One of my favorite characters is Arthur in The Once and Future King, by TH White. This is the same book that the Disney cartoon The Sword in the Stone is based on, although that story is only a small part of the book. The book follows King Arthur from his days as an awkward adopted orphan called “Wart,” through his experiences of pulling the sword from the stone and becoming King. He then goes on to unite small scattered kingdoms that become England. This story was not new when TH White wrote it. He was collecting 1000 years worth of legends and tales and turning them into a single story. His characterization of Arthur, Guinevere, the other knights, and the villains Morgan le Fey and Mordred were what made this story great. Instead of being the stiff, one-dimensional character Arthur usually turns out to be in these stories, White made Arthur relatable by showing some of his experiences as an orphaned child, his feeling of conflict and inadequacy upon becoming king, and the pain of being betrayed by his best friend and his wife.
Characters shape our experiences with books by giving us a way to experience the ideas the author is writing about. When we identify with the characters, we begin to care what happens to them and then we internalize the ideas of the story. We respond as though we were a part of the story.