P is for — Sir Percy Blakeney, from Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel
I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I love adventure stories. The Scarlet Pimpernel is another exciting adventure set in England and France during the French Revolution. Many, many aristocrats — men, women, and children — have been sent to the guillotine, regardless of whether or not they’ve personally oppressed the poor. All French aristocrats are guilty in the eyes of the lower classes and must pay the price. Sir Percy Blakeney, an English nobleman and master of disguise, daringly rescues innocent people bound for the guillotine and smuggles them to safety in England. His calling card — the seal of a small, star-shaped, red flower: a scarlet pimpernel. Acting the brainless fop in public, he engages in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the leaders of the Revolution who are determined to catch him.
I love the 1982 movie version with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, and Ian McKellen (pre-Gandalf). Even though it’s a made-for-TV-movie, it’s a great swashbuckler with sword fights and daring escapes, beautiful costumes, and first-rate performances by the lead actors. I haven’t yet seen the 1934 movie with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, but I’ve read good things about it and have it high up on my to-be-watched list.
C is for — Sidney Carton — from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
I first read this story many years ago. Amidst the horror of the French Revolution, the characters sprang to life for me, their struggles so vivid they still haunt me. Lucie Manette, the loving innocent; her husband Charles Darnay, the French aristocrat who denies his birthright and tries to make good on his own; Madame Defarge, the Revolution personified; and Sydney Carton, the drunken lawyer who feels himself worthless. Carton falls in love with Lucie, and his noble feelings for her allow him to transcend what he considers a wasted life and give the ultimate sacrifice. The triumph and sorrow of the Tale’s ending stayed with me for days.
At the time, my own novel was still in its early stages, and I had no idea where my characters’ adventures would take them. There were a few characters I didn’t know very well, yet — one important character, in particular. But after reading A Tale of Two Cities, I had a sudden epiphany. I could see quite clearly in my mind the path this character was meant to follow. And as my story progressed through Book I : Lady, Thy Name Is Trouble, and later, Book II: Trouble By Any Other Name, he grew to be one of my favorites, and he did indeed follow the foreseen path to a hopeful and tragic and fitting end.
Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton A Tale of Two Cities, 1935 Photo Credit: imdb.com