When I’m looking for bookish topics, I love visiting the archives of The Broke and the Bookish, home of Top Ten Tuesday. I found this long-ago topic and decided to adopt it: we all love a good protagonist, but how about those minor characters who don’t get much screen–er, page-time, but still steal your heart? In no particular order, here are ten minor (or at least, supporting) characters I especially love.
1) Horatio from Shakespeare’s Hamlet – He’s not actually in the play much, but I’ve always loved Horatio. He doesn’t have that many brilliant lines, but two of the most famous lines are said to him (“Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him
well Horatio” and “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”). Mostly I love him because he’s just so loyal to Hamlet. Everyone else goes off the deep end in one way or another, but Horatio stands by him. And then there’s what might be my favorite line in all of Shakespeare (really), said…not by Horatio, but to him: “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from felicity a while, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain to tell my story.” Which, arguably, indicates that Horatio is really the one telling us the whole play.
2) William Cecil Clayton from Tarzan of the Apes – Clayton isn’t an amazing character–but I feel an outsized degree of fondness for him just because I’m indignant on his behalf. He got one of the rawest deals in literature, and doesn’t even get remembered that way. He was supposed to inherit the title of Lord Graystoke and marry the beautiful Jane Porter, until a long-lost cousin comes swinging out of the trees and ruins everything for him. The real injustice of it is that he often gets set up as a villain (I’m looking at you, Disney!) solely because he was an obstacle for Tarzan–but Clayton was actually a really good guy who had the misfortune to not be a superhero. And then he dies. Painfully. It’s all incredibly unfortunate.
3) Gavroche, Eponine and Enjolras from Les Miserables – So this is really more about the play than the book…but it does hold true through both that I like Valjean immensely, care very little about Marius and Cosette, and just love cheeky Gavroche. And Eponine and Enjolras are less significant in the book, but wonderful minor characters in the play.
4) Higgins from the Jacky Faber series – Jacky is delightful but I also love Higgins, her great good friend and valet who tries to make her look presentable, loves her in spite of her wildness, and somehow stays a very proper British valet while confessing a secret love for adventure. He’s also, in a somehow very proper British valet way, very clearly gay, making him one of the few men in the series Jacky doesn’t flirt with (which can be a bit of a relief!)
5) Neal from the Protector of the Small series – Kel’s best friend, Neal is wonderful and I desperately want a companion book to the series about his time as Alanna’s squire. Desperately.
6) MasterHarper Robinton from the Harper Hall trilogy – This is cheating slightly since McCaffrey did write a book with Robinton as the main character…but he began as a minor character in other books, especially the Harper Hall trilogy, and that’s really when he’s at his best. So charming, so wonderful.
7) Magpie from An Unexpected Apprentice – This was a frankly forgettable book with characters I couldn’t muster much interest in–except for Magpie. A prince disguised as a minstrel to spy on an enemy king, who then became close with that king while spying, who has a contentious relationship with his own family and the princess he’s betrothed to, he’s witty and roguish and just the kind of character I want to read more about. Except we don’t actually get his story, he’s just along to support a far less interesting character. Lost opportunity on that one.
8) Rose from The Magicians and Mrs. Quent – This requires a little context…the book is basically a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre (with magic!), and in that framework, Rose is drawn from quiet Mary Bennet, the rather forgotten sister. And that’s why I love Rose. Because she’s quiet and sweet and valued by her family in a way that I’m not sure Mary ever was. In this book, the quiet one is also the perceptive and deeply caring one, and it’s a lovely development on the original character.
9) Anwin from Silver Woven in My Hair – A supporting character in this Cinderella story, Anwin the Monk is one of the few people kind to the heroine, and also one of my favorite portrayals of a religious character.
10) Horace the Lancre Blue Cheese from Wintersmith – I really wanted to think of a Discworld character to include, except most minor characters get to be major characters somewhere…but then I thought of Horace the Cheese. Lancre Blue always tends to be a bit feisty, but Horace breaks out of the pantry, becomes an honorary member of the Nac Mac Feegles, and hums along when they’re singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” while crossing the Discworld River Styx. He also cheats wildly during a cheese rolling event in the next book…
11) Meg from The Phantom of the Opera – Bonus #11, because Meg feels so obvious to me that including her seems like cheating, but ignoring her wouldn’t be right either. She’s so much a minor character in the original novel that she’s virtually a non-entity, she becomes a much more intriguing character in the Webber play, and so I made her the main character of my retelling of the story. And I’ve convinced my entire writing group that she’s the secret heroine of The Phantom of the Opera!
Do you have any favorite characters who didn’t get the spotlight they deserve? Or who simply shine best in a supporting role? I’d love to hear about them!