Okay, first, I have to say that this is a ridiculous question and thus a ridiculous topic for a blog. But someone asked me this and so I’m going to answer it because I absolutely love this question even though it’s a tough for me to answer. Because I’m what my English mother used to call a flibbertigibbet – meaning scatterbrained. I tend to be interested in many things – some would say too many – and am always jumping from one thing to another. Often. So finding one character? One book? Not so easy.
I’m tempted to go with Stuart Redman from Stephen King’s The Stand but I don’t think I will because he’s madly in love with Frannie and, besides, I don’t want to live in that post apocalyptic world. And then there are the male characters I loved as a teenager – from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – yeah, yeah, I know how pathetic this is, but I was a teenager, remember?. Besides, this won’t work because I seemed to have loved all of them equally and tended to jump between John Galt and Ragnar Danneskjöld and Francisco D’Anconia – if I could have all three, maybe they are who I’d choose. Even though I’ve gone off Rand’s philosophy, I still love those men.
But I think I’m going to go with a character from a childhood favorite – Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind the Willows. I’m doing this for two reasons. When I first read this book, I fell in love with not just the characters, but the setting. I’d never been to England at that point, though my mother and aunts and granny had talked about it all the time as they all came over in the early 1950s. But from the moment I read the book, I was in love and when I finally, many years later, actually went to England, everything I’d read in Wind of the Willows was true of the England I found. The other reason is the Water Rat aka Ratty. The Rat isn’t a rat but a water vole, a whole other creature. The other characters are fine but I fell in love with Ratty. And when I read the book again – just this week so I could write this blog – I remembered all the reasons why.
Ratty is big-hearted, generous, warm, caring, and smart. He loves the world he lives in – a small English river and its surrounding woods and meadows – and he understands it better than anyone else. He watches out for his friends and their children. He understands how the world around him works and what’s good and what’s not so good in it though he doesn’t judge the world or the animals in it. They are who they are or what they are.
Even more than this, though, I’m going with the Rat because he knows so much about his world, about the small part of it he lives in. I want to spend the summer solstice with him, the longest day of the year. I want to go on the river with him and meet the Otter and Mr. Badger and Toad of Toad Hall. I want to spend time with Mole as he discovers the river. I want to be with Rat when he and the Badger and Mole save Toad’s home from the weasels and the stoats. I want to sit with the Rat by the river and listen to the strange rat as he speaks of his adventures from Constantinople to Norway.
I want to have all my senses alive and awake as I wander through the English countryside with Rat at my side, explaining to me all I experience. I want to stroll through the night in the Wild Wood knowing that because I’m with the Water Rat nothing can happen to me.
I want the Water Rat’s England in my head, in all of my senses. I want to get over the “divine discontent and longing” I feel (as the Mole does as the very beginning of the book) when I read the book. I want to be part of that world.
So that’s what I’d do. I’d spend my day and my night with Kenneth Grahame’s Water Rat and get to know, as Shakespeare says so much better than I:
this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This is how Kenneth Grahame sees the Water Rat’s world and this is the world I want to live in, just for those few hours.
So who’s yours?