Rachel Schieffelbein is hosting The Secondary Characters Bloghop in honor of the release of her book Secondary Characters. Winners will receive critiques from Theresa Paolo, Kelley Lynn, Jessica Salyer, Jenny Morris, and Suzi Retzlaff. Kelley and Cassie Mae will also pick a winner to receive either a signed copy of Kelley’s recently-released Fraction of Stone or an e-copy of Reasons I Fell for the Funny Fat Friend.
One of my favorite secondary characters is the Fool in King Lear. Everyone in my English AP class loved him, even the teacher, and none of us could understand why Shakespeare wrote him out midway through and didn’t do more with him. He was great comic relief in such an otherwise heavy story. Years later, when I was introduced to Akira Kurosawa’s incredible Ran, I was really excited to see that the Fool had a much more important role and didn’t just disappear without explanation.
I freaking love Monsieur l’Abbé T. in the classic French Enlightenment novel Thérèse Philosophe, which is classified as philosophical pornography in Robert Darnton’s Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France. Basically, it’s an erotic novel advocating Enlightenment philosophy in between all the various forms of sexual activity, both coupled and solo. This priest is on fire in every scene he’s in! He’s got guts to utter lines like:
“Everyone agrees that God knows what will occur throughout eternity. But, they say, even before he knows what the results of our actions will be, he has foreseen that we will betray his grace and commit these same acts. Thus, with this foreknowledge, God, in creating us, knew in advance that we would be eternally damned and eternally miserable.”
“We read in the good book that God has sent his prophets to warn mankind and to exhort it to change its behaviour. But God, who is all-knowing, knew very well that men would not change their behaviour. The Holy Scriptures suppose, thus, that God is a cheat and a trickster. Can these ideas be reconciled with the certitude we have of the infinite goodness of God?”
Monsieur l’Abbé T., however, never wins over Thérèse’s dear older friend Madame C. with his frequent arguments in favor of coitus interruptus. Madame C. almost died in childbirth and isn’t willing to risk that happening ever again. At one point she almost gives in, but then he’s the one arguing for abstention. Madame C. totally calls him on how one of his reasons involves self-flattery, saying he loves her and is too much of a gentleman to subject her to the risk of scandal! “Your second reason is so compelling you actually needn’t have bothered to flatter yourself with the first.”
Finally, I loved the gentle puppeteer Amici Enfanti in the late Ida Vos’s The Key Is Lost, one of her middle grade-level books based on her experience in WWII Holland. Amici Enfanti is a family friend of protagonist Eva and her little sister Lisa, and the girls are delighted to be taken to his house as their final hiding place. He tells them to call him Mr. Ami, since ami is French for friend.
Lisa lost her doll Freekie, whom Mr. Ami made for her before the war, and he was so upset to hear of this that he immediately set to work making Freekie Two. He tells the girls that puppeteers have a special kind of magic that protects children, which I’ve always remembered. Vrouw Vos’s books are among the most unforgettable I’ve ever read, able to recall so many details years later, but that’s one of the things that’s stuck out most to me.
During the brutal Hongerwinter of 1944-45, when the Dutch people were eating tulip bulbs and sugar beets to survive, Mr. Ami went hungry so the girls could survive. He had to be forced to start eating again when another adult discovered what was going on. And after the Canadians liberate Holland, he continues taking care of the girls till the railroad system is repaired and their parents are able to retrieve them.