Doorway Characters

We’ve talked about enchanted doorways that take us into fictional realms of wonder. But the simple truth is, the single most powerful thing that pulls us into a story is the characters. Right? If we meet on page one a character we identify with — someone who feels what we’ve felt, someone who may seem “just like us” on some level — that’s a character we want to go along with.

For the term “doorway characters,” I give full credit to our friend Marquee Movies [not his real name] — you know, the guy who feels a responsibility to always leave Bilbo in a relatively safe place? He came up with this excellent term during an impassioned discussion we were having about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He was talking about how Willow and Xander were such doorway characters, providing a perfect portal through which we tumble headlong into the story.

At the last Blooming Grove Writers’ Conference, fiction workshop leader and author Jim Bennett said, “Character is always the most important thing, because there are only a few plots, but characters are infinite.” It’s true. Can we not name quite a few stories that are often anthologized for college students to focus upon, stories hailed as treasures of our culture, in which very little happens? But their characters are fascinating people, people we feel right along with.

All in all, for me as a writer, characters are my Achilles heel. I’ve never paid enough attention to people, just as Saruman never paid enough attention to animals. I think it partly comes from being an only child. “Others? Who needs others?! Oh, you mean the audience?” So this posting is 1.) fraudulent, since I’m no one to be talking about characters, and 2.) sneaky, because I’m hoping to learn something from you all that will help me write better.

I don’t know if I’ve ever created a “doorway character” with any main character of a story or book, but I would like to introduce you to one minor character that I’m particularly proud of. She’s from the Agondria story “Seawall,” and she’s a lemnach, not a human.

The lemnachs are little women — about half human height — with blue skin and wings like a bat. They are uncivilized, monstrous, and serve a sorcerous old king named Agetychus. (It’s unclear whether he created them or bound an existing race to his service somehow.)

This particular lemnach is named Gehennabel the Reliable. She’s fierce and steady and eats all manner of disgusting things, and the king knows he can depend on her to get the job done. She has a catastrophe of wiry black hair. Her name comes from “Gehenna,” another name for 1.) Hell, or, according to Webster’s, 2.) “a place or state of misery” — and “-bel,” a feminine sort of ending. Here’s an excerpt:

The lemnach had flown farther than ever she’d flown before in her relatively short, toil-laden life. Following the woman-tiger, she’d gone all the way to where the world ended in a Wall across the sea. Somehow she’d avoided all those flying arrows in the humans’ battle, many of which had been aimed at the lemnach, for both armies knew she was no friend of theirs. Gehennabel had watched from the shadows all that had taken place, and then she’d made the long return journey alone.

She’d learned many things in her travels: that hot sand burned the feet; that too much sun burned the skin, even if one’s skin were dark and blue; that most melons in Shandria were sour; that there was very little to eat on Alcyaea, except the gull-droppings which were savory if a bit salty; that the birds of Vorcyra had interesting tales to tell once they got to know you; that the Sunken Land could be dangerous at night; and that lemnachs were entirely unwelcome in Cheleboth. After all, home was best. But one wouldn’t know if one hadn’t gone.

Now her long mission was accomplished. Well, almost accomplished — there remained only to deliver her report. She had good news and bad news, bad news and good. Fluttering in through the window, she hopped and stumbled, borne by her momentum, and rolled heels-over-head along the stone floor. Ah, home! Gehennabel kissed the dank stone and patted it with her palms.

Which news to tell first, the good or the bad? The bad or the good? Which? She clasped her hands and considered deeply as she hurried along. Other lemnachs saw her and raced off in a flurry of wings to tell the king she’d returned. A few paused to scoop up rocks and hurl them at her to show they’d missed her; Hebbenebah the Still Worse swooped onto her back and gave her shoulder an affectionate bite.

She’d tell the bad news first and get it out of the way. Yes, that was how big, wingless people preferred to do things. Fluffing up the fright of her hair, the lemnach composed her wings and peeked around the doorframe into the thronehall.

King Agetychus hunched on his throne, dwarfed by the seat’s high back. The six lemnachs who had arrived first crowded around him, three on the throne’s arms, two on the back, one between the king’s black boots on the floor, rubbing her face against his knees. All the six looked enviously at Gehennabel. The king stretched out a pale hand and anxiously waggled his claws to beckon her forward. “Come, come!” His voice was a hoarse whisper. As the lemnach slinked into the firelit hall, Agetychus coughed violently into a bunched cloth.

He looked bad, even for a Chalybe; his health had clearly gotten much worse while Gehennabel was away. Even before she’d left, he’d taken to sitting here, usually alone, with only the fire for light; he could no longer abide the activity and noise of his grand upper thronehall, the place of many forges. Sad, for the ringing of hammers had once been the sweetest music to his ears.

“Well?” said the king, leaning forward, his dark-rimmed, reddish eyes wide and staring. He reminded the lemnach of a spider she’d eaten not long ago, an old spider shriveled at the edge of her tattered web, her legs curled up upon themselves and no longer able to move. By eating her, Gehennabel had done her a mercy.

“Dear King,” said the lemnach with heartfelt compassion, “I would eat you if I could.”

How’s that? Do you get a feel for lemnachs? I think it would be fun to write a book from the point of view of a lemnach. Gehennabel needs her own book: Confessions of a Lemnach . . . or something.

Anyway, I can think of no better example of doorway characters than those we see in the movie Jaws. Remember that phenomenon that swept our culture back in 1975, the “Summer of the Shark”? I would argue that Jaws is an extremely rare case in which the movie is better than the book that preceded it (the only other example I can think of offhand is Field of Dreams) — and I’d contend that the difference mostly has to do with the characters — well, that, and the focus of the writing. Peter Benchley has said he wrote the book based on the premise, “What if there were a killer shark that wouldn’t go away? What if it staked out a territory right off the coast of one town and just stayed there?” The movie has that premise, too, but into the mix it adds the screenplay, the directing, the incomparable musical score, the heroic efforts of hundreds of people trapped on Martha’s Vineyard for much longer than they wanted to be or were budgeted for — and of course the immortal, inimitable performances of Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw.

Doorway characters: Scheider as Brody is Everyman. He’s us. Two examples, from very early in the film. He’s just woken up, he’s getting ready for a routine day of work, and the phone rings. The Brody household has two phones on the wall, presumably because he’s the chief of police: one phone is the family’s phone, and one is a “police hotline” (that’s what I’m guessing — I don’t know). He picks up the phone that he thinks is ringing (they’re installed one right above the other); he hears only a dial tone, and he pulls the receiver away from his ear and gives it a “What the heck?” look before hanging it up and picking up the other phone, which is the one that’s ringing. Right there, I think, “I know this guy.” I’ve experienced morning chaos, too.

Later, when Brody realizes there’s been a shark attack and he’s doing his job by closing the beaches immediately, he goes into a store to buy paints, brushes, and signboards to make “Beach Closed” signs. He grabs at a brush or two in a canful of brushes on the shelf, and the can topples over, clattering and spilling brushes. Brody winces and tries to catch it. Again, I know him. He’s me. I’ve been there.

Then Dreyfuss as Hooper: who can forget the scene in which he comes uninvited to the Brody household the evening that Brody is depressed because he knows Alex Kintner is dead because Brody gave in to political pressure and didn’t close the beaches? Hooper comes into the kitchen, sits down at the table facing Brody, who hasn’t touched his supper, and Hooper asks, “How was your day?” (He was there earlier when Brody was slapped in the face by Mrs. Kintner, Alex’s mother.) Both men laugh at the irony of the question, and Brody says, “Swell.” Hooper, a scientist who’s come to town alone because of the shark problem and is staying at the hotel, sees the plate of uneaten food and asks, “Is anyone eating this?” Without really waiting for an answer, he pulls it toward himself and begins devouring it as Mrs. Brody dazedly answers, “No.” Awkwardness, comradery, and a stomach that clamors regardless of the crisis at hand — doorway character. That’s a real person, just like us.

And then Quint, the shark fisherman (Robert Shaw): though we glimpse him earlier, his first close-up entrance in the film is during a town council meeting, when the crowded room is in pandemonium, people all talking and arguing at once. To command attention, Quint slowly, agonizingly rakes his fingernails down a chalkboard, on which he’s drawn a shark eating a human victim. It’s a sound that universally sets human nerves on edge. When he has the full attention of everyone in the room, Quint casually eats something (a cracker? — celery? — the debates have been many and furious) as he delivers his offer of his services to catch and kill the shark. This is a character we simply can’t get enough of.

I don’t know of any other film that brings three such different and equally balanced, developed, delightful characters together and then isolates them in an environment (alone together on a boat with only the open ocean and the shark) in which they can interact. They have become archetypes of the “monster panic” genre: the Knowledge Guy (Hooper), the Experience Guy (Quint), and the vulnerable Everyman (Brody), who kills the monster against all odds and lives to tell the tale.

So we come to the question: Who are the greatest doorway characters you’ve met, in film or in written fiction? Who are they, and what did they do that made you tumble through them, deep into the world of the story? (“What did they do?” is the more important part of the question!)

[News: It’s been a fantastic writing week, by God’s grace — great progress on the new book: 2,300 words Thursday, 2,684 Friday, 1,612 today! Oh, and one more thing, in case anyone missed it: it’s worth going back for a look at the comments on the previous post — I responded to them just before writing this, and I had a pretty good story to tell in response to Chris’s!]


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39 Responses to “Doorway Characters”

  1. fsdthreshold Says:

    [This post has been slightly revised to better acknowledge the combined efforts of hundreds and hundreds of people that go into making a movie. I was so eager to talk about the characters in Jaws that I rather made it sound as if they were the whole movie.]

  2. Catherine Says:

    Two! I have two! And of course they’re about the two books that I must needs hype every time I can think of something that remotely connects to them. (There used to be just one of those, but that recently changed.)

    One is the indomitable Jane from _Jane Eyre_. From the beginning she shows that she is a “different” person. In the very first chapter she hides herself behind a curtain and reads a book rather than socialize with the world around her. When she grows to adulthood, her restlessness launches her on the endeavor that makes up a good portion of the plot; and that restlessness is very well described. I really am doing a poor job of exposing it, but it’s very well done.

    The second comes from my new favorite book; _Cry, the Beloved Country_ by Alan Paton. The main character is a black pastor in 1940s South Africa, who in the course of the first few chapters displays a very human range of emotions: worry, hope, despair, prideful boasting, repentance. He goes from his village to Johannesburg to pursue his wayward family; and one of the things he finds is that there is a very young woman, unmarried, who is pregnant by his son. He feels compassion for her and for the unborn child and wishes to help her; yet when he comes to her to ascertain exactly what he can do, his anger at the immorality of it causes him to become very cruel as he lambasts her with accusations. Then he immediately feels terrible about it. It is described so well: something I too have experienced, the angry breaking free of restraints and yelling and almost simultaneously being overcome with guilt. This is just one example. I find myself respecting the pastor despite the times when he shows that he, too, is only human.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Catherine! Thank you! Those are excellent and intriguing descriptions of both characters! I’ve said before that Jane Eyre is in the long, long queue of books I want to read.

      “Queue” is one of the three words I have to look up every single time I need to write them (to check the spelling). The other two are “oubliette” and “oeuvre.” I ought to just write them on a card and tape it to the wall somewhere handy!

      And about Cry, the Beloved Country — I haven’t read the book, but I did see the movie and liked it a lot. James Earl Jones did a fantastic job of portraying that pastor’s range of feelings, both his frailties and his nobility.

      • Chris Says:

        I don’t think it would look very good if you
        had a piece of paper taped up in your office or home
        that read:

        Oubliette Ouvre Queue

        (Although, as they say, that would make a great
        rock music album name.)

        Might make people wonder “Who does Fred have
        queued up for his oubliette?” A “literary hit list”?

  3. Jedibabe Says:

    Though I may be roasted alive for saying so here, I feel like one of the best doorway characters I can think of is Harry Potter. The image of that poor boy living under the stairs in the house of the miserable, dimwitted Dursley family, only to discover he’s a sort of wizarding prince, was just so appealing to me, I had to know more. Who doesn’t recall moments in childhood when they dreamed they’d discover they were actually a Jedi princess dragonrider (ok, that may have just been me) or a fairy, or an elf, or just anything more magical than the monotony of real life?

    So, if I am now to be roasted, I am requesting enough notice to bring marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars. Then light the fires!

    Oh, and Catherine, I agree with you completely about Jane, she pulled me right in too! She was proof that us book worms could have adventures. Jo March was another great example of such a character.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Jedibabe! I was going to assure you you won’t be roasted alive, but Marquee Movies has already done a far better job of it than I ever could — so I’ll simply commend to you the eloquent comment just below this!

  4. Marquee Movies Says:

    Goodness gracious, Jedibabe, I and millions and millions of other readers agree with you, as I’m sure most of this blog’s readers do. Even our host, writer extraordinaire, Fred does, even though his glacial reading pace means he won’t finish the final few books for quite some time. What I love most about the Harry Potter universe is how three outcasts found each other, and formed an undying friendship marked by a loyalty that is pushed again and again to the edges of death itself. Whereas Stephen King puts it so beautifully, “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant,” in the Harry Potter universe, this friendship is eternal. (This is a rare find – one of the joys in reading this blog is finding that Fred has his own circle of friends who, though scattered around the world, still meet here on this blog to remember old times and share new thoughts and experiences. Getting to read the evidence of this loyal friendship as it continues to grow and evolve is a pleasurable and optimistic activity.) As far as labeling the three main characters “outcasts” – that Harry is is obvious – that’s the main point of the first few chapters, and his being an outsider changes and evolves, for better or worse throughout the series. Ron’s is also made pretty clear – as the youngest boy, he feels as though he has a mountain to climb in terms of acheiving any of the praise or notoriety (or just plain attention!) that his many brothers have earned. It’s a very loving family, but quite poor, and he feels that burden more acutely than his siblings do, because of his feelings of inadequacy. (Which obviously prove to be unfounded – but he didn’t learn this lesson immediately with one instance of drama – it takes him years to learn how to stop or slow down those feelings of “not being good enough as…” How fascinating to watch these characters grow and learn at a realistic rate!) But the one that really fascinates me is Hermione – the outcast who has had the least written about her. But from interviews with J.K. Rowling, and by reading between the lines, it seems to be pretty clear that at her old school, the boring public school where she went – NO ONE LIKED HER. She cared passionately about learning, but she probably went to a school where the teachers don’t inspire, where they don’t make any connection between learning and living, and I feel that Hermione cared more about learning than anyone, even the teachers – and therefore was a freak. Sitting alone at lunch, not even the teachers enjoyed having her in class because she kept pestering them for more answers, the students annoyed and even angry with her, making fun of her….. This is an important reason why, when she finds out she’s a witch, she is so delighted. She thinks, Maybe things will be different at this new place – maybe I won’t be so lonely. At Hogwarts, students can clearly see a connection between what is being taught, and what their lives will be. The teachers care passionately about their subjects, and this thrills Hermione like nothing else – but she still never learned how to have friends, how to be a friend. And that’s why her first few months were so terrible for her, with everyone sneering at or ignoring her. But isn’t it interesting to know that even though she STILL had no friends, she wouldn’t give up her love of learning? Many – perhaps most – would have at least considered pretending to not care so much, just to get people to stop scoffing. But this girl never did. And it wasn’t until that scary and terrific scene in the girl’s bathroom, where she had gone to cry, only to face that troll – when Harry and Ron do the right thing and try to save her – she finally sees two boys who care about her. And when she lies to a teacher (!) to keep them out of trouble – she takes another huge step towards learning how to have a friend and be a friend.
    Hermione melts my heart again and again. And note that she never stops being the person who loves to learn, who cares about the rules – and slowly that evolves as well.
    Oh, and there’s magic and dragons and cool candy in the books as well – and it’s all brilliantly told. But those three, and their undying friendship are the gateway into those books. These stories, which have the spectre of death hanging over each and every chapter, teach the reader to honor the friends one has now – to honor the family one has now.
    OK – I’ll stop for now – I just wanted to respond to Jedibabe’s concerns – love who you want to love. While some may disagree on favorites and dislikes, I think here is a place where people won’t be dismissive of other’s thoughts and feelings. And Fred, I am delighted and a bit proud that you used some of what I’ve shared with you, and I have some other specific doorway characters that I’d like to share with the blog. I’ll do that soon. God bless the storytellers, and those who love them!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      That is truly wonderfully said, Marquee Movies! And that’s a powerful core lesson for us writers to learn: let the best of all things, such as love, friendship, and devotion, be at the heart of the story you’re telling, and you can’t miss. Those are what carries the book and gives it lasting value.

      This blog’s readers have affirmed again and again our love for The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down. Are not love and devotion, ultimately, what both those books are about? Frodo takes up his terrible burden for the benefit of others. Frodo has companions who will not abandon him or one another, no matter what. And Hazel and Fiver have such companions, too! (Don’t we all love the line Bigwig says when he’s defending that run against the overwhelming forces of the Efrafans? — a line that makes their lapine jaws drop?)

      P.S. — What I like so much about Gehennabel the Reliable (and there’s an outcast for you! — Lemnachs are pretty much despised wherever they go, which is why they don’t “go” much) is that, in her own skewed way, she actually has very deep affection for King Agetychus, who is a total jerk by anyone’s reckoning.

  5. Jedibabe Says:

    Just for the record (and I should have said this before), I only made the roasting comment because I know that there are a few blog readers here who are NOT fans of HP, or Ewoks for that matter! Harry is quite a popular fellow with a legion of fans and it makes sense that most of us enjoy his stories. My comment was only geared as a rib to those do not!

    Marquee, you have said it much better than I. Thank you for your eloquence!

    • Chris Says:

      I have yet to crack a Harry Potter book. As I said in an
      earlier posting the fact my wife read Harry Potter but has
      yet to pick up Lord of the Ring put immense stress on our
      relationship : )

      Ewoks? That’s a whole ‘nother ballgame. I can pontificate
      at length on the horror that is the Ewok. But I will resist.

      Oh just one little quicky: if I’m not very much mistaken ewoks
      are known to kill puppies only to disembowl them for their
      own sick entertainment. I am pretty sure I read that
      somewhere. Might have been Scientific American or Nature.

      • Shieldmaiden Says:

        I have to thank you Chris for the laugh! I happened to appreciate your rather harsh view of the Ewoks (and for the record I am also not a fan, though I have never felt inclined to bash them). Seriously, I laughed so darn hard that it actually caused pain. Today I am having one of “those” days and I really needed it… again, thanks for cracking me up so entirely.

      • Jedibabe Says:

        I may have heard about the terrible entertainment proclivities of the little bruins, it might have been in the journal Cultural Anthropology, though it could also have been Nature, but we all have our weakness I suppose! I would surrender my lightsaber to the dark lord himself to avoid being subjected to an Ewok tv special ever again.

      • mileposter Says:

        Ewoks? How about Podlings??? (The Dark Crystal, in case you didn’t see the movie.)

  6. Michelle Muenzler Says:

    I know I ought to be focusing on your question of doorway characters, but instead I find myself absolutely fascinated by Gehennabel. Yes, she needs her own wonderful book. 🙂

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thank you, Michelle! I’m glad someone noticed Gehennabel! That comment made my evening, for sure! 🙂

  7. fsdthreshold Says:

    You know, I was thinking more about Marquee Movies’s notes, and I think this is one reason I identify so strongly with Hermione:
    When I was in junior high, I loved The Lord of the Rings long before it was cool for junior-high students to love The Lord of the Rings. I was simply ahead of my time: now that there are movies of LOTR, I’m sure it’s perfectly acceptable. But anyway, in 8th grade language arts class, I remember a particular day when the class discussion turned into a huge debate between me and a guy named Darrin on which was “better,” Tolkien or the Doobie [Dooby?] Brothers. (I can’t even write it with a straight face as an adult, but back then, this was a heated debate! {Talk about comparing apples and oranges!}) In case anyone is in doubt, I was the “Tolkien” advocate. The whole class sided with Darrin. (At least, the ones willing to verbalize opinions did; I’m sure there were a number of shier and/or more sensible folks who thought, “This is a silly debate.”) I remember one girl in particular saying, “Fred likes to read long books, but the rest of us are NORMAL TEENAGERS!” The teacher, Mrs. C. (one of my two favorite teachers between 1st and 12th grades) quickly said, “Fred’s normal!”

    Anyway, you can see why I identify with Hermione. Go, Hermione! Libraries all the way!

    • Chris Says:

      That is an irrational comparison. But that being said,
      the Doobies circa the Michael McDonald years do indeed kick
      a**. There are some immensely great songs in that era.
      Jeff “Skunk” Baxter is also an amazing guitarist (and now he
      consults on missile defense for the Pentagon…no joke).

      (Sorry, I’m on a Steely Dan kick lately on iTunes. Lotsa
      cross-hybridization there).

      As for teenage LotR stories I don’t know if you, Fred, ever
      talked to Mr. Clemens, the history teacher in Jr High in T-ville.
      He was a Tolkien fan as I recall and we talked briefly about
      JRRT once when he noted I was reading it.

      It was strange because Mr. Clemens seemed to have had
      such a bad/weird reputation among the Jr. High kids. His hair
      and clothing style no doubt made matters worse.

      I never did figure out why he was so universally mocked by
      the students. He seemed like a nice enough person, albeit
      perhaps a bit strange.

      • Fred Says:

        Yeah, but are the Doobies better than TOLKIEN?! Heh, heh, heh!
        I had Mr. C. for American history, and I liked him a lot. He told all sorts of anecdotes that made the long-ago people and events come alive.
        I remember one day he spent about 40 minutes of the 50-minute class teaching us how to sail a boat under different wind conditions, drawing elaborate diagrams on the board, etc. Had nothing whatsoever to do with the lesson, but that’s the one class I remember from that year.

  8. I loved Mrs. Carlton Says:

    … the “Mrs. C” of Fred’s 8th grade language arts class. I had her too, but I do not remember being in Fred’s section. If I was, I cannot believe I would have left Fred undefended in his argument, as by then I was reading LOTR. [Fred’s note: No, this commenter wasn’t in my 8th-hour class; he would certainly have backed me up.]
    Mrs. Geraldine Carlton was tough in a good way, a teacher who demanded her students live up to their talents and beyond. She was instrumental in the infant stages of our D ‘n’ D group, and I always wished that, were a book ever written about us, one of the dedications read as follows: “To Mrs. Carlton, who never knew what she started.”
    Sadly, she passed away well before her time a few years later. The loss to the children of our town was incalculable.

    Now, dear Jedibabe, understand that the following is simply my own personal opinion, and in no way is meant to debase anyone: I fart in HP’s general direction and vomit at the mere mention of the word Ewok. As for Hermione, all I know is that Emma Watson has turned out to be a babe :-)=

    About Jaws: my favorite Brody moments are when he tells Hooper “It is only an island if you look at it from the water” and when his wife is explaining his fear of water and she says “There is some kind of name for it” and Martin interrupts with “drowning.” Great lines!

    I echo Michelle in demanding more on the lemnachs, and Gehennabel the Reliable in particular (though I absolutely LOVE the name Hebbenebah the Still Worse — this is one of your all-time bests, Fred!).

    “Because his Chief Rabbit told him so?” and the effect it had … I get chills just thinking about it. God bless the storytellers.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I’ll never forget Mrs. Carlton calling me aside one day and asking, “Have you heard of Dungeons & Dragons?” I answered, “Well, I’ve heard of dungeons, and I’ve heard of dragons, but it sounds like you mean something else.” The rest is history. The minute she explained it to me, I knew. I knew. My fate thereafter would be bound up with this game of unlimited possibility, and where I wanted to be was behind the Dungeon Master’s screen.

      Heh, heh — I’m also quite fond of Hebbenebah the Still Worse! The implication is that there are a “Bad” and a “Worse” in the lineup, too, but we don’t need to hear about them. All the lemnachs have such titles.

      Jaws lines: How about this exchange?
      Ellen: Martin, can you do that?
      Brody: I can do anything I want; I’m the chief of police.

    • Jedibabe Says:

      I knew from the post “Frody Bagger and the Terrible Ring of You-Know-Whom” (which was entirely fabulous!) that if I mentioned Harry on this blog that there would be a commotion… you did not disappoint. I have not felt personally debased in anyway; I’m rather enjoying watching the hornets buzz!

  9. Chris Says:

    As for the Jaws stuff. I, too, was a madman for the original Jaws movie. Imagine my pleasure when a short 15 or so years later I found myself hanging out with folks from Woods Hole (I was working for Columbia University’s oceanography group at the time) and I even got to go to the Wood’s Hole campus! (Hooper was from Wood’s Hole).

    Now my wife gets to work with a lot of folks from Wood’s Hole (She works for Scripps Oceanography).

    Yet somehow neither of us seem as “cool” as Hooper. Maybe it’s the beard.

  10. I loved Mrs. Carlton Says:

    It could be that none of you has had your skiff torn apart by a four-foot thresher shark.
    “You got city hands, Mr. Hooper.”

    As for Steely Dan and the Doobies, both were great groups. I still enjoy listening to Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly” album, c. 1980.

    And I do think it was Scientific American that had the piece on the Ewoks. I seem to remember something about the burning of pre-weaned kittens as well.
    Amazingly, it was in that same edition that Princeton’s Dr. Eduard Salmsamet first argued that anyone who read LOTR and did not think it THE masterpiece of fantasy/fiction was likely to have voted Carter in 1980.

    • Chris Says:

      Apologies to Fred for the derail, but I must concur wholeheartedly on the “Nightfly” album. I got that back when it came out and really liked it. I had it on almost continuously for the better part of 6 months.

      Today I just downloaded “Pretzel Logic” on iTunes. If anyone here hasn’t heard Steely Dan’s version of Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” you should definitely do so!

      Now I return you back to the previous discussion. Sharks I believe it was?

  11. Kyran Says:

    First let me just say I love Gehennabel. She may be supposedly creepy and disgusting, but I’m sure she’s gonna be one of my favorite characters from that story, which I CAN NOT wait to read! ^_^

    I do not know if anyone here has read the Airborne Trilogy, but Matt Cruse and Nadira are two of my favorite doorway characters. At the beginning of Airborne (the first book) Matt is just a cabin boy, atop an airship called the Aurora, who wants to be something more. The beginning of the story really pulls you in because it makes you want to know more about Matt and the passenger, Kate de Vries, who takes a keen interest in him. Matt wants to be something more than he is both because he loves being on an airship, but also because of his father’s influence, both feelings that I’m sure some of us can appreciate. When he finally has a chance to go up in rank, instead a rich kid named Bruce Lunardi gets the position, despite the fact that Matt worked much harder to get there. After this he is angry and frustrated, two emotions I’m sure all of us have experienced and I really understood. I also love Nadira, who does not appear till the second book. She is a mysterious (and also exceedingly beautiful:) ) Roma girl who first saves Matt’s life and then claims she has something he needs. I will not spoil the story for those who did not read the book but I will say that she is more then she seems, and I for one wanted to know more about her from the beginning of the book and for me she was the “doorway character” who pulled me back into the story and made me want to know more when I started the second book.

    Now I’m almost positive no one here (besides my sister) has read this, because it doesn’t seem like any of you read manga :] Full Moon o Sagashite (which is one of my favorite mangas of all time) has a main character that really pulled me in. The main character of the manga, Mitsuki, has a rare lung disease and has to have her vocal cords taken out if she wants to survive. But if she gets her vocal cords removed she will be unable to talk, but more importantly sing. Mitsuki had wanted to be a singer since she was very little (for reasons I won’t reveal ^_^) and when the doctor told her she had to get her vocal cords removed or she would die, she defiantly said she was “more afraid of being unable to sing than dying.” I admired the courage she had to say something like that and really wanted to know more about her, why she might have such defiance, and how far she would go to make her dreams come true. (I’ll warn you here, DO NOT watch the anime of this manga, it pales in comparison and is nothing like it)

    I hope my comment might have gotten some of you interested in reading these books and manga.

    I’ll say it once more, I loved Gehennabel and really want to read more about her. Also, I wanted to add, Fred, I think you are completely wrong when you say you’re not good at creating characters. Some of them could use more development but the characters you create are so original that it makes up for it. Dragonfly has some of my favorite characters of all time, and the only reason I didn’t talk about them here is ’cause I’m sure it would just be repeating everyone’s thoughts. ^^

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Kyran! This is a great comment! I really appreciate your support of Gehennabel! (I should warn you that she’s a very minor character in the story. But I would like to write a lot more about her. . . .)

      I’m not sure how many voracious readers of manga are reading this blog (I suspect there may be some), but I know several regulars here love graphic novels. I grew up reading a lot of American comic books (which I know have very little in common with manga). I am aware of how deep, complex, and well-written many manga are. Manga is a fascinating medium — it’s an art form that has developed along somewhat different lines from fiction writing (though of course it shares many elements with fiction). There are some stories best told in the manga format, and I know there are things that can be done using the manga page that can’t be done anywhere else. I wish you could see how enormous the manga sections are in Japanese bookstores! There’s aisle after aisle, thousands and thousands of different manga! So if a person wanted to be a manga writer/artist, there’s a lot of competition, but there’s also a vast market and all sorts of opportunity.

      The Airborne books are also in my queue (I didn’t have to look it up that time! This is a historic moment!). And Mitsuki sounds like a doorway character, all right!

      Thanks for your kind words about the characters in Dragonfly! Yes: I need to work on developing my characters more.

      Thanks again for your excellent comment!

  12. I loved Mrs. Carlton Says:

    I am not sure if I have ever encountered manga, but I DO know that I have a tremendous dislike for anime.

    Sometimes there are anti-doorway characters. Thomas Covenant comes to mind. He is, of course, the one (forget Hile Troy and the sickening Linden Avery) who moves between the ‘real world’ and ‘the Land’ but I found myself reading Donaldson’s two trilogies more to see what happend to the sunofa… rather that out of actually caring for the character, which was probably the author’s intent all along.

    • Kyran Says:

      Replying to this is very off topic but I wanted to ask anyway ^^

      why do you dislike anime? 😦 I’m just curious cause I’ve heard this from many people and when I persist they usually end up saying they have never seen anime or they’ve seen the wrong kind. Just like movies and dramas there’s a lot of bad anime but also a lot of totally awesome ones.

      • Chris Says:

        Personally, and I don’t speak for “I L M C”, but I agree with
        him. I dislike anime and manga if only because I dislike the “style” of
        the artwork.

        I dislike the look of the drawings. The exxaggerated eyes,
        the shape of the heads, the lifeless “helmet of hair” on some

        I recognize there is far more to when you get down into it,
        and I do like some Japanese animation, but anime as
        presented here in the U.S. that I see, I almost universally

        For me it is a visual style I object to. In the same way I
        greatly dislike some comic strips like “User Friendly”.

  13. SwordLily Says:

    There are so many kinds of “doorway charecters” but they can be split into two main categories, those and pull you into the story and those and keep you there. (This kind of includes all characters but if you get down to it, every characters opens a different kind of doorway, ^^;)

    Those main characters that have traits a person can relate to are the ones that first pull someone into that first great decorated doorway of a story. In the first scene of the book “Ring of Endless Light” the protagonist Vicky is at the funeral of a a good friend of her family. But instead of the scene being only one of grief it was the moment where she first saw “him”. He was standing next to her brother so she had a hope of seeing him again. She didn’t even know his name, but she knew liked him. This scene was the start of a story about great lose and the wonder and hope that can come with it if you can find your way beyond the pain. Vicky is learning about how growing up can make the road of life difficult, but also how beautiful the scenery becomes after this transition. I read this book for the first time when I was barely eleven, I think. I loved it, but didn’t understand it at all. I read it at lest two more times during my teens and it always had words of wisdom for me. Now that I think about it, it’s about time to read that book again ^_^. Vicky is a “doorway character” who pulls me into her book again and again because she sees things in a way I can understand. I always leave this book with hope for this word in spite of it’s faults. (note: this book is in a series but you don’t have to read the other books to enjoy this one. I only found out about the other books after I read Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle twice and loved it each time)

    Vicky is a main character who pulls you into a story; then there are the characters that keep you there. You know, those funny, interesting, or just plain mysterious side characters that make the story a world you would like to visit (if not live in ^_^). Those kind of characters have kept me reading books where the protagonist in almost unbearably annoying (in order to keep the story going, but still -_-). I have read at lest one book where I simply detested the main character, but the book became one of my favorites because of wonderful side characters. Mentors,friends, semi-antagonists, sidekicks, that random person you met on the road, these are all characters who keep the reader opening those many doors that make up a good story.

    I really could go on and on about what kind of characters make a good book but I don’t want to go off topic here (I’m sort on pocket change at the moment ^_^) so I’ll end with an agreement with Kyran that Fred makes wonderful characters, the Star Shard and Dragonfly have become two of my favorite stories because of the characters (and the plots and the brilliant writing :))

  14. Daylily Says:

    Shasta is a good doorway character for _The Horse and His Boy_ (Book 5 in the Chronicles of Narnia). By page seven, the reader has learned that Shasta has a yearning for adventure, that he lives a hard life, and that the man he calls Father plans to sell him into slavery. It is easy to be drawn into Shasta’s story, watching him meet challenges and grow and develop as a character.

  15. Shieldmaiden Says:

    There are so many great “doorway characters” that it is hard to think of just one. I have tumbled into OZ through Dorothy, and through the wardrobe with Lucy, or decided it was better to die in Narnia than to grow old and useless back home with Jill. But for this post I think I will have to go with Margaret Hale from the novel North and South written by Elizabeth Gaskell. Set in England, this is the story of a young woman from the rural South who leaves her beloved town of Helston, and with her family moves to the smoky grayness of the industrial town of Milton-Northern. It was published in book form in 1855 and originally appeared as a twenty-two-part weekly serial. It definitely has the “oldness factor” Catherine has mentioned before, but is such an enjoyable read. This story has many of the same ingredients as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but there is a whole secondary plot that makes it a completely different novel.

    The story follows Margaret’s life over a three-year period, where she experiences in that first year and a half incredible loss of what she had always known. I think what makes her such a great doorway character is that the reader can always see the choice she has before her in how she will respond to the circumstances that seem to crash in upon her. Margaret, like Joe March and Jane Eyre, as well as Hermione it seems (who I have not yet read) loves books and learning. [Oh, okay, I have to also throw Belle (from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) into this adventurous band of book worms.] Throughout the book Margaret finds answers and understanding to the situations she is facing through passages she knows by heart. The poetry, books, and sacred literature she quotes from reveal the intimate workings of her heart and mind.

    One night, when all her hopes had vanished, she lay awake in the room that had been the day nursery of her youth, thinking and remembering just when childhood merged into girlhood and her first feelings of conscience had been awakened, and the promise she had made to herself: “to live as brave and noble a life as any heroine she ever read or heard of… it had seemed to her then that she had only to will, and such a life would be accomplished. And now she had learnt that not only to will, but also to pray, was a necessary condition in the truly heroic. Trusting to herself, she had fallen. …she was afresh taught by death what life should be…. …straight alone where she stood, in the presence of God, she prayed that she might have strength to speak and act the truth for evermore. …She had learnt, in those solemn hours of thought, that she herself must one day answer for her own life, and what she had done with it.”

    The question at hand: “What did she do?”

    I think what makes this Victorian heroine a favorite character to tumble headlong into the story through is that she is good, and that all the choices available before her would have been good ones. But she doesn’t settle for acceptable, she decides to make her life all that it can be, regardless of what happens to her or what is lost. She is an exceptional character with a great inner force, who had plenty of opportunity to allow the course of her life to become shaped by the events that occurred. It would have been perfectly acceptable (and in fact expected) in her society to have fallen into a role that for Margaret would have been void of her own dreams, but could possibly have offered her a certain degree of happiness. Although she does require some time to regroup, she never caves and she finds the strength necessary to continue to rise to the occasion that is her life.

    She shows us that we can certainly be the hero in our own lives.

    I know my comments are always VERY long… this is what I do for fun. Thank you for listening to my ramblings. Marquee Movies: I loved your comment on loving who we love! And, what a great concept doorway characters are! I am eager to read some of the other specific doorway characters that you mentioned you’d be sharing with the blog… I know I for one am standing by. SwordLily: I loved your comment about the characters that keep you there! Eowyn and Faramir (not the movie one) are definitely “keep you there characters” for me and some of my favorites ever written (even if they hadn’t ended up together). And Fred: Jedibabe and I had a great conversation about the lemnach Gehennabel on the first day you posted. I am sure it is an odd comment, but we both absolutely loved the line that described her “catastrophe of wiry black hair.” She is a fascinating character… more! [now back to sharks]

  16. Chris Says:

    You know for the past several days I’ve been unable to get the name “Gehennabel” outta my head. Even though I took some time to read through the entire “section” on Gehennabel, the first couple of lines describing her and her predilections were almost immediate “hooks”.

    And that is probably what a “Doorway character” should be. The name, the strange “tastes”, the skewed view of the world and what is good or bad are fantastic! This is the kind of story or even book I would grab in a heartbeat! Especially if infused with the kind of naive “this is normal, right?” kind of view from her P.O.V.

    This is an almost perfect “Mr. Chris Favored Anti-Hero”. Two to four thumbs up!

    (I think what fascinates me about her is the relative level of evil but not quite really evil aspects about her. And the fact that she has the kind of tastes I equate to my dogs. Another lovable creature that seems to revel in only the most vile but you still wind up really caring about ’em.

    Bravo. Let us know when you are to publish this!!!!

  17. I loved Mrs. Carlton Says:

    Thanks to Chris for explaining his reasons for dislikng anime and manga. Mine almost exactly mirror his.
    I would add that I do not like the herky-jerky movements, the poorly drawn mouths, the color palatte (sp) and concur that the eyes are ridiculous in a bad way. You want animation? Check out 1935-1970 Disney, or — my favorite — the work of geniuses Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and others at Warner Bros.
    Shieldmaiden: Thanks for mentioning Eowyn and Faramir — I love them (in the books) too. I recall reading somewhere that JRR himself once said that of all the characters he most fancied himself as Faramir. “Maybe you sense from afar the air of Numenor…”
    Aside from ruining the penultimate moment at the Crack of Doom, the worst thing Jackson did was destroy the character of Faramir.

    • Shieldmaiden Says:

      I loved Mrs. Carlton: I have also read the same thing somewhere, that of his characters, Faramir resembled Tolkien most. [Gotta love Wiki, here it is; “As far as any character is ‘like me’, it is Faramir”] I still can’t believe the changes made to his character in the movie version… I am still not over it. And I love those movies! I even liked Miranda Otto in her roll, though she is not the same Eowyn as in the book. And you are very right, if you want to experience that moment at the Crack of Doom, again you will have to read the book. I am ok with all that, not thrilled, but ok… BUT WHY did they have to destroy the beautiful character of Faramir… why? [end of rant]

    • Kyran Says:

      Thank you for telling me your reasons, both Mrs. Carlton and Chris. ^^ It maybe that you guys just don’t like anime, which I thought wasn’t possible :] But if the anime you have seen is american, or anything close to “User Friendly” you have the wrong impression. In my opinion that comic is super ugly and I only looked at it for two seconds before closing the page.

      If you want to see real anime, good anime, you really have to look for it, cause in american everyone seems to like the worst anime out there >_>

      I agree fully with Chris on the way he described Gehennabel. I don’t think anyone could have done a better job of expressing how she “pulls you into the story.” ^_^

      sorry about going off topic again Fred =)

      • Chris Says:

        I should clarify, I don’t think User Friendly is anime or manga,
        I merely mentioned it as a cartoon style I dislike because
        of the “style” of the art.

        Sorry for any unclarity.

  18. I loved Mrs. Carlton Says:

    A few final points: Donald Fagen’s Nightfly was released in 1982 (several great live performances are on youtube, Chris!)

    While I have never heard of User Friendly i still dislike anime and am not all convinced that viewing “real” anime would change my mind. I don’t like Chinese food, and even if I were eating in the best joint in Hong Kong I STILL wouldn’t like it, Sam-I-Am. Same thing with anime.

    Add while we are off topic: Shieldmaiden — Didn’t it just break your heart in Eowyn’s penultimate moment that they just did not go, WORD FOR BLOODY WORD, from the book?!?!?! “Be gone, foul dwimmerlaik …”
    The main culprit, far and away, is Phillipa Boyens, who totally destroyed the Aragorn back story by turning him into some petulant reluctant heir with no self-confidence.

    • Shieldmaiden Says:

      YES, yes it did! Those are stronger words than I would have used to describe my broken heart. It is good to know I am not alone in my sorrow, which I am sure will only be greater after I read The Silmarillion this summer! Now back to the topic…

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