Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Character Love

By C.L. Phillips

Do you remember the last time you fell in love?  With a character?  Sigh.  I have a nasty confession to make.  I've fallen in love with Suzanne Collins' heroine Katniss. 

The first time I fell in love was with Nathaniel Bowditch, the main character in Jean Lathham's 1955 Newberry Award winning book Carry on Mr. Bowditch.  I discovered Mr. Bowditch in the county library, squeezed between two other books.  The title drew me in.  Carry on, Mr. Bowditch didn't sound like a child's book.  It was my first chapter book, the first time I discovered reading could transport me in time, place, and even gender.  Part of me identified with fiercely independent Nathaniel.  Subsequently, I begged my mother to take me to the library every week.  Somehow she managed to turn the trip into a reward for good behavior.  Practice the guitar every day for thirty minutes, or no trip to the library.  Guess she knew how much I loved books.

Imagine my delight when I discovered Miss Marple, and the fact that she was in more than one book.  I devoured each story I could find and over time moved on to Hercule Poirot.  But it was different.  Although I loved the mystery, I didn't fall in love with Miss Marple or Hercule.  But I did  love England and Europe.  And my love for travel started to blossom. I saved my real love for Sherlock Holmes.  But I must confess, I cheated on Sherlock when I read my first Lord Peter Wimsey novel.  Now there was a man who could make my heart sing.

My next crush was Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware.   A little wounded, always in danger, and a guitar lover.  Robert Langdon from the DaVinci Code came close, but the truth is I couldn't get to really know him in only two books.  And as for Stephanie Plum, Ranger and Joe Morelli, I lived near Trenton for too many years to be transported to another world, but I read them for the belly laughs.

 So what does it take to fall in love with a  main character?  For me, it's about their strength of character.  The fact that they are willing to overcome their own limitations in order to meet a challenge.  I'm willing to fall in love with any one of them, male or female.

This summer I read Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Deal Breaker, Long Lost, The Narrows, The Brass Verdict, Echo Park, The Closers, Finger Licking Fifteen, Buck Fever, The Lady Elizabeth, and Death in a Strange Country.   All were enjoyable reads.  But Hunger Games drew me into a world similar to my own and yet deadly different.  I find myself asking, "What would Katniss do?"  She plucked the dormant rebel chord in me, one that had been silent since I met Nathaniel Bowditch.

I find myself dreaming new dreams now.  Not of escape through literature, but of crafting a world where one's actions are led by true conviction.  Maybe that's the secret to falling in love with a character, at least for me.  What makes you fall in love?

Write on!


Martha Reed said...

Hi, C.L. Great post!

At this time in my life I find myself drawn to courage, especially characters who have the courage to change or sometimes to simply endure. And the length of the book with these characters is different than my usual read, too. Lately, I'm looking for real doorstops (700+ pages) like The Shell Seekers or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. If anything else comes to mind, please post. I'd love to hear about it.

Joyce Tremel said...

I haven't read the Hunger Games trilogy. I read the first couple pages of HG in the store, but I didn't think I'd like it. I may have to give it another try.

The characters I'm totally in love with are Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Altine in Julia Spencer-Fleming's series. Both of them have so much strength and try so hard to to the right thing, even if it means they can't be together.

Joyce Tremel said...

Oops. Spelled that wrong. It should be Russ Van Alstyne.

Ramona said...

Oh. Wow. Squee. A post talking about Nathaniel Bowditch! I am in my happy place. C.L., I identify with this so much. When I was young, Anne Shirley was my kindred soulmate. If you've read the Green Gables books, you'll know what that means. I truly believe the characters we love as young readers shape us as writers, and as human beings.

For mysteries, Mouse and Sister from Anne George's Southern Sisters series. Love, love, love.

Karen in Ohio said...

In high school, way back in maybe 1967 or 68, a boy I had a CRUSH on showed me what he was reading. It was "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch". I know, I can't believe I still remember that, either!

I've never read it; maybe I should try to find it now. Thanks for the reminder.

Clare and Jamie Fraser are two compelling characters for me. If you haven't read the Outlander series, every single book certainly qualifies as a doorstop!

Patg said...

I'm drawn in by strong female characters of a non-showy kind. I dislike those that are considered 'bigger than life'. I'm a major Marple fan, and though Soukie gets all the attention, Harper Connelly is my favorite Harris character.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an example of a character (Salander) who just wants to be left alone, but will not back down from anything. I loved the whole series, have seen both movies, and am sad for Steig Larsson's soulmate. Then I heard a story that I am trying to verify. Seems when he died, his family came in and said they were taking all the money, 30 some years with him didn't mean anything. She's apparently bided her time. Seems there is a 4th book, and she has it.
Fingers Crossed.

Gina said...

First love? It would have to be the language itself. I can remember being enthralled by the dark pony who came "galloping, galloping" in first grade. Maybe it was just a love of horses - I read Black Beauty in second grade (my first full length book), then took off from there into Walter Farley's black stallion series. I can't say I've ever been romantically in love with a character from a book (I tend to prefer live male humans) but, in terms of admiration for courage and doing the right thing against impossible odds, Harry Potter and Severus Snape are at my pinnacle.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I'm more of a plot person myself. Good characters make plot driven novels much, much better, but I never catch myself buying a book for the character.

I think Jack Ryan was one of the better characters I can remember.

Now I know my wife is hooked on Stephanie Plum.

Ricky Bush said...

Woodrow F. Call, from the mind of Larry McMurtry, always intrigued me.

Linda Leszczuk said...

In JD Robb's In Death series I really enjoy Dallas' bafflement with relationships but I love the wisecracking, ever-dieting Peabody.