Friday, August 13, 2010

Perfect Ten

Bibliophiliac posted an interesting meme the other day which I think I'll borrow, seeing as it's Friday and I have little thought for anything other than getting through the pile of work on my desk, and then falling headfirst into home repair projects this weekend - none of which seem very interesting. Without further ado:

Award Presentation for Ten Characters From Literature I Love Or Love To Hate (In Random Order):

1. Best Change Of Character By A (Um..) Character: Jean Valjean, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo. Since I've always imagined him to look like Louis Jordan, I've been smitten with him from the very beginning. But, he is also such a redemptive and ultimately unselfish character how could I not love him?

2. Best Character In A Bit Part: Monseigneur Charles Francois Myriel, the bishop of Digne, Les Miserables. Considering the heft of the book he is a minor character and yet a pivotal one. Without one particular act of human compassion by this priest there would be no story, no Monsieur Madeleine, no factory in the town of Montreuil, and no home for the orphaned Cozette, no stage upon which Jean Valjean can play out his selfless love. He certainly made the most of his limited page space.

3. Most Single-Minded And Relentless Villain Who In The End Is More Pitied Than Despised: Officer Javert, Les Miserables. Since Les Miserables is my favorite book out of all I've ever read, this post must necessarily be top-heavy with it. Poor inflexible Javert. He is so wedded to his belief in the law he does not fathom that laws can be unjust. This inability to reconcile justice with mercy is his undoing and in the end, there is nothing for the reader to do but pity him. He also brings much of the suspense to this party.

4. Most Unsinkable Heroine: Scarlett O'Hara, Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell. Yes she's willful. Yes she's spiteful. Yes she's a little selfish. But we love her nevertheless. Perhaps it's her buoyancy. We're left with believing she will eventually have it her way. Her determination is a little reminiscent of the aforementioned Javert. We hope hers is a happier ending.

5. The Crazy For Love Award: Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy. What was she thinking? Abhorrence to fakery is one thing. Devotion to love is another. But wasn't there a saner alternative? I read Anna Karenina right after finishing Gone With The Wind. Both heroines were bright lights to which others were drawn. Both were haunted by love and desire gone awry. But whereas one struggled (albeit selfishly) to survive intact, the other simply crumpled. These two would never have been friends. Scarlett would probably have described Anna as "mealy mouthed." If I was asked who I'd rather have a drink with it would most certainly be Scarlett. But I loved both books.

6. Best Friend Award: Winnie The Pooh, A.A. Milne. I can't even find the words, so I'll simply quote: "Some people care too much. I think it's called love." "Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."

7. Father Of The Century Award: Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee. It isn't always easy to do the right thing. But there are times when one person, standing for something good and true, is stronger than an entire crowd in opposition. (Also bestowed Lawyer Of The Century Award.)

8. Best Lead In Tragedy Of Lost Dreams: Nick Romano, Knock On Any Door, Willard Motley. A large and gritty book, I can't think of a character I've more wanted to save than Nick. It is the story of a young Italian-American (although the author Willard Motley was African-American) growing up in Chicago's Skid altar boy with hopes of one day becoming a priest. How different his life played out. It is quite simply a crushing masterpiece. First published in the 1940s, I'm not sure if it is still in print. If you can find it do not let it slip through your fingers. It is just one of those books that will still be with you years...decades...hence.

9. Best By-The-Book Detective: Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett. I love Sherlock Holmes. I love Hercule Poirot. I love Miss Marple. But Sam...Sam is a bad boy. Sam is a tough guy. Sam was fooling around with his business partner's wife. Sam doesn't like his partner, Miles Archer. But when your partner gets killed "you gotta do something about it." And when you fall for a murderess, well, you gotta do something about that too. 'Cause no matter ain't gonna take the fall for nobody. "All we've got is maybe you love me and maybe I love you. Maybe I do. I'll have some rotten nights after I've sent you over, but that'll pass." By the book, Sam, all the way. After finishing The Maltese Falcon I talked like a gangster for an entire week.

10. Best Coming Of Age Award: Huw Morgan, How Green Was My Valley, Richard Llewellen. Huw's voice is perfectly pitched as he recounts the elegance, beauty, drama, tragedy, desire and majesty of simple lives in a Welsh coal mining town. It is one of the most beautiful novels I've ever read, and even brushing by it in thought makes me feel as though I will cry.

I am certain that once I hit the "send" button, all the other characters I know and love, and know and hate, and know and love to hate will be jamming the lines demanding to know why they were excluded. So let me just say to them here and now, before they get rowdy and belligerent, before they attempt keep me up all night, this was not an exhaustive list. There will be other lists, other opportunities to shine. After all, what's that line, Scarlett? "Tomorrow is another day."


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I love yours and am now a follower!

    BTW: if you start reading Rex Stout, I would suggest you start with something other than Death of a Dude (the one I quoted). Not that I think it's bad (I'm not far enough in to even make a judgement), but it doesn't showcase the characters in their natural habitat.

  2. Fun! I'm going to steal this meme, I think. :)

    Love your answers, but many of them reminded me of how many classics I've yet to read (I've not read Les Miserables, Gone With the Wind, or Winnie the Pooh . . . I know!! How could I not?).

  3. I will have to read Les Miserables after reading this post. Thanks for the visit, I hope you have an amazing weekend!

  4. How fun! #9 is making me want to read Hammett -- I've never read The Maltese Falcon and should some time!

  5. I love that quote from Pooh. And you've made me want to read Les Miserables sooner rather than later.

  6. You're making me wonder whether I should reread Anna Karenina, a book I found insufferably tedious. If you loved it, it must have some merit. But I'm with Scarlett on the "mealy mouthed" epithet......

  7. heh, after the frist three I was beginnging to wonder if all ten were going to be from Les Mis ;) I love Pooh! And I wholeheartedly agree about Atticus. Plus I've always had a slight crush on Atticus as portrayed by Greory Peck in the movie.

  8. I just read Gone With the Wind this summer, and although Scarlett drove me absolutely bonkers with frustration, I really had to admire her ... Determination? Gumption? Nerve? Anyway, the girl definitely knows how to get what she wants.

    By the way I read my first Wilkie Collins book (The Woman in White) after seeing you mention him several times on your blog, and I loved it!

  9. I wanted to smack Anna Karenina. Could've happily pushed her under that train myself.

    The thought of you talking gangster is hilarious, Graddikins, but I can see how it happened!

    Oh, dear Pooh!

    And gosh you make me want to read How Green Was My Valley and Knock On Any Door.

  10. Great meme, which I will have to steal. I don't know how to talk gangster but it sounds like a good skill to learn. And I'm glad the Les Mis didn't sweep the board here. Loved the musical but I don't think I could face the book. And Pooh would probably also crack my top ten memorable characters. Haven't read Anna K or GWTW but I'll take Scarlet's word for it that Anna K is mealy-mouthed.

  11. Bev, I'm ready for Rex. Where should I start?

    Inkslinger, I think more people haven't read Les Miserables than have read it. It's a bit of a tome. I usually don't suggest abridged versions, but in this case I would because the story is so uplifting. Of course, when you think of it we don't think anything of finishing four books in a month or two, and the full version is the equivalent...sort of.

  12. Whitney, I did have a great weekend after all. I always suggest my favorite book to people. What do you have to lose? You can always throw it against the wall if it drives you crazy.

    Ofbooksandbikes, The Maltese Falcon was one of my favorites this year. The names of the characters themselves are so perfect...Brigid O'Shaughnessy...Kasper Gutman...Joel Cairo...Sam Spade...they just drip with atmosphere.

  13. Nymeth, Pooh just says the best things, doesn't he?

    Tinky, I read both GWTW & AK when I was much younger. If I were to read Anna K today, I might have a different take on it. If I remember correctly her husband was pretty forgiving under the circumstances. Am I right in remembering it is one of the things she despised him for? I should probably go back and revisit it myself.

    Stefanie, I have a crush on Gregory Peck in anything (and Hugh Grant, and Toby Stephens, and Sean Connery). I don't discriminate by age or era. I'm an equal opportunity groupie.

    Janelle, I am SO happy you read The Woman In White. Isn't it just the best? Now I'd suggest The Moonstone and The Haunted Hotel. I liked The Dead Pool, although we're told the secret so early on it's not quite as suspenseful as the other two.

  14. Di, Sam's a pistol. He says stuff like, "You're good. Chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get in your voice when you say things like 'Be generous, Mr. Spade." The whole novel is peppered with great dialogue. Brigid: "He has a wife and three children in England." Sam: "They usually do, though not always in England." Or, Cairo: "Might I remind you Mr. Spade that you may have the falcon, but we certainly have you." Or, Spade: "People lose teeth talking like that. If you want to hang around, you'll be polite." I smiled my way through it, I was so delighted.

  15. Pete, I purloined it myself so feel free. Yeah, Scarlett would have eaten Anna's lunch and then pushed her face down into the playground dirt!

  16. Janell, I hit send before I realized I gave you an extra "e" (just in case you ran out of e's!)

  17. Yes, let's all steal this meme! Imagine my excitement when I saw #7--I can never pass up a chance to say that the late Horton Foote, screenplay writer for Mockingbird, changed my life. It's because of his support for my writing that I was given my website.

  18. This made me laugh a lot - what great answers, to great categories. It makes me realise though that I tend to read for ideas in novels more than characters. I would be hard pushed to come up with answers to this myself. But that just means all the more pleasure in reading yours.

  19. Another Les-Mis-the-novel-rather-than-Les-Mis-the-musical fan - brilliant! I agree with your first three choices 100%, and have to go with you on Atticus too. I've never heard of this Nick Romano novel but am definitely going to keep an eye out for it now - i never could go by a 'crushing masterpiece' (and what a great phrase!) Thanks for making me think about my own favourite characters - am anticipating an enjoyable evening at the bookshelf thumbing through old volumes!