While this may seem like a huge step backwards from my post a few weeks ago about living in reality instead of a fantasy, sometimes real life sends me careening straight back into the arms of my favorite book. And by ‘real life’, I mean ‘men’. The older I get, the more I realize the real universal truth which I’ve been trying not to acknowledge: that literary boyfriends are just so much better than actual men. Gilbert Blythe has never told me how hot my sister is. Atticus Finch always remembers to call. And Mr. Darcy? NEVER forgets my birthday. So doubtless while many of you may say—really? A list of what characters from books you have crushes on? Get a life, you weirdo!—to them I say, back off, Mom, this is my blog, not yours. As soon as real-life men start picking up the slack, maybe I’ll put down the books for a while. But until then, in no particular order, here are My Top Ten Literary Crushes.
1. Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I know, I know, how cliché can you get? I was tempted to make this a four-way tie between my four favorite Austen men—Captain Wentworth, Mr. Knightly, Colonel Brandon, and old Fitzwilliam himself—but the truth of it is, Mr. Darcy was my first literary love and will always be one of the most romantic characters of all time. Yes, Knightly is gentler and sweeter, Brandon has that dark and tragic past, and Wentworth has the sexy naval uniform. All are great characters who are part of great love stories, courtesy of the incomparable Jane Austen. But no one sizzles together the way that Darcy and Elizabeth do; their chemistry transcends the boundaries of time and space and ink. Every time I re-read the book (which is often) I get just as sucked into the story as I did the first time, and I fall for Darcy just as hard. That’s some pretty darn good writing. And believe it or not, the thing I love most about Darcy isn’t the big house, or the attractiveness, or even the wet t-shirt (okay, so that wasn’t in the book, but I still imagine it every time I see his name); it’s that underneath his proud, imperious façade, Darcy’s just a socially awkward nerd who doesn’t like dancing and who has a hard time making new friends— i.e. someone not so very different from yours truly. And like all Austen heroes, the man can write a seriously good letter. Swoon and a half.
As mentioned above, Honorable Mentions go to the lovely Knightly, the dashing Wentworth, and the loyal Brandon, who have all made me skip a heartbeat or two and will doubtless do so again.
2. Sandor Clegane, A song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin
Anyone who has had the misfortune of speaking to me recently at any length will probably know about my incurable obsession with the song of Ice and Fire series – so much so that recently I had two dreams about them, one in which I was building sandcastles with Jaime and Tyrion Lannister (weird, but cool), and the other where I met Robb Stark at the Renaissance Festival and we totally fell in love (awesome). There are a lot of incredibly swoon-worthy male characters in this series, so many that I’ve had to include several honorable mentions at the end of this section who were frontrunners to being top ten on my list. But at the end of the day, the character who truly stole my heart? Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound.
For those of you who haven’t read the books, you might not get just how weird this crush is. Sandor Clegane is a big brute of a man who is physically deformed (half of his face is burned and disfigured) and morally questionable (at the command of his king, he kills a defenseless little boy and brags about it later). He has a sharp tongue and doesn’t pull any punches, and he works for the worst human being on the planet (aka Joffrey). He laughs at the notion of chivalry and human kindness, and does everything he can to spit on the idea of nobility. And yet. . . he has a soft spot for the underdog, and for those who are mistreated. Despite professing to hate the idea of knighthood and chivalry, he is the only one who refuses to beat and abuse Sansa Stark, and even rescues her and her sister on multiple occasions, putting his own life at risk. Buried underneath all his malice and anger is a good heart that has never known human kindness—a true Beauty and the Beast story where you can’t help but hope that not only the Beauty but the Beast will be able to discover the goodness buried deep inside himself. And boy, am I a sucker for Beauty and the Beast stories. And not just because I not-so-secretly want to own my own library someday. . .
A VERY Honorable Mention goes to Robb Stark, who is a close second. Basically, Robb is the son of a northern lord who, through a series of terrible events, gets crowned King of the North and attempts to usurp the reigning king (stupid little maggot Joffrey) who was responsible for the death of his father. Oh, and I should mention that Robb accomplishes all of this as a teenager. Robb is heroic, noble, loyal, a natural born leader, and his only true failing is that he falls in love with the wrong girl and broke a teeny tiny little promise. Okay, so it was kind of a big promise, but he follows his heart instead of his head, which is something that frankly more men could stand to do these days. Also, as mentioned above, I totally dreamed about him and we were in love, so that proves something. Maybe? Or maybe I should just stop looking at this picture before I go to bed:
Other Honorable Mentions go to Jon Snow, Jaime Lannister, Eddard Stark, and Rhaegar Targaryen. (I know, I have problems…)
3. Mr. Thornton, North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell
Now, there are some who might argue that Mr. Thornton is essentially Mr. Darcy, just in a different time period with a rough northern accent. To them I say— okay, you’re probably right, but there are a few key differences. Namely, that although when we meet Thornton he is a rich factory owner, he is actually a poor working-class bloke who through sweat and ingenuity became the richest man in town; and also that Thornton is a little less afraid to address conflict head on and speak his own mind. Thornton is basically just a good guy; even when he catches Margaret (the woman who recently rejected his hand in marriage) out and about with a young fellow late at night and he could potentially use this information to ruin her reputation and get revenge on her for dissing and dismissing him (the actual terms used by Ms. Gaskell in her book), Thornton takes the high road and keeps Margaret’s secret to himself. Thornton overcomes his own class prejudices by befriending a worker at his mill and is humble enough to learn from his mistakes. And yeah, he’s a little bit of a mama’s boy, but he doesn’t let that stop him from pursuing the girl of his dreams, even though Mom is NOT quiet about how much she disapproves. So for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Thornton yet, do yourself a favor and read the book. Then do yourself an even bigger favor and watch the BBC miniseries starring the absolutely gorgeous Richard Armitage. And here’s a little something that might whet your appetite:
4. Finnick, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
With the approaching release of the Hunger Games movie this week, despite the fact that the story is supposed to be about war and politics and bla bla bla, not some silly love triangle– we all know the real debate is going to be: Peeta or Gale. And while I could easily be persuaded in either direction, the person who had my heart by the end of the series was Finnick, the wise-cracking seemingly carefree warrior who becomes Katniss’s unlikely ally. While I think that Gale and Peeta are ultimately much better matches for Katniss, Finnick was a breath of fresh air in this series that is so full of angst and heartache and death. Finnick is charming, Finnick is funny, Finnick is smooth. And then as an extra cherry on top, it turns out Finnick is actually awesomely loyal and sweet and noble underneath that wise-cracking surface. Also doesn’t hurt that he’s described as being extremely attractive. Consider me twitterpated.
5. Captain Jack Elliot, These is My Words, by Nancy E. Turner
Oh, Captain Jack. Sadly, I don’t know a ton of people who have read this book, but every single person who has reacts exactly the same way; the mere mention of the name is enough to send us lady-folk swooning. What you basically need to know about Captain Jack is this: Captain Jack is a soldier who knows his own mind and follows his heart. He’s sassy and romantic and determined and when he meets the woman of his dreams, he goes after her with his hat in his hands and his heart on his sleeve. And what I especially love about Captain Jack is that he knows when to keep things sweet and mushy, and when to spice things up with a little laughter. And did I mention that he isn’t afraid to go after what he wants? That has to be the number-one most attractive quality in a man (Unless what he wants is Kim Kardashian. . . Just sayin’. . .)
6. Sir Lancelot, the Arthurian Legends by various authors
Aside from the above-mentioned Mr. Darcy, Lancelot may just be one of my earliest literary crushes. Okay, so his story doesn’t turn out so great, but there’s something so compelling about a man of honor who remains loyal to a concept bigger than himself even at the risk of his own personal happiness (I know there have been several accounts, but in my imagination, Lancelot and Guinevere loved each other from afar and never acted on it. I should also mention that in my imagination, Winnie Cooper and Kevin Arnold end up together, and Mufasa isn’t really dead, so take this with a grain of salt). Despite his best attempts, Lancelot gets caught up in situations out of his control (stealing his best friend’s wife! Killing the noble Sir Gareth! Causing the downfall of a kingdom!) but handles it with remarkable nobility and grace. He refrains from killing Arthur when he has the chance, refusing to even defend himself against the man he calls friend and king. Even when Arthur is dead and Lancelot could totally go and rescue Guinevere from that nunnery, out of respect for his dead friend (and the war he unwittingly caused), he keeps his distance, once again denying his own heart. Basically, the man started the concept of bros before hoes. And it doesn’t hurt that I always imagined him to be incredibly attractive, either. . .
Honorable Mention goes to Sir Gareth the incredibly patient and Sir Tristan the romantically doomed.
7. Dave the Laugh, the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series, Louise Rennison
In this delightful series about the madcap dating adventures of a teenage girl in which Italian Luuv studs and sexy rock stars abound, it’s the boy next door who stands above the crowd and emerges as the real heartthrob of the series. Aside from his lip-nibbling expertise, there is nothing especially extraordinary about Dave the Laugh, who can be immature, fickle, and incredibly boy-ish—but who can also be sweet, sensitive, and pee-your-pants funny. In short, he’s just like a real boy you might like, only with better one-liners, a cool accent, and an awesome name (an important fact to note: he is always Dave the Laugh, never just Dave). And by the end of the series, I really wished he’d been one of the boys who went to my high school. Even though I probably would have been scandalized by his nunga-nunga references.
Honorable Mention goes to Massimo the Italian love god and Robbie the rock star sex god. You were both so incredibly dreamy (in my mind). But unfortunately, the hills are alive with the sound of pants, and Dave the laugh ultimately won the day. (Just read the books, people).
8. Rhett Butler, Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Frankly my dear. . . Rhett Butler remains one of the most charming, complicated, sexy anti-heroes in literature today. I can still remember the first time I read the book and basically sat on the beach one spring break reading it cover-to-cover. How could someone be such a jerk and such a sweetheart, sometimes in the very same chapter? Rhett Butler is a scoundrel and makes no apologies for it. But he also admires decency and goodness (see his friendships with Melanie Hamilton and Mammy), and at his core is a softie who just wants someone to love and spoil (like his daughter, Bonnie). And while his taste in women is somewhat questionable (he really didn’t see heartbreak coming when he went and fell for Scarlett O’Freaking-Hara???), it’s still refreshing how he falls for a woman who refuses to conform to the simpering, silly stereotype of her culture and time period. One of the best things about Rhett Butler is that he never stays down for long; even though the ending of the book might arguably be one of the greatest downers of all time, I have no doubt that Rhett eventually finds a way to come back even better than ever. And that is a truly sexy thing.
Honorable Mentiongoes to Will, who didn’t make it into the movie, but who definitely stole my heart in the book.
9. Wesley, The Princess Bride, William Golding
I know what you’re all thinking: Elizabeth, there aren’t enough pirates on this list! Well, let me amend that with a man temporarily known as the Dread Pirate Roberts, also known as the Man in Black, also known as Farm Boy. A man with many names and many talents, Wesley is smart, charming, talented, and defies death itself to be with the woman he loves. He’s also quick in a pinch and, much like our friend Rhett, doesn’t stay down for long. And, according to the narrator, he’s one half of one of the five greatest kisses of all time, which means he just might give Dave the Laugh a run for his lip-nibbling technique. A man who can outwit a Sicilian, out-fence a Spaniard, out-wrestle a giant, AND give one of the five greatest kisses of all time? Where can I sign up?
Honorable Mention goes to Inigo Montoya, who knows how to make carrying a grudge look good.
10. Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
There’s something inherently wrong with having a crush on a man who dresses up like a gypsy woman and flaunts around a fake fiancé to convince a girl to love him, only to trick her into marrying him when he already has a crazy hidden wife in the attic. Yet even though he might be misguided and underhanded, at least Rochester goes after what he wants (are we starting to see a theme here, people?). He’s rude. He’s sassy. He’s not a good-looking man by any stretch of the imagination at the start of the book, and by the end he’s blind, disfigured, and missing a hand. But Rochester has seen the ugliest parts of life and emerged the other side a wiser man, refusing to be downtrodden. He’s a worldly s.o.b. who’s a romantic at heart. Despite all of the despicable things he does, he still risks his life to save his lunatic wife who’s made his life a complete misery. In short, he’s a man of many contradictions, but no matter what end of the spectrum he’s on, he’s a fascinating read. Plus, the force of his love is enough to call across miles and miles of moors and mist, which just shows how gorram passionate he really is.
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Unfortunately, not everyone could fit on this list, but some other Honorable Mentions go to:
Dickon (the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett ), Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee), Max and Rudy (the Book Thief by Marcus Zusak), Ivan (Enchantment by Orson Scott Card), Cedric Diggory (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling), Kostas (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares), Jace (the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare), Nathan/Joshua Steed (the Work and the Glory by Gerald N. Lund), Jamie Frasier (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon), Gabriel Oak (Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy), Carlisle Cullen (Twilight by Stephenie Meyer), Matthew Clairmont (A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness), Kvothe (The Name of the Wind by Patrick Ruthfuss), Grier (Bloodline by Tiffany Williams), Gilbert Blythe (Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery), Tariq (A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini), Laurie (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott), Hareton Earnshaw (Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte), and Robin Hood (The Adventures of Robin Hood).
It was actually much harder than I imagined it would be to compile this list of my top ten literary crushes. I have put a lot of thought into this— some might say too much thought— and even though to some this list might seem disproportioned (Dave the Laugh over Gilbert Blythe??) I had to make a list that was true to my own bizarre heart. I’m sure I’ve left off someone important, and even more sure that many of you will disagree on some (if not all) points. To that, gentle reader, I simply say—make your own list. This one’s mine, and I’ll stand behind it. That is, until I read another book and fall in love with another character, in which case, all’s fair in love and books.