From fairy tale heroes to gothic-grotesque foes, take a trip to the light fantastic this Diwali with our pick of the best characters from fantasy fiction
Our pick of the top fantastic figures from fantasy fiction.
Lyra Belacqua in Northern Lights by Philip Pullman Intelligent and rebellious, 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua is the plucky heroine of this epic youngadult novel, and must use all powers at her disposal – including skewing the truth, earning her the nickname Lyra Silvertongue – in order to fight her corner in the cosmic battle in which she becomes entangled. Set in a parallel universe that’s at once both foreign and familiar to our own, the orphaned Lyra is raised by scholars at Jordan College in Oxford University, but her destiny and the search for her missing friend Roger lead her on an adventure into the Arctic, where she encounters big themes that will spark even bigger imaginations. Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” When Tolkien first scribbled this sentence while marking student exams, he couldn’t possibly have known the legacy it would lead to. Now, almost eight decades after the 1937 children’s fantasy novel was first published, the character of Bilbo Baggins is better known and loved than ever. Played by Martin Freeman in the movie versions (watch out for the second film in the Hobbit trilogy this winter), much of the charm of Tolkien’s masterpiece lies in Bilbo’s skittish and homely nature. Talked into joining a perilous ‘adventure’ despite his innate hobbity preference for comfort, quiet and cake, the outside world of magic, elves and evil brings out the bravery in the bumbling Bilbo, making him a quietly humorous and lovable hero. Tyrion Lannister in Game of
Thrones by George RR Martin “My mind is my weapon,” says Tyrion Lannister, the shrewd and intelligent ‘imp’, whose diminutive size means he must get by on his wits alone in the brutal fantasy world created by Martin. Everyone’s favourite character – including that of the author himself – Tyrion’s sharp humour and quick tongue
enable him to deflect the mockery others would inflict on him for his dwarfism, and his strong personality means that he’s made neither mad nor bad (as so many other GOT characters are) by his difficult start in life. Played by Peter Dinklage in the TV series, Tyrion fans can look forward to October 29, when a spinoff book titled The Wit and Wisdom of
Tyrion Lannister – a compilation of his quotes from the series – will be released on Amazon.com. Oz in The Wonderful Wizard of OZ by L Frank Baum The namesake of Baum’s famous fantasy tale is rarely physically present, but remains a compelling symbol of a character throughout. Cherished by the munchkins and revered as magical, omnipotent and the only possible answer to the problems of Dorothy and her companions, the elusive wizard eventually turns out to be no more than an ordinary circus magician, whose arrival in the land of Oz was just as accidental as that of Dorothy’s. Benevolent, but a con man nonetheless, the wizard’s unmasking is the ultimate anticlimax, and has fuelled many different interpretations – from those who see the book as political allegory (where Oz is the US president), to those who see it as a representation of the inadequacy of adults. Steerpike in Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake The ruthlessly ambitious anti-hero of this sprawling and eerie fantasy series, Steerpike is a classic Machiavellian schemer, who rises by hook or by crook up through the castle ranks from his start as a 17-year-old kitchen boy. His combination of fast wit and utter amorality – “if ever he had harboured a conscience [...] he had by now dug out and flung away the awkward thing” – makes him one of the most dangerous yet irresistible characters in Peake’s unsettling world of gothic grotesques. Played by the handsome Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the TV adaptation of the novel, Steerpike serves as proof of the ineluctable charisma of a good oldfashioned villain. Susan Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis The second-oldest of the four evacuated Pevensie children, who find themselves in a grand old English country manor – which also happens to contain a wardrobe-shaped portal to another dimension – Susan is practical to a fault. She refuses to believe in the existence of Narnia until she goes through the wardrobe herself, where she acquires amazing warrior abilities. But with age comes superficiality, and Lewis was criticised for the ambiguous end to this once-vivid character, who becomes “interested in nothing except nylons and lipstick and invitations”.
Westley in The Princess Bride by William Goldman Ostensibly the retelling of an old historical romance by [the fictional] S Morgenstern, the main action centres around Princess Buttercup and Westley, the oh-so-earnest farm boy who is in love with her. Determined to win her heart, he runs off to sea and learns languages, duelling and wrestling to become her perfect man. Both making use of and poking fun at traditional fairy-tale tropes, this is one of the most genuinely witty fantasy books you’re ever likely to come across, and the 1987 film version has garnered a passionate cult following. Yoda in the StarWars series by various authors It might be cheating to choose a character that originated in film rather than literature, but we couldn’t do justice to our roundup without mentioning wise old Yoda. Of an unknown species, the stern yet powerful Grand Master of the Jedi Order is an excellent swordsman and warrior, with a particularly idiosyncratic syntax. His oblique ponderings borrow much from Eastern philosophy, and the wizened wiseman has been a large inspiration for the tonguein-cheek Jedi ‘religion’ of the more eccentric StarWars fans. Harry in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling While the series is populated with a host of engaging and lovable characters, and fans could argue about which is the best indefinitely, it’s Harry, the “scrawny, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard,” who first inspired JK Rowling to put pen to paper. An orphan with a great gift for magic, Harry overcomes the many obstacles he faces – from the schoolyard bullying about his ‘half-blood’ status, to the evil of Lord Voldemort – with courage and dignity. He may not be as funny as Ron, or as complex as Snape, but his moral strength, unswerving loyalty, and modesty makes him a great role model and our series hero. Rincewind in Discworld series by Terry Pratchett Rincewind burst on to the scene in Colour of Magic, the first of the 39 Discworld novels penned by Terry Pratchett published in 1983. A failed student at ‘Unseen University’ for wizards, he survives dangerous situations mainly by running away from them. Known for his ‘ability’ to solve minor problems by turning them into major catastrophes, he’s a cowardly but hilarious character, who has contributed to making Pratchett the second-mostread author in the UK after JK Rowling.
Pantalaimon accompanies her everywhere she goes
(From left) Harry Potter, Ron, Hermione star in Harry Potter and
the Philosopher’s stone