The Book Meme: Day 14

(My apologies for the missed day; we've got family in town.)

Day 14 - Favorite character in a book 

Here's a tough one. It's certainly the case that a book can put you in someone else's head in a way that nothing else can. Movies and TV can put you inside an experience, and an extremely intense experience in a lot of cases, but their dependence on the visible doesn't really let you see what's going on in a character's mind. Books, by contrast, can help you share someone else's interior monologue, and such a communion can be more powerful than that shared by real people.

A lot of my favorite books have enormous casts, which can make it harder to connect in depth with just one character, but sometimes you find a connection anyway. I have always loved Corwin, the narrator of Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber series, and a big part of that fondness is that he's an amnesiac; he doesn't know what's going on, so we share his bewilderment about what he's experiencing and sympathize completely. Instead of forcing the reader through page after page of exposition, the narrative exposes the facts as Corwin learns them. It's a brilliant piece of work on Zelazny's part.

Similarly, the gigantic sprawl of John Varley's Gaean Trilogy gives us plenty of characters in whose heads we can rest for a while, and Varley gets us inside everyone from the pseudo-schizophrenic Chris Minor to Robin the Nine-fingered of the Coven to the comic-book-inspired Conal Ray, but the primary about which all these people orbit is Captain Cirocco "Rocky" Jones, one of the first and still possibly the best of SF's Tough Female Characters. Smart, caring, manipulative, bold, responsible, pragmatic--Cirocco walks through the most improbable of adventures and remains throughout a rich... contradictory... human character. And her best pal Gaby Plauget? Almost as good. Maybe just as good. Maybe better.

Douglas Adams' hapless Arthur Dent... Joseph Heller's gnomish Orr... Terry Pratchett's weary Sam Vimes... Edith Wharton's tragic Lily Bart... and G.B. Edwards' magnificent Ebenezer Le Page... all of these are characters I remember with joy and often revisit. But if there's one character whose head seems tailor-made for me, it's Owen Griffiths.

Owen is the narrator of Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, probably my favorite book by one of my favorite writers, Ursula K. Le Guin. Having discovered the Earthsea Trilogy (as it was then called, accurately) in my early teens, I was ideally suited to be a 15-year-old reader of a Le Guin book about an academically talented and socially incompetent high-school student who imagined and mapped out his own windswept island nation. I mean, I already had page after page of Tolkienesque maps among my own papers. But Owen didn't simply echo my own thoughts and beliefs; he helped shape them. It was Owen who first put into words the crucial difference between being in love and deciding to be in love. He was also instrumental in helping me see what I'd long committed myself to doing without realizing it: performing, typically as a clown, in order to avoid direct human interaction--as he put it, doing the ape act, rather than the human act. As framed by Le Guin, he was clearly sympathetic and clearly not a role model. Owen may not be my "favorite" character in terms of my wanting to read books about him over and over and over, but his claim on my mind and my life goes well beyond the mere hundred-odd pages of his book.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 20, 2018 1:16 PM.

The Book Meme: Day 13 was the previous entry in this blog.

The Book Meme: Day 15 is the next entry in this blog.

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