Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Top Ten Inspirational Characters

This week the Broke and the Bookish want ten characters from fiction who've inspired us. I assumed they meant  from books when writing my list. And awaaaaaay we go. (Don't take these too seriously: after a few entries I settled for 'admirable characters I can remember.')

1. Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Saxon Stories, Bernard Cornwell)
This is not Uhtred, but Brad Pitt's Achilles character is similar in temperament.

Uhtred is a surely Viking who lives outside the law, sneers at convention, and tends to solve problems with his swords. Despite this, he's not a bad fellow. Though he's no innocent,  he is a wolf preying on other wolves -- not  a wolf amid the sheep, like a king or a priest. I like his forthright bluntness. He makes no excuses for himself -- but what I most like about Uhtred is that he enjoys life, with gusto. Whenever I read Uhtred's stories, I feel like slamming down goblets of drink with enthusiasm, whacking strangers on the back in friendship, and singing old songs loudly and without a care in the world as to if they're off-key or not.

2. Ebeneezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens)

 I never knew how to swing a cane properly until I met ol' Ebeneezer

He may be a crotechy old man, but when made to see the consequences of his actions, both for himself and for those around him,  Scrooge seeks to create his own redemption -- and he does so even though those who knew him before mock him for it.

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)

Ducky has shown up on one of these lists before, and that's because he's a great guy. He makes his introduction in the California Diaries series by coming to the rescue of three soaked, sicked, humiliated, and terrified freshmen who just escaped from a hazing trap. In the second book, he drives for several hours at night looking for a friend who has run away (one of the same girls), and later keeps a vigil outside of his friend Alex's house, because Alex is depressed and suicidal.  So Ducky is serving as the big brother figure to a group of younger girls while at the same time trying to make sense of how he and his own childhood friends have grown apart. On top of all this, he's doing it without a support system: his parents are research scientists working across the globe, his older brother is useless, and his best friend is the suicidal Alex mentioned prior.  But Ducky takes it all on his shoulders, and even when he is disheartened, manages to survive.

6. Sam Damon (Once an Eagle, Anton Myrer)
Sam joined the Army when the Great War started, not because he was bored or looking for glory, but because he thought it was the right thing to do. He survives and prospers in the Army not through wealth or family influence, by working hard,  learning all he can about the situation he's in, making the best of every situation, and doing right by his men. From the trenches in Belgium to the jungles of Korea and Vietnam, that is Sam Damon:  he pursues the 'right' course of action and accepts the hard word simply because it's the right thing to do and the work needs to be done. It's a simple, and admirable, ethic.

7. Salvor Hardin (Foundation, Isaac Asimov)
Hardin appeared in two of Asimov's foundation stories, and in both manages to save his city-planet Terminus from annexation and defeat at the hands of four great kingdoms through audacity and cleverness while uttering aphorisms like "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" and "It's a poor blaster that doesn't point both ways".

8. Jake Berenson (Animorphs, K.A. Applegate)
The face of a battle-weary commando.

In middle school, I wasn't asked to become the leader of a guerrilla force consisting of a group of six kids, waging a desperate war against a hidden alien invasion of parasites who take over people's minds. Jake was, though, and boy -- did he have a time of it. He endures years of constant bloody battle against hideous foes, years of living with the enemy (his brother is Controlled), years of knowing his decisions could kill his best friends and spell doom for Earth. The psychological stress seems incredible, but he doesn't shrink with indecision or grow utterly callous. The experience hardens him far beyond his years, perhaps beyond that which is healthy, but his basic character endures.

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)
Rudy Baylor was the first Grisham protagonist I ever read, and I found it easy to sympathize with the young man who took on an insurance company abusing its 'clients', refused to settle out of court rather than face their team of brilliant and experienced lawyers, and along the way rescued a friend from a case of domestic abuse.

Honorable mentions:

  • 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)


  1. I love your choices. Your list made me reflect. I like that.

    I decided to focus on real beings that I discovered through books: http://readerbuzz.blogspot.com/2011/01/top-ten-inspirational-characters.html

  2. Very comprehensive list. I don’t know why I didn’t include Scrooge on my list. Violet Baudelaire is a great honorable mention!

  3. I'd never think of Scrooge as an inspirational character but you're absolutely right. The way he turned his life around is inspirational.

  4. here's mine http://tributebooksmama.blogspot.com/2011/01/top-ten-tuesday-most-inspirational.html

  5. AH! Animorphs!!!! They are re-releasing those this summer, new covers, I can't wait :)

  6. Violet Baudelaire is a great honourable mention. I also think the Harry Potter books are full of inspirational characters.

  7. I hadn't thought of Scrooge, but you are SO right!

  8. I thought about putting Harry Potter, but didn't. Great list!

  9. I love that Harry Potter and Rudy made your list. I agree that they both are quite inspirational.

    Reading Lark's Top 10

  10. My children loved Animorphs and would agree with the inclusion of Jake!


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