10 Novel Characters Who Should Have Been the Protagonist All Along
Neville Longbottom is the real "Boy Who Lived," and none of you can convince me otherwise.
So, firstly: I’m not one to poo-poo on any author’s narrative choices when it comes to fiction. Part of why we love books is because of the way each author uniquely weaves together an unforgettable story. But as I’ve been reading and rereading old favorites in quarantine, I haven’t been able to help but notice that, sometimes, the oh-so-special Chosen One protagonist is a bit … dull … compared to the colorful cast of secondary characters that pass them by.
It got me wondering how the story could shift—or change entirely—if the protagonist were replaced with one of the side characters. And as I fell deeper into that rabbit hole, daydreaming and reflecting on what my favorite fantasy epic/sci-fi saga/YA trilogy would look like from that perspective, I had an astounding epiphany that, TBH, many protagonists are attention stealers and shouldn’t have been given the spotlight in the first place—a cruel but crushing revelation, and one that I stand by 100%.
If you haven’t guessed already, this list is entirely tongue-in-cheek and my own personal opinion—but! If you find a character or two that you agree should have been the OG MC, let it be known, and (if you’re feeling extra cheeky) get those fanfiction pens ready and spill out a new story!
Neville Longbottom (Harry Potter)
Oh Neville. Neville, Neville, Neville. One of my favorite catchphrases of his (as seen in the Cornish pixie scene of HP & The Chamber of Secrets film adaptation) is “Why is it always me?”
Well, because it should have been you, Neville!
I mean, *spoiler alert* the final novel spoke of there being two infants who could’ve destroyed Voldemort. Two potential chosen ones, with parents in The Order of The Phoenix, born at the end of July and with the power—no, the raw potential—to rise up against Voldemort and destroy him. Sybill Trelawney’s prophecy spoke of it, and in many ways, I feel it was pure chance that Voldemort ended up choosing Harry instead of Neville.
Both boys had similar tragic upbringings, dispositions, and propensity for bravery (or, depending on who’s asking, recklessness). Yes, there are many fanfictions, daydreams, and theories wondering how the story of Harry Potter would have looked like if the roles had been switched, and if the boy who lived happened to be Neville Longbottom. It doesn’t have quite as catchy a tone as Harry Potter, but considering the bravery and role Neville himself played in the final war to bring down Voldemort, I truly think a story with him front and center would have been a compelling one indeed.
Petra Arkanian (Ender’s Game)
Despite the utterly atrocious and unacceptably problematic behavior of Orson Scott Card, I found the first book of his Ender’s Game series to be incredibly compelling and imaginative science-fiction. But, contrary to popular reception, it wasn’t Ender himself that won me over; it was Petra Arkanian.
The first time her character was introduced in the story, I was struck by the sheer power it must have taken her to get to where she is now—the only girl who made it into the Battle School, and a character who exhibits extraordinary power and intelligence. As difficult as it was for Ender to make his way through the grueling trials of the Salamander Army, one can only imagine the obstacles and misogyny Petra faced—and continued to face—right up until the very end. Though readers get a deeper glimpse into her character perspective in the subsequent books of the series, I always wondered the type of story that could’ve been told if we’d begun with Petra from the get-go.
Leah Clearwater (Twilight)
Like with Petra, I always found Leah Clearwater’s story much more compelling than the love/vampire-obsessed protagonist Bella. Leah was exceptional for being the sole female shapeshifter wolf in her entire pack, and for witnessing the volatile nature of Sam Ulley (the Alpha of the pack and the first to shapeshift) firsthand. Her character arc was rife with difficulties and hardships, which often manifested in her personality and behavior towards Bella and the Cullens.
But with good reason, for behind her hardened exterior was a depth and perspective that was simply begging to be told. If Stephenie Meyer ever writes a Quileute Tribe spinoff, I hope she gives Leah her well-deserved time in the spotlight!
Sméagol/Gollum (The Lord Of The Rings)
Yes, both The Hobbit and the The Lord of The Rings trilogy focused on the prelude and aftermath of the One Ring and its destructive power, but if one thing’s certain, it’s that Sméagol’s story never failed to give me a major gut punch. After murdering his cousin during a gruesome rage (having already been taken by The Ring’s power), Sméagol only further corrupted himself until he became a shell of a being known as Gollum.
Though his story is used as a cautionary tale for Frodo, I truly wonder how the story would have shifted if we began the tale of the One Ring through the one who loved (and hated) it the most: Sméagol. A fleshed out story exploring the depths and deterioration of his being due to the dark magic of the Ring would make for a truly chilling but breathtaking tale indeed.
Pennywise operates mostly as the insanely creepy Big Bad in Stephen King’s It series, but I always found his backstory fascinating. An otherworldly being who crash-landed to Earth eons ago and now only awakens every 27 years, Pennywise’s motivations and depth make for a truly interesting story indeed.
Before he meets The Losers Club and terrorizes their small town, he has offhand dealings with other children that make public attention. But there still begs the question on what truly goes on in that twisted mind of his; does he solely exist in an animalistic hunger for sustenance? Or is there something even more compelling underneath worth exploring? I personally just think a horror story from the lens of the monster itself would make for one spooky yet memorable tale.
The White Witch Jadis (The Chronicles of Narnia)
I always felt an odd sort of sympathy for Jadis, the White Witch of Narnia. Before she became the White Witch, Jadis was the Empress and sole survivor from the world of Charn, which ended once she spoke The Deplorable Word, and allowed dark energies and corruption (caused almost entirely by her) to dry up the pool that served as its portal to other worlds. Okay, she was a bit of a jerk, and Narnia and her homeworld of Charn would have probably been better off without her in them, but I think that’s what makes her such a fascinating character.
Not much is ever spoken of her early life except that she was a powerful sorceress who delved into dark magic she had no business meddling in. But there was a deep pain there, and the actions she took (both in her old world and in Narnia) were complex and layered in ways that just begged to be unfolded and fully regarded. I don’t think she would ever endear herself to me as a character, but I do think a story that fully fleshed her out and gave a glimpse into her mind would serve as some bone-chilling but addictive epic fantasy.
Arya Stark (A Song of Ice And Fire)
Arya Stark: Little wolf, Blind Beth, Cat of The Cannals, and absolute badass of the House of Stark truly is and remains the main character in my head throughout both the Song of Ice and Fire novels and the Game of Thrones TV show adaptation. She is such a vibrant, compelling character that makes it difficult to want to root for anyone else (personally).
Being one of the youngest children, and a tall, headstrong tomboy during a time when femininity was heavily policed and women did not have much in the realm of autonomy, always endeared me to Arya Stark. And despite the absolutely insane horrors and tragedies she goes through, she never loses her sense of self, and instead goes through some of the most powerful character developments I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.
*Spoiler Alert* As far as the Game of Thrones show goes, I think Arya more than deserved to sit on the Iron Throne—‚after all, she did destroy the Big Bad in one of the most epic showdowns of all time, while still being a teenager!
But as far as the novel goes, there’s still room to see where Arya’s story will take her, but I personally hope George R. R. Martin will give her some even more fleshed out storylines that truly allow her exceptional character to shine bright and tall.
Cinna (The Hunger Games)
Listen, Cinna literally made the Mockingjay. He literally transformed Katniss Everdeen into the powerful political figure head she would become, and without him, there would be no girl on fire. And I always found that the most compelling about Cinna.
His character is at once soft-spoken but intense, and there are many hints given at the depth that he truly embodies both within himself. His rebellion was subtle, but carried a domino effect that subsequently changed the entire scope of the world they lived in. Oftentimes, we look at the pomp and circumstance of loud revolutions as the main carriers of change, but we forget the little steps being taken behind the scenes to help stoke the fires of change from a spark to a blaze.
Through his fashion, Cinna was able to truly change the future of Panem for the better, and in my dream world, I’d love to see a novel that fully explores why and how he became the magnificent man he was.
Brimstone (Daughter of Smoke And Bone)
“Daughter of my heart,Twice-daughter, my joy. Your dream is my dream, and your name is true. You are all of our hope.”
That line still makes me tear up every time I read it. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Brimstone was introduced to us as a formidable and creepy mythical creature—and the owner of a mysterious shop in the middle of Prague, where his blue-haired ward (and the protagonist) Karou would go on errands to collect artificacts in his stead. The artifacts in question? Teeth.
A gruesome and slightly gross trinket, but one which becomes a gut punch once all the pieces of Karou and Brimstone’s story marry together. I was always immensely curious about Brimstone, and what his life had been before Karou entered it. And there’s still so many answers that are left behind once the series ends, but I can only imagine the new dimensions of story that would be uncovered if we had seen everything through Brimstone’s eyes.
Magnus Bane (The Mortal Instruments)
Sure, he eventually got his own spinoff book series, but that’s beside the point. Magnus Bane always interested me as a character because, in the world of The Mortal Instruments, he remained a bit of an outlier. While there were Shadow Hunters and Downworlders, there wasn’t quite anyone quite like Magnus: an ancient warlock with mysterious powers, and a wit that hinted at many odd adventures and scandalous escapades under his belt.
His presence was deeply felt within the story, as well; not only is he considered one of the most powerful beings ever, but he was responsible for creating many of the tools, landscapes, and gifts that the Shadow Hunters use in present day. Not to mention being the sole reason Clary Fray (the protagonist of The Mortal Instruments series) had no memory of the Shadow Hunter world until she was ready and had come of age. I was always curious what his perspective of everything in The Mortal War was, and found his entire backstory super compelling and a bit tragic, in the most poetic way.
*Honorary Mention: Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)
Because um duh, she is literally all of us. Don’t even pretend otherwise. If I found out at the ripe age of 11 that I was in fact a WITCH with MAGICAL POWERS, you bet your sweet behind I would be nose-deep in those wizard books faster than you can blink.
Upon further reflection, was Hermione even as much of a bookworm as we made her out to be? Or was she just a normal girl-turned-magical badass who held no shame in geeking out over her new world (and abilities) of magic and wonder. Imagine the story that could be born out of that!
(Warner Bros Pictures)
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