Today I was puzzled by some statements in the thread about fictional characters and type. The character being discussed was House, MD from the American TV show of the same name. Now, I happen to think House is one of the most fascinating characters on TV. He's complicated, frustrating, and not really all that likable. He's a puzzle, wrapped up in an enigma, smothered in a conundrum, like some kind of mysterious burrito.
But he's not a nice guy. He's not friendly, and sometimes it's hard to be sympathetic with him because he's constantly digging his own interpersonal holes. Sometimes you think maybe he's just a tender curmudgeon with a creamy nougat center, but then he does something really super dickish and you wonder if maybe he's just basted in ass for an assy flavor through and through.
(Fucking food metaphors. I hate dieting.)
Anyway. I didn't really want to start another House thread, since there is one already dedicated to him and he comes up frequently in other threads. But I have been turning this over all day. Some of my favorite characters, in any form of media, are NOT very sympathetic. Or, maybe more to the point, not immediately and apparently sympathetic. But they are still very compelling characters. A totally good or totally bad character is flat, but one with both flaws and redeeming qualities stands up on the page/screen (especially if the redeeming ones are hidden away).
Darth Vader, the Star Wars saga
Starbuck, Battlestar Galactica
Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye
Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver
Ben Linus, Lost
Humbert Humbert, Lolita
What about you? Do you need to be able to approve of a character to appreciate him or her?