When it comes to laughing in the face of danger, superheroes have their special powers (or at least special suits) to back them up—but the badass men of literature have to rely on their wits and their charm. Sherlock Holmes could definitely outsmart Iron Man, Jean Valjean could probably kick Captain America's butt, and while Thor was distracted by a crazy story about some giant whale, Ahab would totally steal his hammer. You don't mess with Ahab. Remember that.
Here are our 10 of our favorite badass men of literature:
1. Atticus Finch—To Kill A Mocking Bird: If you're looking for a big-picture, social justice badass, you can't beat Atticus defending an innocent black man in a horribly bigoted town. If you're looking for a single shot of action hero-caliber badassery, there's also that time Atticus shoots a rabid dog from a mile away without breaking a sweat.
2. John Proctor—The Crucible: Admittedly, in the beginning of the play John Proctor's more awful than awesome. His affair leads to a witch hunt which leads to a nice old man being crushed to death by a giant rock. But he redeems himself when he decides to face the gallows rather than corrupt his name.
3. Howard Roark—The Fountainhead: You wouldn't want to be Roark's BFF (or even his lab partner), but he knows what he wants and he goes after it, consequences be damned.
4. Jean Valjean—Les Miserables: Jean Valjean just won't let the man keep him down. Imprisoned for a little bread theft (obviously he didn't have a trusty monkey friend to distract the guards), he keeps trying to escape. Later, he almost outs himself as a thief who jumped parole by lifting a cart off someone—like a Superman who's kryptonite is a need to do right. And just when it looks like he's getting too old to do anything but sit in his rocker and tell stories of badass exploits past, he carries his daughter's wounded boyfriend through the sewers to safety.
5. Don Quixote—Don Quixote: Is Don Quixote crazy? Absolutely. But who says all badasses have to be sane? He might have gone after windmills thinking they were giants, but hey, he was ready to fight those giants to the death. Are you ready to fight giants to the death?
6. Quasimodo—The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Cooped up in a bell tower for most of his life, Quasimodo still somehow develops the bravery needed to zip-line from the bell tower to the gallows below to save the girl of his dreams. Yes, saving her doesn't ultimately work (if you like happy endings, stick to the Disney version), but still, mad props for trying, dude!
7. Algernon Moncrieff—The Importance of Being Earnest: Rich, suave Algernon has a secret identity, can charm women he's never even met, and has a certain flair for eating cucumber sandwiches. The fanciest badass on this list, Algernon never loses his cool.
8. Sherlock Holmes—The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes is like the smartest guys from Law and Order, CSI, Dexter, and Cold Case all rolled into one hottie rockin' a pipe.
9. Ahab—Moby Dick: Guys, he fights a whale. He doesn't win, but that's not the point.
10. Tom Sawyer—The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Not exactly a man, but exactly a badass. Tom can convince his friends to do his bidding, gets to watch his own funeral, and bravely testifies against a murderer, knowing witness protection in his time is limited to the sheriff advising you to hide in the basement for a while.
Are there any classic lit tough guys that we left off the list?
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