is a sympathetic character in Bulgakov’s book while the devil unsurprisingly isn’t.

Sci-fi is also well-represented when it comes to characters possessing unusual abilities, as with the “hyperempathetic” Lauren in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower who can literally feel the pain of others.

Which reminds me of Matty in Lois Lowry’s Messenger who can heal others without the least bit of medicine — albeit at some danger to himself. Indeed, having special powers can be a double-edged sword that might make readers feel uneasy about a character’s future in addition to reveling in the wish-fulfullment of seeing those powers in action.

We also have Johnny in Stephen King’s The Dead Zone who wakes up psychic after being in a coma.

Living for an incredibly long time is also kind of magical. The vampires and other characters in various Anne Rice novels, the more-than-2,000-year-old Lazarus Long in various Robert A. Heinlein sci-fi books, the 250-year-old High Lama in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, the nearly 300-year-old Cormac in Pete Hamill’s Forever, and so on.

And, getting back to wizards, we can’t forget the powers of Gandalf (pictured atop this blog post) in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Your favorite characters who fit this topic?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about an ugly hotel and some election issues — is here.

67 thoughts on “Characters With Special Powers

    • I love that series, too! Read each of the seven books twice, and saw each of the eight movies once. All the magic was a draw, of course, but there were also the memorable characters, the suspense, the humor, etc.!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Presently lording above us all is a man who would be king, but will likely prove, as he exercises his special powers,to be King Midas in Reverse, to repurpose a Hollies’ title.

    And we’ll all be poorer for it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Another great column and comments, Dave! Recalled for me one of the best novels by the great American writer Robert Silverberg — Dying Inside. Born with the gift of telepathy, David Selig has squandered his power on personal pleasure. As he ages his power weakens and he struggles to learn to live without it. Published in 1972 it remains a thought-provoking classic. And that’s not a pun. I don’t do the puns.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Dave! Sounds like a compelling/poignant book — now on my list! Yes, it’s very tempting to use a power in a frivolous way. Reminds me a bit of what happens in Balzac’s “The Magic Skin” — though the power in that novel comes from the titular skin (sort of like a pelt) rather than the protagonist’s mind.

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    • Thank you, Stacey!

      Glad you added some movies to the mix. 🙂 Many of them, old and new, include characters having special powers. And that’s not even counting all the superhero films of the past decade or two.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Dave,

    When you said Johnny and Stephen King in the same sentence, I thought you were going to beat me to mentioning “The Shining” named after the power that plays a big part in the terrors of The Overlook Hotel.

    I’m trying to think of quirky characters with unusual powers, but I’m coming up all vampires and Stephen King. Both of which I talk about way too much.

    I guess I could throw in Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”. I think being a god probably gives you a head start in the Special Powers category, but Shadow also uses an amateur level of magic throughout the book. Illusion and sleight of hand obviously aren’t really special powers, but there is something kind of magical about the way Shadow does it.

    There’s also Shadow’s ‘brother’ in the follow up “Anansi Boys” who is a bit of a trickster. I’d be more than happy if I had his special ability of taking a small, dank room and turning it into paradise.

    Although I don’t have a huge amount to add, this is a really fun topic. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue!

      Yes, a number of Stephen King novels fit with this blog post’s theme! “The Shining” (as you mentioned), “Carrie,” “Rose Madder,” etc.

      Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” is an excellent mention! Plenty of supernatural things going on in that very interesting novel.

      Your comment added plenty, with both seriousness and humor. 🙂

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  4. I’ll have to add Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein since the monster could not be killed then there’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula: power over death, turns out to be a really unfortunate super power to have. Wanted to add a comment to your last post re: women written as wicked and warped (geez what a tongue twister lol); however, lot of ground was covered on that one. I do want to say this about Devos and it’s rather in keeping with this theme so to speak: apparently she broke her pelvis and hip in a “biking accident” some time ago, although online psychics said she was drunk and fell down the stairs at her home. Or maybe, jes maybe someone with super powers put a hex on her? Hmmm?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, SW! Two terrific examples of novels with special-powers elements! “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” are total classics, and incredibly influential in literature and pop culture.

      Whatever happened (supernatural or otherwise 🙂 ) to Betsy DeVos, it couldn’t have happened to an “un-nicer” person. She and her fellow Trump-administration ghouls are…ghoulish.

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  5. “Characters With Special Powers” I see your ruse, Mr. Astor! You posted spoilers to the Avengers End Game movie using literary trickery, didn’t you?

    To foil your plan I will actually talk about “Characters With Special Powers” I have a copy of The Arabian Nights by Richard Francis Burton, one of the many iterations of Arabic folk tales One Thousand and One Nights.

    Most notably are the stories of Ali Baba and the forty thieves and Sinbad the Sailor. The stories have the usual supernatural elements Devils, magic, adventure but are also great in great violence and cruelness. I supposed a superpower the characters share is overcoming it all.

    Ok, I’ll admit the MAGIC genre has never appealed much to me. I did read the trilogy Lives of the Mayfair Witches by Anne Rice and enjoyed it. I took the kids to buy Harry Potter books at Barnes and Nobles and can tell you I developed Magical powers of patience dealing with the insanity of the first arrival of the books.

    It’s getting late so all I have left to say is, close sesame!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Jack! Ha ha! I wish I was that crafty — never saw any of the “Avengers” movies.

      The various iterations of “One Thousand and One Nights” are a great addition to this topic! I think I’ll have to re-listen to Renaissance’s “Song of Scheherazade” (mid-1970s prog-rock). 🙂

      I’ve read one of Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches novels — the first one, “The Witching Hour.” Liked it a lot.

      And, yes, the chaos of “Harry Potter” book releases! I remember them well; my older daughter was and is a big fan.

      Greatly enjoyed your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dave, I’ll have to agree with you about listening to Renaissance’s “Song of Scheherazade” (mid-1970s prog-rock). I seem to listen to it almost weekly. I also am very fond of “Mother Russia,” which seems to have a special meaning these days.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Such a wonderful song, Kat Lit! 🙂

          And a GREAT point about “Mother Russia” having a special meaning these days. Maybe it’s Trump’s private nickname for who might be his “boss”: Putin.

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          • I agree, Dave, that Trump seems to want to be known as Putin’s pal. I don’t know if you’ve been listening to the news that he wants to add two years to his term as POTUS, to make up for the time he lost while dealing with the Russian investigation. Or not letting power get away from him in 2020. I apologize if I’m not reporting this correctly, but I wouldn’t put anything past him.

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            • I have heard both of those things, Kat Lit. 😦 I think there’s a real chance that if Trump loses the 2020 presidential election he’ll balk at leaving office, with full support from most of his Republican toadies in Congress and elsewhere. 😦

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                • At the library now so I can’t listen to this. But if you’re referring to what I think you’re referring to, yes, thanks to Trump, “W” is no longer the worst U.S. president ever. Trump is — by far. 😦 😦

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • As a destroyer of institutions and tradition and even law, yep, Trump is the worst. But GWB lied us into a war that costs the deaths of many, many thousands– some say more, cost us a trillion in war debt, and stuck us in a recession during which several millions of citizens lost their homes and retirements. I’d say his dubious achievements, to date, outstrip the present resident of the White House.

                    So far, Trump has not done so much literal damage, though by inclination, I fear he will. UFO– Unfit For Office. Trump is, and was, from Day One. As was GWB.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • A very good point, jhNY. Bush did a HUGE amount of damage in terms of people dying and the economy tanking. As you allude to, Trump could eventually do that kind of damage (in addition to all the awful damage he’s already done to decency, tolerance, honesty, constitutional law, etc.) in the next two years. Or (gulp) the next six years if the 2020 election is spun and rigged enough in his favor.

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                    • Totally agree about Dick Cheney, bebe. He should be in jail — for a long time. And that’s a very interesting/revealing interview about Trump and his Deutsche Bank relationship. Thanks for the link!

                      Liked by 1 person

  6. “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig is one of my recent reads, and the main characters have a genetic aging condition in which they don’t age, or rather, they age verrrrrry slowly. Most of them have been alive for hundreds if not thousands of years. It’s a really amazing story, a unique twist on both sci/fi and magical concepts. As for favorite characters, I’d say one of my favorite magical characters of all time is Professor Snape from Harry Potter. I’m a real sucker for very complex and layered characters, especially ones that are portrayed as villainous to start. Kind of like Garcia Flynn in the recent TV show “Timeless,” a show about time-traveling. He’s portrayed as a very deadly villain at first, but once his character develops, you understand the complexities there and you even grow to love him!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, M.B.!

      Yes, complicated/layered characters with special powers — like Professor Snape — can be VERY compelling. He certainly seemed villainous for a long time…

      “How to Stop Time” sounds like an incredible work, and strange aging situations can definitely hook a reader’s interest. One of my favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories is “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” whose protagonist is born old and gets younger.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ll also mention here the Liane Moriarty book “The Hypnotist’s Love Story.” While not exactly a novel that meets this category, there was something special about her ability to hypnotize her clients as part of her giving them therapy as well. I think you’ve read this Dave, though it might not be appropriate for her or they.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hypnotism seems magical in its way, so I think it applies, Kat Lit! I’ve read that excellent Moriarty novel — the first of hers I tried. I quickly became hooked on her writing. 🙂

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  8. Howdy, Dave!

    — Your favorite characters who fit this topic? —

    Complementing a superpowered motley crew of Greek, Norse and Roman gods, goddesses, demigods, demigoddesses and assorted mythological creatures are the adorable chicks in H.G. Wells’ “The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth.”

    Hmm. You know, I believe I will skip my breakfast omelette this morning.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, J.J.! I had never heard of that H.G. Wells book; glad you mentioned it! Sounds VERY interesting, and written just after the period (1896-1901) when Wells penned many of his most famous works.

      Ha — yes, reading novels and thinking about animals can potentially affect one’s diet.

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    • Greetings, J.J.!

      Then there’s IB Singer’s cri de coeur “Cockledoodledoo”, a short story from the archetypal/eternal rooster’s point of view– haunting and even profound.

      It should be noted that the author was a vegetarian– to the point that, when, years ago, he ate lunch with a friend of mine here on the Upper West Side, his meal consisted of a solitary boiled potato.

      I spent a little time among farm chickens even longer ago, and once saw a goat chew down the tail-feathers of a sleeping chicken– not the sharpest bird in the bird drawer. But it doesn’t follow, necessarily, that they are therefore up for grabs at dinner. I’ve also seen folks who love a particular chicken in their care, and are sure they’ve been loved back.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy, jhNY!

        — Then there’s IB Singer’s cri de coeur “Cockledoodledoo”, a short story from the archetypal/eternal rooster’s point of view– haunting and even profound. —

        I am such a schmuck when it comes to litterateurs laboring in the Yiddish vineyard that while I have read a lot of Sholem Aleichem, I have read just a little of Isaac Bashevis Singer, so I have not yet come across “Cockledoodledoo.”

        — It should be noted that the author was a vegetarian– to the point that, when, years ago, he ate lunch with a friend of mine here on the Upper West Side, his meal consisted of a solitary boiled potato. —

        Half Irish and all ovolactovegetarian myself, I appreciate Singer’s choice of comestible — although I most likely would have had three, maybe fried, perhaps mashed. Probably with black pepper. And possibly with either ketchup or butter.

        — I spent a little time among farm chickens even longer ago, and once saw a goat chew down the tail-feathers of a sleeping chicken– not the sharpest bird in the bird drawer. But it doesn’t follow, necessarily, that they are therefore up for grabs at dinner. —

        A similar point was certainly one of my takeaways with respect to the chicks in “The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth.”

        — I’ve also seen folks who love a particular chicken in their care, and are sure they’ve been loved back. —

        The world is full of strange and wonderful things . . .

        J.J.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I keep thinking about the sci-fi novel “Dune,” by Frank Herbert, whose characters seemed to have special powers of all those living on that godforsaken planet. I loved this novel and hope to reread it someday soon (for the third time!).

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Your post today, Dave, brought Owen Meany to my mind. In John Irving‘s book “A Prayer for Owen Meany” his character Owen believes he is God’s instrument despite his diminutive stature and shrill voice. He plays this out as he predicted in what I found to be a fascinating tale. I also enjoyed “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Molly! Owen Meany is an excellent example of a character with a certain kind of special power, and the quirky John Irving novel he stars in is a very memorable book. As is the masterpiece “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” of course. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. So obviously I have to bring up Kit and Holly Fielding from Dick Francis’s “Break In” and “Bolt” here, twins who possess a kind of psychic connection. Kit, a jockey, also experiences a psychic connection with the horses he rides, and on occasion with his girlfriend.

    There was some other book I particularly wanted to mention, but in the time it took to write the preceding paragraph it’s gone clean out of my head. If I remember, I’ll add it!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Elena! Kit and Holly Fielding — of course! I should have remembered them after having recently read the excellent “Break In” on your recommendation. (Haven’t found the “Bolt” sequel in my local library yet.) I love the psychic-connection aspect even as Dick Francis’ writing is quite realistic in various other ways.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Elena, she was portrayed as a much more sympathetic character than any other version of this story that I love so much. There are so many facets to it, even excluding the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot plotline.

      Liked by 3 people

  12. Great post. It got me wondering about time travel, which is often framed as a technological development, as a “power”. Especially when only one character can travel in time, this distinguishes them and gives them certain benefits. Any thoughts on characters with the power to travel through time?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Isobel!

      That’s a terrific point about time travel — an incredible ability when one thinks about. Some characters indeed travel through time via technology, while others do it via their mind (as in Jack Finney’s great “Time and Again”).

      Some of my other favorite novels in that genre include Daphne du Maurier’s “The House on the Strand,” Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward,” Darryl Brock’s “If I Never Get Back,” and Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

      What are some of your favorite time-travel books?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve not read so many recently, but I enjoyed “The Time Traveller’s Wife” too. I think “Kindred” by Octavia Butler might be next on my list. And then of course, there’s Hermione Granger, who used time travel to take more classes…

        Liked by 1 person

        • “Kindred” is an excellent (and very sobering/socially conscious) time-travel book. And, yes, Hermione was quite clever to use time travel — in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” I think.

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    • “The Time Traveller’s Wife” definitely fits this. The male character is the only one with the ability to travel (is ability the right word if he doesn’t have control of it?), hence the wife is left behind. A really beautiful story.

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    • “The Man Who Was Born Again” by Paul Busson (1921), a postwar German fantasy, concerns a man who has the overwhelming sense of having lived before– about a century before– as the son of a rigid and dismissive nobleman. Given his vivid and detailed recollections of a past life, it would appear he is correct! He has more life ahead of him than one, it would seem, by novel’s end.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, jhNY! Sounds VERY intriguing. I imagine “The Man Who Was Born Again” is the type of novel that has the reader very eager to find out what happens at the end.

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  13. In “The Rules of Magic” by Alice Hoffman, the children, Franny, Jet and Vincent grow up trying to follow their parents’ rules about not using magic. Their aunt definitely uses her magic, and eventually the children grow up and use theirs, too…sparingly and for good reasons.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Becky! A great example of a special-powers novel! Makes me think a bit of “The Incredibles” movies, in which the children of the super-hero couple are told not to use their powers — but of course they eventually do. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. A favorite character in a favorite book, Merlin in “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White. The entire concept of Merlin living backwards fascinated me, but poor Merlin was bewitched himself by Nimue before he could warn Arthur about the dangers Merlin had already been through.

    Liked by 3 people

      • To follow-up on Susan’s comment about Merlin, which I totally agree with, I’ll add “The Mists of Avalon,” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, another retelling of the Arthurian legend. I’ve watched on DVD and read about this subject so much, I get somewhat confused by all the names and their many changes. Bradley’s main protagonist is Morgaine (or more often known as Morgana la Fay). She is portrayed as having second sight and transfiguration, and also has great magical powers as the priestess of Avalon (represented by the great goddess). I probably have more memories of this as a TV miniseries than I do the book, but it’s all quite interesting, as well as the characters being different from how we often see them.

        Liked by 4 people

        • Thank you, Kat Lit! She sounds like a GREAT character — and second sight, transfiguration, etc., make her an exemplary example of someone with special powers. Love her name, too. 🙂

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          • Yes, I love her name, and I often think to myself that this one is a perfect name for a cat. Not that I’m ready to adopt another kitty. I’ve got my hands full as it is taking care of Jessie and my dog Willow, Actually Willow was named after the name of the best friend of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, in most of her broadcast seasons, when she finally became known as a witch (good and bad). Sorry, but as you know, Dave, I get carried away with certain topics. Jessie is just Jessie because I always liked the name and I can’t change her name now!

            Liked by 1 person

            • That WOULD be a great name for a cat, Kat Lit! But Willow and Jessie work quite well as pet monikers. 🙂

              And, yes, it’s already a lot of responsibility having two animal companions.

              Like

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