For some reason I got to thinking this morning about how innkeepers in fantasy novels really have it made. Everyone always seems to have a good time, it’s warm and cozy inside, there’s a fire going, the ale is flowing, and the place is usually packed. At least, until the hero shows up, gets attacked, and everyone starts breaking stuff.
So. Who has the worst job in fiction?
Is it the non-hero who accompanies two main characters on a dangerous mission in science fiction?
An orc soldier (smelly AND dangerous)?
James Bond’s mechanic?
Any character in any novel written by Camus or Satre.
– Shudder –
Or any Russian novelist.
Or Dickens. or John Steinbeck.
– Double Shudder –
Other Lisa says
I used to watch BONANZA repeats in the AMs before going to work (that and BIG VALLEY, which is one of the better late 60s/early 70s camp-fests out there), and my conclusion is: any woman who touches a Cartwright. Touch a Cartwright, you die.
Karen Peterson says
The guy that guards the gate at the city/castle/mansion. He ALWAYS gets killed.
Anybody that has to empty chamber pots. Maybe the servants in Jane Austen novels? Though I've never actually read a Jane Austen novel. Gasp! I know!
The secondary main character. Definitely. He has to get beaten up, be believed to be dead, crawl through the mud/river/underworld to find the MC and then proceed to realize what the Bad Guy is going to do, then sacrifice himself for the MC and then die dramatically only to come back to life at the end of the story. And then he's stuck with the scars and the physical therapy that the author refuses pay for.
Even though all of yours were funny…
Miss Kitty, in Gunsmoke. Matt, I still say you hold the world's record for dense idiot!
I'm going to side with jjdebenedictis on this one–as Terry Pratchett shows us, you practically need the words "incompetent" on your resume in order to get the job because your life is sure to be short and thankless.
The scoundrel is the one who has a difficult go at it. By the sweat of his brow and hard earned evil-doing, the poor guy has to jump through hoops to rob someone. Imagine him sweating perfusiely as he charges into a bodega with gun in hand…only to get clubbered with a cane by little old lady, who has more chutzpah than a rich beggar.
I thought of that Pratchett dedication, too! Always made me think of the cops in the big Matrix shootout.
And on a completely different note, I'm loving the comments. In some ways, we're all listing cliched characters. It's really helpful.
Brendan J Paredes says
It's the street snitch. In fantasy it's usually some blind beggar covered in all manner of filth, smelling of old urine to seem more pathetic, with some well cultivated sores to play on sympathies. In variably the local city watch treats them worse than thieves, the heroes have contempt for them and they get slapped around a lot. If they are working the street near the Big Bad, they usually come to a particularly gruesome and lingering bad end.
Sure, they know what's going on, but no one really listens to them save the really sharp hero type who probably grew up on the street and has no problem slapping them around and intimidating them to make them cough up, sometimes literally, the goods so to speak. Always a fun character to write, but the things that happen to them make the fates of the red shirted scecurity guards on Star Trek look humane by comparison.
Clare WB says
The often referred to, but seldom–if ever–seen person(s) whose misguided child rearing fostered the incredible actions of the protagonist and antagonist. (And without whose influence the story would be one big bore.)
Terin Tashi Miller says
Traffic cops, hospital orderlies, street sweepers, garbage collectors, janitors, police divers, SWAT snipers, and, no matter what time period or location, whoever has to clean the mess left by either the protagonist or antagonist…
Ty Johnston says
The character in the prologue/first chapter of many a horror novel who is the first one killed by the monster/serial murderer. Usually out jogging or walking late at night through a part of town they know they're not supposed to be walking through.
Cindy Marie Jenkins says
The gate guard who rarely gets seen before being trampled upon by the Nazgul entering Bree (was that too specific?). I always appreciate seeing that guy getting the trample, as opposed to just assuming that's what happened.
The worst job in fiction is the maid. They always have to keep all the secrets and decide when to turn on the protagonists and spill the beans.
Snape – working for Dumbledore, pretending to work for Voldemort, misjudged, hated ..
"Well, the main causes of your obesity appear to stem from some common dietary deficiencies. I advise you to lay off the red meat for a few months, then reintriduce it slowly back into your diet, but no more than twice a week. Also you need plenty of Sunlight and fresh air.
"Oh and finally, lay of the beer."
"What are you doing with that axe??"
Keely Hutton says
The mother in any book Disney decides to make into a movie. They are killed off within the first few chapters.
The villain's sidekick… Igor
the main character in Too Loud a Solitude by Hrabal. his job is to burn books all day–shoving them into furnaces–book after book after book [shivers]
Sheila Cull says
The ladies room attendant, in the novel, that stands with towels on a forearm. Two refined women dry their hands in front of her and whisper, "I'm dead serious. I'll murder that bitch."
The Mentor of the Hero: they always have to deal with the Hero in the whiniest moments and generally die before seeing all their hard work and good advice come to fruition in said Hero.
Laurie Boris says
Definitely the guys in the red shirts. That also includes the night watchman. He usually buys it first.
John Hines Jr says
I'd submit that the worst job in fiction is "writer." Not the author, mind you, but the hero in those self-analyzing stories where some poor schmuck of a writer is dragged into playing the protagonist. Especially when it's a horror novel, and the woefully under equipped, under trained, and under prepared writer must fend off some nameless, faceless evil. Here's a guy who probably has an MFA, and whose only experience with evil is dealing with critics and editors (and agents 🙂 ) who is suddenly thrown into a dangerous and poorly understood situation where skills with weapons (both normal and mystical), fighting, and strategy are all requirements for survival. Poor bastards are always stumbling into towns overrun with vampires, or alien spaceships, or ancient gods with ego problems.
M Clement Hall says
Sancho Panza, trying to keep his crazed boss out of trouble,
I vote for the taxpayers in any metropolis infected by superheroes.
I mean, the property damage!
The superhero and their arch-nemesis never face off in secluded, unpopulated places. It's always right in the middle of the city. Buildings get knocked down, cars flattened, infrastructure destroyed. Sure, it's all insured, but you can bet the premiums are astronomical, and who's going to pay for that?
The same is true in any piece of fiction where aliens attack, asteroids/earthquakes/fires hit.
J. T. Shea says
Right on, The Invisible Writer! I’m an Ayn Rand hero. I try to build a 10,000 foot skyscraper in my back yard and what do I get? Objections!
Overshadowing? Overlooking? Privacy? Sewers? Parking? Safety? Did the Babylonians have to worry about such trivia? Okay, bad example. But THEY pissed off God.
I wonder how many supporters or opponents of Ayn Rand can pronounce her first name right…
J. T. Shea says
Ulysses, insurance policies have a standard clause excluding damage or loss caused by battles between superheroes and their arch-nemeses.
AngelIB35, Igor definitely! Pronounced 'EYEGORE' of course. Hump? What hump?
Harry Connolly says
Any King with a Vizier.
Harry Potter's post-DEATHLY HALLOWS therapist.
Michael Bracken says
The guy you've never seen before who joins the landing party in every episode of Star Trek. You know he's going to die.
It's that poor forensic lab technician working smack in the middle of solving the mass serial killings. Having to cleanup those grosteque bodies, wiggly worms, and the stench.
If you ever wake up in fiction land and they put that gold star surrounded by two upward prongs with six small stars above invoke the name of Neptune, Jesus or your most loyal Mermaid because if you are a Submarine Commander you are not allowed to die until the ultimate levels of torture are complete insuring your ghost haunts the sub for the rest of the story.
That's a pretty big specification. And all these comments have such good jobs…
After thinking quite awhile on this, I'd have to say in the genres I like, any 'other guy' in a love triangle. Strung along for so long by the main chick, only to be replaced by one guy with nothing to show for it but misery and contempt for his author.
Either that or any family member of the hero. I believe it was stated many times here, something bad always happens to those poor bastards. My own character backstories: I've got a brother, a wife, a mom, another mom, a dad, yet another mom and the list goes on. All of 'em die.
This one's easy. Anyone who lands in a Stephen King novel is pretty well screwed. If they die it's going to be in a miserable way, and if they survive, at a minimum they'll be having nightmares for the rest of their life.
The Dark Word says
I saw Red Shirt posted… but it'd be worse if you were a *black guy* in a red shirt.
Worst job in fiction? Whatever gets you killed the quickest.
SF: Wearing a red shirt. ("Didn't you guys watch the show?")
Fantasy: Being a dragon usually doesn't earn you any points.
Mystery: The first dead body. Honestly, the first time that character shows up on page, he/she's already dead.
Horror: Pretty much everyone but the protag. Let's face it; they're all there to die or get horrifically screwed up. (Course, the protag isn't necessarily excempt either…)
Romance: The main characters' pets. They have to watch all that crap go down before the two finally hook up at the end, and like us, are unable to communicate with the characters.
Jan Markley says
I think it's the cop who works the night shift and has to eat fast food b/c he's so busy from the murder committed that evening.
What about the unfortunate generic (Ffordian terminology for residents in Book World who inhabit minor roles or who are in training for larger ones) who gets bundled, along with the main protagonists, into the den of some fearsome creature so that we can watch him be ripped to bloodied shreds in cruel and unusual ways so that we feel all the more grateful that our heroes defeat the beast and escape their fate? Poor sod!