There’s nothing wrong with a little escapism. We live in difficult time, and sometimes you just need to turn off the outside world for awhile. Movies, television, and books can all do the trick, but when I’m really in search of a little fiction-related inspiration I crawl back to my favorite books.
Pagans have always been a people of the books. Many of us found this path through non-fiction books, but if you’re like me, it’s possible that fiction books at least helped to set the stage. Believing in magick and/or multiple deities seemed like a natural enough thing to do since many of my favorite protagonists from fantasy fiction lived in magickal worlds with several gods.
What follows are some of my favorite characters from the world of fantasy, and a few of these entries now have television dopplegangers too! I’m amazed to be living in a world that puts Fantasy on TV with millions of people watching! It’s rather unbelievable to fifth grade me.
(And thanks to John Beckett for the inspiration. But really, how did you include Elektra?)
Taran Assistant Pig Keeper
My first foray into the world of Welsh mythology was through the pages of Lloyd Alexander Prydain Chronicles. I was in junior high school when I discovered Prydain, Gurgi (with his crunchings and munchings), Fflewddur Fflam, and the Princess Eilonwy, and I just could not put these books down.
I had always been intrigued by medieval-type settings, but it’s the characters that make Alexander’s world so special. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Gurgi, but it was Taran that resonated with me. I related with the struggle to be something more than just an Assistant Pig Keeper, which is a lot like a seventh grade nothing. Faced with a chance to live in a world of magick the rest of his life, Taran chooses to live in a now mundane world, and shape it for the better.
Read About Taran in The Chronciles of Prydain: The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King.
Grand Admiral Thrawn
I’m cheating a bit here since Thrawn is a character from the Star Wars universe . . . but he first appeared in a series of novels, and Star Wars has always been more fantasy than science fiction (at least to me anyways). What makes the villainous Thrawn so great? I always loved the way he studied the culture and art of his enemies in order to find ways to defeat them.
I laughed when I first heard about Thrawn in the Star Wars Extended Universe. How could any bad guy be a credible threat after the Emperor and Darth Vader? But creator Timothy Zahn created one of fiction’s great antagonists with Thrawn. (A story is only as good as its bad guy.) How great is Thrawn? After being written out of the Star Wars Universe he was put back in it because he’s awesome.
Read about (and see) Thrawn in: Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, Specter of the Past, and Vision of the Future. Thrawn shows up in the currently cannonical parts of the Star Wars universe in the TV show Rebels and in the book Star Wars: Thrawn.
Pug of Crydee/Milamber of Kelewan
My first full blown fantasy novel outside of the Young Adult genre was Raymond E. Feist’s initially triumphant Riftwar series. Yes, Pug is an orphan who grows up to realize a great destiny and all that, but he’s also the small kid who was always picked on who often drifted off into his own fantasy world. I was never an orphan, but I was a small kid who often drifted off into his own fantasy world.
There have been over a dozen books in Feist’s Riftwar cycle of books, each new series a little worse than the last (though most of them remain worth reading). In that series Pug is about the only consistent character, making him the glue that holds the world of Midkemia together. For a short period of time my magickal name was Milamber, that’s how strongly these books resonated with me.
Read about Pug in: Magician, Silverthorn, A Darkness at Sethanon, Prince of the Blood, The King’s Buccaneer, Rage of a Demon King, Shards of a Broken Crowd, and about many more books.
Vin Venture, The Lady Heir & The Ascendant Warrior
What’s the best (completed) fantasy series of the last 20 years? Probably Brandon Sanderson’s epic Mistborn series of books, with the original trilogy featuring the amazing Vin as its primary protagonist. What makes Vin so cool? Mostly her internal strength, but also her magickal powers of allomancy which is like the best magickal system I’ve ever come across.
One of the things I love about Vin is that she faces some bad guys that are pretty close to being gods. You empathize with her so much that you are literally scared for her in some places. Rumors of a Mistborn movie circulate now and again, I hope it happens because Vin’s story should be seen by as many people as possible.
Read about Vin in: Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages.
The Fool, Beloved, and The White Prophet
My wife and I’s all time favorite fantasy series is Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings (currently at five series and counting). Since initially reading Assassin’s Apprentice way back when we’ve been hooked on the adventures of Fitz Chivalry, his wolf Nighteyes, and of course the character known as the Fool. Or is that Amber? Or perhaps Lord Golden? That’s one of the things that makes the character initially known as The Fool so great, they are a great many things!
The Fool knows no gender, with many believing them to be a woman, others a man. The Fool’s sexuality doesn’t matter in the slightest, what does matter is that a major character in the world of fantasy fiction bends gender so readily.
Read about the Fool (and the Fool’s many other guises) in: Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, Assassin’s Quest, Ship of Magic, The Mad Sh ip, Ship of Destiny, Fool’s Errand, Golden Fool, Fool’s Fate, Fool’s Assassin, Fool’s Quest, and Assassin’s Fate. (Seriously read everything Robin Hobb has ever written, she’s magnificent.)
No one has more titles than Daenerys! No one! For the record I find the character of Daenerys Stormborn far more compelling in the books than I do on the TV show Game of Thrones. That’s not to say that I dislike like the Daenerys on the show (and Emilia Clarke is great!) because I most certainly do not, it’s just that her character in the books is more compelling to me. I think some of that is because in the books she’s the point of view character when it comes to her adventures. She’s the axis, and on the TV show there’s so much other clutter around her: Jorah, Daario Naharis, and Tyrion all come to mind.
I’ll admit though that Daenerys frightens me a little bit. Given her family’s history with mental illness there’s a part of me that’s worried she’s going to turn into the Mad Queen one of these days. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s A Song of Ice and Fire so one never knows.
Read about Daenerys in: Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Dance of Dragons, and The Winds of Winter (if its ever published). Also you can of course watch her on HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Neville Longbottom, The Boy Who Lived
Neville Longbottom is the most interesting character in the world of Harry Potter with the possible exceptions of Draco Malfoy and his parents. Really, Neville should have been the Boy Who Lived because it would have made the end of the Harry Potter series far more interesting. J.K. Rolwing is pretty great, but a final twist in Neville’s favor would have put her books over the top.
There was just something so “inevitable” about Harry that it made his story almost boring in places than it would have been otherwise. Yeah, Harry had a terrible upbringing, but he was never awkward and unpopular. People almost always seemed to like him, Neville is a different story which is what makes him a far more fascinating character. Neville didn’t have Dumbledore watching his every move and coaching him up. Neville became a hero on his own because that’s the kind of person he is. He was awkward and weird and he rose above it all. Neville rules.
Read about Neville in: Neville Longbottom & The Sorcerer’s Stone, Neville Longbottom & The Chamber of Secrets, Neville Longbottom & The Prisoner of Azkaban, Neville Longbottom & The Goblet of Fire, Neville Longbottom & The Order of the Phoenix, Neville Longbottom & The Half Blood Prince, and Neville Longbottom & The Deathly Hallows. Neville also plays a back-up role in a bunch of the Harry Potter movies that get it wrong.
Runner up: Hermione Granger because she basically saves Harry’s ass in every book.
Julia Wicke & Alice Quinn
Is it fair to put two people here? Probably not, but my blog, my rules. I had to pick the two of them here because the characters of Julia and Alice are night and day different when it comes to how they are portrayed in the The Magicians series of books and The Magicians TV series on the Syfy Channel. I love both entities, but more so than Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, author Lev Grossman’s series and the TV show it inspired are very different things.
In the books Julia takes the cake. I see her as the series’s main protagonist, and she’s certainly more interesting than the sad-sack Quentin Coldwater, who borders on completely unlikable. What makes Julia so great on the written page is that she overcomes being left out of the magickal world and then pretty much figures it out on her own. It’s completely inspiring and amazing and she’s the character you find yourself wanting to read about.
On the TV show though Julia makes ridiculous choices, and makes me yell at the screen. She’s still a compelling character but I don’t root for her as much. The character I find myself rooting for on the show is Alice Quinn. Alice was certainly a primary character in the book series, but she’s a much bigger presence on TV, and a welcome one. She’s about the only one who isn’t completely self absorbed.
Read about Julia and Alice in: The Magicians, The Magician King, and The Magician’s Land. Watch Julia and Alice on TV.
There’s a wolf on my list! There’s a wolf on my list! That’s because Nighteyes owns a place in my heart and got me through some very rough times. I was pretty much out of sorts when I first met Nighteyes in the pages of Robin Hobb’s Royal Assassin. I couldn’t even buy the book at the time because I didn’t have the funds available to purchase a trade paperback. I had to wait for it to come out as a mass market book (though that didn’t stop me from previewing it at a local Barnes and Noble-which is where I met Nighteyes).
Nighteyes is a live in the moment wolf, and sometimes we need to be reminded to do just that, live in the moment. As a Pagan I often find myself needing to shut down my rational mind to open up the wonders of the world. Words fail me when writing about Nighteyes, and since I don’t want to include any spoilers in this post I’m going to stop now. (Only character to have ever made me cry in a book.)
Read about Nighteyes (primarily) in: Royal Assassin, Assassin’s Quest, and Fool’s Errand.
Mara of the Acoma, Mistress of the Empire
If there were a few more Empire books (please Mr. Feist and Ms. Wurts?) they’d probably overtake Robin Hobb’s Elderlings books in terms of Mankey love. What makes Mara so bloody great is that she’s a heroine in a magickal realm that lacks magick, or really any resources at all beyond her name. And despite all that she kicks all kinds of ass.
What Mara has are her will and her wits and she uses them better than just about any character I’ve ever read in fiction. Hey HBO, this should be your next TV show! It bothers me greatly that these books aren’t available on Kindle (though that should be changing soon). The first book in the series is a little slow but it all ramps up nicely and by the time of Servant of the Empire kicks in you’ll be unable to put these books down. They tie in together with Raymond Feist’s greater Riftwar series (this is the world on the other side of the rift), but they also make for a great stand alone series.
Read about Mara in: Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire, and Mistress of the Empire.