-by Emma Bilsborough, Sales & Marketing Coordinator
Deciding to live a life completely flooded with books happened pretty early for me, having loved to read from the very moment I learned to do so. But it’s more than a love of reading – it’s a love for books as an art form, a love for the way that books connect us to both our past and our future, and to cultures both exactly like our own, and entirely different. Books are without a doubt the most powerful force in my life, and that’s not just because I spend all of my time (both at home and at work) surrounded by them.
All of the books that I’ve truly, deeply loved anchor me to the different parts of my life – learning to read with fairy tales and ladybird books, growing up with Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes, getting through my teens with Harry Potter. This last week I became an auntie for the first time, and now every time in the future that I pick up Good Omens, or see it on my shelf, I’ll remember that I was reading (and absolutely loving) it when my nephew arrived.
The point of all of this self-indulgent rambling is that books have, throughout my life, given me so much to love. And these stories would be nothing without their characters (literally).
So, in the grand tradition of many of our lists of favourites: My Favourite LGBT Literary Characters, Bookbarn Big Summer Reading List 2019, My Top 10 Children’s Book Illustrators, I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite literary characters of all time. (This list is not in order as I couldn’t possibly rank them).
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Mr George Knightley
“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”
It’s no secret that I adore Jane Austen. Her novels are so brilliant; romantic and witty and interesting and dramatic, and I love her as a person the more and more I learn about her. So there’s no surprise to be sure that I’m giving two spots on this list to two of her characters, the first of which is the wonderful Mr Knightley, from Emma. A good man through and through; kind, empathetic, the only kind of gentleman I need in my classic lit. The way he encourages Emma to be better is something I really love about him – he doesn’t always give it to her softly, and Emma is difficult at the best of times and often immature. Mr Knightley sees the good person that she can be and tries to bring that forward, while never changing her essence as a person. Also, the moment when he and Emma dance at the Westons’ ball makes my heart hurt every time (“We are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper” “Brother and sister! No indeed“). I’ll take Mr Knightley over Mr Darcy any day.
“What are men to rocks and mountains?”
The other favourite Jane Austen character on this list is Elizabeth Bennet, of course from Pride and Prejudice. Though I’m not a huge fan of Mr Darcy, Elizabeth more than makes up for it as the heroine that we all deserve, and to this day inspires my feminism and my need for independence. I see a lot of her in many of the other female characters that I love, and that alone shows the power of a well-written female protagonist. Her strength, intelligence and self love is brilliant and she also makes me laugh out loud (that Mr Collins proposal, anyone?). I also really love the way that Jane Austen writes the Bennet family in general, the dynamics between the sisters is so true to not only my relationship with my own sister (particularly that of Lizzie and Jane) but also to many of the female friendships I’ve experienced in my life.
“In the future, I’ll be braver, she told herself. In the future, I will always speak my mind, eloquently, passionately.”
Some part of me I’m sure just has an intrinsic love for all literary characters named Emma, even the hard-to-like ones like Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse. However, when reading Nicholls’ One Day, it is easy to adore Emma Morley, and not because she shares my name. Emma is such a funny and real character, with her downfalls, her dreams and her struggles. One of my favourite parts in the whole book is when Dexter pays her a visit in Paris, worn out, divorced and a bit rough around the edges; and she’s living this dreamy, Parisian life, writing books and dating handsome French men. It’s this brilliant full circle moment where she’s completely settled in who she is and it’s so satisfying to read, because it’s what she’s deserved all along. I just love Emma’s journey, I love the difference in her each time that we meet her in the story. She is definitely what makes this my favourite book.
“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
Two slots to Jane Austen’s characters, and three to J.K. Rowling’s. I spent my entire teens devouring Harry Potter over and over, in every form. I have now read the books start to finish every Summer since I was 14, so at this point they’re part of my DNA. The series introduces us to a world of complete wonder, and also to completely wonderful characters. The first for this list, and my favourite of all Harry Potter characters, is Sirius Black. I can’t explain the desperation I feel for even just one Marauders Era book, just so that I can have a little more Sirius content to absorb. His story is heartbreaking, soaked in loss and sadness, and his character is so complex, but at his core he is completely golden; loyal to a fault and a genuine, true friend. I could (and might yet, one day) write an essay extolling Sirius’ virtues and detailing his vices, as I’ve given his character hours and hours of thought, but today I’ll just say that I think he is the most brilliant character, and I’ll move on to the next.
“Mr. Moony presents his compliments to Professor Snape, and begs him to keep his abnormally large nose out of other people’s business.”
Another reason I’d love more Marauders Era content is Remus Lupin. His quiet strength always astounds me, when you consider the mountain he has had to climb for the most part of his life, and his intelligence slips under the radar but you know his bookish-ness matches that of Hermione. For Harry, he is a bridge to both James and Sirius, a reminder of the depth of friendship that the three of them shared (technically four, but for all intents and purposes I’m choosing to ignore the existence of Peter Pettigrew), and an example of forgiveness, kindness and compassion in the face of life’s hardships. But he’s not all sensible and sweet, there’s definitely a fiercely mischievous streak in him. I’d love to know the kind of student he was back before the loss and struggles of his adulthood. I bet he was the brains behind all of the Marauders’ most brilliant pranks.
“Don’t worry. You’re just as sane as I am.”
Has there ever been a truer, kinder, more wholesome character than Luna Lovegood? She is sweet, loyal, strange and brilliant, and she’s always one of my answers to the dinner party question (who would you invite to your dinner party if you could invite anyone in the world, alive or dead, real or fictional?). I’d seat her next to Jane Austen and just watch things unfold. My favourite thing about Luna’s character is her empathy and understanding of others, which hides underneath her quirky, alternative nature. She is deeply intelligent and respectful of all living things, and I think that’s just a wonderful thing to be in this (and the wizarding) world. Her friendship is such an underrated part of Harry’s journey, acting as a leaning post when Harry’s losing his grip a little. One of the many truly great things about the Harry Potter stories is the way that each and every character who is a part of Harry’s life contributes something important to the path that he follows. Harry loves Luna, and her place in his life and the lives of his loved ones does not go ignored; relying on her support, asking her to parties with him, giving his daughter her name.
“Scared is what you’re feeling,” says Ma. “but brave is what you’re doing.”
Motherhood is a complex and complicated topic, one which literature has delved into in all of its forms throughout history. Ma, in Emma Donoghue’s brilliant Room, is presented to us through the eyes of her son Jack. The narrative in this novel is really interesting, and affords the same benefits as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird; an innocent view of terrible things, a lack of understanding of the world’s cruelty. Ma is the absolute center of Jack’s universe, and he thinks she is wonderful and smart and brilliant, and we readers can’t help but think so too. The way that she puts all of her own needs aside in order to care for her son while they’re in Room is incredible, but what I find most interesting about her is the vulnerability and the struggle that we see in her when she is freed. Her experiences are horrific, tragic and cause such intense trauma, and the strength that she shows to let herself feel that and learn to move forward is admirable.
“And gears,” said Anathema. “My bike didn’t have gears. I’m sure my bike didn’t have gears.”
Crowley leaned over to the angel. “Oh lord, heal this bike,” he whispered sarcastically.
“I’m sorry, I just got carried away,” hissed Aziraphale.”
In all fairness, Crowley and Aziraphale could both have made this list, as they’re so fun and brilliant (they’re two halves of the same whole anyway, really). But I’m giving the spot to Aziraphale, because this list is long enough already. The angel comes out on top because I just adore how good he is down to his very core. Which should be a given for angels – but if Good Omens teaches us anything it’s that those who are supposed to be good aren’t always so, and it’s quite the same for the bad guys (here’s looking at you, Crowley). What Good Omens shows so incredibly well is that there is more to being good than being angelic – it’s about knowing what is right for the world around you, about being empathetic and caring about things and people, about respecting and trusting your instincts. Aziraphale is generous, soft, and loving but also powerful, decisive, a bit naughty, and committed to doing what is right – even if it goes against the choices of Heaven and the Almighty. I also completely love that with all of the world at his fingertips, all of the things he could have done with his millennia on the earth, Aziraphale decides that his time is best spent running an old bookshop (and trying his hardest not to sell any books), eating tasty food and spending time with Crowley.
“Words,” he said, “is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life.”
If it wasn’t already quite clear from this list, I’m mostly drawn to characters who are tooth-achingly kind and good. The BFG is the epitome of this, and he’s also hilarious and such a fun character to read as a child, as you’re just getting used to reading and language. I honestly think all children (and adults!) should be encouraged to make up words, as BFG does. All words come from somewhere and the way that it strengthens your imagination to come up with new ones is brilliant. The BFG is such a magical story, filled with wonder and friendship and all good things, and I can’t help but feel all warm inside when I read it, and I’m never not endeared by the way that the giant talks. It’s one of the stories that I turn to when I’m feeling a little low, as it reminds me to look on the magical side of life.
“But I’m the strongest girl in the world, don’t forget.”
Children’s literature is what I read most, I have such a passion for the effect that these stories and characters have on us at a young age, and I’m desperate to encourage that passion in others where possible. One of the characters who’s lasted both in my mind and in my heart from reading Children’s lit is the brilliant, boisterous, brave and bold Pippi Longstocking (full name, Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking). What I’ve always loved best about Pippi is the way that she stands her ground and knows what’s right and wrong (just like Aziraphale, do you see a pattern emerging?), and that she’s a great role model to young girls. She reminds us to be adventurous, to be loyal, to be feisty and fierce, to stick up for others and to be kind.
“Good morning!” he said at last. “We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.”
By this he meant that the conversation was at an end.”
So many of the characters in the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit are incredible and fantastical, but Bilbo shines best for me. He gets the best of both worlds, the excitement, intrigue and tragedy of battle and the journey, but gets to return home to his little hobbit house at the end of it to live out his days. I think that the most interesting thing about Bilbo is how he’s desperate to convince himself that all he needs or wants in life is to sit in his chair by the fire with some good food, when deep inside he craves the rest of the world. Something that Gandalf sees in him, and something that he holds onto right until the end of his life. He’s also so incredibly brave, facing huge challenges and changes in his life without a further thought than that it is what needs to be done. He’s good, kind, grumpy, secretive, greedy, and loyal, all wrapped up in one little package.
So, we’ve reached an end, this list could have gone on and on for days, but it felt a little cruel to shift a mountainous essay off on you all. I chose just a few of my favourite characters, but here are some others I truly love:
Miss Honey, Matilda (smart, kind, generous), Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter (misunderstood, complex, intelligent), Achilles, Song of Achilles/The Iliad etc (bold, heroic, loving), Dante, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (loyal, self-aware, open-hearted), Winnie the Pooh (funny, endearing, accidentally wise) and Charlie, Perks of Being a Wallflower (sweet, shy, learning).
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