Tilting At Windmills: The Brontë Award For Best Character – Part 3 … Svengali! Dorian Gray! Harry Potter! … More
Published: June 28th, 2024
By: Shelly Reuben

Tilting at Windmills: The Brontë Award for Best Character – Part 3 … Svengali! Dorian Gray! Harry Potter! … More

Ha! I bet you thought all Brontë Awards would be given to characters in books published before the 21st Century.

Mostly true. But not all.

Before I move into a more contemporary era, I have a few final awards to bestow on 19th century favorites. Next week, my last in this series, I will talk about “runners-up."

But today, I begin with everybody’s favorite evil, hypnotic, brilliant, and terrible manipulator – SVENGALI. Although the haunting 1931 movie starring John Barrymore was named Svengali, the book on which it was based, by George du Maurier (Daphne Du Maurier’s grandfather), was titled TRILBY, after the beautiful artist’s model Svengali had mesmerized into obeying his will.

SVENGALI: “…would either fawn or bully, and could be grossly impertinent … his laughter was always derisive and full of malice. And his egotism and conceit were not to be borne.” But … he had “one virtue—his love of his art; or, rather, his love of himself as a master of his art—the  master; for he despised, or affected to despise, all other musicians, living or dead.”

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, by Oscar Wilde, was about a young man “certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair … All the candor of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world.”

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Seeing himself portrayed so beautifully, DORIAN GRAY murmurs, “How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young ... If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that – for that – I would give everything! Yes … I would give my soul for that!”

Which, of course, he does.

Now, finally, to the 20th Century.

I’ll start with Ian Flemming’s ever-popular JAMES BOND, without going into much detail because he is so well known. But, for fun, here are a few – shaken. Not stirred – choice Bond quotes:

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it's enemy action.”

“Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.”.

“You only live twice: Once when you are born. And once when you look death in the face.”

Another memorable post-World War II character was Mickey Spillane’s hard-boiled private detective, MIKE HAMMER. I saw Spillane in person when he was given an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America, and the guy looked like a cross between a bullet and a fire plug. Short. Tough. impregnable. He was accompanied by his third wife, as gorgeous as any vamp in one of his novels. Here are two typical quotes by the author about his creation:

“Mike Hammer drinks beer because I can't spell Cognac.”

“Imagine this guy hits Mike Hammer over the head with a wooden coat hanger and knocks him out. You hit Mike Hammer over the head with a wooden coat hanger, he’ll beat the crap out of you.”

Moving on to the late 20th and early 21st Century, we have characters created by an author who should have received a Nobel Prize for literature, since she single-handedly got children – and adults – back to reading REAL BOOKS … J. K. Rowling.

Everything about her Harry Potter novels is brilliant. Rowling is funny. She is principled. She writes about courage and justice. Fear, humiliation, adolescence, betrayal, loyalty, love, friendship, family, humor, heroism, prejudice, genocide, and racism (if “mudbloods” aren’t contemporary stand-ins for the Jewish population during Nazi Germany, and if Voldemort isn’t a parallel to Hitler, then I am a pogo stick, and you have mashed potatoes for brains.)

How the child-stars who played Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson) can have morphed into such blatant morons after playing the characters that Rowling created – all three have turned on her because she defends the scientific validity that “there are two sexes” – is beyond me.

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Although most of J. K. Rowling’s characters represent certain types of people – Professor Dumbledore (wisdom and humor); Hermione (smart girl with guts); Hagrid (misunderstood gentle giant) – I am going to single out the two who unequivocally represent good and evil. HARRY POTTER (The Boy Who Could Not Die), and VOLDEMORT (a.k.a. You-Know-Who).

Here is Hagrid’s explanation about how HARRY POTTER survived Voldemort’s attack:

"All anyone knows is, he turned up in the village where you was all living, on Hallowe'en ten years ago. You was just a year old. He came ter yer house an' — an' — 'You-Know-Who’ killed 'em. An' then — an' this is the real myst'ry of the thing — he tried to kill you, too... But he couldn't do it. Never wondered how you got that mark on yer forehead? That was no ordinary cut. That's what yeh get when a powerful, evil curse touches yeh — took care of yer mum an' dad an' yer house, even — but it didn't work on you, an' that's why yer famous, Harry. No one ever lived after he decided ter kill ‘em, no one except you.”

And this is VOLDEMORT after he was dropped into a simmering caldron “hairless and scaly-looking … Its arms and legs were thin and feeble, and its face … flat and snakelike, with gleaming red eyes.”

Seconds later, Voldemort emerges as the evil force against which HARRY POTTER pits his courage and strength – for seven books! – “tall and skeletally thin. Whiter than a skull, with wide, livid scarlet eyes and a nose … with slits for nostrils … Lord Voldemort had risen again.”

Next week, I will tell you about runners-up for the Charlotte and Emily Brontë Award for Memorable Characters in a Novel. But I’ll end today’s contribution with a few words from J. K. Rowlings about why she writes what she writes:

“There is no part of me that feels that I represented myself as your children’s babysitter or their teacher. I was always, I think, completely honest. I’m a writer, and I will write what I want to write.”

Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2024. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com