Today’s topic is plucky protagonists — characters who, despite difficulties, remain mostly resilient and optimistic and good-natured until they sometimes (not always) achieve success.
My inspiration for this piece was my 11-year-old daughter Maria and her softball teammates, who had been overwhelmed this spring — losing their first four games 16-8, 22-4, 20-2, and 16-6. This is Maria’s fourth year of rec softball (she was previously on third-to-fifth-grade squads that won quite a few games), but a number of her current teammates had little or no experience with the sport. Plus they’ve been mostly playing teams from towns with much stronger softball programs.
But Maria (shown speeding to third base yesterday in the above photo) and her fellow Wildcats were still having fun, trying hard, displaying a good attitude, and not blaming each other for fielding mistakes, striking out, and so on. They were doing the best they could, and sometimes made great plays and sometimes hit the ball hard.
Then came yesterday’s fifth game of the season, which…well, I’ll wait till the end of this blog post to give you the results.
Plucky fictional characters who come to mind include those in the two novels I most recently read.
One of the books is Mrs. Pollifax Pursued, which is among the 14 seriocomic Dorothy Gilman novels starring an older woman who does freelance spy work for the CIA. Mrs. Pollifax faces obstacles because of her age, gender, lack of spy training when younger, etc. But she’s very smart, congenial, cool under pressure, usually makes good decisions, and doesn’t let mistakes get her down too much.
The other book is Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, which stars child of privilege Juan “Johnnie” Rico. He decides to enlist in a futuristic army, and fouls up several times during training and early missions, but generally maintains an excellent attitude and eventually meets with great success. A plucky guy.
Stephanie Plum of Janet Evanovich’s many mystery novels also finds it tough going at first as she tries to learn the ropes of bounty hunting. But she sticks to it with plenty of courage and humor.
Plucky characters are of course easy to root for, even in cases when they’re not doing totally admirable things. For instance, Heinlein’s sci-fi novel can be disturbingly militaristic.
And I should note that the term “plucky” can be seen as patronizing, but I think it’s a more positive word than that. For instance, the title character in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is smart, stoic, independent, and more — but I would also praise her with the “plucky” adjective.
Penelope Keeling of Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers is plucky as well — going on with her life, with mostly an upbeat attitude, despite experiencing tragedy as a young woman and health issues in the novel’s present.
Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings deserves the “p” word, too, as does his traveling comrade Samwise Gamgee. That has something to do with their size — they’re both short-in-height hobbits — but has more to do with their bravery as they do their part to try to save Middle-earth amid friends and enemies who are usually bigger, stronger, and in some cases have special powers.
Size is also an element of pluckiness for Amy Dorrit, the titular character of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. Plus she makes the best of a bad situation (her father is in debtors’ prison for a long time) — managing to earn crucial money and helping to keep the Dorrit family together.
Your favorite characters who fit this topic?
Oh, my daughter Maria’s team — in their fifth game yesterday — finally won for the first time this season, 14-11. One player hit a grand slam, and Maria got the save — coming in as a relief pitcher with the bases loaded and one out to throw out a runner at the plate and then strike out the final batter.
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 teachers without a new contract, a history-wrecking decision, and more — is here.