In 2005, film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, calling her ”that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” You know when you’ve been hit with one—she’s hot, flighty, and adventurous, she loves like she’s never been hurt, she’s a guy’s girl who flirts and swears—and when you read further into the whole MPDG trope, you realize she might not exist at all. Often, it seems the entire purpose of a MPDG is to carry the progression of the main (male) character. And oh, yeah. She usually dies. Below, a few of the nuttiest, most free-spirited MPDGs you’ll come across in literature. Bonus question: Can you think of any Manic Pixie Dream Boys?
Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby, by F. S. Fitzgerald)
Through the eyes of Gatsby, at least, Daisy is perfect—she’s flirty, carefree, and she has a “voice full of money.” (Rarely do you find all three on a dating profile.) But this MPDG comes with cracks. Gatsby eventually learns her true nature, but maybe a little too late.
Daisy (Daisy Miller, by Henry James)
Daisy Miller is so crazy! But the good kind! She’s crass, probably fun to watch football with, fiery, independent, and to paraphrase a line from John Green’s Looking For Alaska, “if she isn’t driving, she’s the shot gun queen!” Center. Of. Attention. She’ll make you take your clothes off and go dancing in the rain! She’ll make out with strangers and contract malaria! Wait. When did this go from being fun to being scary? Daisy, the little sprite, proves that sometimes MPDGs are bad news and sometimes they have to pay for their free-spiritedness. My parents gave me this book when I studied abroad in Florence. Not-so-subtle message received, Mom and Dad.
Probably any other characters named Daisy (Many books by many authors)
It’s cute because it’s a flower! Bonus points if she has green eyes and dies in the end!
Clarisse (Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury)
Clarisse loves doing “wacky” things and being completely oblivious to the fact that these things mark her as an oddball. We’re talking hiking, standing in the rain, looking at autumn leaves, playing with dandelions, asking lots of questions—seriously crazy stuff! But in what is possibly a preemptive move, she calls herself crazy. That’s how crazy she is. (Basically, she’s a 17-year-old.) She’s completely unjaded, providing a convenient juxtaposition to Montag, whose enthusiasm for his work (which is book burning) has started to ebb. This last part makes Clarisse the ideal MPDG. Bravo, Clarisse. You’ve done your job and you can sit down now. (Or get run over by a car.)
Hermine (Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse)
Hermine exists for two reasons: to reflect a part of Steppenwolf himself, and to help him enjoy his life. She loves him and mothers him, she makes him grow and survive, at the expense of herself.
Midori (Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami)
Quirky, energetic, and named for a fruity liqeur, Midori is unabashedly honest about her sexual fantasies, something that shocks (and strengthens) protagonist Toru. In her adorable honesty, she tries to loosen up Toru, and succeeds. In fact, she not only adds levity to his life, but to the entire novel.
Lavinia Whateley (H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction, by H.P. Lovecraft)
Lavinia is the only albino on this list, and damn does she make it look good. Though described as unattractive, she’s able to wrap Yog-Sothoth around her little finger by getting him to inpreganate her. She is also known for her wild daydreams and love of thunderstorms, and can be found frolicking in the woods barefoot.
Sam (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky)
Common in many MPDG meet-cutes, it’s love at first sight when protagonist Charlie meets Sam. (Also common in many YA novels: she has hypnotizing green eyes.) We learn (from Charlie) that she’s nice, nonjudgmental, humble enough to hang with Charlie (who’s younger than she is), has life-changing music taste, used to be promiscuous, has a hot studmuffin of a boyfriend, and has dabbled in illegal drugs. So she’s a badass with a soft side. But that’s what Charlie tells us: the description we get of an MPDG from the MPDG’s victim is usually delivered through rose-tinted glasses.
Leslie Burke (Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson)
Take the sexual tension out of your typical MPDG dynamic, and you get Leslie and Jesse: Jesse, a depressed boy whose life is changed after he meets Leslie, and Leslie herself, who is athletic and smart—everything Jesse wants to be. The two build a magical world together in the woods. When Leslie (predictably) dies, it’s sad, but totally worth it because Jesse goes on as a stronger person, carrying Leslie’s spirit in his back pocket. (Possibly until he meets another MPDG, and then it’s all like, Leslie who?)
Tiffany (The Silver Linings Play Book, by Matthew Quick)
Even if you only saw the movie, you get the gist. Tiffany is ballsy, promiscuous, and beautiful, and though she seems rough on the outside, she displays her inner softness by teaching Pat, a broken man, how to dance like nobody is watching, etc. And about love.
Alaska (Looking for Alaska, by John Green)
Alaska has hundreds of books in her room that she hasn’t read, because she’d rather be smoking and swinging on swings. She hypnotizes boys with her wit and beauty, watches porn, and pulls character Pudge out of his shell. And though Alaska’s name is unconventional—i.e., not Daisy—she’s still influenced by the pretty white flower: daisies remind her of her (dead) mother. Everyone is in love with Alaska. Well, you were supposed to be. Were you?
Who’s your favorite manic pixie dream girl/boy?