Ten Best Fantasy Characters: The Final Reckoning

(Part 1 of the Countdown: 10, 9, 8)
(Part 2 of the Countdown: 7, 6, 5)
(Part 3 of the Countdown: 4, 3, 2)

Here we are, at long last, to finish our countdown of the ten best characters in fantasy.  This coming week, we’ll be headed to Indianapolis for Gen Con 2015, so we wanted to make sure we got this written and posted before we get caught up in planning our road trip, and packing, and finishing up our projects for July Camp NaNoWriMo, and so on.

If you missed our earlier posts, check out the links at the top.  But if you’ve been with us from the beginning, here’s a reminder of how things stand so far:

10 Vin, from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy.
She shows how to make a character sympathetic, even if she’s born with superhero powers.

9 Neville Longbottom, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
He’s a secondary character, but he’s still got a fantastic arc all his own.

8 Tiffany Aching, from Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series.
She’s “plucky done right”—an active heroine who feels believably smart for her age.

7 Jaime Lannister, from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
He seems like a terrible human being…until you get inside his head.   Then you sympathize in spite of yourself.

6 Eowyn, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
She longs to prove herself, even though she’s a girl.  And boy, does she end up proving herself.

5 Peter “Littlefinger” Baelish, from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
We have no idea what secret game he’s playing, and that’s what makes him fascinating.

4 Kvothe, from Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.
We meet him at either end of his character arc, and he’s fascinating in both places.

3 Samwise Gamgee, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
He’s not just a sidekick; he’s the real hero of the books.

2 Sand dan Glokta, from Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law Trilogy.
He shows how a writer can create sympathy for even the most unpleasant character through mastery of voice.

And so, at long last, here’s the number one, very best fantasy character of all time:

Lucy Pevensie

lucy
We happily admit that we enjoy reading characters who are complex, flawed, and not always terribly heroic. And yet, sometimes you just want a character to do the right thing, for the right reasons. Sometimes you want to love a character unapologetically, and to even be more like that character. Lucy Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia is precisely that kind of character. Written flawlessly by CS Lewis, Lucy is not just a character we wish we could be, but a character we actually could be. She is heroic in ways a little girl can be; her defining trait her unalterable belief. She heals the sick and inspires the frightened, and she even forgives her brother Edmund when he betrays what she believes in so fiercely.

And yet, she is never the annoying, cloying, precocious child she could be. She is polite and decent, and frankly, you rather want to give her a hug, even if you aren’t normally one for children. Lewis makes you love her for her bravery and kindness, when it would have been so easy to make the reader roll his eyes and think, “No kid is this freaking good.” Through the Chronicles of Narnia, we get to watch her grow, and even once she is too old for Narnia, we know that she doesn’t lose her faith, that, instead, she inspires that same faith in others.

So, what do we learn from this amazing girl? Most importantly that depending on the tone and theme of the story, it is absolutely acceptable to write a truly heroic protagonist. The world is sometimes gray and evil and all of the things we read George RR Martin and Joe Abercrombie for. But it is also overflowing with decency and good people who believe in their hearts that doing right by other people is the only way to live life. Heroic characters don’t have to be boring or annoying. They can be interesting and aspirational and entirely real for all of that.

So what have we learned from this list?

First of all, execution is everything.
You can make a torturer sympathetic if you make him funny enough.  You can give a character superhero powers if you show us how she struggles to learn how to use them.  You can make your heroine a good little girl who does all the right things, and if you can make her charming enough, the reader will love her, rather than want to throttle her.  Any of the characters on this list could have been insufferable in the hands of lesser writers.  In many ways, though, Lucy is the trickiest of the lot, which is why she’s on top.

Second, everyone likes an unlikely hero.
Sure, Aragorn and Harry Potter are awesome, and if you were betting on who would win a fight, they would be the safe choices.  But sometimes you need a character who becomes a hero more or less out of nowhere.  It’s just so satisfying when Neville turns out to be awesome, or when Sam saves Frodo, or when Eowyn kills the Witch King, because we can remember, as readers, when they didn’t seem to have a lot going for them.

Third, even villains can be sympathetic.  
It’s tempting as a writer to think of the antagonist as merely an obstacle for the hero.  Somebody has to cause problems and setbacks, or the story is going to be both dull and short.  But everyone is the hero of his own story, and Jaime Lannister and Glokta remind us that even the worst people need to have, from their point of view, some justification for what they do.

And finally, good trumps evil.  
Yes, horrid characters can be horribly fascinating (we were both bummed when Hannibal was canceled).  But there’s a limit to how much of that you can take.  Even the best villainous antiheroes are, in the end, a bit like ice cream or whiskey: a little is great, but if you have too much, you end up feeling sick and slightly ashamed of yourself.  That’s probably the main reason why Lucy Pevensie is at the top of this list, rather than Glokta.  Lucy is the sort of person you wish you could be; Glokta just isn’t.

So there we are: our ten best list.  Hopefully we’ll have more updates on our Camp NaNo projects.  And if we’re really motivated, we might even have a post from Gen Con.

J&S

What I’m Writing These Days

dock 29 cover take 2

Cover of S’s novel, Dock 29. Pic St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg taken by J.

So, last week when I was supposed to be blogging, I decided that I was getting nowhere fast with my revision of The Queen’s Tower for Camp NaNoWriMo, so I decided to switch projects. I’m now enthusiastically revising my first Oleg Omdahl mystery, Dock 29, and finding myself pleasantly surprised with how much I kind of like the novel. Even lowering my word count goal for the month, I still might not win NaNo this go round, especially with our attendance at GenCon robbing me of the last two days of the month, but I’m okay with that. I’m writing and enjoying it for the first time in awhile.

To be fair, I’m also spending a fair amount of time screwing around on social media, watching TV, and reading fanfic. <shrug> It is what it is. And if writing is supposed to be fun, at least a little bit every once in awhile, I am having a good time ranting about things, like this plea to the TV gods. (This is taken directly from my fangirl tumblr account.)

Do you know what I wish for most? To love a TV show that isn’t in danger of cancellation, that doesn’t have a tiny fandom, that I know will be there when I tune in. I watch some shows that fall into this category, but they aren’t the shows I love beyond reason. Yeah, I’m looking at you Game of Thrones, although you have source material problems, so it’s not entirely your fault. And I’m looking at you, too, The Vampire Diaries. You’re my old comfy slipper, but would I be crushed if you suddenly went away? Meh. And you, especially Once Upon a Time, the show that became so tedious I broke up with you because you were no longer interesting enough for me to watch while folding laundry.

No, the shows I love are pushed to mid-season (The 100), finish last in their time slot (The Originals), need to be saved by other outlets (Community), or can’t get saved at all (Hannibal). What must it be like to love a show that does well in the ratings, has its network’s support, and gets renewed early ever year? I just want The Musketeers to be the most popular thing on TV and for Starz to love Da Vinci’s Demons as much as I do. Is this really too much to ask?

Why do the TV gods have no mercy upon me? Did I not pay the great sacrifice more than a decade ago when they ripped Firefly away from me? Where is the sympathy I deserve, the support someone with my abandonment issues needs? Where is the wildly popular show I can love with all my heart?

And that’s what I’ve been writing. (J, of course, won NaNo ages ago and is now busy working on reference works for the Myrcia ‘verse.)

~S

We’re Back at Camp!

Happy July 4th (a day late)!
fireworks_rwbReaders of this blog will recall that S and I already did Camp NaNoWriMo this year in April.  But as we mentioned at the time, there are in fact TWO sessions of Camp NaNo per year: one in April and one in July.  So here we are again, in our metaphorical tent, by the metaphorical lake, with our metaphorical macramé craft projects.

My first project this month is a new novel, The Path of the Son.  Here’s the description I posted on the Camp NaNo site:

An old soldier and his trusted manservant venture into foreign lands to bring back the soldier’s son before he can make the mistake of his life: joining the army…as a mercenary for the enemy.  Meanwhile, the son meets a girl he likes, who introduces him to her employer, a powerful witch.  And the witch seems so helpful at first.  But what’s her real reason for helping him?  A son learns about romance.  A father learns how to understand his son.  And a lady’s maid learns that her mistress has a much darker side.

The witch (or female hillichmagnar, properly speaking, in our ‘verse) is a minor character with a pivotal role in the Quartet.  And there’s a cameo from one of the POV characters from Keara of Glen Taran, as well.

Although the story originally started, in my mind, as a quest story starring this old (actually middle-aged) knight and his servant, the thing that got me really excited about writing it was realizing that I could put this particular sorceress in the novel as a (relatively) young person.  In the Quartet, we see her almost literally at the other end of her life, nearly 1,800 years later (our wizards live to be about 2,000, give or take a few years).  At that point, she is, frankly, a rather gruff and bitter and unpleasant person, who has been carrying grudges for hundreds and hundreds of years.  So it’s been fun trying to figure out what she might have been like before all that happened.

So far I’ve finished 9 chapters (of a planned 25), and it seems to be going well.  Another challenge of this particular story, as it was with Keara of Glen Taran and A Glass of Sand and Stars, is simply that it takes place so very, very, very long before the time period of the Quartet.  And so I have to try to make it seem like the culture is different enough that the reader can see it’s much older, and yet still similar enough that it seems like the Point A of this story might conceivably lead to the Point B, C, and D of our later stories.

I’m also getting to use some of the cultural backstory stuff for our big Empire that I was working on through May and June, so that’s kind-of fun.

Anyway, I’m sure we’ll have further updates as the month goes on.

J

~~~

Greetings from Camp! Once again, I’m tackling The Queen’s Tower, and hopefully by the end of the month the novel will be in good enough shape J and I can do a read through together. I’ve got some new flashback chapters to write that will hopefully allow it all to hang together, but otherwise I’m just trying to make the existing stuff better. We’ll see.

And I have to comment on J’s description of the hillichmagnar in his novel as, “gruff and bitter and unpleasant person.” He’s being polite. Generally, this is how we refer to her. (Not Safe For Work audio.)

S