Story Warren contributor Rebecca Reynolds seems to have a knack for getting great conversations started on Facebook. The other day she posted this quote from G. K. Chesterton:
“Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dullness of life. This is also why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales endure for ever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal.”
Rebecca contrasted this with the trend of modern story protagonists as “fierce, attention-seeking sorts,” basically non-ordinary people. I thought about that, and I actually had quite a difficult time naming characters who were more gentle and less attention-seeking, more muted and less sparkly. I think some of that trend has to do with the type of personality that moves a story along and the necessity for action. Give a protagonist a larger-than-life personality and maybe some magical powers and of COURSE things will begin to happen. There is absolutely a place for those kinds of stories, but I was thankful for Rebecca’s reminder that the quiet ones matter, too. I spent a few hours pondering my favorite slightly-introverted book heroes, and here is my list to share with you. I like to think that Mandy, Louise, Rob, and Curdie would be my pals in real life; I wouldn’t spend time being worried that they were too cool or talented for me to hang out with. I love all these characters. The next time you’re looking for a book starring a normal ol’ kid, maybe give one of these a try.
Mandy, in Mandy by Julie Edwards
Mandy is a book that I discovered by complete chance, so it thrills me when others I run into have read it too! It’s the story of a quiet orphan and the risks she is willing to take to belong to a family, and it’s just lovely. Mandy has such a rich interior life and Edwards does a great job of capturing her pain and loneliness as well as her joy.
Sara Louise Bradshaw, in Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
This coming-of-age story of twin sisters slightly mirrors the Bible story from which it takes its name. Caroline, the younger sister, is beautiful and musically gifted enough to escape her family’s small town on Rass Island. Louise, the older, is consumed with jealousy, trapped and confused and ill-treated by her grandmother. It’s sad and difficult to read at times, but this Newbery Award-winner paints a beautiful picture of life outside the spotlight and how Louise comes to value her own gifts.
Rob Horton, in The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo is excellent at writing relatable characters, and Rob is immediately one of those in this story. We don’t know a lot about his history, and the kids at school think he’s strange, but he has a deep appreciation for beauty in the world and is skilled at woodcarving, though he doesn’t tell anyone about it. Part of his story reminds me of DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie; at some level they’re both about ordinary, hurt people finding other ordinary, hurt people and holding each other up.
Curdie Peterson, in The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
Even if he didn’t have such a great name, I think I would still love Curdie. He doesn’t have any particular talents or gifts, and sometimes forgets his rhymes, and is overall just a smart and kind but perfectly ordinary miner boy. He does the right thing and takes action when he needs to, and because of that—not because of his sparkling personality or special birthright—he is led into a great adventure.
I’m sure there are more similar characters out there, and I’d love to hear your favorites. I’m thankful to Rebecca (and Chesterton) for reminding me that ordinary people do, on occasion, have a very exciting time.
Featured image by Paul Boekell