Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Character Building: Part 1

So today I'm going to be talking about characters.  Characters are my favorite part about writing fantasy, or any genre for that matter.  But fantasy especially has a great chance of creating dynamic, intriguing, realistic characters that other genres just don't have.

In this post I'm going to give a little history of my personal favorite characters from my life and why I think that is.

The first character I can recall going nutso over was Belle from Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast.'  I can distinctly remember when I first saw 'Beauty and the Beast.'  I was about five or six at the time, and my mom, my two aunts (her sisters) and I were travelling somewhere for something....I think it was a wedding.    We had hooked up one of those small TV sets in the back with a built in VCR player (anybody else remember those???) so I could watch movies on the way down.

Well, either Aunt Sam or Aunt Amy had brought 'Beauty and the Beast' for me to watch because I had never seen it.  I am not kidding, I watched the movie over four times in a row on the trip.  I can vividly remember mom looking back at my aunt and saying, "Seriously, Amy, if you are getting sick of watching this just turn it off!"  Aunt Sam had laughed when Aunt Amy had said, "No, it's fine!  This is great!"  So I got to watch Beauty and the Beast over and over and over again.  (May I add here that my aunts rock?  I bet my mom was getting sick of hearing 'Tale as Old as Time"!)  XD

*Sigh*, memories aside, I only recently decided why Belle has always remained my favorite Disney Princess.  And it actually comes from the same sort of answer I would have given when I was six.  She's the most like me.  To me, she felt the most realistic.  I could relate the most to her.  Of course, when I was six, I would have cited reasons like "She has brown hair like me," or "she likes to read like me" or "she has a horse and I want a horse!"  But I think people relate to characters who remind them of themselves.  Belle did that for me then, and, I am not ashamed to admit it, still does that to me now.

The second character I recall going crazy over (no, I promise I won't ramble on like I did for Belle) was Thorin Oakenshield.  I read The Hobbit when I was nine, and as I have said before, it completely changed my life.  Honestly, if I had not read the Hobbit when I did, I don't know if I would be writing now.  Anyway, I was in awe throughout the entire book just wondering how someone so epic could be so realistic.  I didn't know what it was when I was nine, but I think I had something of a crush on Thorin.  (Which I may or may not still have...)

I had never read or seen a character with such a nobility before I read The Hobbit.  I didn't really know what the word noble meant.  Now, whenever anyone says that word, I instantly think of Thorin.  He is one of the only characters I have ever read about with such an incredibly strong purpose.  He wants to regain his country and defeat a dragon, he wants to protect and lead his people, but he also wants revenge.  But his revenge is not the cold, self-serving sort of revenge that I knew about from, say, Maleficent or the queen from Snow White.  His was a fiery, unwavering, revenge, infused with raw emotion and thoughtful planning.  He hated Smaug, but not because of what Smaug did to him.  But what he did to his home.  It was a strange concept to me, and it is one I have never forgotten.

So maybe I do get a little rambly when talking about Thorin.  What can I say?  Fangirl!

The third character I found myself loving was Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings.  Unlike my admiration and awe of Belle and Thorin, with Sam I felt (feel) a certain calm familiarity, a pleasant affection.  He was just so natural and normal, but inside he was just as noble, if not more so, than Thorin.  He did not want adventure.  He did not seek revenge.  He was simply Frodo's friend.  I loved how, though he had flaws, Sam was completely and totally loyal to Frodo.  I sobbed my eyes out as a ten year when Sam had to choose between leaving Frodo to Shelob and taking the Ring, or staying and abandoning the quest.  To this day, I'm still not sure what choice I would have made.  And that's pretty impressive that such a laid-back, "normal" character could work through it.

The fourth character I have become attached too (running out of synonyms for 'freakishly and absolutely love' over here!) was Mara from 'Mara, daughter of the Nile' by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.  While a relatively unknown book, it is excellent, and I highly suggest it for anyone.  Mara was unique because she starts out a very unheroic figure.  But she is still a strong character.  I love how she knew from the beginning who she  was, and who she should be.  She knew she was a slave, but she refused to believe that's what she should have been.  She constantly dreamed and worked towards becoming nothing less than a grand princess.  But then, of course, the ever awesome Sheftu got in her way, and then she was forced to re-evaluate who she was.  I loved watching her identity struggles and her personality was beyond awesome.  While totally not my genre, I read this book over and over again simply because I love Mara.

The fifth and final one I will list here that I have gone crazy over is Eowyn.  I never really understood and appreciated her until my second or third time reading 'Lord of the Rings.'  Sure, I thought it was awesome that she killed the Witch King, but I was way too focused on the awesomeness of the other characters to really hone in on her personality.  Eowyn does not speak much, and when she does, it is with such a reverent eloquence it is hard to peal back the layers to discover the adventurous, spirited girl beneath the cold outer layers.  Eowyn longs for something greater than herself, she longs to be great.  She loathes Mordor, and loves Rohan.  Aragorn when he first sees her calls her a "daughter of kings."  It took me awhile to unpack what exactly that meant.  I mean, yeah, she was the king's niece and he had basically raised her, and yeah, her dad was the son of a king.  So yeah, she literally was a "daughter of kings."  But it means so much more than that.

Eowyn was born to lead.  She was born to inspire.  But with Mordor and Isengard caging them in, who was there to inspire?  Who was there to lead?  Despair began creeping in upon her, and she struggled to press it down.  It does not cease to amaze me how close her story came to being tragic.  Her people are dying, her uncle loses his mind for a time, her brother is banished, a creepy pervert is stalking her, Saruman betrays them, her cousin is slain, the man she loves does not love her back, most of their army dies at Helm's Deep and she could do nothing to stop it.  The following scene from The Return of the King is one of the most moving and shocking to me.  I'll tell you why after:

When the light of the day was come into the sky but the sun was not yet risen above the high ridges in the East, Aragorn made ready to depart.  His company was all mounted, and he was about to leap into his saddle, when the Lady Eowyn came to bid them farewell.  She was clad as a Rider and girt with a sword.  In her hand she bore a cup, and she set it to her lips and drank a little, wishing them good speed; and then she gave the cup to Aragorn, and he drank, and he said: "Farewell, Lady of Rohan!  I drink to the fortunes of your House, and of you, and of all your people.  Say to your brother: beyond the shadow we may meet again!"

Then it seemed to Gimli and Legolas who were nearby that she wept, and in one so stern and proud that seemed the more grievous.  But she said:  "Aragorn, wilt thou go?"

"I will," he said.

"Then wilt thou not let me ride with this company, as I have asked?"

"I will not, lady," he said, "For that I could not grant without leave of the king and of your brother; and they will not return until tomorrow.  But I count now every hour, indeed, every minute.  Farewell!"

Then she fell on her knees, saying, "I beg thee!"

"Nay lady," He said, and taking her by the hand he raised her.  Then he kissed her hand, and sprang into the saddle, and rode away, and did not look back; and only those who knew him well and were near to him saw the pain that he bore.

When I was in fourth grade, I was a bit of a feminist.  (Ya know, girls rule, boys drool?  Yeeah, but hey, I was nine!  Besides, it would have been weird if I had liked guys back then. )  I used to not like this scene, because I thought it made Eowyn seem weak and women should never seem weak!  Quite frankly, it offended me.

But then I realized.  That was the point.  The desperation Eowyn felt at being stuck in Edoras brought her to her knees.  She wasn't throwing herself at Aragorn.  She wasn't shirking her duty.  She felt like she had no duty, and she felt useless and cast aside.  And it brought her to her knees!

I say her story could have been extremely tragic because, if she were not so strong, I would not
have been surprised at a suicide.  But as the story unfolds, we realize just how stern and incredibly strong and able Eowyn is.  I think her strongest moment comes when she drops everything and cast aside her dream for valor and honor and glory and instead embraces her love for Faramir.   They are so perfect for each other.  That's probably why Eowyn/Faramir are one of the few romances I actually enjoy reading.  It was a fairy-tale ending to what could have been a very tragic story.

So there you have it!  And this is just Part 1!  >:)  There is so much more where this came from....get ready!


  1. Can I just say that I love how 3 out of 5 of your favorite characters are from LOTR? :) (I'm not saying I disagree...)

    I love Eowyn. She's always been one of my favorite characters.

  2. haha, ohh yes. I thought about replacing one or two of them with a different character, but then I would not be entirely honest. LOTR has been in my life for a very looong time. I mean, I watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time when I was six, and then I read The Hobbit when I was nine. I hadn't even seen Aladdin at that point!

    (Random confession...I did not actually watch Aladdin until I was fourteen...and then it was while I was babysitting! Mom and Daddy did not let us watch it when we were little because of the 'By Allahs' and the 'One Jump Ahead' song. Of course, I would have been able to watch it when I was eight or something...but I never got around to seeing it because of my younger siblings! I'm sure you can relate. :P)

    ANYWAY, yeah, when I first read Lord of the Rings I was a HUGE Sam fan. I mean, like totally loved him. Each time I read LOTR, my favorite character changes. Right now I'm reading the Hobbit, and my favorite character is Thorin...again. :P

    1. I just love Bilbo. (I love Thorin, too, but to me the Hobbit was always about Bilbo)

      I got to see Aladdin in the theater with my Uncle... of course, I was... er... 10 at the time? Of course, that was long before the two towers and such, when anything Arabic wasn't seen in such a threatening/negative light. One of my favorite books ever around that time was "King of the Wind" I went back and started re-reading it recently and thought, "Wow, much of this wouldn't fly nowadays." Now I feel old.

      I just re-read the LOTR last fall and fell in love with it all over again. Currently I'm finishing up the final Wheel of Time book... it's been a long time coming, as I started the series my freshman year of high school!