Brutus over Antony; Gale over Peeta; Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter over Lewis’ successive Narnian explorers. Star Wars Episodes IV – VI rather than I-III. Books over film adaptations and originals over sequels.
For some strange reason, I have a fierce loyalty to the characters in a story that are introduced chronologically. I will defend them to the end of the story, extolling their motives and virtues against any other protagonists that the author may introduce. It takes a significant plot revelation or a dramatic fall from grace to dislodge my loyalty to these first characters.
Today’s is a post for self-exploration. I intend to get to the bottom of this and find out why. As near as I can figure, this phenomenon is related to the reasons why I find stories compelling in the first place. In the early pages of a book or the opening scenes in a movie, something has to grab my attention before I continue. That something is usually a particularly compelling, dynamic or relatable character. Therefore, I come to associate that first character with the very experience of being sucked into the plot.
But it does not end there. If the first character introduced and a late-comer became embattled in some sort of conflict of interest, I almost invariably back the former. Perhaps another reason for this is the ubiquitous “underdog” cliché. It appears everywhere! The newcomer swoops in and steals the fair lady’s heart; a mysterious stranger reveals hidden talents and saves the day. A young and inexperienced team overcomes adversity and wins a coveted title. Underdogs make for inspirational stories, but they don’t succeed so flawlessly in real life. More often than not, it is the establishment that wins.
Originality has something to say to this, especially when it comes to films. With Toy Story as the exception, many sequels fail to impress like their earlier counterparts. There sometimes a tendency for characters to behave I similar ways. A character is introduced and developed slightly, and then later on in the plot, a rival character is introduced merely as a foil.
I know I do not represent the majority of readers when I speak about my uncanny character loyalties (and for authors, that is probably a good thing!) Maybe it is just a counter-cultural spirit of resistance to whatever new thing comes along. But for whatever reason, I am left unconvinced by Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar. Eustace in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader will never find sympathy from me. But this speaks to the nature of those first characters. I choose to stand by them because they are that powerful, and evoke that kind of loyalty, and that is what great stories that stick with you are made of. So, I say to all you authors and literary craftsmen out there, make me a character I cannot refuse.