Imaginary Friends

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a tee-shirt that said something like “I Mourn the Deaths of Fictional Characters.”   Even at the time I saw it, it made an impression.  Now, a week and a bit after the death of David Bowie, after reading numerous thoughtful and emotionally charged pieces that included some variation of “I never met him but…,” I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact that fictional characters – whether in print, or on film, or even celebrities with whom we feel a genuine connection – can have on a person.

Old Friends

Old Friends

Maybe because I was really shy as a kid and because I didn’t have many “real” friends until high school, some of the people who made the biggest impact on me didn’t exist.  My role models weren’t older kids or adults or teachers, but were fictional characters.

The first place I found these imaginary friends was in books.  While I read some of the standards of my day – I quite liked Nancy Drew, for example – my favorites were a little on the fringe.  It won’t surprise anyone who knows my work that both Mowgli and Tarzan were hugely appealing – not so much for themselves, as for the worlds in which they lived, where animals and humans lived side-by-side.  Tarzan may have been the Lord of the Beasts, but it was Mowgli, whose title “Master of the Jungle” was often used ironically, who was my favorite.

I also loved many of the “classics,” The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, The Princess and the Goblins and The Princess and Curdie, the Mary Poppins books, some of the Walter Farley “horse” books – although I preferred Flame, the Island Stallion, to the Black.

I read both adult mysteries and westerns fairly young as well, and I factored characters like Louis L’Amour’s Sacketts and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple (and to a less extent Poiroit), into the group of fictional people who became friends, mentors, and role models.

Oh… And, of course, I was reading SF/F as well, this built up from a foundation of mythology.

I could keep on listing titles, but I’ll stop here because a list of titles does little to say why these books meant so much to me.

So why did they?  Well, especially for a kid without many friends, books showed me the “insides” of people: thoughts and dreams, ways of working through problems, values that both differed from the ones I encountered in my home and school, and that reinforced those values.

Going back to that tee-shirt, I think mourning for fictional characters is completely genuine, because you get to know them far more intimately than you do most of the people in your lives.   The story lets you in, past the façade, past the defenses, past the fictional versions of themselves that are all most people let you know about them anyhow.

That’s a creepy thought, isn’t it?  That most of our relationships are, in fact, with fictional characters?  It’s just that some of these fictional characters think they’re “real.”

But going back to actual fictional characters, in my tweens and teens, I found some more new friends via television.  (My parents didn’t forbid TV; we just didn’t watch a lot of it when I was small.)  Movies didn’t play a big role in my imaginative life, because I saw very few during those years when I was hungry for company.  However, especially once I was babysitting, late night re-runs introduced me to the Mission Impossible team, various cop shows, and, permitted me to fill in episodes of Star Trek.  From there, it was a quick jump to some of the popular shows of the day, especially those with an SF vibe like The Six Million Dollar Man.

I think a lot of the appeal of media tie-in fiction is that, like print media in general, it can let you further inside a character.  You’re not left guessing at what they think or what motivated an action.  You know, because you’re inside their head and they’re telling you.  Very early Star Trek tie-in fiction, including Alan Dean Foster’s adaptations of the animated episodes and James Blish’s adaptations of the main series episodes, fleshed out why the characters did what they did.  The occasional bits of backstory were an added bonus.

Stories remain important to me, even though these days it’s more rare for me to find a new “friend” on the pages or the screen.  Nonetheless, it happens.  An added pleasure has been sharing some of my old friends with Jim, and meeting some of his.

So what fictional characters have become your friends, mentors, or exemplars?  Who would you want to introduce to your “real” friends?  Do you mourn the deaths of fictional characters?


14 Responses to “Imaginary Friends”

  1. David Dunham Says:

    This doesn’t really address your question, but t still can’t get over why everyone loved the idea that Spock died in Star Trek II. The more I read comics and graphic novels, the more I realize how the publishers kill off their major characters every few years. The comics and Sci-fi genres (TV, movies, media tie-ins) are also replete with examples of characters being resurrected, in a way that more literary SF and Fantasy authors rarely indulge. Fans of the former genres are clearly fascinated by death. They want all their favorite heroes to have a “good death.” But then, they want them to overcome that ultimate barrier too.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      How about Sherlock Holmes? And, if you watch old serials, the hero seems to die just about every episode, only to narrowly escape in the end.

      One could argue that SF/F is following a venerable tradition of resurrected gods and heroes.

      • David Dunham Says:

        There’s a difference between dying, and appearing to die.

      • Jane Lindskold Says:

        Agreed, but Doyle meant Holmes to have died and did a save from audience protest, not unlike Spock’s resurrection, which was in reaction to audience protest.

      • David Dunham Says:

        I won’t comment on another author’s intentions. As to his public statements, that’s my understanding too. But with Doyle, often The End wasn’t The End. In The Final Problem, Watson puts together clues to assess a given situation. Yet we also know, from many Holmes stories, that Watson’s conclusions often prove inaccurate. Also, Doyle often leaves a villain’s demise uncertain. For example, in Hound, Stapleton’s fate is left ambiguous. He may have lived. Yet the last two TV adaptations I’ve seen show Stapleton dying.

        In any case, the point of my comment was that most viewers and readers (at least in the genres I cited) are fascinated with seeing their greatest, fondest heroes die. That is most definitely a desire I do not share. For me, great characters are great because they are crafted with an author’s love and care. Because they leap off the page, or off the screen, and thus into our hearts, they become a part of us. The last thing I want to see is for them to die. Appear to die, fine. Die off the page, in ambiguous fashion, fine. But actually see my favorite character die, and experience it vicariously? Absolutely not!

        BTW, I love your comment about SF/F following on the traditions, myths, and legends of the classic gods and heroes. Very cool.

  2. henrietta abeyta Says:

    Hello it’s Henrietta’s granddaughter Jasmine Olson again dear Jane. Most of my imaginary friends come from Disney’s movies. Fiction wolves have helped me distinguish trickery and freedom as well as politeness and protection. With Blind Seer it’s sensible talking he’s helped me picture dear Jane, why he speaks the way he does to help FIREKEEPER has been clear to me through the whole FIREKEEPER SAGA Jane. Judgment , expressions, self-discipline, Blind Seer has sure been a helpful character for me Jasmine Olson, Thanks.

    I have sincere mercy (thankfulness) about the support Blind Seer gave me dear Jane he is one of the fiction wolves who has helped me lessen quandaries, and not feel afraid to try communicating independently. This is Blind Seer’s character fan Jasmine Olson in UT. who is pleased with how much Blind Seer has helped her see the importance of STEADINESS WHETHER ACTING OR TALKING.

    I’m not only Blind Seer’s character fan I have a very simple time portraying wolves and getting regaled by several of their tales. JASMINE OLSON.

  3. Paul Says:

    I almost hesitate to admit what imaginary characters shaped my early grade school values… Comic books, where Superman and others made me aware of racial prejudice among other ills… Little B-westerns where the hero never took unfair advantage, didn’t smoke or drink, ignored the stares from bartenders and barflies when ordering milk… The only way you’d see stuff like that today would be in a campy or satirical movie.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Good point!

      And I like that some of the actors — Roy Rogers immediately springs to mind — decided that being responsible role models applied to life off the screen as well as on!

  4. henrietta abeyta Says:

    PLEASED TO SEE YOU LIKED MY FIRM THOUGHTS OF BLIND SEER AND FIREKEEPER JANE. Another thing to say is since I have 3 disabilities to deal with FIREKEEPER SAGA it may be my only long young adult book collection, I’m much more into the types of adventures you have FIREKEEPER going on than any romance book Jane. DISNEY SONY 20TH CENTURY UNIVERSAL these are a few of the brand names I’ve got the biggest collections of. But enjoy stories of old times like THE LAST UNICORN too however

    SHERRIFF WOODY PRIDE in WOODY’S ROUNDUP and TOY STORY. he’s a loyal character who’s an imaginary friend of mine, in fact it’s such a sincere friendship that I felt forced to buy a doll of him.

    FAOLAN he’s a fiction wolf who helped me overcome getting bullied or teased so daily at school. through his long story he has similar issues. But at the end he’s the top leader he’s a FENGO. FAOLAN guides the lucky pack members as they’re crossing icy lands.

    DISNEY’S ROBIN HOOD a fox who’s friends with a bear

    BALOO he’s an entertaining bear in the JUNGLE BOOK movie of DISNEY’S forget about your worries and your strives.

    in OPEN SEASON BOOG is another fun bear.

    I like the last unicorn’s story.

    Like your Blind Seer character I also like a female fiction wolf named Odessa who helps a girl in THE LANDS OF ELYON.

    I like SHREK’S animated movies with PRINCESS FIONA.

    I sure like Stanley a green thumbed troll in a troll in central park and the gray rock color trolls in FROZEN.

    I like the adult movie DANCES WITH WOLVES.

    ALEU she’s one of my favorite wolves in BALTO’S MOVIES.

    I like Kiara in the LION KING 2.

    I like Jane who helps TARZAN in DISNEY’S COLLECTION.

    Belle’s my favorite DISNEY PRINCESS when think of older girls and MERIDA AND RAPUNZEL are two of my favorite younger PRINCESS.

    I enjoy HUBIE AND MARINA in the pebble and the penguin movie.


  5. henrietta abeyta Says:

    indeed dear Jane I may have my disabilities but I’m able to be loyal and flexible in my attitude, office stuff and libraries I can volunteer in helping with organizations and sorting skillfully. I function enough to tutor or be a buddy of the low functioning disabled ones who struggle on basic elementary.

    I knew enough information about manners through school to not always get pressed by others I just had social skill quandaries mostly. Reading is a top hobby of mine Jane. Music is my other most repeated hobby.

    Full of wealth and big on peace


  6. CBI Says:

    I first started reading The Lord of the Rings the summer before my freshman year of college. I’d already moved to Austin, and the semester was just about to begin, and I was reading of Frodo and Sam in Cirith Ungol.

    Then Shelob attacked and killed Frodo, and Sam was left to journey on. I still remember the sadness I felt as I put the book down, and stopped reading.

    A day or two later, I chanced upon some grafitti: “Frodo Lives!” That was uplifting enough that I returned to the book and found, yes, Frodo lived.

    A person can get really involved in good literature. It’s probably more so for high-school and college-aged people, but, yes, it is real.

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