Welcome to another Top 5 Wednesday. Today we’re discussing “unlikable” characters. I’ve chosen this list based on the way I’ve seen other readers respond to these characters. For me, “unlikable” is not a good way to ever describe a character. It’s a catch-all term that has been overused until its meaning has become “someone I personally don’t like.” So let’s explore that, shall we?
5. Rachaela from The Blood Opera Sequence by Tanith Lee. Rachaela is what’s known as a passive character. She doesn’t affect the plot or the other characters very much. Instead things happen to her. Characters affect her. Many readers interpreted this as Rachaela being weak and boring. Really, this literary trick that Lee uses makes her into the every-woman very effectively. Rachaela becomes a slave to fate and her own desires, which also mirrors older gothic fiction and makes this a perfect modern example. Not every character can be a woman with a sword who seeks recompense for this or that. Some characters have to follow the tide of their story unwillingly, and that can be interesting, too.
4. Sand dan Glokta from The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. This is a simple case of a character who in any other book would just be a villain. But Abercrombie chose to make Glokta complicated, therefore our feelings about him are complicated. He does very bad things, but he doesn’t seem to want to. Sometimes he seems to enjoy doing bad things, yet it doesn’t make him “happy”. He suffers daily from the torture he’s endued, but he tortures other people, so it makes you wonder if he learned anything at all besides how to effectively hurt others. And on top of it all, he’s incredibly clever and witty, so he wins the reader as we get special insight into his mind. These are the kind of characters I live for, because of the way they challenge the very term “likable.”
3. The Biologist/Ghost Bird from The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. The Biologist is someone who states rather plainly in her narrative that she is not emotionally available. It hurt her marriage, and she doesn’t seem to have many relationships outside of that because of how closed off she is. She’s a scientist. She’s not even given a name, and while the plot explains that, the literary reason is because she is nothing but her science. She clings to the memory of her husband to keep her human, but the truth is because she is so dedicated to science, she doesn’t care if she’s human or not. Much of the audience for this book found that alienating, whereas I found it fascinating. I don’t read to see visions of myself on the page. I read to meet other types of people I could never be, and The Biologist fits that description very well.
2. Amy Dunne from Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Amy is a very controversial figure. Depending on who you speak to, she’s either a figure for all of feminism or an example of what’s wrong with feminism or misogyny personified or simply a sociopath who should be condemned or a rollicking good time that it’s fun to live vicariously through. Rarely have I seen one character be so many things to so many people. She refuses the act of being put into a box. She bucks at every turn. She spends half the book giving you what you think you want from a female character and then kicking you straight in the face for wanting it. I love it.
1. Loki from Norse Myth and so many retellings. Loki has, sneakily, become one of my favorite characters of all time. From the original tales to various retellings to a freaking Marvel super villain, he has turns out to be quite malleable. He’s a villain that has such a good time being the absolute worst that we can’t help but have a good time with him. He personifies wit and cunning, even more so than the formidable Odin. He’s been given Freudian backstories galore, encouraging our pathos and turning him into the most relatable of all Norse figures. Even Neil Gaiman, while condemning him as the most treacherous of the Norse pantheon, couldn’t help but give him most of his attention in his rewrite of the myths. Because he seems to demand it with his stage presence. No one reaches his highs or lows, and no one does it with as much panache.
Thank you for reading, and as always, happy geeking!
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