Top Hat - Cat Stripe
Sherlock Holmes Deerstalker Hat
Spiderman Amazing Boy's Costume
Goodies from Books
There are undoubtedly a large number of literary heroes – many books are named after them! When it comes to costumes for adults for a Book Day/Week style event, the first consideration is your market/audience. If you are a teacher, learning assistant or similar, you are obviously looking to portray someone your students will be familiar with (which may have a lot to do with their age). It may also be that you and your assistant are looking to portray a literary or linked pair. Similarly, the age of the character is another factor. Even small children have a good idea what age (or size) their favourite characters should be, so an adult playing a youthful – say - Dick Whittington might not work.
On a wider scale, it may be true to say that in some respects ‘film goodies’ offer more choice than literary characters and even then, some book character outfits are available only because there has been a film adaptation. Of course such costumes are one interpretation of characters ‘created’ in the reader’s imagination, but films shape people’s perceptions of appearance. In other cases, there may be a particular aspect of clothing or prop which ‘makes’ the character. As with a costume party, it helps if your character is easily recognisable. Anyway, as with our companion Literary Baddies piece, we start off with a quick list of characters usually easily found ‘off-the-peg’.
The Cat in the Hat – Distinctive Dr Seuss character, key costume elements being the tall red/white stripe top hat and big red bowtie. A potential ‘partner’ is Sally, a girl in a white blouse and green apron/pinafore dress. An alternative pairing is/are Thing One & Two.
The Mad Hatter (Lewis Carroll) – Popular character, now available in two styles – the ‘classic’ style and the slightly more madcap Johnny Depp interpretation. Obviously once again the hat (with price tag in hatband)and bowtie are key items. Partner characters can be the March Hare, Dormouse or, of course, Alice.
Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll) – Another popular choice of character. The traditional style is light blue dress with a white pinafore apron but variations are available thanks to the more recent Tim Burton film. As a partner, aside from the Hatter mentioned above, the White Rabbit or Queen of Hearts suggest themselves.
The Queen of Hearts can, of course, stand as a literary character in her own right – either Alice style, or more nursery-rhyme mainstream with The Knave (or King) of Hearts as a partner.
Where’s Wally/Wanda (or Waldo) – A character who probably needs no introduction.
Dorothy Gale & companions (L Frank Baum) – Another potentially popular group of characters. Whilst Dorothy might be the ‘leader’, one of the others (Lion/Tinman/Scarecrow) may prove more visual, and female versions are available (although some might consider them a little skimpy for some environments).
Dumbledore/Merlin (JK Rowling/Sir Thomas Malory) – The wizard headmaster Dumbledore is obviously familiar to those who have grown up with the Harry Potter books and films. Thanks to the recent TV series, the younger generation are probably most familiar with Merlin the wizard as a young boy but, of course, technically Dumbledore and Merlin share similar traits and have a potential wow factor.
Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) – Another character that has undergone a recent modern reimagining, but the classic Inverness cape, deerstalker and meerschaum pipe (plus magnifying-glass) is the stereotypical (if rather inaccurate) look.
Cleopatra & Anthony (Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw) – Arguably, Cleopatra works as a standalone character whilst Anthony could be just another Roman unless put in context. Unfortunately Cleo and Anthony are often a popular costume choice pairing, but if your heart is set on this couple, you will just have to step up your game and, with our help, knock the competition asp over apex (a pyramid reference, of course).
Mary Poppins & Bert the Sweep (PL Travers) - Another couple where the female character works on her own and puts her partner in context.
Roald Dahl characters are always popular, and amongst the leading Goodies are Willie Wonka, the famous chocolate factory owner, and Fantastic Mr Fox. The latter is perhaps classified as a children’s book character, but this vulpine hero was played by/voiced by George Clooney in the animated film.
Are the choices so far a little too kiddie orientated for you? Try these from the Dark Side. (We will assume that Dracula does not Count as a Goodie).
Dr Jeykll & Mr Hyde (The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson) – Interesting dual personality character covering both Goodie and Baddie camps. You might find one of those half-n-half costumes which embodies the two, but the character is open to improvisation.
Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein – Mary Shelley) – Literary/Halloween crossover character familiar to most people. The Bride of Frankenstein is unfortunately more a creation of the movie-makers seeking a sequel to the original film.
Quasimodo (Hunchback of Notre-Dame – Victor Hugo) – Another Halloween-orientated character, also a victim of circumstance.
Death (Discworld books – Terry Pratchett) – A more off-beat book character, Death is a full-on Grim Reaper of few words but tending to MAKING AN IMPRESSION WHEN HE DOES SO.
Goodie Characters born of Myth and Legend…
Greek and Roman Myth and Legend are filled with such male hero characters as Hercules, Achilles and Jason. Unfortunately, aside from goddesses doing good deeds and saving mortals, there are few Greek myth heroines. The nearest we have is Medea, who assisted Jason in obtaining the Golden Fleece, betraying her own family and people in the process, but then being betrayed herself and exacting a terrible revenge.
Beowulf (Old English poem) – The fearless warrior Beowulf battles the demon Grendel and incurs wrath from other dark forces.
Conan the Barbarian (Robert E Howard) – A Sword and Sorcery of the Dark Ages character created in the 1930s but now associated with movies starring the then unknown Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Tarzan (Edgar Rice Burroughs) – Possibly the most famous character creation of this author, but not one for a cold day!
Game of Thrones (George R R Martin) – This is a modern multi-volume classic of political machinations in a medieval-style land, a summary which may not do the work justice. Fans will have their favourite characters, and although off-the-peg outfits are not always easy to come by, the use of the heraldic devices and sigils of the families in the series may create a satisfactory outfit impression.
Lord of the Rings (3 books) and The Hobbit (J RR Tolkien) – Both works offer a wide range of potential characters (although unfortunately not too many female) notably Gandalf, Frodo (and Bilbo) Baggins, Gimli the dwarf warrior and Legolas the elfish archer.
King Arthur, Guinevere & Lancelot (Sir Thomas Malory) – Having mentioned Merlin earlier, other leading characters from the Age of Chivalry could also be chosen.
Robin Hood (Traditional) – Robin and his Merrie Men (plus Maid Marion) are heroes of English folklore.
A few modern Book Goodies..
James Bond (Ian Fleming) – Often requested in connection with movies or a standalone Bond theme, the basic tuxedo or Naval Commander might be favoured, but you could also draw on some of the movie incarnations – Sir Hilary (OHMSS), Frogman (Thunderball). The later films, though offering strong female roles, wandered from the actual Bond book characters, so Pussy Galore (Goldfinger) might be the best bet for a Bond female.
Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffanys – Truman Capote) Call girl tart-with-a-heart made famous (or at least more familiar) by Audrey Hepburn’s film interpretation.
Lisbeth Salander (Millenium trilogy – Stieg Larsson) Punky computer hacker who has been portrayed in two different film adaptations. The dragon tattoo is a starting point to the look, and slogan t-shirts could also be useful.
Rincewind (T. Pratchett) – The flipside to Merlin, Rincewind is the inept wizard from the early Discworld books (he has a hat inscribed ‘Wizard’ for the benefit of those unsure).
Arthur Dent (Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy books – Douglas Adams) – Hapless earthling rescued from Earth just before it was blown up to create a by-pass. Classic outfit involves a dressing gown and all-important towel.
Does your interpretation of literary characters run to comic books and graphic novels? Aside from the obvious cop-out of Batman, Superman, etc, try these..
V – (V for Vendetta graphic novel Alan Moore) – Rebellious anti-hero who models his masked look upon the British 17th century participant in the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes. The look has been widely adopted by modern-day activists.
The Watchmen (Watchmen – Alan Moore) Goodies? Well superheroes have fallen from grace in this ‘alternative history’ story, and not all heroes are as they seem, but thanks to the film of the novel, a range of character costumes are available.
Tintin (Herge) – The famous boy detective with a quiff who has recently moved from comic book to big screen.
Snoopy & Peanuts characters (Charles Schulz) – This stretches the book character concept to comic strips, but these are some of the most successful comic strip characters ever. The Peanuts gang celebrate their 65th anniversary in 2015, and so are probably worth a mention.