10. Roland Deschain
Books in which this character is featured – Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series (8 books)
Characteristics – Roland appears to be detached or unsympathetic, often reacting with seeming uncaring or anger at signs of cowardice or self-pity, yet he possess a strong sense of heroism, often attempting to help those in need. He is shown to be mentally scarred from the deaths of all his friends and family, often thinking about their words and actions, and he is said (on more than one occasion by himself) to greatly lack imagination.
Why this character is on the list – As a reader, this seemingly callous character is one that brings out a great deal of empathy. You feel his pain even though he suppresses it and seems unable to express it. I will say that the end of the series was somewhat anticlimactic, but overall, the saga of Roland was enjoyable to read.
9. Myron Bolitar
Books in which this character is featured – 10 books by Harlan Coben
Characteristics – Myron Bolitar was a basketball prodigy until a career ending injury in his first game as a Boston Celtic caused him to go to law school and landed him in a career as a sports agent/private detective. He is a study in contrasts. First, he is white, Jewish and from New Jersey, not the usual background of a basketball star. Second, although he is often in dangerous situations, he doesn’t take himself, or the danger seriously. Coben weaves in humor and has given Bolitar a strong sidekick to play off of.
Why this character is on the list – I like the detective angle mixed with the sports aspects of this character. The books featuring him are, for the most part, Coben’s best with the exception of Tell No One, which is his best book overall.
8. Daniel Torrance
Books in which this character is featured – The Shining and Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Characteristics – This is an odd choice, but, in my opinion, a valid one. Danny Torrance, the child in The Shining, is an innocent victim of a power he doesn’t understand. In Dr. Sleep, Torrance is 36 years older. He is a flawed adult, but has at least learned to use his power for a noble purpose. He becomes a hero by seeking out another with ‘the Shining’ and defeating unspeakable evil. It’s a unique situation of a character developing over time who pulls heroic actions from poor circumstances.
Why this character is on the list – Danny Torrance, the child transforms to Daniel Torrance the hero. He reaches out to his mentor from the Shining for advice, he deals with his demons and has more ultimate success than his father and he essentially embraces his power for the benefit of others. King did a great job of taking this character to a new level.
7. Jack Reacher
Books in which this character is featured – 21 Novels by Lee Child (James D. Grant)
Characteristics – Reacher is an enigma. He is military through and through and is often cited as one of the best military policemen to ever wear the uniform. He is a victim of downsizing but has difficulty leaving his military ways behind. He doesn’t believe in owning anything. He buys clothes as he needs them and tosses them away when they’re worn or beyond repair from whatever scrapes he’s gotten into. He has a strong moral code, but doesn’t play by the rules if they stand in his way of righting a wrong. My one problem with this character is his portrayal in the movies. Although Tom Cruise is a bankable star, at 5’7″ he is not close to Reacher’s 6’6″. Reacher is in his mid 30s to mid 40s. Cruise is in his late 50s. Of course, if I were approached for a movie deal where Tom Cruise was going to portray my character, I’d probably take it as Grant did.
Why this character is on the list – Reacher is the ultimate anti-hero. He doesn’t believe himself to be a hero. He does extremely brutal and often, illegal things to accomplish his goals. Yet, you find yourself cheering for him.
6. Jack Ryan
Books in which this character is featured – 9 Novels by Tom Clancy
Characteristics – Jack Ryan is another reluctant hero drawn into unwanted action by his sense of duty and in defense of his family. He is a brilliant intelligence analyst with an advanced degree and a background in the U.S. Marine Corps. Through Clancy’s books, he advances up the ladder and eventually, through tragedy, becomes the President of the United States. Ryan is a fiercely loyal family man, friend and patriot, in that order..
Why this character is on the list – Ryan is the antipathy of Jack Reacher. He thinks through every move, he follows the rules, he thinks of the consequences of his action, but, at the end of the day, he does what’s necessary to protect what is threatened.
5. Lisbeth Salander
Books in which this character is featured – 3 Novels by Stieg Larsson, 1 novel by David Lagercrantz
Characteristics – My first female hero is Lisbeth Salander suffered a traumatic childhood leaves her highly introverted and asocial. She has difficulty connecting to people and making friends. She is particularly hostile to men who abuse women, and takes special pleasure in exposing and punishing them. She is also a computer hacking genius and uses her talents to uncover and bring down scandalous people.
Why this character is on the list – Lisbeth Salander is a powerful hero because of the adversity she has overcome. She is much more realistic than some of the YA heroines that have gained much more popularity. Her character is well written (in the books by Larsson, anyway) and engaging.
4. Jake Brigance
Books in which this character is featured – A Time to Kill and Sycamore Row by John Grisham
Characteristics – Jake Brigance is a man of principles. He is a small town attorney in the southern United States that takes on an African-American client in a no-win situation and prevails. Throughout his work on the case, his life, home and family are threatened.
Why this character is on the list – Grisham revisits this character in Sycamore Row. It takes place several years after the events in A Time to Kill and realistically portrays life after the big case. It’s not all smooth sailing for Brigance. He is in poor financial straits and is still facing backlash for defending a black man in the deep south. This kind of character development is intriguing and makes me appreciate the author’s work.
3. Bill Hodges
Books in which this character is featured – Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers and End of Watch by Stephen King
Characteristics – Bill Hodges is a stereotype that has been used in entertainment many times. He’s the retired police detective with that one case that was never solved. He obsesses over it and it has contributed to the decline of his quality of life. There is a twist, however. Hodges is being taunted by the perpetrator in the case and, instead of doing himself in, as is the intent of the taunting, he becomes reinvigorated and sets out to bring him to justice. In the process, his health improves, he falls in love and forges a new career as a private investigator.
Why this character is on the list – In this trilogy, King was masterful in taking a central stories and weaving three unique stories around it tying the saga together in the third book. While doing this, he takes the Hodges character through a unique arc and also develops the characters around him bringing the story to an exciting climax. King is not known for detective novels, but he certainly mastered the genre in this trilogy.
2. Alex Delaware
Books in which this character is featured – 32 novels by Jonathan Kellerman.
Characteristics – This character first appeared in 1985 and has persevered as an interesting protagonist. Delaware is a child psychologist who frequently works on homicide cases with his friend and longtime collaborator Milo Sturgis. He gives the investigations the psychological angle, but occasionally has to get his hands dirty as well. There is an element of humor in his personality and he is also a musician that drives a vintage Cadillac.
Why this character is on the list – It’s difficult to sustain a character over three decades and over 30+ books. Kellerman has done this well. What strikes me the most is the slow, realistic evolution of the characters over time. Delaware has matured and learned from his mistakes. He has been in, out and back in his long-term relationship. There are also constants that are like a favorite old sweater to the loyal reader. I admire the level of the writing craft in this series.
1. Atticus Finch
Books in which this character is featured – To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman
Characteristics – Much like Jake Brigance in John Grisham’s books, attorney Atticus Finch has the task of defending a black man in the deep south. He faces some adversity, but the real depth of this character is his role as a single father to his children. His virtuous nature is somewhat tarnished in the questionable second book as some of the real motivation of his actions is revealed. Finch’s character is revealed through the eyes of his seven-year-old daughter, Scout and is done in the no-filter way a child would talk about a parent, warts and all.
Why this character is on the list – To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book. I was compelled to read it as a teenager, picked it up again in my 30s and then re-read it once more in my 50s in anticipation of Go Set a Watchman. Each time I got something different from the book. When I read it in my 50s, my own daughter was seven. As Scout talked about her ‘old’ father and his inability to play with her like other fathers that were younger, it resonated with me and made me wonder if this was how my daughter viewed me.
Thank you for indulging me as I revealed my literary heroes. I could have included others from books I’ve admired like Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Mitch Rapp, Travis McGee and others, but I wanted to limit the list to 10.
Who are your literary heroes? It would be fun to see others create a post like this one.