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Children’s characters all grown up: Who would they be?

September 20, 2011

A rare actual photo of Huckleberry Finn.

I got to tinkering with this thought experiment, and –voila! — it turned into a party game. Let’s play: Who would your favorite children’s lit character grow up to be? Starting with Huckleberry Finn….

For a list of upcoming activities at the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, visit the center’s website. And mark your calendar: This year’s Miami Book Fair International runs Nov. 13-20.

My inspiration for this literary diversion comes from a feature at Huffington Post, but that one’s about which fictional characters might be best friends. Holden Caulfield and Draco Malfoy, for example. Jo March and Katniss Everdeen. Capt. Ahab from Moby-Dick and Kurtz from Heart of Darkness.

Problem is, the pairings grow more strained and less interesting after those first three. My variation on the game is much more fun, I think you will agree.

It seems obvious to me, for example, that Huckleberry Finn will grow up to be Gus McCrae, the profanely heroic Texas Ranger in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, while Tom Sawyer — well, Tom Sawyer most likely grows up to be Mark Twain, who is, after all, the fictional alter-ego of Sam Clemens.

If you think that’s cheating, then by all means feel free to make your own, better suggestion.

Or maybe Tom grows up to be Henry Fleming, the protagonist of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. Sounds just like Tom, doesn’t it? Run off to the war looking for honor and adventure, only to think better of it once the bullets fly and the cannons boom? Twain was a deserter from the Confederate Army, remember.

While I can’t get a fix on a grown-up Harry Potter, whose story seems fairly rounded off by the end of The Deathly Hallows, how about Hermione? Okay, I know this is jumping narrative forms, but I see her as Jane Tennison, the tough, smart, vulnerable police inspector played by Helen Mirren in the much-loved Prime Suspect TV series.

Jack Hawkins, the hero of Treasure Island, might grow up to be the intrepid naval hero Jack Aubrey, from Patrick O’Brien’s series of seafaring novels, while Kim, the British orphan homeless in imperial India, could well turn out to be the resourceful Marlowe sent up the Congo to find Kurtz in Heart of Darkness.

For some reason I think it quite likely Mary Lennox, from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, matured into Lady Ashley Brett, the Jazz Age heartbreaker in The Sun Also Rises, whereas Matilda, Roald Dahl’s pint-sized sleuth, turned out to be Eva, the unexpectedly competent espionage recruit in William Boyd’s Restless.

We have time for a couple more. Let’s see…I’ve seldom hated a character I was intended to love quite as much as Oliver “I Can’t Believe Butter Won’t Melt in My Mouth!” Twist, who would surely grow into some craven hypocrite, like, say, the anti-hero in Lord Jim. The Artful Dodger, should he survive to adulthood, would most certainly become Peachy Carnehan, one of the rascally adventurers in Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King.

Eloise would grow up to be Samantha Jones; Laura from Little House on the Prairie surely becomes the wise hillbilly Ma in The Waltons; Kidnapped’s David Balfour, with his title restored, can only end up as Sir Richard Annay, the secret agent hero in John Buchan’s The 39 Steps; Holden Caufield, like all too many sensitive young Baby Boomers, sells out completely to grow into Sherman McCoy, the bond-trader anti-hero in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities.

And Danny, from Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World, graduates from his poacher-father’s gyspy caravan to become none other than 007. That’s right. James Bond.

See how fun? Now you play. What great children’s character have I overlooked, and who did he or she grow up to be?




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