Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Characters Who Don’t Make It Through The Series

In both of Christie’s series – Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple – the opening books are narrated by characters who fall away fairly quickly in the series, never to be heard from in the same way again: John Hastings as Poirot’s bumbling sidekick in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and Vicar Leonard Clement in Murder at the Vicarage.

Of course, these would be my two favorite characters out of what I’ve read of Christie's books so far. Both characters are hilarious, charming...basically someone I’d like to date. They care about their fellow man. They are open to new possibilities (i.e. will listen when someone unexpected like Poirot or Marple has something to say).
But, in spite of all of their likeability as characters, there’re reasons that they can’t go on in the series. As much as you like a character, sometimes they have to go. It is the ultimate case of eliminating your darlings.

Why do these gentlemen have to hit the highway, though? Hastings wants to be a detective/sleuth (so he says). The vicar is a leader in Marple’s nosy little town. Seems like they’d be able to fit into the lives of Poirot and Marple pretty easily.

Yeah, but that gives the reader too many characters to negotiate. Instead of using Poirot and Marple as the keys to the mystery – which they are – the narrators of Hastings and the vicar are given too much power in their respective stories. Mostly because they’re the narrators. Narration is THE position of power and trust. As narrators, Hastings and Clement potentially negate the influence of Poirot and Marple in the novels.

Another reason is stage-of-life logistics. After all, Poirot is a retired inspector who is constantly being interrupted on vacation or when he’s moved to a quiet place to escape the hustle and bustle of detecting. Hastings is a young, flirtatious, prime-of-life specimen. How do you explain his trailing alongside a retired inspector?

Miss Marple is a nosy old lady, with her own established place in the village. The vicar is a busy man, with a young busy wife, with a flock of the sinning-est group of folk in the country. How do you explain him hanging out with Miss Marple all hours of the day and night, and conversely, how would you like Miss Marple if she had to constantly hang around him?

Eventually, everything that made these two characters likeable would wear away. While it makes me sad to see them disappear as the books go on, I do indeed understand the reasoning, or instinct, that veered Christie away from them.

What recurring characters can you think of who overstayed their welcome, either in a book series or a television series? Why do you think the Love faded away?

6 comments:

  1. Oh, I like Hastings too. In fact, whenever we get Poirot DVD's from the library, my husband and I look to see if Hastings is in it. Nice examination of why Hastings characters aren't in it for the long haul!

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  2. There's a series I've been reading that has a bunch of characters who could go, as far as I'm concerned. It's one of the craft-based series. The protagonist's batch of friends could all be combined into one well-rounded, interesting person. Instead we have the girly-girl who loves to cook, the athletic girl, the party girl, etc. None of them make an impact, because they just don't ring true.

    I think House should leave House. There is no hospital in the country that would take the risk of the lawsuits (patient and employee) that would rain down around him. I don't care how brilliant he's supposed to be.

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  3. Rebecca--yeah, I like Hastings so much that I almost don't believe my own arguments...there had to be SOME way he could hang around. =)

    D.B.--You'd get rid of the main character? Hehehe...don't worry, I'm gonna talk about knocking off an MC a little later!

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  4. At least Christie didn't bump Hastings off!
    I can't think of any this morning, my brain must be on vacation along with my body :-)

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  5. Al-vacation's a good place to be. Stay there as looonnnggg as you can!

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  6. Speaking of Hastings being young - he went off and got married! So he couldn't stick with Poirot. He did reappear in one book, though, didn't he, supposedly visiting from his plantation?

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