A Random, Opinionated and Incomplete List of Dickens Characters

In my early twenties, I went through a phase where I thought Charles Dickens was the only author worth reading. I admired his work greatly for its humor, insight and, yes, even its redundancy. He knew how to write a novel that was like real life - incomplete, heartbreaking and funny. Yes, I had read Charles Dickens before my early twenties, but I had not delved into David Copperfield, which would become one of my favorite novels.

I read a biography of Charles Dickens at the height of my Dickensian fervor. It robbed me of my hero worship because he really was just another man. A man with flaws and way of treating women both worshipfully and with disregard. I still love his work, though and the following characters. These characters come immediately to my mind when I think of Dickens. I will restrict this list to just those few because they are the few that I think my readers (yes, I have a scant few readers) will appreciate. Find them in a dusty old library and hang out with them when you get the chance.

David Copperfield

David Copperfield appears in the novel of the same name. The novel starts with his birth. It then follows him through a life that aspires beyond its means. Copperfield's life is fraught with difficulty -- brought on by the cruelty of others, bad luck and his own poor choices. What is best about David as a character is how he interacts with other characters, many of whom are either pitiably loony, unerringly sweet or the epitome of cruel. David draws together this motley crew and, through Dickens' skill, forms a life of bonds that spread out further and further throughout the novel. The novel ends, not with David's death, but with his life finally coming together.

Philip Pirrip or "Pip"

Pip appears in what most people would consider the greatest Dickens novel - Great Expectations. Pip is the main character whose admirable honesty, faithfulness and ability to love bring him to both ruin and prosperity. He is a quite kicked around character. One cannot help but feel terribly sorry for Pip and I could not help but love him, as much as one can love a figment of another's imagination, which turns out to be a great deal. (If you scoffed just then, you have never read a good book.) In turn, I hated his love interest -- Estella Havisham -- for treating him like a flea-ridden lap dog. However, Pip is also selfish at times. I suppose the draw is that he was quite single-minded in his devotion to a girl. That is something every girl loves in a male character.

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist appears in the novel of the same name, like David Copperfield. The character Oliver Twist is representative of all the children who suffered in workhouses in the 1800's. The character and novel are huge successes, even to this day. Why are they successful? Well, I cannot speak for the masses, but it is hard for me not to love fictionally factual novels, which is exactly what Oliver Twist was and I had watched the movie before I read the book, so there was an adorable, yet very unlucky, orphan in my mind the whole time. Who can resist?

Ebenezer Scrooge

Before you ask, yes, I realize that the characters that come to mind for me are also popular Dickens characters from movies, cartoons, plays, yada, yada. If you have not done so yet, read the books these people appear in, A Christmas Carol, in Scrooge's case. I like Scrooge because he is realistic for a Dickens' character. He is not overly sweet or overly evil. He is not unbelievably naive, or almost funny in his simplicity. He is both sides of the coin. Refreshing if you have been reading too much Dickens.

Well, that is all I have for now. As I write, more pop into my mind and I realize I need to include some Pickwick people, some Bleak inhabitants and some Curious shoppers. If you come back for more, I will be sure there are more waiting for you.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: From a Buick 8 by Stephen King

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King is a novel about a young man coming to terms with the death of his father. His search for peace leads him to the men and women of the state trooper barracks where his father worked until his death. There, he learns about a secret that his father and those troopers kept from him and the rest of the world. This secret, a Buick 8 that appears to be a portal to and from another dimension, has the potential to ruin them all.

From a Buick 8 is rather typical of a Stephen King novel. It contains horror, unlikely heroes and a small town setting. What sets this book apart (kind of) is that it is set in Pennsylvania, rather than the usual Maine settings Stephen King readers are used to, and more recently, Florida settings. Despite the "to be expected" nature of the novel, From the Buick 8 is not a bad bit of reading, but you knew that already. It was written by Stephen King, after all.

Hardcore Stephen King fans will have to read From a Buick 8 and they will enjoy it. However, if I were to recommend a Stephen King novel to someone who is new to Stephen King, this would not be it. It is not that it is not a good novel because it is. It has great qualities and especially good characters and relationships between those characters. It is just that it is not Stephen King's best story.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: In the Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

The book I want to talk about today is one that I just finished rereading for about the fourth or fifth time. It is my personal Stephen King favorite - In the Eyes of the Dragon. This book is a blend of fantasy, horror and fairy tale. It is unlike any other Stephen King book and according to Stephen King; there is a good reason for that. He wanted to write something his daughter, who was not into his icky horror novels, could enjoy. She did and I am sure that made Mr. King immensely happy. I wish I could thank her because In the Eyes of the Dragon obviously helped Stephen King break free from his usual plot-type and write something different, but that still tied in with his other stories.

In the Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King takes place in a fictional version of Earth. More specifically, it takes place in the Kingdom of Delain. Delain is a nice place to live, but there is an evil at work there. An evil whose main goal is to see Delain in ruin and its people dead. That evil is the court magician - Flagg. Flagg is a masterful, though shortsighted (in some respects), villain. In fact, he is the villain lurking in the shadows of nearly every Stephen King book. You can even find him in books where he is not specifically mentioned, if you care to look. He is apparently such a part of Stephen King's imagination that he does not have to write about Flagg to write about Flagg.

In the beginning of In the Eyes of the Dragon, Stephen King introduces his Readers to the Kingdom of Delain, the King of Delain (Roland, but not the Roland that you may be thinking of) and Flagg. Flagg controls Roland as much as he can, coaxing him to choose a wife, though the king is disinterested. Flagg winds up hating the wife Roland chooses and has her killed during the birth of her second child with Roland. As the story unfolds, the Reader begins to see just how evil Flagg is and just how susceptible the two princes - Peter and Thomas - are to his wicked plans.

In the Eyes of a Dragon is packed with intrigue, magic, goodness and evil. There is murder, weakness, redemption, love and power. Basically, there is everything you would want from an Arthuresque novel. The only other bit of Stephen King writing that can compare is the back-story of Roland of Gilead, found in the Dark Tower series.

Shelly Barclay

Puritanism in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne takes place in Puritan Boston, one of the most spiritually and morally restrictive places and religions that have ever existed. In the story, a woman named Hester has been ostracized from the rest of the citizens of Boston because she is an adulteress. She is forced to wear a scarlet letter A on her chest as punishment for her "sin." She refuses to name her lover, but as the book progresses, the reader learns who he is and that his torment may very well be worse than that of Hester.

The obsession with sin in The Scarlet Letter is very Puritan-esque. Nathaniel Hawthorne obviously knew well the oppression and adherence to religious law that marked the Puritan era. However, his main character is not put to death, as Puritan law would have allowed. This is possibly because Nathaniel Hawthorne had no story with Hester dead or because Nathaniel was aware that the law of the Puritans was harsh, but every now and then, a sinner was looked upon with the Puritan version of mercy.

Hawthorne, obviously coming from a later time than that about which he writes, is sympathetic to the two lovers he created. However, he does not paint all sinners in the book in a favorable, sympathetic light - only Hester and her lover. Others he describes as almost demonic in nature. It is rather creepy and when one really thinks about it, Hawthorne probably comes very close to describing how Puritans saw the world. In other words, the characters in The Scarlet Letter saw devils on every corner and demons in the faces of even their loved ones.

The Puritans of Boston are best left to the pages of history and the pages of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The sort of religious tyranny that reigned in Boston was not healthy. If Nathaniel Hawthorne came even close to the moral dilemmas Puritan living presented, then The Scarlet Letter is a frightening book, indeed.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King

Hearts in Atlantis is a story by Stephen King that centers around a trio of young friends who grow up in the pre-Vietnam era. Two of these friends are traumatized by bullies, both from their reality and outside of it, in their youth. The third is traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam and is hurt by the anti-war behavior of one of his friends. All of them lose touch in their adulthood, but they carry the stigma of their relationships and experiences with them through the end of the novel.

The first part of Hearts in Atlantis is the most typical of Stephen King. It is directly connected to his Dark Tower series and contains a lot of the best and worst of people, coupled with the supernatural. This part of the story follows friends Bobby, Carol and Sully-John, but centers around Bobby, his mother and Bobby's elderly friend, Ted. There is something strange about Ted that winds up affecting all of them, save Sully-John. Ted's influence on Bobby and the experiences of the first part of the novel are apparent through Hearts in Atlantis.

The second part of the story is that for which Hearts in Atlantis is named. It follows a group of college students who are destroying their education by playing Hearts religiously. All around them, the world is going to hell. Kids their age are off in Vietnam. Students around them are protesting the war in dangerous ways. This was not as good as the first part. However, it really makes one think about the danger of complacency, as well as the sh*tstorm that was the Vietnam era. Reading Hearts in Atlantis makes you wonder what was scarier, the war or those who protested it. Stephen King shows a real understanding of the duality of war and protestation.

The third part of Hearts in Atlantis follows a man who grew up in the same town as Bobby, Carol and Sully-John. He is punishing himself for something he did when Sully-John, Carol and Bobby were growing up. He is also obviously unwell after spending time in Vietnam with Sully-John. This part also follows Sully-John and how badly he is coping with his P.T.S.D. and hatred for an old friend. Stephen King does a decent job of portraying the evils of PTSD. It is usually hard for those of us who have never suffered it to truly understand. However, I have to say that a combat vet might disagree with me. Nonetheless, it is evident that Stephen gave it his best shot.

The fourth part of Hearts in Atlantis is the culmination of the most important relationships of the novel. It deals with death and unlikely reunions. It is not the most satisfying of endings, but anyone who reads Stephen King enough knows that the end of a book is not necessarily the end of the story. The Dark Tower is still standing, after all.

Shelly Barclay

Book Review: The 39 Clues Book Seven: The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis

The 39 Clues are a children's book series about Dan and Amy Cahill, a brother and sister team are battling their sometimes evil extended family on the quest for the 39 Clues. Whoever wins this scavenger hunt will be the most powerful person in the world, but the question seems to be, at what cost?

The seventh book in the 39 Clues series is The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis. This book, like the other books in the series, takes Dan and Amy to a far off place in search of vague clues, with their family members always on their tail. There is a lot of redundancy in all of these books, but things do get a bit more interesting in The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis.

In the first six books, members of the extended Cahill family make many attempts on Dan and Amy's lives, but in book six and seven, readers start to see that the family is not all bad. However, they are still trying to kill each other in The Viper's Nest, with the exception of Dan and Amy. Characters are finally starting to form less cliché personalities, which is a relief after the first few books in the 39 Clues series.

The Viper's Nest takes Amy and Dan Cahill to South Africa in search of clues left by Winston Churchill and Shaka Zulu. As is typical of the 39 Clues, real history mixes with fictional history to create a rather a mix of interesting and bland clues. The reason I say bland is because some of these clues are ridiculously far-fetched, but this is children's fiction, so we will not be too hard on Peter Lerangis.

Peter Lerangis does manage to create a few suspenseful moments that make the book readable. He also manages to continue the Amy and Dan fight and make up, family members are not to be trusted, but not all the time pattern of the previous books. Personally, I cannot say the pattern is holding up well after having been repeated in the past six books. I am hoping the last three 39 Clues books will change things up a bit. I am starting to feel like it is Groundhog Day, but with a different setting every time I pick up one of these books.

Shelly Barclay