is the importance of characters, real or fictional?
their effect on the world, on our actions and attitudes, not the number of
people who buy Harry Potter books or Star Wars DVDs.
comes recognition do we know them? Do
we remember the face, the action? What's-his-name?
Then we think, "What about Mr. Whipple?"
Did we start squeezing toilet paper just because of him? Did we learn to squeeze other things melons, pears,
onions and because of him we avoided the lumpy spinach that poisoned Aunt
Then comes popularity. Think
of the lines around the movie house for the first Star Wars movie. "How
much money did that make?" How
many kids fighting with plastic lightsabers?
That isn't influence. "May
the Force be with you" That's influence.
"You're our only hope." "Trust
your feelings." Those
sayings stay with us. In New
Zealand it's become a new religion. These expressions become part of our
Then comes persistence, the way an image or a tune stays in the mind,
inspiring us to invent even softer toilet tissue.
What of Star Trek, now celebrating its 40th anniversary?
Should we credit the series' Romulan
cloaking device with the development of Stealth technology?
Or do we only think of it that way, when the two really had nothing to do
with each other? After all, there
was the cloak of invisibility in The Thief of Baghdad, 1924.
Even Harry Potter has a cloak.
There are other kinds of recognition: we classify the people around us.
So-and-so is a Grinch, a Don Juan, a Lolita, Ugly Betty,
Scrooge. The boss is nearly always
Scrooge. The name of a fictional character serves to define a personality type.
Or even two personalities in one -- "Jekyll and Hyde" has become a
metaphor for a person who shows two radically different personalities.
Or even two personalities in one -- "Jekyll and Hyde" has become a metaphor for a person who shows two radically different personalities.
The class dummy is greeted, "How's it going, Sherlock?"
The reference to Sherlock Holmes is beyond him, but he knows he's being
insulted. Sherlock is someone
smart, someone who has the answers.
Finally, some fiction reaches out into the world.
Uncle Tom's Cabin Abe Lincoln called that book the cause of
the Civil War. That's influence. Half a million dead in the military alone.
The war that ended slavery. That's
But who affected your life? Only
you can answer. The wife says,
"I thought I married Prince Charming, but he turned into Homer
Simpson." Or, When I
proposed, she was Helen of Troy, for the next year she was Bridezilla, and
Lilith showed up for the wedding night.
There are seventeen
dimensions of influence. Or maybe
thirteen. We have ranked our
characters using a single column of numbers, a single dimension.
No wonder there's disagreement. What
are your reasons?
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