30 December 2010

+JMJ+

Character Connection (17)



Read about Judy Plum and other great characters
in this week's Character Connection!


It's about time I did one of these again, aye? I thought I might as well close 2010 properly.

In a recent discussion of the Harry Potter series, I remarked that I tend to like J.K. Rowling's supporting characters much more than her leads: that, in fact, my least favourite of her characters are Harry himself and Professor Dumbledore. =P But I think most writers with a love of ensemble casts have a real gift for creating supporting characters. (No comment on the leads.) So today I feature a very minor character (or so we think) from one of my favourite YA novels of all time. I do like the heroine of this one, but I confess I like him much, much more.



Midgely
The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman
by Louise Plummer


"Midgely always makes me think of Dylan Thomas," I said. "I don't know if he did this with you guys, but he spent weeks on Thomas' poetry last year--and we were supposed to be studying American lit."

Richard nodded. "'The Force That Through the Green Fuse--'"

"'Drives the Flower,'" I finished with him.

"Did he make you memorise the whole thing?" Richard asked.

"All twenty-two lines."

"I miss him already."

"Mmm."

This book, as the hilarious, nerdy narrator admits, is a Christmas-set "Category Romance" novel; and since she is an English geek with a passion for linguistics and a healthy sense of genre, she makes sure her story both subverts and revels in all the expected cliches. Awkward, slightly lonely heroine: check. Tall, gorgeous hero: check. Sexy blonde rival: check. Romantic scene in a winter wonderland setting: check. But there is nothing conventional about Midgely, her beloved junior English teacher, whose passionate, poetry-filled life seems to be coming to an end in the middle of the most beautiful Christmas she has ever known.

Nevertheless . . . Midgely fits. He belongs in this story as much as any of the characters, even if he is too sick to take part in any of the action. Memories of his English class--and his tennis lessons--crop up again and again, like a rich recurring theme.

"Comedies end in marriage, but tragedies frequently begin with marriage," he once told his students. "But it's the tragedy that makes life rich . . . Worth living."

And it is something that has seemingly nothing to do with this tangled comedy of relationships--with its young, squabbling newlyweds; its older, wiser but still silly married couple; its own shy and uncertain hero and heroine; its needy femme fatale; and its cynical single girl who'd rather spend Christmas with strangers than attend her mother's sixth wedding--I repeat, it is something someone that has seemingly nothing to do with all the expected elements which gives this story its richness . . . and makes it worth telling.

As our heroine muses: "I have been surprised as I write this how often Midgley is mentioned on these pages. How often I quote him. I have made him a minor character in this novel without meaning to. His influence has altered who I am in nearly imperceptible ways. I'm barely recognising it now."

But this is just the first draft of the novel. In her last page of "Revision Notes", our heroine/narrator decides Midgely doesn't fit: "Reality is not appropriate to the genre. I've just read a couple of Harlequins, and I've got to edit out some of the reality in the novel as it is. I've got to cut Midgely and the cancer . . ."

Ah, irony . . . But I'll just bet that when she gets around to all that editing, she'll find that Midgely is the kind of character who does not go gently into the dark night.

Image Source: The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer

7 comments:

Salome Ellen said...

"Kate" is circulating among my adult daughters this week. Maybe when they are done I'll have to read it myself. I don't know why I haven't already, since we've owned this copy for at least 15 years....

twortd said...

I always plunder your posts for ideas for my girls' reading. I haven't heard of 90% of the YA stuff you talk about, you're making up for my deficits.
Uh oh, I can't comment with just my name!
Marie

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Ellen: This is possibly the only book I've ever loved that others have loved, too, so I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically recommend it to you as well! =D

Marieeeeeeeeeee: And I haven't read 90% of the YA titles that are most popular on blogs these days. This is the blog you visit for stuff that was hot ten to twenty years ago. So I'm afraid that your deficits aren't being helped very much. Mea culpa!

IntrovertedJen said...

Great post, as always! I do write about main characters, but I believe I write about side characters more often. I think they have more room to be unique. It might be hard to focus an entire books on Luna Lovegood's spaciness, but she sure brightens up the pages of Harry Potter when she shows up!

You've got me thinking about my Midgely, and I would have to say my high school band director filled that role. We all practically lived together for about 6 months of the year, so it was hard not to get close to the whole group. He was a great leader who was funny and who encouraged any kind of talent he found in us, not just musical talent. He's retired now, but I still run into him occasionally around town. It's always a bright spot in my day when I do!

Great Thomas reference there at the end, by the way! ;-)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Ah, even my brothers love Luna! My own favourite Rowling supporting character is Percy Weasley. =P Hagrid is also starting to grow on me at last (I hope that isn't a pun!), and I might do a Character Connection post on him in the future.

It's lovely to hear that you had a Midgely in your life! I don't think I did, not until uni . . . but uni professors don't really count, aye?

PS--I thought that Thomas reference was the least that Midgely deserved! ;-)

Daniel Midgley said...

How nice to find this post. I am Midgely. Kind of.

You see, Louise Plummer used to be my creative writing teacher at BYU in 1990. Her class was incredibly fun, and it was great to hear her ideas about writing.

One day in 1991, I was working at the BYU library, and Louise breezed past. She was on her way to do some writing, which at this time must have been "Kate". We said hello.

A few hours later, when she'd finished, she came back. "I've written you into my story!" she said.

"Really?" said I.

"Yes, I like to do that because it reminds me of what I was doing at the time I wrote it," she said. "So now there's a Midgley in my story."

How cool was that! So now I'm immortalised in print, even if the name might be spelled differently. Thought you might like to know.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Thanks for leaving a comment, Daniel! It's nice to meet you. =)

That's a great story about Louise Plummer. Now I'm going to wonder about the supporting characters in all her other stories. LOL!

So have you ever written her into one of your stories? ;-)