Oh, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She just won’t go away, will she? The romantic dramedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World opens in theaters tomorrow, and it seems to be only the newest incarnation of an age-old cinematic trend of young, whimsical women redeeming somewhat depressed and uncertain men with their quirky wiles. But though you know her as Zooey Deschanel, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is also a literary figure, identified by her charming left-of-center personality, her pronounced (and sometimes left-of-center) beauty, and her function as a usually rather flat character who serves to lead the male protagonist into self-discovery before disappearing (or dying). Click through to read about a few of our favorites, and then look at this Manic Pixie Dream Squirrel for extra credit.
Midori Kobayashi, Norwegian Wood
Haruki Murakami’s novels are filled with Manic Pixie Dream Girls — but to be fair, they’re pretty much filled with Manic Pixie Dream everything, from wells to cats to entire worlds. The most blatant character who fits the mold, however, is Midori, an outgoing and vivacious friend of Toru who distracts him from his emotionally fragile girlfriend with her confidence and sexuality.
Alaska Young, Looking for Alaska
John Green sure loves his MPDGs, but we think the willful, self-destructive, beautiful and “petite (but God, curvy)” Alaska takes the cake. When Miles (aka Pudge) first meets Alaska, she’s surrounded by piles of books, but when he asks if she’s read them all, she laughs: “Oh God no. I’ve maybe read a third of ’em. But I’m going to read them all. I call it my Life’s Library. Every summer since I was little, I’ve gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting. So I always have something to read. But there is so much to do: cigarettes to smoke, sex to have, swings to swing on. I’ll have more time for reading when I’m old and boring.” If we didn’t know any better, we’d think the next thing she did was run through the streets for no reason. Oh, wait. That’s what she does next. Like 500 Days of Summer, the first section of this book is a countdown to the moment Alaska disappears, leaving the heartsick Pudge to piece together her psyche. But of course, it’s all really about him, in the end.
Mary Foxe, Mr. Fox
As MPDGs go, Mary Foxe is as magical as they come — being actually magical, of course, or possibly imaginary. As Fox writes and rewrites more and more stories about and for her — the epitome of unrequited or special or perfect love — Mary begins to take corporeal form, complicating Fox’s relationship with his wife and engaging him in a literary challenge, forcing him to examine his own subconscious, not to mention his art.
Leslie Burke, Bridge to Terabithia
Leslie Burke is pretty much the epitome of this trope — but since the characters in Katherine Paterson’s classic novel are fifth graders, there’s none of that sparkling MPDG sexual promise, which is refreshing. Jesse Aarons is a depressed and nervous boy until he meets Leslie, a jocular tomboy who can both run and think faster than anyone else he knows, and the two build a magical world together in the woods. When Leslie drowns, Jesse is heartbroken, but realizes that she has imbued him with a courage and strength he never had before.
Sebastian Flyte, Brideshead Revisited
The Manic Pixie Dream Boy is much less common than his girlish counterpart, but he does exist. Case in point: the flamboyant, self-destructive, exaggerating, teddy bear-wielding Sebastian Flyte, who leads Charles by the hand through the Botanical Gardens and only wants to talk about art and wine, and who Charles thinks is “magically beautiful, with that epicene quality that sings aloud for love and withers at the first cold wind.” And wither he does.
Camilla Macaulay, The Secret History
When Richard first describes Camilla, he does so in conjunction with her twin, but the description is still as MPDG as they come: “They looked very much alike, with heavy dark-blond hair and epicene faces as clear, as cheerful and grave, as a couple of Flemish angels. And perhaps most unusual in the context of Hampden — where pseudo-intellects and teenage decadents abounded, and where black clothing was de rigueur — they liked to wear pale clothes, particularly white. In this swarm of cigarettes and dark sophistication they appeared here and there like figures from an allegory, or long-dead celebrants from some forgotten garden party.” Though Camilla is somewhat more enticing to Richard than Charles is (we wonder why), and probably the true MPDG here for the way she leads him halfway and has a hand in his education, the pair functions as a dreamy and almost mystical force.
Lux Lisbon, The Virgin Suicides
Somewhat unusually, Jeffrey Eugenides first novel is told from the perspective of a group of boys peering through the curtains at their own personal group of Manic Pixie Dream Girls, the Lisbon sisters, of whom Lux is paramount. Though unlike many characters that fit into this trope, Lux does have something of her own emotional arc, she still functions as the dreamy, disastrous, unknowable figure that titillates these boys and leads them by the hand (not literally, but they wish) through their own coming of age story.
Charlie, High Fidelity
In his first novel, Nick Hornby subverts the trope by showing the results when protagonist Rob Fleming tracks down Charlie, the ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl of his youth. Turns out, he’s sort of over it:
“It doesn’t help that Charlie talks bollocks all night; she doesn’t listen to anyone, she tries too hard to go off at obtuse angles, she puts on all sorts of unrecognizable and inappropriate accents. I would like to say that these are all new mannerisms, but they’re not; they were there before, years ago. The not listening I once mistook for strength of character, the obtuseness I misread as mystery, the accents I saw as glamour and drama. How had I managed to edit all this out in the intervening years? How had I managed to turn her into the answer to all the world’s problems?”
It’s called college, Rob. It happens to the best of us.
In this epistolary novel, high school freshman and eponymous wallflower Charlie is introduced to world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show by the beautiful Samantha, a senior who helps him learn how best to be himself, yet always holds him at a tantalizing half-arm’s length. In spite of ourselves, we’re kind of psyched for the film version.
Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Though the film version of Capote’s novella definitely exaggerated Holly’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl-like tendencies, she still started out as an alluring, mysterious “American geisha” with strange habits and a love of surprises. That being said, she is the protagonist of the story, which makes her not officially a MPGD — still, we would argue that the figure of Holly Golightly has become a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for the American cultural imagination, and particularly, perhaps, for women.