A couple days ago, a friend reminded me of a treasured book. I recommended it to her quite a while back, and the report was both she and her daughters have read it, plus watched and loved the movie. To Kill A Mockingbird. For this reader, a great book from beginning to end, and one I relish reading over and over. And the film; if there were only a certain number of viewings available per movie, I would have exceeded and worn the images off mine years ago.
I have read many critiques and analyses of the book and the movie, all interesting with plenty of insight into Harper Lee, her characters, and the intricacies of life in a small Southern town way back when. Yes, interesting and insightful, but none has ever addressed my particularly awkward perspective in relation to the book or the movie: I adore Atticus Finch. As I told my friend, the love of my life just happens to be a character from a book.
Of course, I do realize Atticus Finch is fictional; however, to me, his character represents the quintessential male, and I believe if a book is well written, we can, and maybe even should, have a visceral response to any or all of its characters, environs, events, story or outcomes. That is, if we love to read and allow ourselves to become a part of the book, or it a part of us. And in a world where sometimes it is difficult to tell up from down in the course of relationships, it is pleasant to visit and revisit someone who is consistently reliable and selfless in pursuit of justice and honor in both his personal and professional life, who engenders trust and comfort in all who enter his home.
And he looks like Gregory Peck. I would like to believe my feelings for Mr. Finch would be just as strong even if he had been portrayed by the likes of, say, Pee-wee Herman. But for honesty’s sake, I confess I am shallow enough to prefer Gregory Peck to Pee-wee, because Mr. Peck looks like Atticus Finch should look, and Pee-wee Herman does not.
Thinking on books, heroes, and even anti-heroes, handsome or not; tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and I wondered, besides Mr. Finch, about the many male characters who dwell in the stories I have read. I tried to recall which ones actually made my heart beat a little faster, or caused me to wish they lived on this side of the pages of my book, wishing we actually could visit longer, and know each other better.
Surprisingly, I could not think of very many. Out of all the books read over so many years, try as I did to recall characters for whom I felt an affection, the list is fairly short, and I am not certain why. I am beginning to wonder if my standards are set a bit high, or if, perhaps, I am looking for a particular profile, and subsequently miss other perfectly acceptable options. But for now, here, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, with all mysterious, unclear and inconsistent reasons aside, because they are not relevant at this moment, and presented in no particular order, is my list:
Edward Rochester, from Jane Eyre
Professor Severus Snape, from Harry Potter
Natty Bumppo, from Last of the Mohicans
Heathcliff, from Wuthering Heights
Fitzwilliam Darcy, from Pride and Prejudice
Atticus Finch, from To Kill A Mockingbird
That’s it. There are more characters for whom I have cared a great deal, but not in a swoon, made me wish they could step off the pages of my book sort of way. Some of those include the Little Prince from The Little Prince, George Milton from Of Mice and Men, Seymour Glass from A Perfect Day for Bananafish (he shows up in a couple other books about the Glass family, but not as the main character), and Homer Macauley from The Human Comedy.
Interestingly, characters that did not even come close to making my most beloved list are more plentiful, and much more well-known, or at least more commonly spoken of, than the ones about whom I am so fond. Just to name a few: Holden Caulfield, John Galt, Edward Cullen, Jay Gatsby, Rhett Butler, Christian Grey, and Sal Paradise. If birds and clowns can be counted, then I have to throw in that annoying little rat with wings, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and the worst of all what were you thinking characters, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, or It as he also is known.
There you have it. From the tall, dark and handsome hero; strong, capable, brooding, passionately available in an unavailable sort of way, to all those pale, simpering, narcissistic, evil or profane excuses for waste of space oxygen thieves, we respond in all manner and levels to the characters in our books. With that as a foundation, here is my idea for this year’s Valentine’s Day gift to the love in one’s life: Instead of a box of candy and a frilly card, give that person a copy of your favorite book, or at least the book with your favorite character.
Why your book instead of theirs? Easy. Your loved one already knows who he or she is; when you give your favorite, they will have the opportunity to know you more intimately and genuinely. And, forgive me, even if it is one of the dreadful Dark Tower series where Roland Deschain needs twenty pages or so to open a can of beans, or the endlessly boring journey of that nameless father and his nameless son dragging on and on in The Road; the favorite book you share with your person may just become a book they, too, will love. At the very least, there is a treasure passing between two people, and that is a gift I think should touch any Valentine’s heart.