Kickass literary heroes: Another Victorian/Fantasy Mashup

Following the success of Kickass literary heroines: A Victorian/Fantasy Mashup, it is now the turn of the boys. While we will inevitably lose the feminist vibe of the original, it does seem unfair to let these bundles of awesome go unnoticed simply because of an accident of birth.

Sidney Carton – A Tale of Two Cities

James Whilby as Sidney in the 1989 BBC adaptation.

James Whilby as Sidney in the 1989 BBC adaptation.

A proverbial fallen angel, dissolute lawyer Sidney Carton is a mercurial mass of contradictions. Frequently overcome by a sense of despair and self-loathing at the life he leads, he’s allowed le mal du siècle to become so deeply entrenched in him that attempting to reform himself seems like more trouble than his possible success would be beneficial. Nevertheless, he has a simple, almost idealistic love for the right and the just, sometimes allowing himself temporary respite by basking in their light before slinking back into the shadows he believes he deserves. Eventually, he gladly pays the ultimate price so that this light may be continued. The novel’s ending sequence, which comprises both his meeting his soul mate while being carted off to the guillotine, as well as several pages worth of stunning reflections on the greatness of France, of sacrifice and of redemption, is justifiably recognised as one of the best endings in English literature.

Tyrion Lannister – A Song of Ice and Fire

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion in the HBO adaptation.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion in the HBO adaptation.

So I like to blog about Tyrion. A lot. But he is one of the greatest, if not the greatest creation in fantasy literature, so leaving him out would be scandalous. A fiercely intelligent man, Tyrion has the misfortune to be born suffering from dwarfism into the most powerful family in Westeros, most of whom come to see his existence as a curse and a humiliation. One often gets the feeling that Tyrion could deal with any amount of ridicule from society were he assured of having the love and support of his own family. But he isn’t, and apart from a deep, shared love for his elder brother Jaime thanks to a horrific adolescent trauma, he’s had to put up with every hope or harmless dream he ever had being brutally crushed or ridiculed, usually by his father or sister, with whom he cultivates disastrous relationships. His mind being his only way of defending himself, Tyrion uses it to survive, and above all, to exist, colourfully and incandescently, in a world that would rather he didn’t. Ordered (reluctantly) by his father Lord Tywin to serve as Hand of the King in his stead, Tyrion shows himself to be a formidable enemy, an ingenious politician and a stunningly original thinker and schemer. When he falls from grace, and he falls hard, he proves himself to be as miserable a human being as the rest of us, the crippling loneliness and despair he has felt his entire life crushing everything he has achieved. It’s then that he starts to think about revenge…

Abraham Van Helsing – Dracula

Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in the Hammer adaptations.

Peter Cushing as Van Helsing in the Hammer adaptations.

Misrepresented and misunderstood on an epidemic scale, Professor Van Helsing is so adorable that you want to transform him into a teddy bear that you can hug when you feel blue. Hundreds of students have passed through the hands of this endlessly energetic, kind and warm-hearted Doctor of Medicine and of Literature; and when he’s not occupied with university work, he dedicates himself to the study of the paranormal and with giving every iota of his energy to helping those who have been contaminated by vampires. This is first demonstrated by his efforts to help Lucy, during which he sits up night and day and bleeds himself of a dangerous amount of blood to restore the unfortunate girl’s faculties. When his efforts fail, largely due to the idiocy of Lucy’s mother, and the case soon becomes about tracking down and destroying Dracula himself, his actions are those of a loving, paternal and absolutely ruthless man who will do anything to stamp out evil. He is goodness and sweetness incarnate: and don’t get me started on his adorable English…

Silk – The Belgariad and The Malloreon

Silk artwork by Mirror Cradle on deviantart.

Silk artwork by Mirror Cradle on deviantart.

While his real name may be Prince Kheldar of Drasnia, this prodigiously gifted product of his nation’s celebrated intelligence service has so many different identities in so many different places that he suffers from a permanent identity crisis that he finds amusing rather than alarming. Tiny, with a face like a rat, he’s sweepingly sarcastic and gleefully disrespectful; he’s fond of casual theft, paying and receiving bribes, outwitting his enemies, annoying his friends, going undercover and manipulating the economy in his spare time. His sunny disposition does, however, conceal a variety of griefs and psychological issues, including the plague-induced blindness and horrific disfigurement of his mother and his hopeless unrequited love for his uncle’s wife, which continues for an immense number of years before his being reunited with future-wife Velvet (real name Liselle), who turns out to be every bit as devious as he is. Most of the time, he’s disarmingly and uproariously funny, and steals your heart about as quickly as he picks your pockets.

John Thornton – North and South

Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton in the BBC adaptation.

Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton in the BBC adaptation.

For the millions of you who probably don’t know, Mr. Thornton is the brusque Northern cotton mill owner who dethroned Mr. Darcy as quintessential brooding romantic hero after a reign of almost ten years, thanks to a terrific performance by Richard Armitage in the BBC miniseries. John has endured an immensely difficult adolescence after his father commits suicide due to ruinous debt. Encouraged by his formidable mother Mrs. Thornton (see Ten Great TV Performances You’ve Never Seen), he works right through his teenaged years to pay the creditors back and regains the family mill. He takes immense care to protect the health and wellbeing of his workers, and, against his mother’s wishes, studies the classics in his spare time in order to improve himself, believing that there is more to life than the pursuit of wealth. It’s at this point that he falls in love with his tutor’s daughter Margaret, a headstrong and stubborn precursor to feminism from the South who, due to her own misplaced prejudice, sees him as a fat cat profiting from the misery of his workers and thinks his feelings for her are ‘offensive.’ Margaret’s rejection of him only serves to increase his own feelings of inadequacy and of still being considered a simple tradesman who is incapable of bettering himself despite his efforts to the contrary. As the novel progresses, these feelings only intensify, and he becomes one of the loneliest men you could imagine as he refuses to stray from the path of decency to his workers even when in danger of losing everything he has worked for.

Samwise Gamgee – The Lord of the Rings

Sean Astin as Sam in the celebrated Peter Jackson adaptations.

Sean Astin as Sam in the celebrated Peter Jackson adaptations.

Oh, Sam. Where shall we start? The most loyal character in existence, demonstrating the sweetest innocence, the most perfect sense of right and wrong and a blinding, moving inner strength at his darkest hour. He has no Galadriel to help him – only himself. He is such a gentle, simple soul who rises so spectacularly and so courageously to the challenge of being flung into perpetual danger further and further from home. His is the poetry of the ordinary person: he’ll risk taking the most unspeakable evil into himself to give some relief to a friend, and he’ll stay, always, even when seized by the deepest unhappiness and the most awful fear of rejection.

Sherlock Holmes – A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear, His Last Bow, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes.

Jeremy Brett as Holmes in the Grenada TV adaptation.

Jeremy Brett as Holmes in the Grenada TV adaptation.

Okay, so it’s not completely Victorian all the time, but Holmes has enough esteem for Queen Victoria to adorn one side of his living room with ‘V.R.’ done in bullet holes, so let’s not worry too much about it. Jeremy Brett once remarked in an interview that the three most influential people of the 20th century were Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill and Sherlock Holmes. If you consider that Sherlock Holmes never actually existed, that’s a fair testament to Mr. Holmes’ importance. While boasting a truly brilliant mind, possibly the greatest ever, he abounds with eccentricities, many of them alarming and rather disturbing. Holmes is a consulting detective, not a private one, and thus only occupies himself with cases that amuse him, the stranger the better, which he will solve and investigate with a poorly suppressed glee regardless of their gruesomeness. He cannot be induced to talk about his cases if he doesn’t want to, which will often leave him silent for many days at a time, not even indulging the entreaties of his friend and colleague Doctor Watson, with whom he shares a symbiotic relationship. He has a deep love of chemistry that goes well with his complete disregard for bad smells. He’s fond of leaving the sitting room at Baker Street strewn with papers for months of end, insisting that no one can sort them out and pack them away except him. He likes to play the violin, and has an almost autistic disrespect for people in general, regardless of rank. And while he does what he does for the rush and the thrill of the chase, he also does it because of a glorious humanity that he very rarely admits to.

Belgarath – The Belgariad and The Malloreon

Belgarath cover art by Geoff Taylor.

Belgarath cover art by Geoff Taylor.

Belgarath is bordering on 7000 years old. He’s old. An easily annoyed great sorcerer, he doesn’t take nonsense, has an unhealthy fondness for drinking and wenching, likes to steal food, wears a filthy sort of rag instead of a tunic that he ties with a bit of rope, wears mismatched boots, has a long white beard, and smells. Awfully. Hearing only that side of his personality, you might think that he’s a stereotype on the mighty sorcerer that David and Lee Eddings did for a bit of fun, but while it’s evident the pair of them had the time of their lives writing him, he isn’t a stereotype. He remembers only too well the pain that drove him out of his mind when his beloved wife Poledra died, leaving him twin daughters. He’s been alive for so long; he often wishes he could follow himself if he wasn’t so busy following prophecy, and he has loved his family so long and so deeply that he’s forced to mask it from the uncomprehending with naughty humour and constant arguing with his surviving daughter Polgara and his brothers Beldin, Beltira and Belkira. The rest of the world justifiably reveres him and respectfully calls him ‘Ancient One’, a title that never fails to provoke a scowl, and he has a charming way of treating both peasants and kings in an equally crass and casual way. He never makes the slightest attempt to seem wise and Gandalf-like, because he doesn’t have to. The greatest of all these characteristics is that Belgarath is a badass: tyrants and despots the world over are absolutely terrified of him, and he positively flays the skin off the evil and the unjust. He is a formidable, incredibly mischievous, humanly flawed and usually half-drunk force for Good who never fails to triumph.

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