Classic novels have given us memorable characters of all sorts, from heroes we never forget to villains we can never forgive. In this list, here are the top five most memorable fictional writers of all time.
5. Elizabeth Costello – Costello is J.M. Coetzee’s alter ego. Like Coetzee, she lectures about literature and animal rights. She also happens to be one of Coetzee’s less likeable characters because she is overbearing and obtuse. In addition to appearing in a couple of Coetzee’s works, an entire book is named after her.
4. Jack Torrance – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Ever since a crazed Torrance wrote that over and over in Stephen King’s The Shining, readers and moviegoers have loved being terrified by the abusive and alcoholic writer. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Torrance helped elevate the fictional author to popular culture.
3. Benno von Archimboldi – 2666 is considered Roberto Bolano’s masterpiece and Archimboldi, a fictional German writer, is at the center of many of the plotlines in the story. At the beginning of the novel, he is introduced as an elusive writer who not even his most loyal critics and professors know much about and have never seen a picture of. At the end of the novel, you find out exactly who Archimboldi is and how his life has driven varying storylines to converge. The amount of mystery at one point, combined with the amount of depth throughout, makes Archimboldi impossible to forget.
2. Ellsworth Toohey – Toohey is a journalist and critic in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. He represents the embodiment of establishment opinion and the power of creating popular conformity. In the novel, Toohey starts off as a sort of bumbling and lowly critic, but as the story progresses you come to understand that he’s more powerful than the business owners and the men and women of true ability because he shapes the public’s opinion. How many times have we heard of a lackluster movie or book that became a success just because the critics all said it was great, or a movie or book of true genius that bombed because critics convinced people it wasn’t worth their time? Toohey is the embodiment of that idea, and Rand’s success in using him to that end makes Toohey a highly underrated villain.
1. Kilgore Trout – Although the character was inspired by one of Kurt Vonnegut’s friends, in many lights, Trout is also Vonnegut’s alter ego. Like Vonnegut, Trout is a science fiction writer. Also like Vonnegut, many readers simply don’t know how to interpret much of Trout’s writing. He is noted as being a prolific writer and even writes his own memoir. Trout is mentioned or appears in almost a dozen of Vonnegut’s stories, most notably in Slaughterhouse-Five.
Honorable mention – Richard Bachman – Bachman was Stephen King’s pseudonym for many of his early novels and isn’t a fictional author in the classic sense. He’s included here because the idea of two different writing personas within one man, which is what Bachman represents, was King’s inspiration for The Dark Half. I include Bachman here because he went from being a pseudonym to a fictional author when King dedicated The Dark Half to “The late Richard Bachman.”