The Namesake's Gogol, Roald Dahl's Matilda and other literary heroes who deserve a comeback
Here are five iconic literary characters with whom we’d like to go back to the future.
By Arunima Mazumdar and Deepanjana Pal
When it was first announced that there was going to be a sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, excitement erupted. Published in 1960, the novel won the Pulitzer and has charmed generations of readers with its simple, powerful story about the loss of innocence and racism in America’s south. The idea of reuniting with their characters like Scout and her dad, Atticus Finch had everyone in a tizzy – until the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, actually hit bookstores.
In Go Set a Watchman, Scout is all grown up, her brother is dead and most shocking of all, Atticus Finch is a bitter, 72-year-old racist. It’s a letdown for many, but if you really are a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, then somewhere in your disappointment is a little bit of satisfaction because all said and done, it is a reunion.
Taking our cue from Lee’s new and not-so-improved Atticus, here are five iconic literary characters with whom we’d like to go back to the future.
Matilda from Roald Dahl’s Matilda
Matilda is one of Roald Dahl’s most lovable books and Matilda herself was our growing-up hero – the kid who preferred books to television, who’s full of mischief and pranks, but who has a heart of gold mixed with just the right amount of wicked humour. And she’s super intelligent.
In Matilda, Dahl takes us through her difficult childhood and how she developed some pretty awesome powers to deal with the ghastly adults in her life. Matilda can move things with her mind, which leads to some hilarious escapades in the novel. Ultimately, she’s able to sort out all the bad guys and gets the happy home she deserves, with Miss Honey. It was a bold move from Dahl to suggest that a child’s parents may not be the best guardians. The parents in Matilda, are a nightmare and the school principal Miss Trunchbull is unforgettable. It takes all of Matilda’s wits to find her way out of their wily clutches.
Now, when a six-year-old can come up with the fabulous pranks and stratagem that Matilda does, can you imagine what she’d be like as an adult? Dahl tells us that Matilda loses her telekinetic powers once she’s happy and settled, because she doesn’t need them anymore. Could a twist of fate in her future revive those powers? Imagine Matilda taking on internet trolls and annoying bigots, and tying them up in mental knots. We can’t think of a more awesome feminist superhero.
Holden Caulfield from JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye
If cynicism had a face, it’d Holden Caulfield’s. “It's funny,” he observes at one point. “All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they'll do practically anything you want them to.”
For nuggets like this and his dry wit, Holden has been a legend over the decades. By the time The Catcher in the Rye draws to a close, we’ve seen Holden wind his angsty way through adolescence, with a stopover in a mysterious “institution”. The novel ends with him happy, but there’s a certain fragility to that moment. What happens to the expelled Holden? He’s been expelled from his school, so what will the new school be like? Does he become sharper and more bitter with time? Will he get all soppy and hormonal over a girl? And what about Phoebe? Does she know she pulled her brother back from the abyss? Inquisitive minds want to know.
Gogol from Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake
Let’s face it: the reason we want more Gogol Ganguly is that this is a name that deserves more than one book. Gogol may sound like a typo to those unfamiliar with Russian literature, but he’s quite a man. And as the hero of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, he proves that if written well, even a Bengali who goes by his nickname (or daaknaam) can be compelling.
For much of The Namesake, Gogol dithers between the nickname and a far more normal sounding given name, "Nikhil". Of course, Lahiri’s point isn’t the name itself as much as the sense of identity that her hero is struggling to reach. The novel ends quite neatly at first glance – Gogol has made peace with his father and his hybrid identity; he’s lived, loved and been brokenhearted; and he’s discovered Nikolai Gogol, which is never a bad thing.
Imagine fastforwarding and meeting Gogol when he – sticking to the Russian theme in his life – encounters Gary Shteyngart? Perhaps he'll discover a visceral love for salted herring? Maybe there’s a Being John Malkovich-esque sequel that’s lurking in the continuing adventures of Gogol Ganguly. Could he find himself at home in Absurdistan? Maybe it's time for another super sad true love story in Gogol's life.
Esther Greenwood from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar
The ungenerous will suggest that the fascination for Esther Greenwood stems from her similarities with Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar does have elements of autobiography – they’re what lend the novel its powerful and sensitive insights into depression and its power. However, while Esther finds reasons to keep living, just a month after The Bell Jar’s publication, Plath committed suicide, leaving devastated fans in her wake.
Especially since Plath’s life ended so abruptly, it would be an epic win to see Esther come back, alive on a printed page. At the end of The Bell Jar, Esther is in a mental hospital, entering a doctor’s room for a final evaluation. Would Esther walk along the same paths that Plath did or would she tread a new one? What about her relationship with Dr Nolan, the one woman who seems to be able to reach and help Esther? The novel tells us that in the future, Esther has a child. Who’s the lucky guy? And how did the girl who was so overjoyed and relieved to discover female contraception turn into a woman who wants a baby?
Heathcliff from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights
He is, without a doubt, one of literature’s most enigmatic characters and a hero who has been making readers’ pulses flutter for generations. Uncouth, mysterious, passionate and wild, Heathcliff is literature’s baddest boy. While his adolescence and some of his adult years are described in full detail by Brontë, we know nothing about his beginnings. More importantly, there are three and a half years when Heathcliff is all grown-up, far away from Wuthering Heights, and making his fortune of which there's no detail whatsoever.
Where did he go? What did he do? Who and what did he encounter? Did he try to forget Catherine? Were there villains whom he crushed? There are so many questions that swirl around Heathcliff. Despite being the hero of Wuthering Heights and occupying much of the author's and readers' attention, he never loses that air of delicious mystery. Someone just bring him back to life already.
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