"It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it'll shine out the clearer." - "The Lord of the Rings"
I began my previous article with this quote as well, a quote so compelling that it brought to my mind a much broader article - one that serves as a tribute to my favorite characters of all time. The great stories contain a flawed hero who is given a task - usually liberty is at stake, and this hero does all in their power to liberate the people from the chains of oppression that have bound them. Many of these characters are real, but the stories I'm referring to are dramatized biographies of their lives that read like novels.
I hope you too will be captivated by my diverse cast of favorite literary figures, including a Polish shipyard worker, a Hispanic liberator, a French revolutionary, and a Palestinian schoolgirl.
1. Enjolras and Charles Jeanne
I put these two in the same slot because they are very similar, despite some differences. Enjolras is portrayed as a young law student with blond hair and blue eyes, and Charles Jeanne is shown as a middle-class worker with black hair and grey eyes. Both men had slightly different strategies, and while Jeanne survived the barricade only to later die of tuberculosis, Enjolras died on the barricade. The story of the barricade itself is similar. Most of the details from Charles Jeanne's letter are what Victor Hugo included in "Les Misérables." Many of Jeanne's quotes are parallels of Enjolras's speeches from "Les Misérables."
Jeanne (and Enjolras) fought in the July Revolution of 1830 and were disgusted and indignant with the results of that rebellion - alas, another monarch sat on the throne of France after they had just fought to overthrow a monarch. "Democratic monarch" or not, a monarch is a monarch and a slap in the face to all those who died on the barricades in hopes of achieving a republic. They were ridiculed, and the international community loved Louis Phillippe. But they believed in something greater - a republic where citizens will always be guaranteed a voice - and they fought for it.
Charles Jeanne was brought before the king and told to swear to a fabricated account of the June Rebellion, but he refused and said that he would forever stand for the truth. These are two of my favorite heroes.
2. Simón Bolívar and Antonio José de Sucre
One of those figures whose entire life was the very antithesis of the word "boring," Bolívar was a rich orphan whose defiance and stubborn streak led him to swear upon a symbolic mountaintop before his God and before the world that he would not yield in body or spirit until the chains of oppression were smashed beneath his feet. Idealistic Bolívar faced great challenges and struggles and made difficult choices (and sometimes, the wrong choice) but never yielded in his desire to see South America independent. Upon achieving independence, he saw his dreams of a perfect liberated America come to ruin. Through his determination and his unyielding desire for liberation, he faced rough terrain and freed a continent. He was by no means perfect, but he was a great protagonist. He even had his best friend, Antonio José de Sucre, at his side providing constant advice and not being afraid to tell Bolívar when something was a terrible idea. Bolívar faced not only impossible terrain (the Andes and the jungle) but also genocide and massive political upheaval. This is a story full of trials but also of triumph - and you will feel like marching under that triumphal arc with Bolívar at the end. Also, a shoutout to Manuela Saenz! She was a spy and saved Bolívar's life twice, and she lived life with no regrets. Cool person.
3. William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce was a rich, young member of Parliament who took up a very unpopular cause: the abolition of slavery. Never yielding, he dedicated his entire life to ending this stain on human history. I also need to give a shoutout to Olaudah Equiano, a freedman who wrote his memoirs of being a slave. William Pitt, Marianne Thornton, Barbara Spooner, and countless other friends of Wilberforce were also dedicated to equality and human rights in this era.
I loved her memoir - not only did she discuss the cultural history of Pakistan but also her own story about standing up for the truth. You go, girl! She had a dark time, but after that, she became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner.
5. Tadeusz Kosciuszko
Like Bolívar, he swore an oath to defend liberty. He was an enemy of oppressors and slavery and a friend to liberty and equality. He experienced the American, French, and Polish Revolutions and saw himself as one who should fight for the liberty of all. Another captivating hero of mine.
6. Emilia Plater
A Polish noblewoman who stood against the Russian Empire, she led armies against the Russian troops. A pretty cool person who I wish I knew more about!
7. Jean Moulin and the Zabinskis
Alright, I'm merging these since they are around the same era.
The leader of the National Committee of the French Resistance, Jean Moulin, had to unite many people of diverse and divisive factions against a common evil: the Nazis.
The Zabinskis ran a zoo in Poland, and when Nazi Germany conquered Poland, they hid Jewish families in the zoo to keep them safe. There are countless other brave stories of resistance, but all of these people are some of the most powerful characters of all time for me.
8. Lech Walesa and Václav Havel
In a regime where nobody truly had a voice, Václav Havel was a Czech playwright, and Lech Walesa was a Polish worker - and while neither of them was a professional politician or an activist, they stood up to make themselves heard. Both of these men, along with countless other resistance members, were put in jail and harassed but never gave in. It was dark, and they were told they were going to fail - but both of them lived on to become presidents of their respective countries and witness the birth of democracy.
I believe these are the most impactful characters of all time. Their lives were full of darkness and trials at times, but they kept fighting to make the world a better place. They were far from perfect, and they were flawed and human. But they had something greater they believed in - liberty - and this propelled them to enact great changes in the world. The human side is what makes these heroes so amazing. They show that anybody can make a difference in the world. Because of them, we have a better tomorrow.