Tilting At Windmills: The Brontë Award For Best Character – Part 4 … Runners-Up!
Published: July 5th, 2024
By: Shelly Reuben

Tilting at Windmills: The Brontë Award for Best Character – Part 4 … Runners-Up! Author Shelly Reuben

After I invented the Brontë Award, I realized that many characters who deserved to be honored had been left out. This is because I wanted my winners to be, if not instantly recognizable – like Dracula or James Bond – at least very well known.

As a (miserable) consequence, some of my favorites fell by the wayside. Today, though, I get to introduce these lesser-knowns as runners-up, in the hopes that you will be inspired to read the books from which they came.

I’ll start with SAMUEL HAMILTON from EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck, the poor but joyous farmer/inventor who is Adam Trask’s neighbor, and LEE, Adam’s cook and Housekeeper. Adam may be rich, but he blunders through life, always investing his love in the wrong people and the wrong things … with only Sam and Lee to keep him from becoming an emotional zombie.

SAMUEL HAMILTON: Some “might get the idea he’s full of bull … He’s an Irishman. And he’s all full of plans – a hundred plans a day. And he’s all full of hope … Maybe he hasn’t got four bits put away, but he’s our people and he’s as good as we got.”

LEE and Samuel become close, but only after the inventor sees through Lee’s “humble Chinaman” façade. “Lee,” Sam says. “I mean no disrespect, but I’ve never been able to figure why you people still talk pidgin when an illiterate baboon from the black bogs of Ireland, with a head full of Gaelic and a tongue like a potato, learns to talk a poor grade of English in ten years.”

Once their friendship is solidified, Lee and Sam exemplify the book’s theme, which stems from the Cain and Abel story in the bible, and Lee’s translation of the word “timshel.”

Story Continues Below Adverts

“Thou Mayest” Samuel exults. “It took me by the throat and shook me. …and my life which is ending seems to be going on to an ending wonderful …Thou mayest rule over sin … What glory! It is true that we are weak and sick and quarrelsome, but if that is all we were, we would, millenniums ago, have disappeared from the face of the earth … But the choice, Lee, the choice of winning!”

Next are two characters from Robert R. McCammon’s BOY’S LIFE, one of my all-time favorite books. The novel tells the story of a 1964 Alabama summer in the life of four boys who encounter “a dark queen who was 106 years old … a monster in the river … a boy with a perfect arm … a dinosaur loose … a magic place spent in that realm of enchantment.”

First is THE LADY, “thin as a shadow, and just as dark,” she invites Corey to her home to thank him for saving the life of one of the children in “colored” section of town.

Corey relates, “She was almost bluish-black” and reminded him “of one of those apple dolls whose faces shrivel up in the hard noonday sun ... her cheekbones; they seemed sharp enough to slice a peach … except for one feature the Lady would not have looked like much. But her eyes were … the color of pale emeralds, the kind of jewels Tarzan might have been searching for in one of the lost cities … luminous, full of trapped and burning light … their beauty was like that of a fierce wild animal who must be carefully watched at all times.”

When he is playing baseball one day, Corey meets NEMO CURLISS, the lisping lonely, nine-year-old newcomer to town with “glasses that seemed too big for his face … a real beanpole, with gawky arms and legs.” But when NEMO throws a baseball, Corey realizes he “had an unearthly arm. How much of this had been a gift and how much he had trained himself to do, I didn’t know, but one thing was clear: Nemo Curliss possessed that rare combination of arm and eye that elevated him above mere mortals.”

THE POWER OF ONE, by Bryce Courtney tells the story of PEEKAY, who is sent to boarding school in pre-World War II South African when he is only five-years-old. Two years younger than all of the rest of the boys, he is beaten, humiliated, and almost killed by his classmates.

After boarding a train that will take him to his new home, Peekay, now six-years-old, encounters HOPPY GROENEWALD. Hoppy, the train’s conductor and (almost) railway boxing champion of the Transvaal, tells Peekay that “Boxing is the greatest sport in the world … I’m fast and I can hit hard, and in a street fight a little bloke like me can take on any big gorilla.”

Hoppy also predicts that one day Peekay will become the Welterweight Champion of the World. “These are boxing gloves, Peekay. These are the equalizers. When you can use them well, you need fear no man.” Most importantly, Hoppy teaches Peekay a rule of living that becomes the boy’s philosophy of survival: “The most important rule in winning – keep thinking … In the fight game, the head rules the heart. But in the end the heart is the boss … First with the head and then with the heart.”

Although I’ve barely skimmed the surface these last few runners-up, EAST OF EDEN, BOY’S LIFE and THE POWER OF ONE are, without exception, gorgeous novels. Their themes are magnificent, and if you read them, you will be giving yourself a great gift.

Since I’m just about out of space, I’ll breeze through the rest of my runners up, which are in no way less-than Brontë Award winners. Just not as well-known.

IVANHOE by Sir Walter Scott: REBECCA.

SHANE by Jack Schaefer. The man character: SHANE.


Story Continues Below Adverts



A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith: Aunt Sissy.




And more.

Now, let me hear from you who your favorite characters are?

I’m listening!

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