Percy Jackson is Real.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
My heart was racing, and my eyes were welled up like they were about to burst with tears. I kept looking at the clock, begging the universe for enough time before school to finish. When I was done, the weight lifted off my shoulders was like Atlas himself appeared to bear my burden for me. These few, simple words are what it felt like for my to finish The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. While everyone else was obsessing over some books about a weird British kid with facial mutilations, I was reading the good stuff (these opinions are my own and do not reflect Dan's). Why was I like this? Yes, the writing was superb, the cleverness of the plot shock and captivated my adolescent brain, and Rick Riordan is just the kind of name you want a good author to have.
But it wasn't about any of that.
The satisfying pay off at the end of Percy Jackson and the Olympians was all about the characters. Percy, Annabeth, and Grover were my friends. To see them living in the best happy-ever-after a Teen novel can generate was everything I wanted, but why? Why care about the outcome of fictional characters?
Because they are real.
I am not speaking in the most literal sense of the word "real." Though, I might ask, does matter whether you learn about me in person instead of by a letter (oof). Regardless, these characters do matter. Why else would we gasp when Ned Stark bites it? Or cry when Boromir is slain? Certainly not out of surprise that Sean Bean's character died, yet again. It's far, far more than that.
When you read a book, you aren't just stepping into a world of the author's imagination, you are also meeting characters that live within their head. Just because they lack a body, their impact on you is not less real or valid. Why else would people mention how reading a certain book "changed their life"? They mention this because they've had an encounter. They've met someone or something: Real people, real feelings, real relationships that have changed their lives forever.
This is why we say of character, "she wouldn't do that." It's true! They wouldn't! Though the role is embodied by the actor, the actor is not the role. The part is the part. Authors, actors and the like are not egotistically multiplying themselves across universes. They are bringing to life real people so that others may encounter them.
So, why should we care about them? Well, we already do, to start. Think about this blog post the next time you're weeping over the ending of The Notebook (Dan doesn't cry when watching the notebook, but that's because he's a cold, heartless man). The characters we meet, they are typologies of people we already know, want to know, or desire to know. A typology, or archetype as Jung would say, is a manifestation of a truth or a desire. While the typology may not actually exist physically, it does not make it any less real.
Joseph Campbell, a disciple of Jung, wrote about this in The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Campbell examined legends and myths from cultures around the world and found that many of them had similar threads. This is where the "heroes journey" that you learned about in high school lit comes from. That hero must be real, in some way, for all of humanity too be writing about him/her for so darn long.
Even our modern stories, whether we know it or not, are simply a retelling of the Hero's journey. Pages upon pages of ink have been spilled on this. These characters we fall in love with tell us something about ourselves. They show us who we want to be. They can inspire in us a great courage to change and better ourselves. Though we can't truly converse with them, I am sure there are plenty of Potter fans who have simulated conversations with many of the characters in their heads. It may be easier to commune with our beloved fictional heroes than we give ourselves credit. A good character is imprinted into the viewer or reader. They lives on past the performance, past the book, or past the movie. They occupy our minds. If that isn't real, I don't know what is.
So, if you have some time, take a minute and reflect on those characters that have impacted you through the years. What's in them that you admire? That drew you to them in the first place? Maybe give them a visit, and skim through your favorite book or show once more. They are only as real as you will let them be, and they want to make a change in you.