The Most Influential People Who Never Lived

atkins-bookshelf-cultureWe grew up with them and some were even childhood friends; we understand them, and hence love them or hate them; we quote them, we are inspired by them, we emulate them, we recognize their qualities in the people we meet in our daily lives. They are woven into the fabric of individual lives as well as the vast tapestry of world culture. But they never existed — at least not as living, breathing human beings. They were created by human beings, belonging to a particular epoch, but paradoxically transcend all time. They are the fictional characters, archetypes drawn from humanity, who never lived; they came into the world through novels, films, comics, plays, and television shows. Whether young or old, their influence has not waned — a testimony to their creators’ ability to study and distill the essence of humanity. As Time writer, Jessica Winter, observes, “These people and situations are nearly as immediate and urgent as our ‘real’ lives. We root for or against them, use them as inspirational models or cautionary tales, take the words of their mouths and use them as jokes or mantras. How blurry the line becomes between their worlds and ours is a measure of the artistry and craftsmenship that went into creating the characters.

To develop the list of the 100 most influential people who never lived, Time consulted its team of writers and editors. To reduce the list to a manageable size, the editors decided to set up some requirements: all individuals had to be human (no cartoons characters), no gods or divinities, and no religious figures. Rather than creating a single list, ranked from 1 to 100, the editors organized fictional characters into six discrete categories (shown below). The editors then invited readers of to comment on the list. The final list, like any list of this type, reflects the biases of the contributors that is sure to invite spirited debate; editor Kelly Knauer, explains the goal for the book: “Our hope for this book [is that] it will encourage close encounters with fascinating new characters, shake up dinner-table conversations and generally create a ruckus.” Bookshelf presents only the top five fictional characters in each of the six categories. Let the conversations and ensuing ruckus begin: 

King Arthur
Scarlett O’Hara
Hannibel Lecter
Norman Bates
Indiana Jones

Uncle Sam
Sherlock Holmes
The Good Samaritan

Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock
Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy
Benedick and Beatrice
Huckleberry Finn and Jim
Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins

Wonder Woman

Lucy Ricardo
The Little Tramp
Jo March
Homer Simpson
Rocky Balboa

Anna Karenina

Read related posts: Books that Shaped America
Books that Will Change Your Life
The Books that Influence Us
Words Invented by Dickens

For further reading: The TIME 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived by the editors of Time, Time (2013)

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