Of Secondary Importance


Isn’t it interesting that very rarely in any book is the main character actually our favorite hero?

Frodo is supposed to be the main character of The Lord of the Rings, yet I invariably discuss, think about and admire Gandalf, Aragorn, and even Boromir more than I do Frodo.  When I read Enemy Brothers, of course I love Tony, but Dym is undoubtedly the hero.  And who loves Lucy more than Edmund in The Chronicles of Narnia?  Even in my own stories that I’ve written, my secondary characters are always my favorites, even though I spend much more time and care developing my main characters.

I suppose it’s because as a reader, I’m inside the head of the main character more.  I see their faults and frailties and humanity more than any other character.  We readers identify with the main characters so strongly, that we naturally don’t shower them with praise and affection.  After all, only a very vain person would think constantly about their own accomplishments and abilities; in general, people tend to admire others and not themselves.  (I don’t mean that all people are naturally unselfish.  But we don’t tend to necessarily admire ourselves in the way that we admire others.  In a very literal sense, we tend to think about other people more than we ponder our own selves.)

So since we usually feel connected with the main characters in stories, we’re more likely to see the other characters through their eyes.  When I read, the main character seems to almost fade, and I begin to see the story through their eyes.  I don’t spend as much time thinking about them, because I tend to think and feel what they think and feel – and they don’t very often spend time thinking about themselves.  I tend to admire the people that they admire.  Maybe this is why I tend to think of Frodo (or Lucy, or any other main character) as a character more when I watch the movies based on the books, than when I read the books themselves.  In the books, the more I connect with the main character the more they fade into the background of my mind.  In the movies, I don’t have the option of seeing through their eyes, so I notice them more.

This may just be the way that I process stories; there are probably lots of people who truly do love Frodo more than Aragorn, or Tony more than Dym.  But personally, I’ve recently realized (with a bit of a shock) how much of my reading is influenced by this secondary-character fascination.  I’d love to hear what you think about this – do you tend to be drawn to the main or secondary characters when you read?

8 thoughts on “Of Secondary Importance

  1. Tolkien himself said Sam was the true hero of LOTR. As for me, I’m always drawn to male mentor figures. Don’t ask why. Seldom does a main character really interest me. I tend to like them better when seen from the pov of a biographer (think Watson) or third person omniscient. Bertie Wooster is an exception.

    • If you like male mentor characters, you’d love Dym from Constance Savery’s Enemy Brothers. If you haven’t read that book before, you need to! Dym is my favorite character of all time. Who’s Bertie Wooster? It seems like you and I have roughly similar literary tastes, so if it’s a character you like, I may like him as well. 🙂

      • P.G. Wodehouse was a 20th Century British humor writer. He wrote over 100 books, I believe, and was still working into his 90s. Anyway, one of his most famous series was the Wooster and Jeeves books, featuring Bertrum Wilberforce Wooster, a young gentlemen with nothing to do but hang out at the club and try to solve other people’s money and romantic problems (with little success), and Jeeves, his manservant, who’s a genius. The thing about Bertie is, women tend to run over him, and he has a sense of honor that says he can’t turn them away. Thus, he’s always getting engaged by accident, and Jeeves has to untangle all the romantic comedy problems. They’re very wittily written, and Wooster is one of the best narrators ever. As an example:

        “Honoria, you see, is one of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welterweight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge. A beastly thing to face over the breakfast table. Brainy, moreover.”

        It’s light reading, but quite fun – and the adaptation from the 90s (with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry) was amazing. If you ever need something to boost your spirits, the entire series is on youtube.

        And that’s the long explanation. I’ve grown up on the stuff, so I find it hard to abridge….

        • Neat! I didn’t know that Wodehouse wrote that story! I’ve heard tons of good stuff about him. The quote you gave was hilarious! I think your recommendation was the last push I needed to go ahead and get his books from the library. 🙂 Oh, fun! I love Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie! I’d love to see those shows. Thanks for the tip!

          • Yeah, I’d put Wodehouse at funniest man of the century. You can get several of the older books, 1923 and before, free. Many modern writers draw a lot from Wodehouse…N.D. Wilson is a fan, I believe.

  2. Mmmm… Good observation! Usually the main character is the most ‘normal’. They are the one who represents the common man, the easily ‘identifiable’ character. Usually though, they loose a lot of intrigue because of that.

    The few books that managed to make me like the main character most were Jane Eyre, the Brothers Karamazov, and Cry the Beloved Country. But that is not common… And you are the second person this week to recommend Enemy Brothers, so I should look it up!

    • Hi Marli! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment! It’s always a pleasure to hear what you have to say. 🙂

      I’ve never read the Brothers Karamazov – is it good? I’ve heard it mentioned many times before. I should probably read at least one Russian novel before I die. 😀 Oh my goodness! Who was the other person who recommended Enemy Brothers to you? I’ve never met anyone (besides my close friends) who’s heard of Enemy Brothers! Yes, you absolutely HAVE to read it. I cannot recommend it enough!!! It’s rather hard to come by, so you may have a hard time finding it in the library. You may have to end up just buying it off of Amazon. Believe me, it’ll be the best $12 you’ll ever spend!

      • Oh, the Brothers Karamazov is so good. Hands down favorite work of fiction, and I believe it will be until I die 🙂

        The other person was a local home schooled friend who is also a writer. I figured it was popular hearing about it so close together 😛 But I will put it on my to-read list!

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