Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Famous Fictional Characters

The Guardian books blog poses the question today: who is the most famous fictional character? Apparently Penguin is promoting a new edition of the Sherlock Holmes stories this fall, and, according to The Guardian--"Sherlock Holmes," it is claimed on the promotional material, "is not only the most famous character in crime fiction, but arguably the most famous character in all fiction."

That's a big claim. The comments section over there suggests some interesting alternatives (Satan? God?), but I thought I'd bring it over here. I've long thought that children's lit provides many of the most famous fictional characters--Peter Pan, Alice, Mr. Toad, Winnie the Pooh. The nineteenth century offers us some important ones: I'd add Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and Scrooge to Peter and Alice, for example.

It seems to me, too, that "famous" here means "detachable from their original context." That is, many of us encounter these most famous characters long before we ever read their stories--if we ever do. So while Wilbur or even Harry Potter are obviously well-known, I'd say they're not as famous as Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland, whose names have become bywords. Wilbur and Harry still come in their original contexts, with stories attached, even if we meet them first in film rather than literature.