When a character strikes me, I try to think about what I like (or in some cases despise) and why. Studying characters that resonate and hearing what others think about them helps me craft better characters for my stories, and it makes me think about what people value, when and how they take action, and what any of it means at the end of the story.
Sometimes character study is a more socially acceptable form of gossip, about characters, not real people. So it’s cool and we all sound smart and not like a-holes.
Today, though, I’m starting on a positive note with a personal favorite. A simple, symbolic character. Ray the lightning bug.
Ray is the eccentric, Cajun firefly in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. He takes one of my favorite character forms, the off-beat, hopeful side character everyone likes and humors, even though they think he’s a little crazy (or ignorant/wrong/naive/somehow otherwise not-quite-right), who, in the end, turns out to have been right all along.
Ray, aptly named and characterized as a giver of light, both literally (since he’s a firefly) and figuratively. His unrelenting belief in the power of love is a force (a light) throughout the movie. First shown through his all-encompassing devotion to his beloved Evangeline in Heaven, who everyone else believes is just the evening star, and second, by the eagerness and selflessness with which he offers his help to the Princess and Prince as they seek help for their troubles. He believes from the beginning the two are meant to be together and he does everything he can to help them find their way.
He pays the ultimate price when he’s struck down by the villain, but Ray and his message are vindicated when the Princess and Prince get together, and when his little light appears in the night sky just to the right of his Evangeline.
The character steeped in folksy wisdom, common sense, and faith in what they feel is true no matter what anyone else says is almost always a favorite. These characters reinforce the importance of not only trusting what we believe in most, but sharing that part of ourselves with others. Ray valued love and he helped others find love. That’s not a bad legacy.
Plus he’s a firefly and his bottom lights up, which is awesome.
Image Credit: This is a sticker of Ray that’s on my laptop, courtesy of my 6 year old.