The box-office success of Disney’s Maleficent proves two things: 1) There will always be a vehicle for Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones, and 2) People love a good backstory. For every interesting or marginally interesting fictional character out there, there are clusters of people itching for an origin story (see Exhibits A through Wolverine). Unfortunately, not every irascible, enigmatic, or irredeemably kooky character gets a shot at exposing their roots on the page or on the big screen. Here are just a few of the mysterious fictional men and women whose back stories I most want to read:
Ms. Valerie Frizzle (The Magic School Bus series, by Joanna Cole)
Eccentricity, my dear Arnold, is the result of the unstoppable whirlwind that is a third-grade teacher meeting the immovable wonder of science. Whenever the Frizz (and her anthropomorphic bus) show up, chaos and antics not covered by any school field trip waiver in this nation ensue. We get to know Ms. Frizzle and her class quite well, but we know so very, very little about this woman so willing to send a bus full of students inside another one of her students. How did she end up at Walkerville Elementary? At what point did she make the acquaintance of
Wynonna Judd Molly Cule? There are those who believe she is a Time Lord. And there is me, who believes she’s a refugee from Wayside School.
Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling)
By about the second time Umbridge spoke in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I knew I wanted this woman dead (sorry, but one must not tell lies). For in seven books and eight movies, there is but one character universally reviled, and it’s this pink-clad toad. I think it’s because we all know a Dolores Umbridge type. I have very few noseless archnemeses, but boy, could I make a list of egocentric mid-level managers who would be no great loss should they carried off by an outraged group of centaurs. What’s unclear, however, is how such unabashed, pure feminine evil came to be elected Senior Undersecretary Dolores Jane Umbridge. Is such villainy born or created? How long does it take to accrue that many cat plates?
Dolorous Edd (A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin)
The storied past of the Night’s Watch’s Eeyore (and resident standup comedian) deserves some attention for, if nothing else, breaking up the chapters of bloodshed and treachery with a quick melancholy one-liner. Am I alone here? You cheer me not.
The Cat (The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss)
There are more questions than answers surrounding this destructive feline. Namely, when did he become such a dapper dresser? What turned him on to a life disturbing the suburban peace? At what point did he enslave Things One and Two—or is this a Willy Wonka/Oompa Loompa situation? If we’re to delve deeper into Seussian beings, Yertle the Turtle is also ripe for a Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck-esque treatment.
Dr. Watson (The Sherlock Holmes series, by Arthur Conan Doyle)
Things in need of sorting out: the exact location of Watson’s war wound, what kind of seedy, secret past led his wife to refer to him as James in The Man With the Twisted Lip, and everything that happened to him before soldiering and Sherlock Holmes.
Cheshire Cat (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll)
Cats, man. You just never know where they come from. Somewhere there’s a litter of disembodied grins that needs to be explored. And just where did this feline fiend get his philosophy degree? If a cat points out a logical fallacy in the forest, but no one can see him, did it really happen?
What fictional characters do you think need origin stories?