Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Top 10 Fictional Boyfriends of Page and Screen

Fictional characters can be much more attractive than real people because they remain creatures of the imagination, and their faults do not intrude themselves upon our notice the way they would if they really existed. 

Apart from that they further endear themselves to us by being imprinted upon our consciousnesses as some of the most memorable narratives of all time. This process can work in reverse as well, as memorable characters can bring us back to stories we might not otherwise appreciate. While I'm not one of those people who's waiting for the perfect version of my favorite character to come along and woo me in real life, I have to admit to being rather enamored of certain creations of fancy. Today I'm going to honor the fictional men to whom I'd gladly give my hand in marriage if they existed--or at least I'd go on a date with them.

Honorable Mentions:

Rhett Butler was the prototype
for other charming rogues of
page and screen, and is
considered the defining role
for Hollywood legend Clark
Rhett Butler, Gone with the Wind (Book especially)
I freely and openly admit to reading and watching Gone with the Wind purely for Rhett's sake. I can't stand Scarlett, but every time she comes across Rhett, I somehow have a wide grin on my face because I know she's about to get her comeuppance. Maybe it's genetic: my grandmother's favorite movie was Gone with the Wind because she was in love with Rhett, but it doesn't hit me quite as strongly as it did her.

In the novel, Rhett's passages would have me in stitches for minutes as he throws out one memorable quip after another. As much as I like Rhett, though, he really isn't a gentleman, as Scarlett so accurately points out, so he must fall down my list for that. Of course the reason for this fault is that Rhett is jaded and just smart enough to see all the problems in society and their causes without wanting to do anything about it.

Once his daughter is born, Rhett begins to reform for her sake, but his rocky relationship with then-wife Scarlett hinder his growth a lot. Perhaps what finally causes me to put him on this list is that he leaves Scarlett in the end, which shows good taste. Then again, it took him 12 years to figure out that she wasn't worth his time, so how smart can he really be?

I would perhaps go out once or twice with our dear Captain Butler, but I don't think I'd marry him even for his millions.

Hugh Laurie plays the Erstwhile Bertie Wooster
to perfection in the Jeeves and Wooster series.
 Bertie Wooster, Jeeves and Wooster (Books and TV series)

Bertie is kind of like a puppy dog that's always doing silly and adorable things, but he does lead a life of wealth and charm in the Art Deco elegance of the '20s and '30s, which has an undeniable attraction for me. I would love to go out to jazz clubs and the West End shows with Bertie or listening to him play Irving Berlin on the piano any time. 

Perhaps one of the reasons I love Bertie is that he always knows when he's getting himself into a scrape, but he does it anyway because the Code of the Woosters will not let him desert a friend in need. In addition in the books he has beguilingly casual way of narrating that make it seem like a prolonged story told anecdotally by your best friend, and compels you to try to read it all in one sitting because you flow through it all so easily.

Bertie is not a complete dolt, either, since he won a scripture knowledge prize at Eton, and he's always making quotes, though he doesn't always get them right. Compared to some of his friends like Barmy and Bingo, moreover, Bertie looks like quite a wit.

Hugh Laurie portrays Bertie to perfection in the Jeeves and Wooster series co-starring Stephen Fry as the inimitable Jeeves. Laurie captures Bertie's joy, his reluctant sense of duty that causes him to enter willingly into misery, and his comprehension of just how fishy things are when he's being put upon. 

Like my last entry, I'd love to have Bertie for a casual boyfriend, but I don't think I'd marry him unless it was to save him from Honoria Glossip, Madeline Basset, and Lady Florence Craye. Besides, Jeeves would probably find me unsuitable.

Angus "Mac" MacGuyver (MacGuyver TV Series)

Richard Dean Anderson portrays MacGuyver
the man who defeats the Communists using
only his wits for weapons. If only he'd lose the mullet...
MacGuyver would probably be higher on my list, but there's a lot of other guys I like out there, and I already have another character portrayed by Richard Dean Anderson higher on the list, so I'm content with keeping Mac as an honorable mention. Plus he gets negative points for the mullet. Sex appeal is a factor, after all.

Why is MacGuyver still so appealing, though? Well, he gets points for battling the communists, and even more points for doing it without using guns. Instead Mac relies on his uncanny ability to use his wits, surroundings, and the things in his pockets to stymie his enemies. He's so amazing that his name has become a verb, meaning to jerry-rig something.

So yes, brains and daring are both good, but MacGuyver gets extra points for being immaculately good. He never refuses helping someone in trouble, especially kids and women. He also gets points for still wanting to fight and stop the bad guys even if he doesn't believe in killing. There is already a real knight on this list, but Mac is probably the closest thing you can get to one in the modern era.

The List:

10. Ralph Touchett, The Portrait of a Lady, (Book only) 

Sadly the silver screen has yet to be graced by a really good Ralph. Although there was a rubbish version of the book that came out in the '90s, that Ralph had no sense of humor, and therefore no charm for the audience. The laconic cousin of heroine Isabel Archer is supposed to watch the world with the detached amusement of a man who knows he's dying of consumption, detached, that is until his heart inadvertently gets involved.

His hopeless love for Isabel causes his father to change his will to make Isobel financially independent, but this, unfortunately makes her the victim of a fortune hunter who abuses Isobel terribly after her marriage. Ralph would have gone to his grave loving her in silence had she not forced him to admit his reason for trying to interfere with her then-intended marriage. Of course Isobel only figures out her true feelings about Ralph when he's on his deathbed, and thankfully the story ends with the most compelling character dead.

I think my favorite passages of the book are when Ralph is arguing with Isobel's suffragette friend Henrietta Stackpole. It's not that Ralph doesn't respect her, but he just can't resist playing the devil's advocate with her, much to everyone's amusement. They eventually, however, become friends when Henrietta realizes that Ralph is just kidding around. Ralph and all the rest of the list I'd definitely marry if one of them asked me.

9. Han Solo, original Star Wars trilogy, especially The Empire Strikes Back.

Han Solo arguing with with the Princess, as he does through
most of The Empire Strikes Back.
Han was probably my first screen crush as a kid when I saw him in wooing Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back at the age of 9. Handsome Harrison Ford plays a lovable scoundrel plagued with bad luck as his rickety old space freighter keeps breaking down while half the imperial fleet is in pursuit.

As charming as he can be when dueling wits with the princess, when he really wins our hearts is when he faces what probably will be his death with such nobility. First he asks his best friend Chewbacca to take care of Leia for him, then even as the stormtroopers drag him away, his gaze remains on his lady love until the last moment when he descends into the freezing chamber. The expression of agony imprinted on his face as the haul him back up again remains imprinted on our hearts forever.

Heartthrob Errol Flynn plays Robin Hood better than anyone
else when he starred in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood.
7. Robin Hood (1938 film)

Noble, fun-loving, and handsome, the Errol Flynn version of presents what is perhaps the sexiest version of Robin Hood ever. We really believe his romance with Maid Marion, appreciating the gentle way in which he shows her that her views on the tax problem are in error instead of lording it over her like a jerk.

Other than that, he's Robin Hood for goodness sake, and who doesn't love Robin Hood? Steals from the rich, gives to the poor, taunts the Sheriff of Nottingham, duels with Guy of Guisborne, give hammy speeches about justice and freedom; what's not to like?

7. Col. (later Gen.) Jack O'Neill, USAF (Stargate SG1 only)

Always snarky, always entertaining, Jack
O'Neil made Stargate SG1 a great show that's
spawned a bevy of second-rate spin-offs.
I'm hoping this is a controversial call, but as much as I love MacGuyver, I still prefer the character Richard Dean Anderson portrayed ten years later, Col. Jack O'Neill. Actually Anderson himself deserves a lot of credit for making the character memorable and lovable. 

Stargate was based on a movie of the same title in which Jack was a depressed US Air Force officer driven to suicide when his son kills himself while playing with Jack's gun. When Anderson took over the character for the TV series, however, he injected wit and vivacity into this role. After all, how can you not find some irony in a man who makes a living getting in way over his head at a top secret facility in which modern day US soldiers save the earth from alien threats and conceal their existence from the world? Certainly if such a situation were real, a healthy sense of humor might be the best way to get through it without becoming a basket case. Jack became not so much a character but a projection of Anderson's own goofy sense of humor. Actually, it's a good analogy to what he did to the show: just as Jack's character could have been dark and brooding, the show could have been an angst fest, but Jack's tongue-in-cheek comments keep it light and enjoyable.

Although very smart, Jack's constantly surrounded by people much smarter than him. In fact the team he leads features two PHDs: archeologist Daniel Jackson, and astrophysicist Maj. Samantha Carter. Jack, on the other hand, besides being a combat expert from twenty years in Special Forces, is really only good a correcting people's grammar. So instead of feigning the ability understand what his colleagues are saying, he'll purposely and self-deprecatingly mangle their big words so that they have explain it to him in the simplest terms possible. When you think about it, though, that really is the smartest thing to do because then he gets the clearest understanding of the situation possible, which he needs for the leadership decisions he's constantly forced to make.

Jack is just one of the funnest characters to watch of all time. He's always making sports metaphors, taunting his enemies, cracking Star Trek and Star Wars jokes, and fishing in a pond that has no fish in it. Perhaps one of the best example is when he and SG1 are afraid they've altered the space-time continuum, he leaves his alternate self this message to see if the world is all right, "College football is played on Saturday, pro on Sunday. And there are no fish in my pond." Now that's a man who has his priorities straight! Or maybe I prefer the time when he's trapped in 1969 and give his name as "Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise." and then corrects himself, "I'll be honest with you. My name's not Kirk. It's Skywalker. Luke Skywalker."

What I really admire most about Jack, though, is that despite being hopelessly irreverent, he really is impressively noble. The best example I can think of this are two instances. The fist is his relentless refusal to overstep ethical boundaries and have a romantic relationship with Carter even though they are deeply in love with each other (Jack is her direct superior, so fraternization would be really unethical). Even when he's stuck in a Groundhog-Day-style time loop in which he knows his actions will carry no consequences on reality, he still hands in his resignation to General Hammond before he indulges in a long, passionate kiss with Carter. The other time is when he willingly sacrifices himself to a slow, painful death in order to save the earth because when it came down to a choice between him and one of the members of his team, he valued their lives more than his own.

6. Ned Henry, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (published 1997)

Ned was written to be an everyman character, but he's so much more than that. His gallows humor and senses of irony and absurdity form the axis around which the story moves, much in the same way that Bertie Wooster does this. Some of my favorite examples of his commentary are when he says that someone with time-lag is sentimental as "an Irishman on his cups or a Victorian poet dead sober," or when he dubs Tossie's squeals to be "screamlets" and then proceeds to use his newly-coined term for the rest of the book. These are the kind of things that make him the most amusing narrator since Bertie Wooster, and since he is much smarter than the aforementioned gentleman, so is his style of humor.

Just to prove how exceptional Ned is, the heroine of To Say Nothing of the Dog falls in love with him because she reminds him of the character who ranks #1 on this list. Certainly they do have quite a bit in common being that they are both MAs in history from the same college at Oxford with great senses of humor, but I think the rest of her admiration must be due to time-lag, which is why there are four more entries between this and my absolute favorite.

Sink me! It's the Scarlet Pimpernel portrayed by Anthony
Andrews in this 1982 classic, which doesn't quite follow the book.
5. Sir Percy Blakeney, The Scarlet Pimpernel (Book, 1934 film, 1982 film)

"Is he in heaven?" I don't know, but when I read the book or watch one of the movies, I always answer an ephatic "YES!" Although he pretends to be an idiotic fop in the light of day, the English baronet is really the mastermind behind rescuing innocent aristocrats from the guillotine in Revolutionary France. The way he makes a fool out of French agent Chauvelin over his cravat is priceless, and the many ingenious disguises he dons leave me grinning like an idiot whenever I see them. And speaking of idiots, I confess I am delighted whenever I watch Sir Percy go into his idiot act.

Percy, however, has a fatal flaw: his love for his wife which causes him to fly into an irrational anger and feud with her for months by snubbing her and concealing everything under his idiot demeanor. What bothers me most is that he condemns her character without letting her explain or trusting in her innocence as she asks him to. If his faith in his wife can be shaken so easily it seems to me that his love for her is either shallow or based on the wrong qualities. Of course she is exonerated in the end, and he learns his lesson, saving her in a way that is so clever in the book (and has sadly never been reproduced accurately in a film) that I seem to forgive him every time--well, almost forgive him, anyway.

Both Anthony Andrews and Leslie Howard play Sir Percy exceptionally well, and so I recommend both the 1930s and 1980s versions of the film even though I like the Anthony Andrews version slightly better because of two good performances by Jane Seymour as Marguerite and Ian McKellen as Chauvelin.

4. Indiana Jones (Raiders and Last Crusade only) 

I'm certainly not the first or only woman in the world to fancy Indiana Jones. Who wouldn't want a man who was a professor by day and a an action hero by night?

As I do not like either The Temple of Doom or Kingdom of the Crystal Skull--just the titles makes me want to retch--I do not include them here. I seem to have a thing for fictional gents that lived in the '30s: Bertie, Indy, and the #1 on my list coming up. Maybe it's the fedoras. Harrison Ford looks undeniably dashing in that hat...

No, I think it's more than that. Indy has an undeniable zeal for the truth and to see treasures of art and history able to be studied and enjoyed by the people. He befriends the natives of the areas he visits, and deeply respects their cultures; he is chivalrous towards women and ruthless towards his enemies, especially when he's up against the Nazis.

When teamed up with his dad in Last Crusade, Indy's snarky sense of humor comes out for the first time to thunderous applause. That movie is particularly endearing because it shows us that Indy can be just as engaging when he is skating by on his wits, dodging the Nazis that way as he can be when he's beating them up. If I have one complaint against Indy it's that he didn't marry Marion when he had the chance. She was the only woman who was ever really a match for him, even if she did suffer from damsel-in-distress syndrome. 

3. Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Ivanhoe (Book only)

As far as knights in shining armor go, they don't get any shiner than Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe. Sir Walter Scott is famed for pioneering the historical fiction genre, and Ivanhoe was perhaps his boldest foray into the past. In this tale of Anglo-Norman feuding, Wilfred is a good Saxon boy who years ago decided to follow England's Norman king, Richard the Lion-Hearted, on the Third Crusade, against the will of his father.

Years later the disinherited knight returns to England to find his father and his lady love Rowena being harassed by their Norman neighbors, mostly vying for the hand of the said Rowena. He wins our respect instantly by befriending a vulnerable Jewish family in the face of overbearing antisemitism. He not only honors the beautiful Rebecca at a jousting tournament but he also saves her from an ecclesiastical court that wants to burn her for witchcraft. To do this he must fight to the death against the fearsome Brian du Bois-Guilbert and do so while while severely injured.

If you're looking for a man with bravery, morality, and compassion, you can't do better than Sir Wilfred, in my opinion. As for his marriageability, I don't think you could find a man in either fiction or reality that would make as ardent or as sincere of a lover. My only problem is that his sense of humor is still untested, and my strong sense of absurdity needs a man who can complement. that.

Famous Austenian wit Henry Tilney jokes with Catherine
Moorland about the terrors that await as his family's
Gothic abode, Northanger Abbey
2. Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey (Book especially, but 2007 movie version as well).

I've been madly and hopelessly in love with Henry Tilney since I first read Northanger Abbey when I was 14. Many Austen fans love such heroes as Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, and Mr. Knightley, but none of these men can hold a candle to the wit, mirth, charm, and wisdom of Henry Tilney, younger son of General Tilney of Northanger Abbey.

Mr. Tilney catches our eye for the beginning with his taste for satire and love of books. "The person," he tells our heroine Catherine Moorland, "be it man or woman who has not pleasure in a good novel must be profoundly stupid," and thus he permanently endears himself both to her and us. His conversation about literature and life with Catherine and his sister Eleanor as they go on their walk is probably one of the best passages Austen ever wrote.

My only point against Henry Tilney is that he marries Catherine who is so obviously his intellectual inferior. As Dorothy Sayers points out, men of genius are often applauded for marrying inferior women, but women of genius do not have that luxury. Even Austen herself had to admit in the final chapter that her charming Henry was stooping a little in marrying her heroine. The 2007 version by the BBC captured the essence of the character while cutting most of his best dialog in a most inexcusable way. My approbation therefore, is only partial.

1. Lord Peter Wimsey, The Lord Peter Mysteries (Books only)

Image of Lord Peter, based on Edward Petherbridge, the actor
who portrayed him in the 1987 TV series.
As yet there has been no really spot-on film portrayal of the most attractive man in all of fiction. His author Dorothy L. Sayers once described him as a combination of Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster (and ironically he has a butler whom he often scolds for pretending to be Jeeves), but while that description covers his charm and humor, it short-changes his intelligence.

An MA in history from Balliol College, Oxford University, Lord Peter worked both in combat and in the Intelligence Service during the Great War, surviving that conflict with severe post-traumatic stress syndrome after being badly injured by artillery fire This mental affliction still troubles him occasionally in the books, especially the early ones, and he compensates for it by putting on an air of frivolity and wit, sometimes at inappropriate moments. 

Upon returning to civilian life, Lord Peter takes up sleuthing as a way to occupy his substantial brain when he is not working as a diplomat--he is fluent in French and Latin, breaking into quotations whenever he feels so inclined--or indulging his love for music (especially Bach). Like most men, he also loves fast cars--he named his roadster Mrs. Merdle after the Dickens character. How geeky/cool is that!--good food and wine, and the company of the opposite sex.

Lord Peter is my ultimate idea of what I'd like in a man. On the surface he's a charming gentleman who will kiss your hand and fill your ear with witty banter over dinner and then gracefully dancing your feet off, but he's also a deep thinker and feeler with a strong sense of morality and duty. I think my two favorite quotes of his that sum up why I like him are: "I always have a quotation for everything. It saves original thinking," and "The only real sin passion can commit is to be joyless."

As charming as Lord Peter is normally, his charm quintuples whenever he is in the presence of his great flame Harriet Vane. First of all it raises my opinion of his character that he's the only one who does not unfairly condemn Harriet when she's on trial for murder just because she used to live with the victim outside of wedlock. While the rest of the people looked on her refusal to marry her lover when he asked her as proof of her moral depravity and anti-social tendencies, Wimsey sees that she decided to leave her boyfriend because he was manipulating her, and Wimsey applauds her decision. It's also incredibly endearing to see the normally suave Wimsey fumbling and awkward whenever he encounters his true love; it makes the great man human. All of Peter's faults, in fact, come out in his courtship with Harriet. His vanity injured by her repeated spurning of the offer of his heart, he retreats behind his veneer of frivolous wit and jocularity, turning his romantic overtures into a joke at his own expense. Concealed behind this mask, Peter takes six painful years and a trip to the purifying air of Oxford before he allows Harriet, who values honesty above everything, to see the real Lord Peter Wimsey and fall in love with him.

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