What makes me love a character?
I am a proud bibliophile. I love words. I love to read. I love books. I love stories. And like everyone else, I have my favorites.
I credit my 4th grade teacher with giving me this love of stories.I distinctly remember her reading 2 books to our class that year: Where the Red Fern Grows and Anne of Green Gables. To this day, those are a couple of favorites. The hearing of those books led to my first “big read.” I was 9 years old when I read Little Women, and from then on, I was happily hooked on books.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m still an addict. The difference now being that I tend to analyze my response to stories. I realized several years ago that when I connect with a story, I become obsessive. I honestly don’t know if this is good, bad, or indifferent. Seems harmless enough…most of the time. Looking back, it first happened with The Phantom of the Opera, when I was around 14 years old. For months, I read, and re-read both the original work by Gaston LeReoux, and Susan Kay’s expansion on the story, Phantom. I still love the story, and can easily go back to reread and lose myself all over again.
As an adult, it has happened with these stories: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Harry Potter series, and, currently, Les Miserables.
With the first 3, it happened the first time I read them. With Les Miserables, it’s happening on my 2nd reading. Interestingly the stories that occupy me in this way MUST have characters that I adore. For the most part, if I can’t relate to an important character (preferrably the protagonist), I’m not likely to enjoy the book, unless the story is simply irresistible. There have been a few exceptions to that, but not many. I may like a story, but I need to LOVE the characters. And it isn’t necessarily that the characters are bad or weak or uninteresting, just that I don’t connect with them. There are books I’ve read and enjoyed the stories. I would recommend them to fellow bibliophiles, but they don’t take hold of me, not the way a story does in which I find a character to love and take to heart this way.
So I started thinking about the characters who have incited this obsessive behavior in me, and wondering why. I talked to a fellow book-geek about it, and it made me want to examine it a bit more closely. We talked about what it is that makes us love a character, flaws and all.
Is it being able to relate to the character?
Is it because you see a little of yourself in them?
Is it because you see a little of your own flaws or darkness in them, but also recognize their good qualities and that gives you hope about yourself?
Is it because they are the kind of person you would like to make your best friend? Do you want to be them? Be with them? Have a drink with them?
To some degree, it’s likely all of these things.
I decided to look at 2 of my favorites a little more closely. First, let’s look at the Harry Potter series. I didn’t grow up with Potter. I was 30 when I read the series for the first time. Pretty much every fan has their favorite character. (or characters!) Mine is and was from the beginning, Ronald Bilius Weasley.
He’s a bit of a divisive personality. I’ve noticed in the fandom that he has his haters, and that’s ok. (I probably don’t like their favorites either). Ron is brave, as long as there are no spiders. He is loyal, yet prone to jealousy. He can be self centered, while having a serious lack of self esteem. He is not necessarily “book smart,” but he has plenty of practical intelligence. He is sarcastic and funny. He tends to be lazy, when he is doing something he doesn’t want to do. (i.e. school work) Ron feels his family’s financial status keenly, and he feels his place in the family (lost among his siblings) keenly as well.
So how do all of these traits translate into him being my favorite? First, it’s his humor. In reading the books, he made me laugh regularly, and more than any other character. One of my favorite Ron quips, and a great example of his sense of humor is this gem:
“From now on, I don’t care if my tea leaves spell ‘Die, Ron, Die,’ I’m chucking them in the bin where they belong.” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling).
It’s these little lines that make me think that just being friends with Ron, just hanging out with him, would be fun. His humor comes easily, it isn’t forced, and it isn’t an “in your face,” sort of humor. Harry most definitely had his funny moments as well, but he tended to be a brooder at times (and who could blame him, really?), so having Ron Weasley as his best mate kept him from being buried under the weight of all that he was facing. It came out naturally, so many times throughout the series. Interestingly, Ron would never believe that he is funny, since he would always be holding himself up to the standard of family jokesters, Fred and George. But their humor and his are of different sorts.
The second thing that stands out in my love of this character is his loyalty. Yes, he got mad and stormed off a couple of times. Yes, he let his mouth get him in trouble. Yes, he was petty now and then. But he always came through. He always realized the importance of his friendships and worked to see them restored when damaged. He was even appropriately contrite about it. When he finally found Harry again (in the nick of time, too!) in The Silver Doe chapter of the Deathly Hallows, he said,
“”Well, I’ve — you know — I’ve come back. If—” He cleared his throat. “You know. You still want me.”” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling).
He seriously messed up. And he knew it. And he owned it. Having friends show their loyalty, even when they’re upset with you, even when they just don’t get what you’re doing, that’s the real deal.
So, I suppose for Ron, though I do relate to him in many ways, the main reason he’s a favorite is because he’s the kind of friend I want in my life.
(Another character I could have used here is Samwise Gamgee, from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is another of my favorites,and though his qualities are different in many ways from Ron’s, he’s still the kind of friend I want. He is loyal, strong, and brave. Not to mention he can cook!)
Part 2 is coming soon, brought to you by the letter R. (wink, wink)