When I first read The Lord of the Rings in junior high, Faramir was probably my favorite character. I admired his quiet faithfulness, humility, courage, and care for others. Moreover, I felt I could relate to him as a younger sibling with an extraordinary, high-achieving older sibling, especially since, at that time, I was battling feelings of insecurity and jealousy and failing to love my older sibling as I ought.
While Faramir wasn’t the only influence in my life that helped me eventually win that battle, he did provide a unique, you could almost say personalized, example for me to imitate. Because I felt a slight resemblance* in our situations, I could discern more clearly the disparity between our characters, and I wanted to cross that divide. I wanted to be like Faramir: caring, courageous, humble, faithful.
This, I believe, is one of the greatest goods a story can do for us. Just as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, virtuous characters say to us readers, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Yes, Christ is our ultimate Example. But sometimes it can be helpful to see pictures of Christ’s example in people a little closer to our time and place.
What would Christ do if he felt weighed down by the pressure of having an extraordinary older sibling? Well, His general character can guide us, but we don’t have an example of Him in that exact situation. Great writers, however, can portray for us what He might have done in any number of specific situations by putting Christlike characters in such circumstances. Tolkien did that for me with Faramir. Faramir sympathized with me, convicted me, and showed me a model of what I could become.
Take another example. Mansfield Park—one of the least well-known of Jane Austen’s six mature novels—was my favorite of hers when I was a teen. I loved the heroine Fanny Price because, like with Faramir, I felt a connection with her. We were both introverted, and neither of us fit in with the culture around us. But at the same time her character was unlike mine in so many ways, and I wanted to be more like her. Her goodness pointed to my selfishness, and I longed to be giving, patient, and discerning like her.
Could Christ’s example have informed my situation? Of course, and it did. But could Fanny speak a little more specifically to the kinds of pressures I felt? to my struggle against trends of behavior, conversation, and fashion, against the desire to fit in where I knew I shouldn’t? Absolutely. Fanny gave me a more tangible picture of what I wanted to become: selfless and gentle, but secure in doing right even when she stood alone. As she imitated Christ, so I wanted to imitate her.
I could list so many more examples of how characters like these gave me models to follow as I clumsily tried to navigate my teens. I loved Edmund Pevensie because, once forgiven and transformed, he became compassionate, steadfast, and noble, and I wanted to be like that. Anne Shirley—a character so unlike me yet so appealing to me—taught me what wonder looked like. Sam Gamgee showed me integrity, pure and tested like gold (yes, I’m allowed multiple role models from LOTR).
These, nearly as much as the real people in my life, have made me who I am, and I’m so grateful for that. Sometimes it’s good for me to remember how much I have needed, and still need, these role models from stories to help guide me on my journey.
Who have been your favorite characters from books? I’d love to hear about the stories that gave you role models to follow!