Top Ten Tuesday: Secondary / Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Previous Top Ten Tuesday Topics

Ooo this is an interesting topic!

Secondary characters who deserve a bit more love – whether from the author, the narrator – or who might deserve their own spin-off book or prequel, their own narrative arc to be fleshed out more. I don’t think this is easy at all! For some reason, this topic draws me towards epic fantasy – we could fill it with characters from A Song of Fire and Ice – Jaqen H’ghar, Syrio Forel, Sandor Clegane, Podrick Payne, Mance Rader – or Lord of the Rings – Éowyn of Rohan. However, let’s look elsewhere…

Contemporary

Pamela Dawes, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Pamela Dawes, the grad student who maintained the Lethe residences and served as their research assistant.

Pammie, though only Darlington called her that.

To be honest, with this novel, anyone other than Alex and Darlington could have been given more love! But I adored Pamela, perpetually on the edge of finishing her eternal dissertation. But with a steely edge to her too.

Niko From One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

He’s got this black-on-black greaser thing going on, a dark undercut against light brown skin and a confident jaw, a single crystal dangling from one ear. Tattoos spill down both his arms and lick up his throat from beneath his buttoned-up collar. His voice is a little croaky, like the back end of a cold, and he’s got a toothpick in one corner of his mouth.

Sure, I loved both August and Jane and their time-thwarted love. But Nico, the trans tattooed psychic has definitely got a story there – how he met artist Myla, the coming out, how he realised he was psychic…

Miss Lucy (or any of the Hailsham teachers), Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Miss Lucy was the most sporting of the guardians at Hailsham, though you might not have guessed it from her appearance. She had a squat, almost bulldoggy figure, and her odd black hair, when it grew, grew upwards so it never covered her ears or chunky neck.

I would love to read an adult’s depiction of life in Hailsham, the ethical, moral and humane conflict within their care for the clones destined to be donors. Miss Lucy ushers in those hints of the true situation, which we as the reader were hungry for, and offers what other guardians did not: honesty.

John Childermass, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

Childermass assured him that the time was propitious and Childermass knew the world. Childermass knew what games the children on street-corners are playing – games that all other grown-ups have long since forgotten. Childermass knew what old people by firesides are thinking of, though no one has asked them in years. Childermass knew what young men hear in the rattling of the drums and the tooting of the pipes that makes them leave their homes and go to be soldiers – and he knew the half-eggcupful of glory and the barrelful of misery that await them. Childermass could look at a smart attorney in the street and tell you what he had in his coat-tail pockets. And all that Childermass knew made him smile; and some of what he knew made him laugh out loud; and none of what he knew wrung from him so much as ha’pennyworth of pity.

I love me a shadowy behind-the-scenes man of business who is “Mr Norrell’s steward in certain matters (though he did not say what these were)”.

16 (Sarah Raphael), Piranesi, Susanna Clarke

In my mind Raphael is better represented by a statue in an antechamber that lies between the forty-fifth and the sixty-second northern halls. This statue shows a figure walking forward, holding a lantern. It is hard to determine with any certainty the gender of the figure; it is androgynous in appearance. From the way she (or he) holds up the lantern and peers at whatever is ahead, one gets the sense of a huge darkness surrounding her; above all I get the sense that she is alone, perhaps by choice or perhaps because no one else was courageous enough to follow her into the darkness.

The sixteenth person of whom Piranesi has evidence of in his Halls. She is enigmatic and robust, brave and isolated and I would love to hear her story.

Sir Thomas More, Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

In real life there is something fraying about their host, a suspicion of unravelling weave; being at his leisure, he wears a simple wool gown.

Thomas More is set up in contrast to Thomas Cromwell – an elite bully rather than Cromwell’s working class background; educated versus his experience; religiously fanatical, wearing a hair shirt and persecuting heretics, whereas Cromwell is pragmatic; cruel to his wife and family whereas Cromwell is tender.

At least, this is Cromwell’s account of him. But however unpleasant he is, his death concludes the novel, and I felt he needed more presence to make his death more meaningful.

Classics

The classics are, perhaps, easier to pick from: they are often from times so different to ours that their sidelining of women, of different races and religions, of slavery, of difference generally can be shocking. Many of these characters have, indeed, been reclaimed recently.

The Greek epics are perhaps the most masculine of worlds – in contrast to Greek tragedies which give us wonderful female characters in Clytemnestra, Antigone and Medea and, oh, the Bacchae! – and have been mined by female writers such as Madeline Miller, Pat Barker and Natalie Haynes.

Briseis, The Iliad, Homer

Briseis is barely even described in the Iliad – does she even speak? It’s been so long since I read it – but she is crucial to the plot. Enslaved by Achilles; taken by Agamemnon; the source of the conflict that takes Achilles from the war for Troy and nearly leads to a Greek defeat.

Thank you to Pat Barker for giving us your interpretation of her story and voice in The Silence of the Girls.

Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare

I have to teach Romeo and Juliet year upon year and – possibly unpopular opinion ahead – I despise Romeo. Plaintive, truculent, pathetic, needy…

But Mercutio!

Oh Mercutio! Ephemeral, fluid and, well, mercurial, you are Queen Mab in the play

the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men’s noses as they lies asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
The collars of the moonshine’s wat’ry beams,
Her whip of cricket’s bone; the lash of film;
Her waggoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid:
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.

Elizabeth Lavenza, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Besides the relationship between Victor and his creation – father, God, haunted, hunter – his relationship with Elizabeth is massively sidelined in the novel. Is this a reflection of Shelley’s society or a criticism of it?

Victor’s view that “All praises bestowed on her, I received as made to a possession of my own” is a terrifying admission and her silence in his story and narrative is a damning indictment of his personality.

Her relationship with Victor – adopted sister, fiance and (briefly) wife – is complex and dysfunctional. Barely do they get engaged and Victor flees her to go to University at Ingoldstadt and build himself a monster. If a man can go to such length to create life without a woman, what need does he have to get married, perhaps?

Mr Hyde, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stephenson

“He is not easy to describe. There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet I scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity, although I couldn’t specify the point. He’s an extraordinary-looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way. No, sir; I can make no hand of it; I can’t describe him. And it’s not want of memory; for I declare I can see him this moment.”

Whilst Hyde is of course Jekyll, and we don’t hear much from either of them, at least Jekyll gets to make his full statement of the case – but how accurate, complete or reliable is it?

And we never really see what Hyde gets up to – it was bad enough that Stevenson’s wife burned his initial manuscripts allegedly – beyond knocking over a child and killing an MP.

I’d love to hear Hyde’s own voice revelling in his sudden existence and freedom from the shackles of morality and conscience.

The three vampire women, Dracula, Bram Stoker

In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner. I thought at the time that I must be dreaming when I saw them, they threw no shadow on the floor. They came close to me, and looked at me for some time, and then whispered together. Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes, that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires.

These women were monstrous, sexual and sensual – a delightful foil to Lucy Westenra who was being courted by three men before being turned herself, and oh her death scene drips euphemism and masculine aggression! – and they stand out, for all that they appear in the novel for a handful of pages.

Many thanks to Kiran Millwood Hargrave for imagining their pre-vampiric lives in The Deathless Girls.

Miss Havisham, Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

I had heard of Miss Havisham up town—everybody for miles around, had heard of Miss Havisham up town—as an immensely rich and grim old lady who lived in a large and dismal house barricaded against robbers, and who led a life of seclusion.

Surrounded by the mouldering wedding breakfast for the wedding that never happened, wearing the wedding gown, wearing a watch that “had stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine”, Miss Havisham broods gothically over Pip and the whole novel despite being a minor character.


I do love Carol Anne Duffy’s poem giving her a voice

Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then
I haven’t wished him dead. Prayed for it
so hard I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes,
ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.

Spinster. I stink and remember. Whole days
in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall; the dress
yellowing, trembling if I open the wardrobe;
the slewed mirror, full-length, her, myself, who did this

to me? Puce curses that are sounds not words.
Some nights better, the lost body over me,
my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear
then down till I suddenly bite awake. Love’s

hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting
in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding cake.
Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon.
Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.

Boo Radley, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.

Few characters are maligned quite as much as Boo Radley is here: the town bogey-man seen through the prism of cheap horror imagery and pop culture images of Frankenstein’s creature.

His innocence, naivety, childishness and massive vulnerability are perhaps summed up so beautifully in the only words he speaks “Will you take me home?” that to offer more might ruin him as a character.

So, there we have a number (I fear more than ten again) of secondary characters who might still be waiting for their chance to shine. I would love to hear your thoughts, so please do comment below!

I am driving to Kent for a couple of days tomorrow to see family, staying in a hotel room… I doubt that either of these locations will appear on next week’s “favourite places to read” theme, although I am planning on doing a lot of reading: sharing a hotel room with my eight year old daughter who is likely to exhaust herself during the day and sleep early letting me read late. Or possibly she might not sleep at all!

Upcoming Top Ten Tuesday Themes

  • August 17: Favourite Places to Read
  • August 24: Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time
  • August 31: Fictional Crushes
  • September 7: Books Guaranteed to Put a Smile On Your Face
  • September 14: Books With Numbers In the Title
  • September 21: Books on My Fall 2021 To-read List
  • September 28: Freebie (Come up with your own topic or do a past TTT topic that you missed or would like to do again.)

19 comments

  1. Great list. And I see we even have a book in common, though not for the same person. But I have read many of the others, so I really enjoyed your post. Thanks.

    And thanks for visiting my TTT earlier.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great list! I agree with you about Romeo. I don’t think I enjoyed his character when I read the play many years ago. And as I’ve gotten older, Juliet isn’t all that great either. I loved the Nurse in the play, maybe because that’s who’s part I always had to read.

    I twisted the topic some, as I have trouble remembering secondary characters.

    When you get the chance, I hope you stop by my post: https://readbakecreate.com/10-books-that-deserve-more-love/

    Liked by 1 person

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