Like everyone, I was born lucky. Existence, after all, is something of immense merit that’s simply handed to us. Since I’ve been collecting data on luck over the past seven years, I’ve noticed that getting lucky and deserving it are two entirely separate things.
After fracturing my skull in a car accident, seeing my friends flourish and flounder during the Great Recession, and gaining a sense of historical perspective, I’ve come to appreciate life’s inherent randomness. But our behavior is entirely within our control. Years of research has given me a deeper understanding of what we bring to the table to influence our fate—that is, which enduring traits help us make our own luck.
How do we make our own luck, you ask? Let’s turn to seven characters in literary classics who did just that.
1. Ignatius J. Reilly, A Confederacy of Dunces by James Kennedy Toole
Ignatius is literature’s all-time unluckiest character. Ignatius believed in “the rota Fortunae, or wheel of fortune”; he also believed the evil world’s inhabitants were unable to recognize his genius and hell-bent on bringing him down. Combined with a failure to take personal responsibility, you have a perfect model of how to ensure that everything goes wrong.
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2. Oedipa Maas, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
Whether Maas is the luckiest literary character depends on the untold outcome of her journey—if she’s actually uncovering a vast conspiracy, the subject of a practical joke, or inventing connections between ambiguous symbols. Her bias toward action is what ensures that she doesn’t remain a victim.
3. Alice, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Another character who unexpectedly finds herself in a surreal quest, Alice capitalizes on life’s inherent randomness. She makes fast friends with the characters she encounters and is willing to take risks. Add in quick thinking, and you see why she always lands on her feet.
4. Katniss Everdeen, the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Volunteer as tribute for her sister? Check. Care for Rue, the young, fallen tribute? Yup. Katniss earns everyone’s respect and admiration by publicly using her skills for the good of those less capable—a surefire way to garner social support. (Note to self: luck is easier to attain once you add universal devotion to world-class archery skills.)
5. Edmond Dantès, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
While experiencing the ecstasy of feeling on top of the world, Dantès is framed and wrongfully imprisoned by the kind of characters currently known as “haters.” A prison sentence and the chaos implicit in seeking revenge ensues. If you live your life in anger, are you ever really free of those who wronged you? Would Dantès have been luckier had he learned to forgive and forget? The greater lesson here, perhaps, is that making your own luck often requires years of obsession and plotting while behind bars in France. Also: never giving up.
6. Charlie Bucket, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlie didn’t need a factory full of workers to scour through boxes of chocolate to find his golden ticket; the prize found him. Charlie took a different, subtler strategy than the other luck-making characters and kids on the factory tour by opting for the classic, cool-kid method: doing nothing. Sometimes it’s enough to avoid becoming unlucky, which is a stunningly easy fate when you’re locked in a surreal warehouse full of sugar with a strange older man and his helpers.
7. Harry Potter, Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling.
Since it’s set in a world of wizards (seven books full of characters who can access a host of Deus ex Machina-making devices, from potions to spells), anyone from the Potter series is an obvious choice. But here’s a better question: why does Harry have such a sizable percentage of adventures when Liquid Luck is available? Motivation, of course. Like Dumas’s Dantès, few characters are as motivated as Potter to level out the world’s karma by righting past wrongs. And, let’s be honest, being a famous wizard doesn’t hurt.
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