Top Ten Bookish Rebels

“This was her last chance at the closest thing to freedom: her will, her actions, and the outcome in the world could all be in harmony.”

Greg Egan

I adore stories of rebellion. They call to me. So this is going to be a fun list.

  1. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee – The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. These two. These two crossed a continent for their home. They journeyed into the Land of Shadow, without hope, without a plan, and their story is as much about the value of resistance when resistance is futile as it is about saving a world: “I will not say the day is done, nor bid the stars farewell.”
  2. Isaac der Grimnebulin – Perdido Street Station, China Mieville. Isaac rebels from the shadows. He tries to save his city even while he’s being hunted down for it. He is human, and flawed, but he is also courageous when he needs to be.
  3. Satan – Paradise Lost, John Milton. Was there ever a rebel as tragic as Satan? And Milton is simply fantastic at elucidating that tragedy: Satan’s irreparable loss, his deep unending loneliness, his miserable jealousy, and above all his pride. There are academics who think that when we pity Satan, we’ve already fallen into the trap; but there’s no question that we do pity him, and that he is written to be pitied and related to in his rebellion.
  4. William Laurence – Victory of Eagles, Naomi Novik. What can I say about Laurence? He knows what it would mean to betray his country. He knew what his punishment would be, and what it would cost his own self-worth. But he did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do and because he could do nothing else.
  5. Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery – The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Stephen Donaldson. As with Frodo and Sam, Thomas and Linden are small, real people standing up against the most tremendous evil, losing parts of themselves along the way, because to succumb to despair and to Despite is the worst possible thing that they could do. They use their own skills to fight, in whatever way they can. They are broken, but they use their brokenness to heal. I love that.
  6. Steerpike – Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake. Steerpike may be twisted and evil and terrible, but he has a vitality, a cold and calculating vividness that marks him out as utterly different from the grey, crumbling society against which he rebels. He is compelling, because we recognise Gormenghast as oppressive, and his enterprising capitalism is not.
  7. Sonmi-451 – Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. She has a very strong sense of her own worth; she grasps the value of ideas and takes her knowledge of that to its logical (terrible) conclusion. She, more than any rebel we ever see in fiction, is prepared to play the long game. She has the humility to know that she can’t complete the revolution, but she can begin it.
  8. Juliette Nichols – Wool, Hugh Howey. Juliette is a woman who can do engineering. She never sought power, but she got it anyway, and she seeks the truth and we need more heroines like her.
  9. Yalda – The Clockwork Rocket, Greg Egan. Did I nearly forget Yalda? Yalda is awesome, actually, determined to make her own choices, determined that social expectation isn’t going to weigh her down, fighting her way through a world constantly seeking to make her less than she is. Her ending is pitch-perfect, too.
  10. Lirael – Abhorsen, Garth Nix. I just think Lirael is so awesome: a bookish, shy misfit who has to leave all she’s ever known and find a new family, and the strength to stand in front of a terrible, otherworldly evil and tell him to get lost, thank you very much. The ending to Abhorsen is quite frankly a triumph.

(The theme for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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