When an author creates a character, he or she bestows upon this fictional person specific attributes — age, looks, certain proclivities — that may or may not be made explicit on the page. But whether the character is explained fully or not, there’s no telling what will happen when the culture at large gets a hold of him. Especially if the notoriously age-garbling film industry gets involved. After the jump, prepare to be shocked at famous literary characters that are significantly younger than you (probably) think they are.
Holly Golightly: 18
For those only aware of Holly Golightly in her now-iconic Audrey Hepburn incarnation, it might be a surprise to learn that the novella places her in her late teens (Hepburn was 31 when the movie was filmed). Truman Capote was, of course, famously less than thrilled with the casting — but then, he wanted Marilyn Monroe, who was even older. But blonde, boys, blonde.
Scarlett O’Hara: 16
At the start of the novel (and the start of the Civil War), our “not beautiful, but” heroine is a mere 16 years old — the same age at which she first marries, has a child, and becomes a widow. By the end of the novel, she’s 28, and has, as particularly vibrant literary characters are wont to do, already lived several lifetimes’ worth of drama.
Miss Havisham: 37 to early 50s
Every time a film adaptation of Great Expectations comes up, so does the question of Miss Havisham’s age. Traditionally, she’s portrayed as a withered crone — and not without support from the novel, in which Pip describes her as a “skeleton” and a “waxwork.” But depending on how you do the math, her actual age adds up to anywhere between 37 and early 50s. After all, the events of the novel take place 25 years after she is left at the altar, and people were married pretty early in those days. Prematurely aged by despair? Indeed. An old lady? Not really.
“When I thought about him for the first time,” Hergé said of his most famous everyman in an incredibly adorable interview with a French child, “I think that he was about 14 or 15 years old. But now, let’s say that he’s 17. Here it is. So he got three years older in 50 years, that’s a good deal!” That is a very good deal, and as Hergé’s interviewer points out, Tintin is mighty mature for his age — how does he know how to fly all those planes? Just a quick learner, as it turns out.
Humbert Humbert: 36
Dear old Hum is the cultural epitome of the dirty old man — but he’s actually not that old. He’s only 36, though his age has been muddled by Kubrick’s iconic film, where he is portrayed by a 53-year-old James Mason (and Sue Lyon’s Lolita is 14). Now of course, mid-30s is still not young enough to be courting a 12-year-old, but his intended youth makes his obsession seem even more tragic.
Arya Stark and Sansa Stark: 9 and 13
At the start of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the Stark girls are mere babies. Now just think about all the crap that happens to them.
Jay Gatsby: 32
If, like most people, you read The Great Gatsby in high school, everyone in it probably seemed impossibly grown up, Actual Adults if insufferably fancy ones. Turns out that they’re pretty young to be that rich, something that, as Flavorwire film editor Jason Bailey realized, rather sticks out to anyone reading the book as a semi-grown person. At least all the angst makes sense, though.
Sherlock Holmes: 27
Literature’s most famous detective is almost always portrayed, in his many, many incarnations, by a middle-aged man. Now, this isn’t strictly wrong — Holmes ages as his stories go on — but after a bit of math (“His Last Bow” specifies that Holmes is 60 in 1914) it’s clear that in his first adventure, “A Study in Scarlet,” he’s a mere 27. This makes him almost a decade younger than Benedict Cumberbatch, who is surely one of the youngest actors to play the role, and much younger than his character in the cultural consciousness.
Scout Finch: 5
When the novel begins, Scout describes herself as “almost six,” and by the end she’s about eight, a tiny number that’s easy to forget because of the adult vantage point of her narration. She’s one tough kid.
Well this one totally makes sense — after all, when else than your early teens are you crazy enough to (literally) kill yourself over a boy that you’ve known for all of five minutes? That said, she’s almost always portrayed as at least 16. Also a crazy time for most humans.