Ficitional Characters whose influence far exceeds that of the work they are part of..

So I was reading this article about a Iranian spy in the British army, which contained this statement:

And its occurred to me that the use of the term a “Walter Mitty”, to describe some how fantasizes about a life that is more exciting than his own, it still pretty widespread, though I don’t know anyone (myself included before researching this post) who could describe The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in any detail at all, let alone have actually read it.

What other example of this are there ? There are plenty of fictional characters that are commonly used as analogies, but they are usually from pretty well known works (Shakespeare, Orwell, etc.). What other examples are there when the work in question has disappeared from the public consciousness, but the character remains ?

I can tell you all about Walter Mitty, but I assume you can use the yourself.

Sherlock Holmes is the exemplar of this. “He” is frequently quoted as if he were a real historical figure.

How about Svengali (an evil hypnotist in the 1894 novel Trilby)? The novel is hardly remembered today, and yet the character has been absorbed into popular culture.

Dickens may have created more analogy characters than Shakespeare (and certainly more than Orwell). Scrooge and Fagin, to name two.

Shakespeare also illustrates a related problem: a fictional depiction of a real character–Macbeth, say–that becomes far more influential than the historical facts.

My nominee for “Character who’s way outgrown the work he appeared in” is Dracula, twice: Bram Stoker’s for eclipsing the original vampire legends (and the historical facts about Prince Vlad), and the Lugosi movies and their sequels for eclipsing Stoker’s novel.

Runner up: Frankenstein’s monster, who’s so outgrown the original book people have to be told Frankenstein wasn’t the monster’s name.

Honorary mention: Buck Rogers.

We all have at least some awareness of Don Juan, but how many of us have seen El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra, the 1630 play in which he first appeared?

(Or at least that is the first known written appearance of the character.)

James Bond. How the hell did I forget James Bond?

Chuck Norris


How many people have actually read Don Quixote (1605)?

(They should, by the way. It’s quite funny.)

But insanely boring when he spends all those months in pastoral reverie. I admit to skipping through those chapters.

Everyone recognises the Private Eye who provides his own monologue, but from the parodies rather than the Sam Spade books.

There’s so many:
The Simpsons – the whole family plus many of the remaining “cast”.
Miss Marple

Mrs Malaprop from Sheridan’s play The Rivals.

Yes funny in parts, but dreadfully boring quite a lot of the time too.

This is a great example. I only learned the origin of the term “Svengali” a year or two ago, and was surprised that a novel so popular in its own time had since been almost completely forgotten.

Trillby also has a large secondhand cultural influence in that it was part of the inspiration for the 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera.

Theda Bara’s femme fatale role in the 1915 film A Fool There Was made her arguably the world’s first “vamp”* and one of the first cinematic sex symbols. She also had one of the few silent film lines to become an enduring catch phrase: “Kiss me, my [you] fool!” But although the movie is one of a very few Bara films that has not been lost, it’s not at all widely known. Bara herself is largely forgotten as an actress, although her image is still recognizable. For instance, that’s her in the logo of the Chicago International Film Festival.

*Former(?) SDMB member Eve Golden’s excellent biography of Bara, Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara, presents a good case for the term “vamp” having originated as a nickname for Bara. Her character in A Fool There Was is credited as “The Vampire”.

If King Arthur were a real person (and that’s a very big if), he had absolutely nothing to do with the character associated with him today. For all intents and purposes, he’s fictional.

Louise Brooks. Her hairstyle is still used in movies (see Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago)

Robin Hood.

Erm, people, I think some of you are misunderstanding the question.

The question is about fictional characters whose names have become part of everyday speech, while the work they appeared in is not well known to the public. Citing things like Batman, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes doesn’t count, because it IS the works that are well known. Even if versions by other writers are more famous that the original writer, it’s still the works themselves that are well known.

He wants examples such as the term male chauvanist pig, which derives ultimately from a (probably) fictional character Nicolas Chauvin. In fact the term chauvinism originally did not refer to misogyny, so it’s two steps removed from its origin.

Another example is the word tantalize. People may use it without knowing in detail the story of Tantalus.

Not a character, but a line, the archetypal awful opening line for a badly written book, “It was a dark and stormy night.” How many people have actually read Paul Clifford?

So, just to be clear, you seem to be defining ‘the work that they are part of’ very liberally. (Which I would tend to, with this question, as well.) Batman, for instance, has been in many creative works in different media since his character was originally developed for the comics - the live tv show, the movies, the animated cartoon, and so on.

Pollyanna and Goodie Two Shoes ? Both fictional characters that have become ways of describing people, but I think that a lot of people no longer realize that they were ever characters.

Rosemary’s Baby is only present in the last chapter of the book.

The Stepford Wives gave us a new adjective.

Colonel Blimp
Mrs. Malaprop
and her malapropisms

(The Reverend Spooner with his Spoonerismsreally did exist, though)