When I told Levi I was going to write about some memorable characters from literature, I thought I had several of them in mind. Because I’ve read a lot of books, and I mainly won’t read a book if I don’t enjoy at least one of the characters in some way, even if it is to appreciate how completely awful the character is. As I browsed my bookshelves earlier thinking about which characters I would include in my post, I kept noticing the usual suspects, suspects so usual that they don’t even bear mentioning, and I figured there was really no point in writing a post about fictional characters that don’t bear mentioning. So I looked some more, and found some things that are less usual, which I present to you now.
1. Joe Panther
The protagonist in two crime novels written by Andrew Masterson, The Last Days: The Apocryphon of Joe Panther and The Second Coming: The Passion of Joe Panther, the eponymous Joe Panther is a wickedly smart, wonderfully sarcastic, beer-drinking, drug-dealing investigator. And he’s also… Jesus. You know that whole son of God thing with the dying on the cross and being raised from the dead on the third day? That’s the one. Minus the ascending into Heaven and sitting at the right hand of God the Father forever and ever amen, that is. Yep, instead of that, he was inexplicably left to wander the planet and has been doing so for a couple of millennia, witnessing human folly and the uprising of organized religion and developing a bitterness toward his father. Both books are entertaining yarns, mixed with a fair bit of Christian history and theology (obviously in many ways turned on its ear) and despite the fact that their premise alone is enough to offend many people nearly to death, they make for enjoyable Saturday afternoon reads. Sort of modern-day noir with an angry, irreverent Jesus as the hard-boiled, world-weary private eye. I’m not sure that the books were ever published in the United States, and the tiny bit of research I’ve done suggests that they weren’t (my copies were sent to me as gifts from a friend in Australia, which is the country the author hails from and where the novels are set). But when it comes to thinking about fictional characters in terms of memorability, it’s pretty hard to beat Jesus, the crime-solving heroin dealer.
2. Margery Kempe
I read The Book of Margery Kempe a couple of years ago. It’s still sitting on my shelf and I can see it as I type this. Or I could see it as I type this if I didn’t have a voluminous feather boa hanging off of the edge of my closet door, obscuring my view. Damn feathers. Why must they be so fabulous? I don’t know. What I do know is that when I’m looking at my books (sans feathers) and I notice Margery Kempe’s autobiography, I always have the same reaction: I shake my head. Granted, I had to go back and read my initial assessment (linked above) to remember details of her story, but I remembered that she had a penchant for wailing uncontrollably all the time because she was just so overcome with her love of Jesus or because she wanted people to notice how overcome she was with her love of Jesus, or whatever. In any case, the thing that has stuck with me over the past two years, and will most likely continue to stick with me in the future is one tiny detail: that woman was nuts.
3. Rebecca deWinter
The title character of Daphne duMaurier’s Rebecca dies before any of the novel’s action takes place, and she never makes any supernatural appearances as a ghost or anything, but her presence is so fully defined in the novel that she inhabits every page, much like her memory haunts Manderley and the new Mrs. deWinter. She’s the most powerful figure in the novel (though the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers is easily the creepiest) and I think it’s telling that the greatest character in the book isn’t even really there.
4. Trout Fishing in America
Yes, I think Trout Fishing in America is a character in Richard Brautigan’s novel of the same name, mainly because Trout Fishing in America explains things. And also is responsible for one of my favorite bits in all of American literature, or of all literature, period. Seriously —
The Reply of Trout Fishing in America:
There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t change a flight of stairs into a creek. The boy walked back to where he came from. The same thing once happened to me. I remember mistaking an old woman for a trout stream in Vermont, and I had to beg her pardon.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I thought you were a trout stream.”
“I’m not,” she said.
Sometimes I think about that and giggle. Good on you, Trout Fishing in America.
5. Laura Wingfield
Tennessee Williams is often so dramatic (fitting for plays, I suppose). And I love so much of his work and the steamy humid Southern boiling heat of it all, but in all of that, The Glass Menagerie is like a tiny gentle gasp. Sure, it’s probably more obvious to pick Blanche duBois or Maggie the Cat, but it is Laura Wingfield that I remember the most strongly. The first thing I read by Tennessee Williams, I picked this play up when I was 14 and by the time I got through Tom’s closing speech, I was crushed. I’d reacted emotionally to things I’d read before that point, but I’m not sure I’d ever been completely crushed by something yet. And Laura, the center of the play, hangs in my memory like a beautifully delicate translucent piece of glass. I’m feeling a little crushed now, actually, just thinking about it.