Do fictional heroes read?

Do fictional heroes read?

I believe that reading makes a person more likely to perform heroic deeds.

Certainly, that’s a tricky point for me. There have been many discussions (and some studies recently) examining the idea of whether or not fiction can encourage people to behave in “anti-social” ways (such as becoming violent). My instinct is to reject that idea, but I’m too scientifically minded to do that without the data.

I do think that someone who is already violent can model behavior on something fictional.

Where I have the problem is with the idea that fiction can change the motivations of a person (as opposed to the ways in which they carry out the actions which they are already motivated to do).

I would be very, very cautious about banning specific books because of a belief that they can lead to bad behaviors.

I believe that reading broadly exposes readers to different points of view. Reading is the closest thing we have to experience something through someone else’s eyes…or rather, through their brains. In a way similar to how we may dream about very anti-social things, it allows us to explore those feelings without carrying them out…and may, in so doing, give us a solid rejection of them.

I do speculate that reading a single book to the exclusion of all others might guide one towards an agreement with things in that book. We hear about people who have behaved in non-societally-standard ways that read a single book over and over again. I don’t think, though, that the single book molded them into that behavior, but rather that there was already an inclination towards obsessive tunnel vision.


I also believe that I have been positively impacted by being influenced by “good” characters, which I will refer to as “heroes” as a way of shorthand.

I think that I am a much better person because I admire the selflessness of Doc Savage…the drive to improve oneself for the purpose of helping others, rather than for personal gain.

Again, that’s just anecdotal. I’d love to see studies that show that people who watched, perhaps, The Lone Ranger versus oh, the Halloween movie series, behave in more “positive” ways.

My guess, though, is that someone who consumed both would behave in the “best” ways out of the three. That person would have “experienced” both a non-lethal, helping viewpoint and a revenge driven murderous viewpoint, and I would presume would (if initially a typical person, as opposed to someone with a pathology) elected for the former…and would have a personal basis for doing so.

Arthur C. Clarke famously said:

“Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories.”

My thought is that perhaps they should read all three.

Given these two things (people can model their behaviors on heroes and reading is good) got me thinking. Do famous heroes read?

Doc Savage is a brain surgeon, among other things, so we know Doc read textbooks…but does Doc Savage read for fun?

Does James Bond?

Certainly, some heroes show familiarity with books. Captain Picard read on Star Trek: The Next Generation (Shakespeare, for one). Don Quixote, of course, was a big reader…although that wasn’t necessarily perceived as a positive thing by other folks (been there!). 😉

I also understand that showing somebody reading is, well, not that exciting an activity. We don’t typically see heroes brushing their teeth, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do it (hm…question. Does Superman need to brush those super-teeth? Presumably not).

When I tried to do a little research on this, I ran across this interesting Tumblr:

Fictional Characters Reading Books

It’s mostly screenshots of characters reading books…and they do a nice job of identifying the character and the book.

Skimming through it, I’m not sure I’m seeing a lot of pictures of people the average person would call heroes…yes, there is Doctor Who (reading a fictional piece of fiction), and a list of the book’s Roald Dahl’s Matilda read.

I think Superman spent time reading up on Kryptonian history in the Fortress of Solitude, but I’m not sure. Holmes, Spock, and Sherlock all seem to know about books…but do you really picture them sitting and reading for hours?

Perhaps that’s another issue in fictional depictions of reading. It is sometimes suggested that heroes act while others think (a very peculiar notion to me). In the Tom Jones sung theme song to Thunderball, we’re told that James Bond “…acts while other men just talk”.  John Carter says:

“My mind is evidently so constituted that I am subconsciously forced into the path of duty without recourse to tiresome mental processes.”
John Carter (Captain Jack Carter)
A Princess of Mars
written by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Do we think of thinking (which to me equates in many ways with reading) as inherently non-heroic?

I certainly don’t.

Einstein supposedly said something like

“If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”

I’ve heard some variants on that, but that seems like a reasonable approach to me, especially when the last part is said as “implementing the solution”, which is another way I’ve seen it.

Let me call on you, readers. Can you comment on this post and add some fictional heroes who read? I know that real heroes do. 🙂

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.



12 Responses to “Do fictional heroes read?”

  1. Karin Says:

    One of the main characters from Fifty Shades of Grey, Ana Steele, read Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier), a copy found in Christian Grey’s library. The first line from the book was quoted.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Karin!

      I haven’t read the book (although I’ve heard of it)…would you consider Ana a hero, a person who does positive things for society at personal risk?

  2. Steve Says:

    Agent Pendergast from the Preston, Child series is an extreme example.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Steve!

      I haven’t read the books, but I did a little looking after you comment. Sounds like a good example…thanks again!

    • Streve Says:

      Nero Wolfe, been years since I read one of the these but I seem to remember that he was rarely without a book, or several, or several stacks.

      I also want to say Jack Reacher, the Lee Child character, but he was just well read. I don’t recall him ever actually reading in any of the books.

      Sorry, this has become like a game.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Streve!

        I thought someone might mention Nero Wolfe…thanks! 🙂

        Turning something into a game is an accomplishment of which to be proud! Many people can’t do it, and it can often add to learning.

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    Are we talking “superhero” or simply “protagonist”? Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series is a serious reader.

    For those who love the detective genre, “Nameless Detective” in the series by Bill Pronzini collects and reads old western novels. Even though he’s supposed to be “nameless” from time to time, other characters have slipped and called him “Bill.”

    And of course, there’s Roald Dahl’s Matilda who taught herself to read when she was just a toddler!

    There are also fictional characters who are writers, like Jo March of Little Women and Little Men.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      We are talking heroes…people who do positive things for the society at personal risk. That could be the protagonist of the book, but isn’t necessarily, and they don’t need to be super. 🙂 I did mention Matilda briefly in the post…and I would consider her a superhero. I think it’s harder to argue that Jo March is a hero, but I’d be open to hearing it.

      Some villains are readers too, of course. Khan comes to mind in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

      I know Pronzine, but haven’t read that one…sounds like a good example.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        Jo March ran a boarding school for boys of all social status with a special place in her heart for homeless boys headed for trouble. To me, that qualifies her as a hero;)

  4. liz Says:

    Ah, my favorite fictional heroine, Thursday Next, not only reads fiction, she also reads herself INTO fiction! She has the ability to read a book and put herself into the story in a way she can actually interact with the characters (and in the first book of the series, she had to enter the book Jane Eyre in order to save its heroine from an untimely demise … and the story as well). Amazingly intelligent and witty, all the books in the series are highly recommended.

    Author: Jasper Fforde, first book: The Eyre Affair.

    Anyone who appreciates British humour and stories with an alternate reality must read! Also recommended for folks interested in:
    – dodos
    – Miss Haversham racing against Mr Toad in souped-up sports cars
    – Neanderthals
    – the mechanics of the transference of the written word to the imagination of the reader
    – time travel
    – Shakespeare
    – the creation of fictional plots and characters
    – what happens to fictional characters if their book is never published
    – cricket
    – fiction of all types
    – riots at book sales
    – the Minotaur
    – the Crimean war
    – good vs evil
    – love vs greed
    – cheese
    – and so much more (this list sounds crazy, but would make sense to all who love this series)

    Geez, I sound like a commercial, but Fforde has become my absolute favorite author, and I can’t recommend him enough!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, liz!

      I have read one of those books, and did enjoy it…and Thursday is definitely qualified for the list! I must admit, I first thought of Gumby and Pokey when I approached this series…I think Gumby counts. 🙂

      Speaking of dodos, I have this quotation in The Mind Boggles:

      “Once upon a time, there was a strange, fat, bumbling bird called a dodo. Now, the dodo led a very happy, carefree, harmless existence, until one day it met Man. The dodo is now extinct.”
      –Gerald Durrell on his television show, The Stationary Ark

  5. Evan Says:

    Now that I think about it, it seems pretty unusual to see a character reading, either on screen or in print, since it’s usually a passive, singular activity. Given that, when I do see a character reading it strikes me more often than not as a mildly clumsy plot device or bit of exposition. (Angst ridden high school students reading Salinger, etc.)

    On the other hand, it can be satisfying when the reading done provides a jumping off point for the story itself; a number of Star Trek TNG episodes come to mind: You mentioned Picard, and we also learn that he’s is a fan of detective Dixon Hill in an episode that becomes about solving an unrelated mystery. There are also recurring Sherlock Holmes episodes that work thematically with the larger story arcs involved. (There’s actually an episode entirely about Holmes when the crew inadvertently creates a real Moriarty… but I feel safe in assuming you’ve seen them all.)

    Anyway, you’re right, I think there’s often something to be learned from what our favorite characters are reading.

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