January 11, 2008

The Sharpton Challenge

Sharpton wants to know favorite fantasy characters and archetypes. Can't resist that. I've been reading fantasy for as long as I've been reading, and I like a lot of different characters for a lot of different reasons . . . So a request like that took some serious thought.

A younger part of me is drawn to the most crowd-pleasing characters: cucumber-cool swashbucklers (like Inigo Montoya), plucky comic relief (like Puddleglum, although he's so much more), or a combination of both (like Reepicheep, probably my earliest favorite fictional character post-Sesame Street).

On the other hand, from a literary perspective I have a deep appreciation of morally-ambiguous characters who are often wily and unscrupulous, or who struggle with some sort of inner-conflict (Severus Snape and Remus Lupin, for example, are two of my three favorite characters from Harry Potter). In fact, the villains can often be the most fascinating or even likable characters in some stories (like Steerpike, the strangely-charismatic villain of the Gormenghast novels). Magneto is by far the most interesting character of the X-Men movie trilogy. Davy Jones is quite possibly the most colorful movie villain since Darth Vader. Illidan Stormrage, is definitely my personal favorite of the epic-sized WarCraft cast.

But I'll stop cheating and dropping extra names and move on to the characters I chose, in chronological order of origin (newest to oldest):

1.) Jonathan Strange: Central character in Susanna Clarke's amazing 2004 work, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Strange is an extremely intelligent (though frequently unwise) young man with an amazing affinity for magic. He becomes the apprentice of Mr. Norrell, the only magician in early 19th-Century England, and uses his skill on the battlefield to help the Duke of Wellington defeat Napoleon Bonaparte (though this accounts only a fraction of the massive and intricate 800-page novel).

2.) Hermione Granger: The "cleverest witch of her generation," Hermione is clearly the greatest character of the "Terrible Trio." She always has the answer if anyone does, and if they don't, she'll be the first to get it (this doesn't always work out for her, though, cf. Chamber of Secrets). Impossible to dislike, I guess she's a bit of an obvious choice, but that's why she's a favorite.

3.) Sparrowhawk: Central character of Ursula K. LeGuin's magnificent Earthsea series which, on top of being beautifully written, is the next best thing to reading a backstory for Gandalf. Sparrowhawk (whose true name is Ged) is an extremely gifted wizard, though his skillful arrogance led to big trouble in his youth. However, he eventually matures into one of the greatest archwizards the Earthsea archipelago has ever seen, becoming almost as wise as he is intelligent along the way.

4.) Gandalf the Grey: Gandalf is the fantasy wizard, and the fantasy character I've probably come closest to straight-up worshipping. In fact, he may just be the greatest fantasy character ever. Note that I say "the Grey" rather than "the White" or simply "Gandalf." I always kind of preferred him before his rebirth, not only because grey is my favorite color (probably because of Gandalf, so chicken and egg) and white is boring, but because Gandalf the Grey was a lot more fun. Death took a lot of the perpetual twinkle out of his eye. Also, Gandalf the Grey was a great deal more fallible, which made both him and his adventures more interesting, if not quite as uber.

5.) Merlin: If Gandalf is the wizard of modern fantasy then Merlin is simply The Wizard. Not only is he the ultimate source of pretty much all fictional wizardkind, but in many ways he is a large percentage of the wizard population. Featured in fiction for centuries by everyone from Mark Twain to C.S. Lewis, Merlin stars under his own name in countless series and incarnations, popping in musicals, movies, video games . . . you name it. My personal favorite depiction is the lovable humanist Merlyn from T.H. White's Once and Future King. An often comedic, but deeply compassionate, version of the wizard, Merlyn lives his life backwards in time, with simultaneously amusing and confusing results.

Favorite archetype (pretty obvious by now):
Wizard - Even when they don't know everything, they know a lot more than everyone else. Their characters often arc from Smart Young Man to Wise Old Man, with all sorts of fantastic happenings along the way. Their abilities, beyond being extremely cool and powerful, possess an almost infinite variety. No offense, but there are only so many ways to swing a sharp object (and George Lucas ran through them all quite exhaustively in his Star Wars prequel trilogy). I love a good sword fight as much as the next guy, but a writer has to work pretty hard and be pretty thick to get magic to appear stale and boring.

And there you have it. As long as we're talking about fantasy, have a look at this fantastic trailer for Harry Potter and the Chronicles of the Lord of the Golden Compass of the Jedi.

Posted by Jared at January 11, 2008 08:17 PM | TrackBack