Throughout the ages, red hair has fallen in and out of favour. Culturally, titian locks have been revered and loathed, envied and feared, praised and ridiculed. During the Middle Ages, red hair was thought to be the sign of a witch or a vampire. Move into the Renaissance and the tables turned; red hair was highly fashionable for women thanks to Queen Elizabeth I.
In literature, it’s been no different. In the Brothers Grimm tale Iron John (Der Eisenhans) the spirit of the forest of iron is a savage redheaded man. In Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift writes, "It is observed that the red-haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest..." In The Catcher in the Rye, protagonist Holden Caulfield states, “People with red hair are supposed to get mad very easily, but Allie never did, and he had very red hair.”
Over the past century, we have seen authors add endearing red-haired characters to their books. Often they are included as faithful sidekicks but there are also heroes and heroines with crimson tresses like Madeline and Pippi Longstocking.
Read on for our list of 10 favourite red-haired characters from literature among whom you'll find gangs, best friends, a cat and a comic strip or two.
from the Biggles books by W.E. Johns (1935 onwards)
Biggles’ protégé and trusted working class sidekick, Ginger appears in all but 13 of the Biggles’ books and made his debut in The Black Peril. The classic heroic companion along, with upper class Algy, on Biggles’ adventures.
Ginger from The Tale of Ginger and Pickles by Beatrix Potter
Ginger is a yellow tomcat who runs the local shop with Pickles, a terrier. Sadly, the dog and cat retailing tag-team offer unlimited credit, never have any money in the till and it all goes Peter Tong. Sounds familiar? Beatrix Potter meets Wall Street…
Ginger Coffey from The Luck of Ginger Coffey by Brian Moore
Ginger is a red-haired Irishman. The Luck of Ginger Coffey tells the story of an Irish couple seeking a new life in Canada. Like his hero, Moore emigrated to Canada in 1948 and this book won the 1960 Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
Ginger from the
stories by Richmal Crompton (1922 onwards)
Ginger is part of William Brown’s Outlaws gang, other members include Douglas and Henry, and they meet in a barn in Farmer Jenks’ field. Ginger is William’s best friend, equally grimy and another example of the classic red-headed sidekick.
Jabez Wilson from The Red-Headed League by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1891/92)
A short story that first appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1891. Also published a year later in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It’s a mystery where red-haired Jabez Wilson is hired by The Red-Headed League to carry out useless clerical tasks but organisation suddenly dissolves.
Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Published 101 years ago, Anne is the full-of-life orphan with red braids and freckles who goes to live with the dull-as-dishwater Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert on Prince Edward Island. Anne remains one of the most recognizable characters in children’s literature and a Canadian icon.
Sebastian Dangerfield from The Ginger Man by JP Donleavy
Banned for obscenity in the US, The Ginger Man details the adventures of red-headed Sebastian Dangerfield – an heavy drinking, womanizing and irresponsible American studying at Dublin’s Trinity College. Sebastian is one of literature’s infamous drinkers. A anti-hero to many.
Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter novels by
Yet another red-headed sidekick, Rowling gave Weasley freckles as well as bright red hair. He comes from an entire family of red-heads. Today, Ron is probably the world’s best known red-head in popular culture thanks the trillion-selling novels and smash-hit movies.
Ginger Meggs from the syndicated comic strip series, Ginger Meggs
Ginger Meggs is Australia’s longest running comic strip. In true comic strip style, Ginger is a young red-haired rascal created by Jimmy Bancks. Ginger first appeared in the Sydney Sunday Sun on 13 November 1921. He has been described as “Australia’s Peter Pan” and syndicated around the world.
Tintin from The Adventures of Tintin comic books by Belgian artist, Hergé (1929 onwards)
He’s only got a small quiff but Tintin is a red-head. Hergé’s comic strip began life in black and white so the color printing process was quite a revelation for Tintin readers. For once, we see a red-head in the lead role rather than as one of the supporting cast.