Today I’d like to talk about a phenomenon I’ve noticed while reading several books over the course of my life so far: what (for the sake of brevity) I’ll call “falling in love with a fictional character.” My focus is less on what this involves; instead, I’m particularly interested in exploring why it happens with some characters and not others.
This usually happens for me when the book has a male point-of-view character and has a romantic plot or subplot between that character and a major female character. Several recent books by Lois McMaster Bujold are good examples of this, including The Curse of Chalion, A Civil Campaign, and the first volumes of the Sharing Knife series. Except for the point-of-view qualifier, The Lord of the Rings fits in this category too. And I know I’ve read several others that fit in this category, but I can’t think of them now.
A second, related, category of books that cause this phenomenon is books with a female point-of-view character romantically linked to a major male character, provided the male lead is described in terms that make me identify with him. Perhaps the canonical example is Pride and Prejudice, but Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night is another good example.
And then there are the books with female protagonists drawn in such appealing terms that the effect is hardly avoidable. When I read (and reread, over and over) the Narnia series in elementary school, for example, I “fell in love” (in a childish fashion, of course) with Lucy Pevensie. Some of Tamora Pierce’s heroines are similarly appealing, as is Faris Nallaneen of Caroline Stevermer’s College of Magics.
One outlier in my experience—which is perhaps the main reason I wanted to write this post—is Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series. Until the last two or three books in the series, it seemed overwhelmingly obvious to me that (to use the model I’ve built up here so far) the Harry Potter series fit in the first category above: that Rowling was subtly describing her point-of-view character and protagonist falling in love with the female lead. When the story turned abruptly in an incompatible direction, this drove me to prefer fan fiction.
Have you experienced this phenomenon? Do you have any explanations for it? Or any other comments?