If you are like me then you have a long list of literary characters that seemingly pop into your head at random moments. Characters in a book are like those cool people you meet on vacation. You only have about a week together, but from your first interaction you’ve realized that this is your type of people. You get along so well that you rearrange your schedule to play together, you eat together, and you stay up late every night to exchange stories and laugh. Characters bring books to life, and if a writer can turn a character into your best friend, love interest, or mentor, then they are doing their job.
Main characters are really easy to love – and hate, but for me, my love of a book has always been about supporting characters. Unlike a main protagonist supporting characters are not always looking to grow or learn from their experiences in a book. Unbalanced, perfect, nervous, unnerving, supporting characters are who they are and that’s why I love them. In fact, if you look at my list of real friends over the decades you’ll find a fine menagerie of fun, curious, whimsical, and even nefarious-looking people who you may look at from the corner of your eye but after time would grow to love too.
Just like my list of 5 favorite books these characters have stuck with me over the years and while they sit on the top of the list they are not by any means the only characters I love. The top 10 can be filled out by a number of other characters such as Seichen in the James Rollins novels, Tecpatl and Sakuna in Zoe Saadia’s At Road’s End, or even Miss Julia Brandon from the Treasure at Devil’s Hole (Yes, one of my books). But, these characters below are those who I think about daily as I go about my life. They may pop up when I meet someone who has similar characteristics, when I am doing something they would enjoy, or I find them as a reminder when I am scavenging antique stores. The reason I love these characters is because they are more than the friends I got along so famously with on vacation. They were the friends I began to follow on social media, the friends I text when I see a funny or absurd license plate, and the friends who I have gone on vacation with several times for years.
Princess Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles
You’ve seen me write about Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles before. They were the series that determined my life as a writer. However, I may not have mentioned Eilonwy yet. She was, by all accounts my first love.
As Wikipedia states, “Eilonwy is a member of the Royal House of Llyr, and the women in her line are formidable enchantresses, including her mother, Angharad, and grandmother Regat. She has inherited this characteristic, most readily visible in her manipulation of a magical item she calls her “bauble”, a small golden sphere that glows with magical light when activated by her willpower. Eilonwy’s father, Geraint, was a commoner with whom her mother fell in love.”
What I love most about Eilonwy is, though a princess, she puts on no pretense and would rather play, explore, and find curiosity in a world she doesn’t know than to be shackled in a castle doing castling things. She is intelligent, whimsical, and is annoyingly lovable. She regularly spouts off similes and metaphors to get her point across, is refreshingly talkative, independent, resourceful, and sarcastic. Above all she is loyal and does not allow others to cast judgement for her. She makes her decisions and you can trust her beyond imagination.
Joe Odom from John Berendt’s Midnight in the garden of Good and Evil
One of my favorite books, and I have read it multiple times is John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book is a murder-mystery, but more it is a curious look into the lives and nature surrounding Savannah.
Joe Odom…hmmm, what to say? We may all know a Joe Odom. For starters he is a true Southern gentleman. He is charismatic, charming, and a drifter about Savannah. He bounces from one mansion to the next, writes bad checks, takes things on unpaid credit, and is entirely random to the novel. In fact, he is utterly useless in the novel, other than to provide a nice distraction of absurd fun.
Joe is that guy who you know has his issues. He’s always broke, but really doesn’t care. He allows his charm to get him through life. If he writes you a check you don’t bother cashing it because you know it won’t clear, and still everyone loved him and in a way respected him for not caring. In a way he was as much a Savannah attraction as the gardens and horse-drawn carriages. Joe is the best friend that will get you in trouble and when caught he can put on a good face, and talk your way out of any situation. You may want to despise him, but you just can never bring yourself to it because in a way you always wish you were him – or, at least had his social skills.
The best part of Joe Odom, is that with a little poetic license in the novel, he was in fact a real person. He sadly passed away in 1991 from complications with AIDS.
Florentino Ariza from Gabrielle Garcia Marquez’s Love in the time of cholera
Have you ever met that person who regularly talks about, “the one who got away?” Florentino is that guy on steroids. In fact, he waits fifty-one years, nine months, and four days for his love Fermina Daza whom he’d only met in passing, to end her marriage, or in the case of Love in the Time of Cholera, for her husband to die.
You really want to just hate the impassioned Florentino for being so ridiculous. He is one of the few characters in a book who are both protagonist and antagonist. He can be delightful, poetic, and passionately in love, then you realize that he is just a deliberate ball of crazy. His only way to divest himself from Fermina for any length of time is his addiction to sex. While he loves Fermina, it is curious how, with such a short love affair one can become so obsessed, afflicted, and anguished by another.
Florentino is that friend you hang out with and don’t quite know why. He can talk only of Fermina, and into his seventies she is his only true passion, yet it has seemingly dissolved in reality. Still, he waits, and you have to love him for his dedication, though you feel really sorry for him and just want to buy him a drink.
Katinka van de Velde from Wilbur Smith’s Birds of PRey
Katinka Van de Velde is the seductive, young, Dutch wife of the governor-elect of the Cape of Good Hope. She is in every bit of the sense evil and uses her attractive, flirty nature and sexually poised charm to tantalize and entrance a young Hal Courtney. In Wilbur Smith’s Birds of Prey, Katinka is a beautiful and malicious wife of the governor and daughter of the president of the Dutch East India Company. Alongside Hal, she has a long-list of suitors vying for her affection.
So, why do I love Katinka so much? I don’t know. I think, perhaps like Hal and Colonel Cornelius Shreuder, Katinka Van de Velde captured me with her feminine wiles. She is the woman who you know you shouldn’t trust, don’t really trust, but for some reason can’t help yourself. She makes you feel strong, brave, and much more than you really are…or, rather she makes you feel who you really are, but don’t know it yet. Despite her devilish nature, that is one of the best qualities a person can possess – the ability to uplift people – though Katinka’s intentions are generally malicious, so be careful.
Katinka reminds me of this girl who I only met once in college. I was at the University of Southern Mississippi and using a leg press in the weight room at the Payne Center. This girl comes up to me and asks, “are you on the football team?” Of, course I wasn’t. I was tall, slender, and bones would crush as soon as a linebacker or even light-weight corner back hit me. Though that didn’t stop her from commenting on by huge arms (didn’t exist), my charming smile, dimples, and eyes. But, as she talked to me and laid on praise I felt like I was about thirty pounds of muscle heavier and the best looking guy on campus. Then her friend said, “quit flirting with the boys, we gotta go,” and it was all over. But, that feeling lasted for a good week. That is Katinka Van de Velde and why I probably still love her.
Marius de Romanus from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, primary character in Blood and Gold
Marius de Romanus has so many redeeming qualities that I don’t know where to start. Though, with so many vampire characters in the world of literature I find Marius as the most pure sense of what I characterize as a vampire. He is one of the oldest vampires in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and is sagacious, wise, and profoundly optimistic in life and the future of “good” vampires prevailing. He is perhaps the most powerful vampire alive, including that of Queen Akasha, yet he is humbled by his passion for the arts and scholarly advancements.
I’ve always pictured Marius as a mentor to me. In fact, for decades I’ve had a dream of waking up with someone, I’ve always presumed a vampire of sorts, standing over me, just looking down. When I wake up, the person has vanished. It’s been an ongoing dream that I’ve had as far back as I can remember and always had the feeling that the person was watching out over me or checking in. In a lot of ways – every way – I would describe that person as Marius. Distant, yet always there.
Of the five characters on this list, and in all of the books I’ve ever read, Marius de Romanus would be the one I want to be most like, and the one whom I look up to more than any other. He does not take advantage of his strength, he enjoys the arts, he is calm, and he is humble. All good traits.
I’d love to hear who your favorite literary characters and are and why. Perhaps, I’ll find a new favorite.