The Three…um…Four Musketeers.
When a novel’s title features names of people, they’re sure to be the stars of the book, right? Think Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, David Copperfield, Don Quixote, Madame Bovary, Ethan Frome, Eugenie Grandet, Evelina, Lelia, Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Bridge, Agnes Grey, Life of Pi, Emma, Heidi, Carrie, Camille, Suttree, Pierre, Lord Jim, Sister Carrie, Hadji Murat, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, etc.
But this is not always the case. Occasionally, the people in a title are secondary (albeit significant) characters, or they share top billing. Why? Maybe the titular secondary character is particular charismatic or mysterious. Maybe the chosen title just has a nicer ring to it. Maybe the author intends a bit of misdirection or surprise.
One example is Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel Rob Roy. While the Scottish outlaw has a major role in the 1817 book, the most prominent character is narrator Frank Osbaldistone. Rob Roy is of course a more interesting fella, and who would want to read a novel called Frank Osbaldistone? 🙂 Anyway, it’s logical that those behind the 1995 film version of Scott’s novel made Rob Roy (Liam Neeson) the main guy.
Four years after Scott’s novel was published, James Fenimore Cooper came out with The Spy. But Revolutionary War agent Harvey Birch is not the main player in the book; he’s part of an ensemble of about a half-dozen characters who get roughly equal time. Still, Birch is the novel’s most intriguing creation, and faces some memorably dangerous situations.
Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers? Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are of course a big part of that swashbuckling 1844 novel, but the younger D’Artagnan — who becomes essentially the fourth musketeer — is really the star of the show.
The true star of R.D. Blackmore’s 1869 novel Lorna Doone is John Ridd. But John falls in love with Lorna, much of the story stems from that romance, and Lorna IS a major player in the book, so the title is understandable. Plus who would want to eat a cookie called “John Ridd”? 🙂
Daniel Deronda is the linchpin of George Eliot’s 1876 novel of that name, but a case can be made that the fascinating arc of Gwendolen Harleth’s life makes her at least equal as a character in that book.
Jumping nearly a century, we have Toni Morrison’s 1973 novel Sula, whose protagonist is actually Sula’s best friend Nel. But Sula — while occupying less of the book than Nel — drives the plot with her charisma, her unconventionality, and (at times) her selfishness and not-niceness.
Any other novel titles that might fit this theme?
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 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” local topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about my town belatedly becoming eligible for federal disaster relief after Hurricane Ida — is here.