Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

The success of a great novel does not lie entirely in the hands of its hero. Many of my favourite novels come with a surprise gift – the character who is most interesting of all, who is not the main protagonist. This is the character you wonder about later, the character that seems to step outside the story and comment on it, or the one whose dilemma is never really solved by the outcome of the plot. Here are three examples:

1) Mr Bennett in Pride and Prejudice

Lizzie’s father Mr Bennett is the character around whom the story problem – the Entailment – is centred. He could have seen the crisis coming, and had the power to avert it – Lydia’s elopement with Wickham, which threatened to ruin all of them. Instead, he allows himself the luxury of standing outside the story and commenting flippantly on it, as if the fate of his family had never hung on the decisions he made. In the end, the family is saved, by good fortune operating through the characters of Lizzie and Darcy – and not by Mr Bennett fulfiling his duty. And yet he says, And so Darcy did everything… I shall offer to pay him tomorrow; he will rant and storm, about his love for you, and there will be an end to the matter. And near the end we have Mr Bennett’s delicious irony in this remark to Lizzie: I admire all my three sons-in-law highly. Wickham, perhaps is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane’s.

2) Gollum in The Lord of the Rings

Gollum is for me the most haunting character in Tolkien’s great novel. Starting out as one of the River Folk, who evolved from the loveable hobbits, he became consumed by his lust for the Ring. And yet he is offered redemption, by Frodo. Frodo uses his original name, Smeagol, to try and recall him to a sense of who he once was. He demonstrates trust in Gollum. This indicates Gollum can be redeemed if he chooses. And there are moments when he comes close, moments when we long for him to be redeemed. Yet Gollum’s final choice, to grasp the Ring, brings about his own destruction, and that of the Ring itself.

3) Mr Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Mr Tumnus the Fawn is the character who first comes into my mind whenever I think of The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe. Childlike, pure, guileless, representing the natural world, the first inhabitant of Narnia whom Lucy meets, who offers her hospitality and friendship – yet he’s prevailed upon to spy for the White Witch, and first alerts her to the presence in Narnia of a Daughter of Eve. And he suffers for it. But ultimately he is redeemed.

Do you have any examples of minor, or secondary characters in your favourite novels? Perhaps they may be for you the most interesting character of all. Let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

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Comments on: "Minor Characters Who Highlight the Theme in Great Fiction" (4)

  1. Abigail said:

    There’s a character from the Inheritance Cycle (or Eragon series as some people may know it) that I love in the same way as I love Gollum. She’s not a major character at all but I feel really sorry for her and she’s one of my favourite characters because of it. We first meet her as a baby in the first book when she gets taken to Eragon for a blessing but inadvertently gets cursed because of a simple word slip-up in the ancient language. Now she grows much faster than anyone is meant to, her eyes are violet and she has the voice of a world-weary woman even though she only looks three years old. She also feels everyone’s pain and feels a compulsion to save them even if there’s nothing she can do.

    I find her really interesting, partly because I feel sorry for her; if this hadn’t happened to her, she’d just be a normal one-year-old who’s oblivious to the war around her and she might have grown up very happily. I also find her interesting because of the way she’s reacted her predicament. She seems very self-pitying at times and she’s quite difficult to negotiate with, even if it’s over something really important because she feels that after what’s been done to her already, no one has the right to ask her to help them unless she decides to on her own terms.

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