Wild Men of Literature

4 min read

"In wildness is the preservation of the world." Henry David Thoreau 

This article has been inspired by the ‘Festival of Fabulous Wild Men’ which takes place on January 12th every year. While the origins and details of this festival are unclear, this article celebrates the ‘wild men’ of literature. From those admired for their differences to rebels, innovators and controversial characters fight their way through many wonderful novels. 


Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 1972)


Atticus Finch is a character celebrated for his moral courage. His bold defence of a wrongly accused black man has been admired by readers for decades. Atticus is a man of principle and integrity, able to stand up against his society in the name of justice. While some critics have threatened to overturn this reputation - due to differing racial perceptions in an earlier novel by Harper Lee - his courageous actions inTo Kill a Mockingbird render him a worthy ‘wild man’ of literature. 


Captain Flint (James Turner/Uncle Jim), Pigeon Post(Arthur Ransome, 1958)


Captain Flint is uncle to Nancy and Peggy Blackett. He appears throughout Arthur Ransome’s books, as both a friend and foe. While unfriendly at first, the resolution of differences leads to him joining the Swallows and Amazons in many adventures. Previously a gold miner and now living on a houseboat writing a novel, Uncle Jim is fierce and friendly, isolated and mysterious. He is a true ‘wild man’, intriguing, adventurous and occasionally loyal.



Don Quixote, Don Quixote(Miguel de Cervantes)


For many modern readers, Don Quixote is a heroic figure who fights against the odds. His knightly visions are however impossible and he meets a tragic end. Quixote’s adventures thus parody the idea of chivalric romance. While Quixote is a noble hero, he is also an idealist. He is a man unable to learn from his experiences, an anti-hero with delusional ideas. His insanity drives him on epic adventures where his chivalric thoughts become wild imaginings.



Falstaff, Henry IV (William Shakespeare)


Falstaff is an archetypal rogue. Despite being described as old, lazy and vulgar, he is often celebrated as one of Shakespeare’s most popular comic characters. He is a master of punning and his immoral commentaries on heroism feed the comic elements of the play. Scholarly admiration for Falstaff has largely been due to this ability to mould language for comic effect. Cowardly and deceptive, intelligent and insightful, Falstaff disgusts and delights. His rejection of morals and his roguish humour present him as a truly roguish wild man. 



Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye (J. D. Salinger, 1967-75)


Holden Caulfield is perhaps an unlikely rebel. He is not constrained by poverty or racism and instead suffers from personal and psychological alienation. Through his personal struggle, he exposes the problem of adolescent alienation in the wider world, particularly within the middle classes. During the postwar era, he became a powerful role model for young readers. While some view his unrestricted independence as a threat to youth, his internal struggles and outward rebellions still bond him to young readers today.



Huckleberry Finn, Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain, 1955)


Huckleberry Finn, uneducated and the son of a town drunkard. He is playful and practical, inventive and logical and a shrewd judge of character. Following his escape from his abusive father, he embarks on a journey along the Mississippi River alongside a runaway slave named Jim. While Huckleberry is bright and strong-willed, he is also dishonest, making him a true anti-hero. Free from social constraints, he is adventurous, rebellious, witty and of course, wild. 



Mowgli, The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling, 1991)


Raised by the wolves, Mowgli fits into a more literal definition of ‘wild man’. He is a feral boy with little understanding for the world of man. Mowgli first appears in Kipling’s stories as a young man with extraordinary outdoor skills. In each representation, Mowgli is in some way tied to the animal world. Often referred to as ‘man cub’ inThe Jungle Book, he is small and vulnerable yet unafraid. He exists in a harsh world, where he is ultimately weak, yet his ability to survive demonstrates inner strength. 



Samwise Gamgee, The Fellowship of the Ring (J. R. R. Tolkein, 1968)


Samwise Gamgee is a hero that shines from beneath the surface. He is kind, loyal and brave and perseveres despite the obstacles placed in his path. With duty and honour at the forefront of his consciousness, he fights against the often overwhelming odds. From gardener to hero, he never falters in his beliefs even when those around him seek to disagree. He defends Frodo numerous times and is there at his side through the darkest moments of their adventure.



Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle, 1887)


Sherlock Holmes is a complex, witty and brilliantly astute character. Often thought of as the greatest fictional detective of all time, he uses observation, logic and persuasion to solve each case. While a genius in his work, he is otherwise untidy, obsessive and compulsive. There is something almost inhuman about him, a precise machine with fierce concentration. He has a wild quality, with his restless energy, finely tuned temperament and intense mental processes. 



Willy Wonka, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl, 1973-1982)


Willy Wonka, the eccentric and extraordinary owner of the biggest chocolate factory in the world. Wonka is a larger than life character, with endless energy and a charming temperament. Although sometimes considered insensitive, he is generally friendly and talkative. Wonka is an unforgettable vivid character, with a wild spirit and quirky personality. He is acreative genius and his fantastical inventions are displayed throughout his wonderful factory. 


Wild Ways 

From morally upright heroes fighting for their cause, to rebels, rogues and quirky inventors, the characters on this list are all wild in their own way. Impulsive, courageous, fantastical and mad, these characters truly embody the wild men of literature. 

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