1. Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Saxon Stories, Bernard Cornwell)
2. Ebeneezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)
I never knew how to swing a cane properly until I met ol' Ebeneezer.
3. Harry Potter (Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling)
I know such a popular literary figure seems like an obvious choice, but (Azkaban spoilers!) when Harry decided to rise above easy vengeance and bring Peter Pettigrew to trial instead of letting Sirus and Remus feed him to Crookshanks, I was...impressed. Then, in Goblet of Fire, he goes out of his way to assist his rivals in the Second Task, because he believes without assistance, Fleur's sister and Hermione will be left to die. And then there's the whole abandoning-oneself-to-death-to-defeat-the-dark-lord thing!
4. Sidney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known." Those words captivated me even when reading this book as a child (via Great Illustrated Classics). Carton epitomizes the heroic sacrifice to me.
...hey, I warned you.
5. Ducky (California Diaries, Ann M. Martin)
6. Sam Damon (Once an Eagle, Anton Myrer)
7. Salvor Hardin (Foundation, Isaac Asimov)
8. Jake Berenson (Animorphs, K.A. Applegate)
9. Huck Finn (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain)
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:"All right, then, I'll go to hell"- and tore it up.
For context, Huck has been faced with the choice of being a good Christian, which means following the law and returning his friend Jim to slavery, and doing what his natural empathy tells him. In deciding to keep hiding Jim, he choses to thwart the law and go to hell, instead of betraying his friend and damning his soul in a more real way. The irony of this is that I first heard the passage being read by an apologist intent on mocking it, and I thought to myself -- wow, I've gotta read this book.
10. Rudy Baylor (The Rainmaker, John Grisham)
- Ernest Everhard (The Iron Heel, Jack London)
- Ellie Arroway (Contact, Carl Sagan)
- Violet Baudelaire -- "There's always something." (The Series of Unfortunate Events, Daniel Handle.)
- Elias Vaughn (Warpath, David Mack)