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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Thursday, July 01, 2004 - 11:33 am:   

Looking for suggestions as to characters from fantasy, sf, or whatever buzzword we're using this week are iconic: that have a staying power and an influence beyond just their actual story appearances, for good or for ill. (I would say, as an example, that Conan's iconic status hurts the character, as it's at the cost of his nuanced portrayal in Howard's stories.)

I'm debating writing an essay on the subject (after having spent more than 8000 words writing about Superman, I've discovered an interest) and would like to shamelessly mine you for ideas. Thanks!
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, July 01, 2004 - 12:45 pm:   

Hmmm, interesting topic. Off the top of my head:

Elric
Cthulhu
King Arthur
Gandalf

Some potentials:

Decker (from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?")
Harry Potter
Gollum
Paul Atriedes

Are we talking just books, or movies, too? Having some trouble coming up with SF ones.

JK
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Jamie
Posted on Thursday, July 01, 2004 - 06:12 pm:   

I say, toss Gandalf -- he's just Merlin in a different hat. But I'd say Merlin could work instead.

You've got Superman, as you mentioned. Tarzan. Frankenstein's Monster (a character, not just a thing, in the original.) Robin Hood -- if he counts as fantasy.

There are probably fewer iconic characters in sf than in fantasy, at least as far as the literature is concerned -- simply because the genre has been around longer. If you include movies, you could probably toss in Mr. Spock, Darth Vader, and Captain Kirk.

BTW, did Kill Bill (vol 1, at least; I've not seen vol 2) strike you as a sort of "Guttertrash take on Charlie's Angels"? (I doubt anyone but Matt will understand.)
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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Friday, July 02, 2004 - 06:50 am:   

John - sure, why not movies, TV, whatever? I'm not a media snob. Well, okay, I am a little, but I'd say go for it. Dr. Who strikes me as an iconic SF character, for instance.

Jamie - You'd have to ask Abhay, or maybe Marc Singer (since Abhay tends to comment at Marc's site... http://notthebeastmaster.typepad.com/weblog/ ) because I haven't seen the Kill Bill movies. But it sounds plausible enough: Charlie's Angels goes Grindhouse, I guess.
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Jamie
Posted on Friday, July 02, 2004 - 07:37 pm:   

Thanks for the link, Matt.

You know, I tried to get Abhay to give me something for IQ, but he's stopped writing. Too bad.
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Neddal
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 12:08 pm:   

I thought I replied to this thread earlier. I know I typed something, but I may have looked at the preview w/o actually posting. *Grumbles...*

I second Elric, Cthulhu, Dr. Who, Deckard, HP, Tarzan, the various characters from Star Wars and Star Trek, and would add:
Batman
Spiderman
Sherlock Holmes
Dracula
Pinhead
Freddy
Jason
Fry
Wolf Man
The Mummy
The Alien
Predator
Terminator
Link
Buffy
Angel
Wonder Woman
Gaiman's Sandman and Death
Swamp Thing
Wolverine
Alice
Kids from Narnia

What about people who have become mythologized - Lovecraft, Poe, Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp, Jack the Ripper, Al Capone, Robin Hood, Elliot Ness, etc...?


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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 03:44 pm:   

Neddal - actual people would probably more fit in the Nexus Folk thread.
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Ron Dingman
Posted on Saturday, July 03, 2004 - 07:52 pm:   

Most of the major characters in the two volumes of _League of Extraordinary Gentlemen_ (Alan Quatermain, Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde, Captain Nemo, Dr. Fu Manchu, Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarity -- and, arguably, John Carter, Warlord of Mars and Dr. Moreau (though I think that Charles Laughton's portrayal of Moreau in the 1933 movie _Island of Lost Souls_ -- which was scripted by Philip Wylie [_Galdiator_, co-author of _When Worlds Collide_] and which H.G. Wells hated -- gave a huge shot in the arm to Moreau's character). The Invisible Man is more iconic for his invisibility than his character, per se, and thus probably belongs in the "honorable mention" category below.

Otherwise, I would tend to nominate:

The Big Four from the _Oz_ books (Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Wizard [Zardoz!]); heck, maybe even the Wicked Witch of the West too, considering that she's got a tell-all "autobiography" out now....

Don Quixote

Dr. Faustus

Shylock (from Shakespeare's _Merchant of Venice_) & Barabas (from Marlowe's _The Jew of Malta_)

The Wandering Jew (Charles Maturin's _Melmoth the Wanderer_ and Eugène Sue's novel of the same name; I'd argue that Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Comte Sainte-Germain owes more to this figure than to Dracula)

Ayesha, She Who Must Be Obeyed

Erik, the Phantom of the Opera

Lucifer from _Paradise Lost_

Irma Vep

James Bond (with the 1958 _Doctor No_, Ian Fleming at last unambiguously placed Mr. Bond in the realm of fantastic adventure)

Sam Spade (moreso than Philip Marlowe, alas)

Ben-Hur

Doc Savage

The Shadow

Zorro

Sir Percy Blakeney, The Scarlet Pimpernel

Svengali

Quasimodo

Rip Van Winkle (a concept endlessly re-used in such works as H.G. Wells' _When the Sleeper Wakes_, etc.)

Dr. Dolittle

Lemuel Gulliver

Alex (from Anthony Burgess' _A Clockwork Orange_ [1962])

Hannibal Lecter

Buck Rogers (originally from Philip Francis
Nowlans' _Armageddon 2419 A.D._ [1928])

Klaatu and Knut (from Harry Bates' "Farewell to the Master" [1940], filmed as _The Day the Earth Stood Still_ in 1951; Knut was renamed Gort for the movie)

Colossus (a super-intelligent computer that takes over the U.S. from D.F. Jones' _Colossus_, _Colossus and the Crab_, etc.; _Colossus_ was published in 1966, and filmed in 1969 as _The Forbin Project_)

Lt. Col. Steve Austin (from Martin Caidin's novel _Cyborg_ [1972])

Judex (apparently a kind of precursor to both The Shadow and Batman)

Fantômas

Edmond Dantès, the Count of Monte Cristo

Arsène Lupin

Rocambole (from Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficer's _Shadowmen: Heroes and Villains of French Pulp Fiction_ [Encino, CA: Black Coat Press; 2003]: "Rocambole's importance to popular fiction cannot be underestimated, as it represents the transition from the old-fashioned Gothic novel to modern heroic fiction, in the sense that it created and virtually defined all the archetypes of modern superheroes and supervillains. The fact that the word _rocambolesque_ has become common in French to label any kind of fantastic adventure, is the best testament of which Ponson du Terrail [the character's creator] could have dreamed." -- p. 233)

Sâr Dubnotal (apparently the first in a long line of moustached [and, in his case, bearded] Western men who learned fantastic magic in some mysterious, lost Oriental enclave and returned to the West to fight crime and succor the innocent)

[In fact, let me just say that you can probably take *all* of the characters covered in _Shadowmen_ as archetypes; even in Le Nyctalope one can descry similarities to numerous space-opera heroes and DC Comics' Adam Strange, Man of Two Worlds.]

Carrie White (from Stephen King's _Carrie_ [1974])


And honorable mentions should probably go to:


"Last Man On Earth" (from the 1824 Mary Shelly novel of the same name to the protagonists of M.P. Shiel's 1901 _The Purple Cloud_ and Richard Matheson's 1954 _I Am Legend_, this idea, if not actual character, has been done well nigh to death)

Big Brother (from George Orwell's _1984_ [1948]; decidedly not a character but a singularly useful and long-lived concept -- more's the pity)

Space Cadet (Heinlein's main protagonist from the eponymous 1948 novel is Matt Dodson, not Tom Corbett, as he would become in the TV show; still, the idea of following the education of a greenhorn in space has proved a long-lived and frequently remunerative one)

Prof. Bernard Quatermass

Dr. Mabuse

Kurtz from Joseph Conrad's _Heart of Darkness_

Scott Carey, The Incredible Shrinking Man (from Richard Matheson's original novel, the 1956 _The Shrinking Man_)

André Delambre (from George Langelaan's "The Fly" [1956])

the "freaks of nature" from Tod Robbins' "Spurs" (1932), the basis of Tod Browning's career-wrecking film of the same year, _Freaks_

The Time Traveler

Hugo Danner, the protagonist in Philip Wylie's _Gladiator_ (1930); his position in the pantheon of icons has been usurped by his direct literary descendants, Doc Savage and Superman, but he still deserves an honorable mention


My apologies for the inclusion of a handful of characters outside the strictly fantastic or science fictional -- *or* horror -- realms; however, I feel that they've bled over sufficiently into these genres so as to deserve at minimum an honorable mention.

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Ron Dingman
Posted on Sunday, July 04, 2004 - 07:20 am:   

Sorry, one more nominee: W.H. Donovan of Curt Siodmak's _Donovan's Brain_ (1942); as far as I know, the first memorable disembodied brain in a long, long line. _Donovan's Brain_ was filmed in 1944 as _The Lady and the Monster_ with Erich von Stroheim playing Dr. Patrick Cory, the surgeon who preserves the tycoon's brain, and again in 1953 as _Donovan's Brain_, Lew Ayres as Dr. Cory and once and future First Lady Nancy Davis as the love interest. In between, Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre had done an excellent radio adaptation in 1946, with Welles playing Dr. Cory; this radio adaptation, though understandably condensed and hence quite different from the book, was only slightly marred by a rather moralistic _deus ex machina_ ending.
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James Lecky
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 05:51 am:   

I would also add Karl Edward Wagner's magnificent Kane (especially considering the wonderful collections that Night Shade have produced). David Gemmell's Druss and Jon Shannow.
And, on a different level and constantly referenced (although the matter of fantasy is debatable) Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 11:38 am:   

Macbeth's a good one... I certainly think Fantasy can claim Shakespeare, unless we're arguing that ghosts and prophecies aren't the stuff of fantasy all of a sudden.
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 12:11 pm:   

Well if you're adding Shakespeare, there's Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Caliban, etc. etc. etc., so I would argue that Shakespeare is out. Everything he wrote is iconic. That's what happens when you base your stories/plays around the lives of Kings. Perhaps it's just me, though, and there are fewer Shakespearean icons than I suspect.

This is a tough concept since I think the audience for whom these things are iconic needs to be considered. If you're speaking general America, most everything on this list can be tossed out the window and we're left only with figures that have had movies made about them. If you're talking the general SF crowd, then that's different. Then I think most everything we've all mentioned is fair game.

All the same, since this is meant in fun so I'll stop pissing all over everything, I think Indiana Jones and Bart & Homer Simpson need a mention.

JK
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Matthew Rossi
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 01:47 pm:   

Indy I can see, but Bart and Homer don't represent anything to me. I suppose I should sit down and consider what I mean by Iconic, huh? Bart and Homer might answer the criteria about an effect beyond their actual appearances... certainly Shakespeare's characters (not everything he wrote... how often does someone invoke Coriolanus?) have that power.

Hamlet's so iconic that he's lead to centuries of self-identification in criticism, from Keats to Goethe to Eliot. I wonder if anyone can read or play the Dane without identifying with him.
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 02:05 pm:   

Right. That's the problem. Someone suggests Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and I don't get it because I've never read it. For me, Bart represents the mischevious kid in all of us, while Homer is so iconically lazy American white male that perhaps he's beyond the icon and moved on to something more sublime. It all depends on audience and interpretation. Of course not all of Shakespeare's characters (to steal from your post Matthew, how do you invoke Ajax?) but most of the lead characters: Lear, Othello, Iago, Benedict, Rosalind, Henry V, etc. evoke something for me to invoke. Again, that might be just my own feelings towards the Bard.

JK

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