Favorite Fictional Characters

A revised list, from a post I did a while back. My favorite characters from fiction. I am limiting my choices to just novels – and leaving out such amazing characters as Hamlet, or Stanley Kowalski.

Here is how I choose:

My criteria? Characters who seem to live. Characters who seem to be emissaries from the real world – and not made up by an author.

Like Madame Defarge in Tale of Two Cities. I read that book in high school and I remember some of the descriptions of her almost word for word. She is, to me, unforgettable. Great creation.

The same with Queequeg in Moby Dick. The opening chapters of the book when Ishmael meets Queequeg – and then there’s the strangely homoerotic moment when they lie in bed together and Ishmael wakes up, and Queequeg is hugging him in his sleep … fascinating. I love Queequeg. He, to me, is a character who lives, beyond the pages of that book. He is alive.

I chose other characters because, in a direct way, they had an impact on how I lived my life, and who I have become. That’s how Harriet the Spy is for me. That’s how Jo March from Little Women is for me, and that is definitely how Scout Finch and Charlotte the spider are for me. You can NEVER convince me that these characters only live between the covers of their respective books. They have been, at various times, like little guardian angels to me.

I guess that, above all, was my criteria: a character who transcends his or her own genre, who steps up off the flat page, and lives. Lives on, long after you finish the book. Like Cathy in East of Eden. Or The Grand Inquisitor in Brothers Karamazov.

And just a small note: There should be NO SHAME attached to your favorite fictional characters, and you should assume NO JUDGMENT from me or from anyone else when you put them down. If your favorite fictional character is a feisty brunette damsel in distress in your favorite bodice-ripping romance novel, put it the hell down in the comments here, and BE PROUD.

Okay. So here’s my list.

Sheila’s Favorite Fictional Characters.

Harriet, from Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh. Hands down, my favorite fictional character EVER written. I believe I have covered this.

Jane Eyre. from Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte the spider. from Charlotte’s Web, by EB White

Queequeg from Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

Hester the Molester, from Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving (I love Owen, too, but Hester’s my favorite one in that book)

Anne Shirley, from the Anne series, by LM Montgomery

Emily Byrd Starr, from the Emily series, by LM Montgomery

Miss Havisham. from Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

Ramona Quimby. from the Ramona series, by Beverly Cleary

Yossarian. From Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.

Milo. From Catch-22, by Joseph Heller.

The Grand Inquisitor. From Brothers Karamazov, by Dostoevsky. (my rambling thoughts upon completing that book)

Bud White. from LA Confidential, by James Ellroy (can’t resist)

Mr. Darcy. From Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

Phoebe Caulfield, Holden’s sister. From Catcher in the Rye, by Salinger

Porfiry Petrovitch, the detective in Crime and Punishment, by Dostoevsky.

Olympia, from Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn

Huck Finn. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Leopold Bloom. Ulysses, by James Joyce.

Molly Bloom. Ulysses, by James Joyce (a really really fun Bloomsday celebration I attended … where everyone knew the last “paragraph” of Molly’s monologue by heart. Amazing fun)

Alice. from Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.

Huck Finn, from Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Stephen Dedalus. from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce

Fagin. from Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens

Jo March. from Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

Madame Defarge. from Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

Atticus Finch. from To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Scout Finch. from To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Boo Radley. from To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Cathy. from East of Eden, by John Steinbeck (just the thought of her makes me shiver)

Quoyle, from The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx

Villanelle. from The Passion, by Jeanette Winterson (Villanelle is a web-footed cross-dressing redheaded daughter of a Venetian boatmen, during the time of the Napoleonic wars. Unbelievably great character)

Sam Clay and Joe Kavalier, from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon

Charles Wallace, from Madeleine L’Engle’s Time trilogy

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43 Responses to Favorite Fictional Characters

  1. Alex Nunez says:

    John Clark (a.k.a. Mr. Clark) from Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels.


  2. JFH says:

    From the pulp fiction genre:

    Travis McGee from series of books by John D. McDonald

    Spenser frrom series of books by Robert B. Parker

  3. JFH says:

    From childhood fiction (that is not counting the ones you’ve already mentioned):

    Claudia, from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

  4. brendan says:

    whole ensemble of Generation X – Tales for an Accelerated Culture by douglas coupland

    harry potter

    kavalier & klay

    ethan frome

    cap’n ahab

    freddy the pig

    ralph s. mouse

    harold (but i don’t care for his purple crayon)

  5. Bev says:

    In addition to several you’ve already mentioned–
    Lad, a Dog in the Albert Peyson Terhune books, who was more human than a lot of humans.

    Kay Scarpetta, the Patricia Cornwall character

    Nancy Drew

    Ayla, Jean Auel’s heroine who invented the wheel, domesticated animals and discovered orgasm all before her 20th birthday–whatta gal!

    Nan Astly, from Sarah Walters’ “Tipping the Velvet”

  6. Jon F. says:

    Jon Aversin from Dragonsbane, by Barbara Hambley. The only living person to ever slay a dragon, and his services are needed once again.

    He doesn’t want to do it, he wears glasses, he has aches and pains, he feels guilty about slaying the first one (“The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”), can’t cook, loves to read, and is basically a farmer.

  7. Ken says:

    First, a partial (inevitably, I’ll remember more later) collection of runners-up, in no particular order.

    Lt. Richard Sharpe, from Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.

    Harry Flashman, from George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman Papers.

    Nathaniel Dickstein, from Ken Follett’s Triple.

    Atticus and Scout Finch.

    Arkady Renko, from Martin Cruz Smith’s novels, particularly Gorky Park and Polar Star.

    Natalie Jastrow, Pamela Tudsbury, Leslie Slote, Alistair Tudsbury, Byron Henry, Madeline Henry, and Palmer Kirby from Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War/War and Remembrance.

    Nicholai Hel and Benat le Cagot, from Trevanian’s Shibumi.

    Captain Krenn tai-Rustazh, Security Chief Maktai, and Dr. Emmanuel Tagore from The Final Reflection by John M. Ford, head and shoulders the best (perhaps the only worthwhile) Star Trek novel ever published.

    Huw Morgan, Gwilym Morgan, Angharad Morgan, and Minister Gruffydd from How Green Was My Valley.

    Carruthers and Arthur Davies from Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands.

    Charlie Webb from Sam Llewellyn’s Shadow of the Sands, a retelling of the previous.

    Horatio Hornblower.

    John Blackthorne, Kasigi Yabu, and Yoshi Toronaga from James Clavell’s Shogun.

    Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee, Theoden of Rohan, Legolas, Gimli Gloin’s son, Bilbo Baggins, Boromir son of Denethor.

    Number two, all time:

    Faramir son of Denethor.

    Number one, all time:

    Captain Victor Henry, Winds of War/War and Remembrance.

  8. red says:

    Faramir should be on my list too.

  9. mitchell says:

    Jenny Fields(Garp’s mother)
    Stuart Little
    Jellybean(Even Cowgirls get the Blues)
    Owen Meaney
    Dolly Talbo(The Grass Harp)
    Holly Golightly
    Lady Marsden(Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All)
    Luke Wingo(The Prince of Tides)
    Kavelier and Clay
    Olympia(Geek Love)

  10. red says:

    Oh my God, you totally rock with the Dolly reference … who is better than Dolly???

  11. kathy says:

    Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey in Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries.

    Morag Gunn in The Diviners by Margaret Lawrence – I wasn’t sure about the book as a whole, but the character stuck with me.

    Bigwig and Hazel in Watership Down.

    Nenna in Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald.

    There are more! But I can’t remember…

    Thanks for the question!

  12. red says:

    I think it’s awesome that animal characters have made it onto this list multiple times. Stuart Little, Charlotte, Hazel and Bigwig – beautiful!!

  13. mitchell says:

    Dolly breaks my heart

  14. red says:

    Great great character. That whole story kills me.

  15. Betsy says:

    Elphaba in Wicked

  16. Erik says:

    I love lists.

    OWEN MEANY, from A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

    HUMBERT HUMBERT, from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

    SARAH MILES, from The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

    MILKMAN, from Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

    SOOKIE STACKHOUSE, from the Dead Until Dark series by Charlaine Harris

    BENJAMIN SACKS, from Leviathan by Paul Auster

    ARTURO THE AQUA BOY, from Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

    PETER, from Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

    MELONY, from The Cider House Rules by John Irving * (Melony and Hester the Molester from Owen Meany definitely seem like literary cousins to me. The Melony character wasn’t in the movie adaptation of Cider House, and I missed her, especially after seeing Jillian Armenante’s awesome interpretation of the character in the stage version of Cider House.)

    the unnamed NARRATOR, from Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

    JONATHAN HARKER, from Dracula by Bram Stoker

    SEMYON ZAKHAROVITCH MARMELADOV, from Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky

    DANNY, from Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

    DOT, from Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

    ARCHIE JONES, from White Teeth by Zadie Smith

    SAMAD IQBAL, from White Teeth by Zadie Smith

    ALEXANDER, from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

  17. red says:

    Erik – wow. We’re kind of kindred spirits judging from that list. Another Geek Love fan, huh? And I loved Melony as well in Cider House – which I think is Irving’s best book. Well, that and Garp.

    Also – another Winterson fan? Have you read her other stuff?

  18. Laura says:

    Since I was a young girl, I’ve adored Wilber from Charlette’s Web. I love the story, the movie…cannot WAIT to read it to/with my child/children someday.

  19. red says:

    Laura – Wilbur is an absolutely awesome character. To quote Charlotte – he is SOME PIG!!

    That book makes me cry.

  20. Laura says:

    I really meant Charlotte. Brain cramp.

  21. Jeff says:

    Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry

    Harry Bosch from numeous novels, by Michael Connelly

    Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, from numerous novels by Robert Crais

    Bill Denbrough from It, by Stephen King

    Skink from Double Whammy, by Carl Hiassen

    Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling

    Bucky Bleichert from The Black Dahlia, by James Ellroy

    Tom Ripley from The Ripley novels, by Patricia Highsmith

  22. red says:

    Bets – Based on our conversation last night, I went out and bought the Wicked soundtrack and have been listening to it all day. It is so so great.

  23. red says:

    Jeff – how much do I love that you love Luna??

  24. Erik says:

    Sheila, the only Winterson book I’ve read is Written on the Body, and I’ve read it twice. The Powerbook is sitting on my bedside table to be read after I finish the two I’m in the middle of right now. (I’m almost done with Evan Handler’s autobiography Time On Fire, and halfway through Club Dead by Charlaine Harris, which is the third in her vampire series, and pulpy but oh so good, and if the Golden Globes weren’t on tonight, I’d finish it tonight, because it’s a fast read.) After reading your description of Villanelle from The Passion, I’m totally stoked to read that one.

    And I absolutely agree with you about the Irving books. I think I’ve read Cider House three times and certain moments kill me every time, just turn me into a blubbering mess.

    And I don’t understand people who don’t love Geek Love.

  25. red says:

    Erik – oh, you GOTTA read Passion – In my mind, it is her best. Just breathtaking. Sexing the Cherry is really good too – that takes place in Elizabethan England. She’s so talented.

    And yeah – Geek Love is kind of a litmus test for me. :)

  26. Erik says:

    Sheila, have you read Possession by A.S. Byatt? Such a great book. And if you haven’t read The End of the Affair, you must must must. I have this old tattered copy that I have lent out to about 15 people, and it always comes back to me a little older and a little more tattered, but I’m always happy to have shared it with one more person.

  27. red says:

    Erik – ohhh, you’re sweet! I have read it – wonderful book. And Possession? Don’t even get me started. I have rarely had such an exhilarating reading experience as that one. It speaks to me … Not to sound like an asshole, but I live in my head too – like Maud and Roland. I’m cerebral. I live in my head … and to fall in love when you live totally in your head … is sometimes … not so fun. It hurts. I loved the book on so many levels – but it was that particular level that really GOT to me.

  28. Erik says:

    I know. Exactly. What you mean.

  29. Betsy says:

    Sheil – I think you can guess that the book and play have some major differences, but I love them both. Track 11 when she sings, “So if you care to find me, look to the western sky” gets me every time. And…I’m still a wreck!

  30. red says:

    Bets – that moment gets me too! Her VOICE and what she’s saying! Goosebumps!!!!

  31. Just1Beth says:

    Definitely Nancy Drew. Although, when I was a kid, I used to change what Hannah Gruen had fixed for dinner if it was a dish I didn’t like. (hmm.. Hannah made a nice poached salmon…yuck.. I don’t like fish. Let’s change it to chicken a la King. Much better..) Also, Kay Scarpetta from Patricia Cornwell’s series is awesome. And I totally approve of her food choices. Although, now that I think about it, I have had issues with her drinks of scotch. I have tried to like it, but just don’t. So sometimes SOMETIMES I change it to wine. But usually I let her have her scotch.

  32. graboy says:

    George Smiley and Connie Sachs from several Le Carre.

    Flem Snopes – Faulkner

    Mr Micawber

  33. Dave W says:


  34. dad says:

    Dearest: I’m way out of my league with some of your correspondants here, and have no idea of who many of these characters are, although Yoda struck a responsive chord. Finally someone listed a Faulkner character–my choice would be Joe August, and to date myself further, I would add Jay Gatsby. Your list was superb. love, dad


    Billy Boyd was right – its all about the Took!

    LOL LOL!!!

  36. Oh, and Jack Aubrey – the “Aubreiad.”

    Ged from The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula LeGuin

    Tanar from The Earthsea Trilogy – Urula LeGuin

    Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities

    Eleanor Vance – The Haunting Hill of Hill House

    Eilonwy from The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander

    And I’m so thrilled that there is another Sookie Stackhouse fan!!! Although I really prefer Eric!! LOL

  37. Ken says:

    Told you I’d come up with some others ;-) …and Treebeard is a great choice–well played, Dave W.

    The Continental Op, from Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. Name? Who needs a name?

    Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.

    Saint Alexander Hergensheimer, Jerry Farnsworth, Saint Peter (as rendered by the author) and Sister Mary Patricia, from Robert Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice.

    Thomas Covenant and the Giant Saltheart Foamfollower, from Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Covenant the Unbeliever.


  38. red says:

    I have no idea what most of you are talking about. I love the enthusiasm though!

    Dad – how could I have forgotten Jay Gatsby???

  39. jean says:

    I’m a little behind the times and I am sure that everyone has moved on from this by now, but I had to add in a few…
    Ponyboy from The Outsiders
    John from the Pigman
    Jesse from Bridge to Terabithia
    Mr. Peck from A Day No Pigs Would Die
    Phineas from A Separate Peace
    Betsy from the Betsy books
    McMurphy from cuckoo’s nest
    Scout from to Kill a mockingbird
    jake from the Sun Also Rises
    Lenny from Of Mice and Men
    Sarah from Sarah Plain and Tall
    Fudge from tales of a fourth grade nothing
    and of course, Yossarian

    sorry about all of the teen literature…

  40. Doug Sundseth says:

    Mycroft Holmes (not the Conan Doyle one) from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

    Podkayne, fromPodkayne of Mars

    Bertie Wooster and Jeeves (for entirely different reasons), from the Wodehouse novels

    Saltheart Foamfollower and Hile Troy, from The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever

    Paksennarion, from The Deed of Paksenarrion

    Talia, from The Heralds of Valdemar

    Many others, of course, but I can’t bring them to mind right now.

  41. red says:

    Jean – oh my God, John from The Pigman. He is one of the best characters ever written.

    And Phineas! sniff!!!

    Teen lit is my favorite genre, I think.

  42. jean says:

    sheila – Really and truly, I am in love with Phinny – the way His easy movement is described, his golden skin, etc. beautiful.

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