Inspired by a recently published friend, Jillian Kuhlmann, I decided to write a post about my favorite literary characters of all time. This list is not a list of the objectively greatest characters of all time, if there is such a thing, but my personal favorites, the characters who have meant the most to me personally because of the unique way they appeal to my particular interests and personality.
Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series is a source of hope and deep identification for bookworms and nerdy girls everywhere. She may not be the title character, but she runs the show and saves the day.
I can’t forget the original graybeard wizard, Merlin. Merlin is such an influential and mercurial character that it’s easier to pick him for a favorites list than it is to choose which version of him to include. So when I put Merlin on my list, I’m doing it in an archetypal way, including every Merlin, from Mallory to Tennyson to contemporary YA. If I had to pick, though, I find him more fascinating when seen through the eyes of young Arthur than when he’s given his own book, as in The Crystal Cave. The Merlin I know best and find most charming is T. H. White’s from The Sword in the Stone.
Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet is best described by her creator: “I must confess that I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.” I feel the same, Jane.
I love the humor, wit and strategy of Lyra Belacqua from the His Dark Materials books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass). She begins the series as a ragamuffin wild child and ends it as a young woman who sacrifices love and her only talent for the good of the universe.
Quentin from The Magicians and The Magician King is not really a super admirable person, but I sympathize with him so much in his reactions of wonder to his encounters with the world of magic. I think I love this series so much because it makes a gigantic metaphor of the conflict between the real world and the worlds we escape into through literature, and dramatizes this conflict with Quentin’s life and choices. The third and final book of the trilogy is in the works.
Honorable mentions are the way to take the pain out of picking favorites. Here are mine.
Jane Eyre has the conviction to stick to her high standards, refusing to accept marriage when it is bigamous or loveless, even when it means damn near starving.
Jo March, the original bookish tomboy, making the pixie cut hot since 1868. I think of her and Professor Baer every time I share an umbrella with my husband.
Atticus Finch, upright defender of justice. Wouldn’t it be nice if judges and politicians asked themselves, “What would Atticus do?”
Three-way LotR tie: Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf. Courage, loyalty, and magic.