Let’s face facts…good literary characters have to have, well, character. They need something to help them come to life, something to pull them off the pages and give them life. They need personality, flaws, wit, humor, and, while they’re not essential, good looks don’t hurt!
In my years and years of reading all kinds of books, there have been a good handful of characters like this that have stood out to me. These characters kept me engaged, made me think about my own life choices, presented ideas I agreed with and didn’t agree with, and in most cases made me enjoy their respective publications all the more.
This is of course an ever-growing list, and a few of these are even very recent additions (I’m looking at you, Tyrion!). But I thought I would share and see if ya’ll agree with my selections. What other characters would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!
Peter Pan, Peter Pan and Wendy, J.M. Barrie
Standing as an emblem of joy and youth, Peter Pan is a hero to all of us who refuse to grow up. He is smart, innocent, and frankly pretty annoying in his brash confidence, but Peter’s history is really what makes him such a deep and complex character. What lies underneath his strong personality is a heart-wrenching story about child abandonment that left me in tears.
The Little Prince, The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Perhaps symbolizing the childlike wonder in all of us, The Little Prince is an innocent, pure traveler from outer space who has a keen ability to dissect people’s frivolities and weaknesses. Accompanied by his friend The Fox, the Prince brings the narrator of this book on an epic journey, teaching him (and us as readers) that oftentimes the search for answers can be more important than the answers themselves.
Severus Snape, Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
I have to say, as a die-hard Potterhead from the release of The Sorcerer’s Stone, I’ve always felt a soft spot in my heart for Severus Snape. Perhaps the most layered character in the Harry Potter series, Snape is a man tortured by lost love.
Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games series, Suzanne Collins
Katniss was an example of a character I both liked and disliked at different parts of the series. However, her strong-headed spirit, genuine love for her family and friends, and her courage to stand up for herself and her convictions make her a great role model for girls of all ages.
Falstaff, Henry IV, William Shakespeare
The original “fat best friend”, Falstaff is a blunderous, loveable oaf. He drinks, he farts, he eats to access, and he has the best insults of any Shakespearean character. Symbolic of all of life’s pleasures, he has a hearty appetite for life and finds the niceties of courtesy and honor useless when where are jokes to be told and feasts to be eaten. All in all, he is easily Shakespeare’s best comic character.
Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Strong, sassy, and confident, Elizabeth Bennet is a true heroine. Progressive in her thoughts about love and romance, Lizzie was not only one of the first Austen characters to stand up for her convictions, but is also considered one of the strongest female characters in British literature.
Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Steady and even-handed, Atticus Finch is the symbol of reason. He treats his children as adults and answers their questions honestly and fairly. In the courtroom, his faith in justice and due-diligence is unflinching, and his amazing fight for Tom Robinson’s innocence is proof that Atticus prides himself on being fair and good. For me, part of Atticus reminds me of my own father, making him an essential addition to this list.
Phineas, A Separate Peace, John Knowles
A tremendous athlete and best friend to main character Gene Forrester, Phineas (Finny) is a unique character with a heart-breaking fate. Despite his profound athletic abilities, Finny dislikes games with winners and losers. He doesn’t have any enemies, he always thinks the best of people, and believes the world is a fundamentally friendly place. A perfect foil for Gene, Finny’s general optimism and carefree attitude often act to fuel Gene’s jealousy.
Frank and April Wheeler, Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Ugh, Frank and April. The flawed relationship at the center of Revolutionary Road is enough to have you loving and hating this couple at the same time. A raw and emotional depiction of a broken marriage makes this book just as fascinating as it is disturbing.
Sethe, Beloved, Toni Morrison
Sethe is one of the most amazing mother-figure characters I’ve read in a long time. Her complete devotion to her children borders on dangerous, and her fear of her abusive past keeps this freed slave trapped in her own world of pain and hurt. Full of emotion and motherly devotion, Sethe embarks on a journey of self-discovery and forgiveness, one that left me feeling vulnerable and raw.
Armande Voizin, Chocolat, Joanne Harris
Armande doesn’t have much of a presence in Chocolat, but her quick wit and vulgarity make her the grandma we all want in our lives. She lives life to the fullest, indulging in the things that make her happy. Though selfish in some of her actions, you can’t deny that she has a killer attitude about how important it is to live every day of your life.
Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
Talk about angst. But how much do you love him? A lot, right? Me too. Though he proves himself to be intelligent and sensitive throughout the novel, Holden narrates The Catcher in the Rye in a cynical voice, finding ugliness in the world around him and tries his best to protect himself from entering the disappointment of adulthood. As is often the case with young, angsty teens, a lot of his disappointment with the world is a reflection on himself, as he is just as uncomfortable with his own weaknesses as he is with the world around him. Relatable and loveable in his anger, Holden is the voice in our heads, the young teen who questions life, customs, traditions, and the world at large.
Lyra “Silvertongue” Belacqua, His Dark Materials series, Philip Pullman
Lyra is a beautiful character, a hero for young (and rebellious!) women of all ages. Throughout the course of the Dark Materials series, Lyra experiences a sexual awakening throughout the trilogy. She has a love for adventure and a desire to learn. She obeys no one unless she thinks she has a reason to do so. Going against the Church and the need for order makes Lyra a headstrong character who is beloved by fans of this series.
Tyrion Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin
I’ve been on the fence for a while about whether or not I wanted to jump into this series. However, when I finally took the plunge, I fell in love with Tyrion instantly. His delightful “impish wit” is cunning in every way. Small in stature but big on personality, Tyrion offers much needed comic relief in this epic and magical series.
Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables series, L.M. Montgomery
A true gem and kindred spirit to young girls everywhere, Anne Shirley is a sweet blend of optimism and innocence. She adores her friends and family, fights for truth and virtue, and stands by her values. She has wit and wisdom beyond her years, making her an adorable, loving character that will fill you with all the warm fuzzies.
Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.