Suggested Questions for Discussion


"The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived is a riot.... From Odysseus to Bond, James Bond and Lilith to Mouse, Mickey Mouse, the selections are provocative, the writing lively, the discussion animated and engaging. Any book that can bring together Othello, Hiawatha, and Kermit T. Frog gets my vote. Over and over again, I found myself musing, why didn't I think of this?"

Tom Foster, author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor


We've got hundreds more questions and discussion suggestions in the free (downloadable) Teacher's Guide to The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived. But here are some teasers:

  • Does Barbie help to set high achievement standards for girls?

  • Does Santa Claus control more than 10% of the US economy?

  • Was the Pied Piper a real estate agent?

  • What are the differences between the monsters of England and Japan?

  • Hamlet's actions wipe out the Royal house of Denmark; why isn't he considered a villain?


  • Trace the differences between Bellum (war) and Bella (beauty).

  • How does the sense of justice change from Arthur to Ivanhoe to Bond?

  • Which was more influential in women's liberation: Lady Chatterley or Rosie the Riveter?

  • What is the role of faeries in village life, and how are ethical responsibilities divided between them and the clergy?

  • The reluctant hero is a classic of the Western; where else do we find this character?


  • What are the limitations of the Greek gods?

  • What is the value of beauty?  In what characters is this seen?

  • What factual clues do we look for in national hero stories?

  • How are family relationships important in Germanic and Greek mythology?

  • What are the attitudes towards war of Achilles, Odysseus, Hamlet, Ahab, and G. I. Joe?


  • What moral behavior do we expect of our machines?

  • Do animal stories extend the human point of view, or impose it on nonhumans?

  • Name important characters ignored by American culture.

  • How does fiction change society?

  • What happens to the stories of the losing side in a clash of cultures?


  • How are ancient legends used to justify political decisions?

  • How would Romeo and Juliet be charged in criminal court?

  • How did Kyd's "The Spanish Tragedy" influence the way audiences received "Hamlet"?

  • What role does Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan have in political opinion of the role and scope of government?

  • Which characters of advertising go beyond product sales?


  • Name the 50 most recognizable, and the 50 most important, characters in fiction today.

  • What do you do with a national hero who proves to be a tall tale?

  • How much of Women's liberation involves equal exploitation?

  • How much do attitudes have to change before a character becomes Influential?

  • What was Betty Boop's influence in the third phase of her career -- cheap filler for television?


  • Why do ad campaigns use fictional characters?

  • How will Joe Camel affect product choices in the next ten years?

  • How are cigarettes advertised? What is the effect on the US economy? on US exports? on health in the Islamic world?

  • How does Cinderella set our expectations for romance?

  • How does Disney's 'Pinocchio' differ from the original (hint- you'll have to read it).


  • What were the first characters to be featured in movies and television? 

  • What characters occur again and again, in movies, TV, theater?

  • Which TV shows are syndicated overseas, and how does that shape the image of America?

  • What characters influence the way we think the police should operate? which ones influence how they actually do operate?

  • What do we regard as evidence? for a crime? for a historical event? for a character?


  • Why did Shakespeare make his Juliet just under 14 years old?  Which version was the original?

  • Which of the Homeric heroes were fictional?

  • How do we approach doubts about the stories of other peoples' religions?

  • What are the effects of cartoons made for adults (Gertie the Dinosaur, The Simpsons), teenagers (Mutant Ninja Turtles) and children (Dragon Tales)?

  • How did the public react to Archie Bunker's arguments?   Was it enough to show a character supporting a point of view, or did he have to win arguments?  What about the other political characters -- Murphy Brown, Alex Keaton? What TV shows have made politics part of the script?


  • Do you change your opinion about a real person when you find a fictional story becoming part of the biography?  Do you rule out "The Devil and Daniel Webster" or "The Trojan Women" --  when do you start to worry about accuracy?

  • How many gods are named in the Bible? How many can be seen as political caricatures, the way we talk of the Republican elephant or "The White House" making a statement?

  • Did Ralph Kramden have any influence, or was he merely a favorite? Bobby Donnel?  Amanda Woodward?  Gordon Sims? Angela Chase?  What do you look for?


We've got many, many more questions and discussion suggestions in the free Teacher's Guide to The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.

What questions can you think of? Let us know, and we'll credit you on this page.

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"The impact of characters from fiction, myth, legends, movies and TV on the broader culture is the premise behind this entertaining little paperback.... Fun to read or use as the springboard for creating your own lists and discussion." -- Linda Brazill (Madison Capital Times - December 15, 2006)

Erica Colliflower (Hagerstown Morning Herald - December 5, 2006) wrote:

"Try to imagine life without fiction and the people who make up that world. It's really hard, because fictional characters play an integral role in every person's life.  For every stage of life - contented child, sullen teenager or stressed adult - there are fictional people who influence behaviors or attitudes. These characters make their audiences laugh and cry. Oftentimes, they represent an ideal to strive for or repulse people with ugly attitudes or conduct.... "

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