Characters Who Make a Big Impression in a Small Amount of Time

The very weird Anthony Scaramucci lasted only 10 days as Donald Trump’s communications director — a brief and memorable White House cameo for that minor cast member in “Trumpland.”

Which reminds me of the many fictional people who appear for a short or relatively short time in novels, yet are unforgettable — whether they’re good or evil, funny or not funny, etc. They’re not as important as the protagonists and the top-tier secondary characters, but they leave their mark.

A few examples (chronologically by the novels’ publication date):

The gentle/ill-fated Helen of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre becomes friends with Jane when they’re both girls at the Lowood institution. Helen shows the young Jane that there’s some kindness in the world, and her (Helen’s) death helps spark changes at the unhealthy Lowood — cheaply run by wealthy “religious” hypocrite Mr. Brocklehurst — that probably save the lives of Jane and others.

Moby-Dick‘s Starbuck doesn’t appear a lot in Herman Melville’s novel, but the calm/earnest first mate is quite a contrast to the crazed Captain Ahab — and the only person on the Pequod ship who tries to talk Ahab out of continuing his obsessive quest to revenge himself on the white whale who bit off Ahab’s leg. But the not-brave-enough Starbuck (who inspired the name of a certain coffee chain) ultimately goes along with Ahab’s doomed mission.

In George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, the mother Daniel has never really known turns up late, and only briefly, but she is a crucial piece in the puzzle as the title character discovers his secret Jewish identity. The mother-son scene is dramatic, heightened by the fact that she’s terminally ill.

A highlight of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is the devil cameo in an amazing scene that’s philosophical, hilarious, and more. Satan (a hallucination?) appears in the guise of an amiable elderly man and proceeds to tell a bunch of silly — or perhaps not so silly — stories.

In Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk, there are many minor characters with cameos that will have you rolling on the floor. My favorite of those people might be Baloun, who’s always so hungry and food-obsessed that he can’t help scarfing down the edibles he’s supposed to be saving for his commanding officer.

Readers of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon only get to see the leader of Shangri-La for a short time, but that leader’s life is long: he’s 250 years old! Not easy to forget that

Eowyn has a minor part in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but it’s a memorable one as she disguises herself as a man to fight in battle. She stands out even more given that most of Tolkien’s characters are male and his trilogy has quite a bit of gender stereotyping. Yet The Lord of the Rings is still great.

Which is more than one can say about anybody who was or is part of the Trump administration.

Who are some of the minor characters in literature you’ve found majorly memorable?

My 2017 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 The latest weekly piece, with education and health themes, is here.