A Dinner Party With… Five Literary Characters

Everyone loves a good dinner party, but perhaps the best dinner party in the world would be one where you get to invite your five favourite protagonists from books you love. Here’s who I’d choose and why… [warning: some spoilers be here.]

1. Bokonon from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle

Bokonon is the founder of the religion Bokononism, one of the main topics of Vonnegut’s novel. He was born Lionel Boyd Johnson, but after becoming stranded on the island of San Lorenzo, decided to change his name, renounce Christianity and found Bokononism, a religion that is based on the assumption that all religions are false. The first words of the Books of Bokonon are ‘All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies’.

Vonnegut was a notable humanist, and all of his novels contain a distinctly secular voice that raises awareness of the dangers of dogmatic beliefs in everything from religion to capitalism, forcing the reader to cynically question the established belief systems of western society. Bokonon is the perfect symbol of Vonnegut’s imagination, being both a religious leader and a parody of one.

He’s also one of the most likeable of Vonnegut’s characters in that, unlike the often passive and undetermined anti-heroes of his other texts, Bokonon proactively shapes his own life and destiny, as well as those of hundreds of others on the island.

2. The Weaver from China Miéville‘s Perdido Street Station

There aren’t many Miéville characters you’d want to invite to dinner. Most of them are either dishonest or insane, and you’d be lucky if you ended up surviving the evening. The same goes for the Weaver, of course, but the experience may be so inexplicably bizarre and entertaining it’d be worth the risk. The Weaver is a giant pandimensional black spider that ‘weaves’ the fabric of reality up into attractive patterns. It is not constrained by any human impulses, such as kindness, morality or logic: its actions are based solely on what it thinks will improve the quality of the weave.

The Weaver walks on four of its legs and uses the other four as ‘arms’; one pair forming deadly sharp pincers that can kill you in an instant, the other pair looking almost human (although an insect black), with two creepy child-like hands. Because of its extra-dimensional nature, the Weaver does not think or communicate like we do, instead forming a sort of sing-song stream of consciousness, metaphor and allegory that is extremely difficult to follow but fascinatingly horrible to listen to.

It’d be unlikely that my other guests would survive dinner with the Weaver, and they would at least expect to lose a body part or two (whatever makes the weave pretty), but maybe parlaying with a creature from another dimension would be reward enough.

3. Dirk Gently from Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul

Any science fiction fan worth their salt loves Douglas Adams. I remember listening to the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show in the car when I was a kid, then I picked up the novels and loved them even more. Both the TV and film versions I always found a little disappointing, largely because Douglas Adams’ voice sounds funnier in my head than it ever did being voiced by actors. Life, the Universe and Everything, the third novel of the inaccurately named five-book trilogy was always my favourite, mainly because it was about cricket.

As much as I love the Guide, I think Adams’ lesser known Dirk Gently novels are even better. The first novel, described as a ‘thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic’, is particularly clever, combining complex ideas about science, music and literature to create a darkly comic fantasy full of engaging and quirky characters. Not least of these is the eponymous Dirk Gently, a thoroughly eccentric chap who runs a bizarre detective agency in Cambridge.

Gently’s detecting methods are based on a holistic interpretation of the universe – that is, the belief that all things are interconnected. This methodology means that Gently is frequently seen paying close attention to seemingly trivial and obscure details, such as why sofas get stuck on staircases, what The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is really about, and what that horse is doing in the upstairs bathroom.

4. Crake from Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake

Okay, so he destroys all of humanity (including himself) and in that way is possibly not an ideal dinner guest, but Crake’s ideology and motivations are so fascinating I’d like to pick his brains. I have a theory about this particular text, which I have studied and written about at length; that is, if approached in a certain way, it stops being a dystopian novel and becomes a utopian one – specifically a posthuman, ecotopian one – because although ‘humanity’ is destroyed, Crake’s vision of a ‘better world’ is a reality.

Rather than build a utopia around human values, such as wealth, morality, happiness and so on, Crake bases his utopia upon non-human values. He creates a new species to inheret the earth after the humans have gone, and they are perfectly adapted, both physically and mentally, to their environment. Unlike humans, they do not wage war, they do not kill other living things, they do not cause pollution or harm the environment in any way. The Crakers, as they are known, life a perfectly harmonious existence in an ecotopian paradise, and the only cost was the human race, something Crake considers to be a blight on the planet.

I read this book as a challenge to humanism rather than a dystopian analysis of Crake’s megalomania… but even if we take it at face value, Crake would surely get along nicely with my other chosen guests, who all at least lean in the direction of misanthropy.

5. Beatrice from William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

By far my favourite Shakespearean heroine, Beatrice provides some light comedy relief at this otherwise rather dangerous gathering, being arguably the only sane member of the party. I admire her quick wit and sharp tongue, and her sparring matches with Benedick are amongst the best pieces of dialogue ever penned.

She is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most rounded female characters, being both cynical and jovial, practical and frivolous, happy and contempletive, fierce and loyal. I’d invite her mainly to play devil’s advocate, and because I think she’d be a great conversation catalyst. I’d love to see her interact with the other guests – I think she’d be a fair match for all of them.

Chances of the host making it through the night alive… About 0.01%.

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