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In a work of media adapted from a real or fictional narrative, a composite character is a character based on more than one individual from the preceding story. Two or more fictional characters are often combined into a single character in the course of an adaptation of a work for a different medium, as in adapting a novel in the course of authoring a screenplay for a film. A composite character may be modeled on historical or biographical figures. An amalgamation or amalgam, when used to refer to a fictional character or place, refers to one that was created by combining, or is perceived to be a combination of, several other previously existing characters or locations. To emphasize the origin of their creations, authors or artists may use amalgamated names.
A composite character may be a historical character in which characteristics of several historical figures have merged to form a single amalgamated character. An example is the three Herods in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Herod the Great (Luke 1:5), Herod Antipas (Luke 3:1; 9:7-9; 13:31-33; 23:5-12), and Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-23) are three separate historical rulers. Yet they are portrayed as a single composite character who functions in Luke-Acts “as an actualization of Satan’s desire to impede the spread of the good news though his [“Herod’s”] rejection of the gospel message and through political persecution,” for example the execution of John (Luke 9:7–9), Jesus (Acts 4:24–28), James (Acts 12:1–2), and the attempted execution of Peter (Acts 12:3–5).
Composite characters are also found in apocalyptic literature, for example the Book of Revelation. The two witnesses of Revelation 11 are an amalgamation of several character traits taken from Jeremiah, Elijah, and Moses. The composite characterization of the two witnesses represents the Christian community as a whole (the church) in their specific vocation as witnesses.:505-506 Similarly, the beast of Revelation 13, a seven-headed monster that arises from the sea, is a composite character who combines the ferocious and frightening traits of the leopard, bear, and lion (Rev. 13:2). This composite character is usually thought to represent the Roman Empire of the first century CE.:576-59 A city can also be a composite character. A case in point is the whore of Babylon in Revelation 17. The traits of a prostitute and an infamous city of the seventh and sixth centuries BCE merge to form a description of Rome of the first-century CE.:675
Use in film
- Sir Humphrey Pengallan in the 1939 film Jamaica Inn is a composite of Reverend Francis Davey and Squire Bassat.
- Vital Dutour in the 1943 film The Song of Bernadette is combined with Hyacinthe de La Fite.
- Steve Martin in the 1946 film The Jolson Story is a composite of Al Jolson's three managers.
- Major Frank Burns in the 1970 film M*A*S*H is a composite of Captain Frank Burns and Major Hobson from the original novel. The composite character was carried over into the TV series.
- Chico in the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven is a composite of the samurai Kikuchiyo and Katsushiro from the film Seven Samurai, which Magnificent Seven was based upon.
- Disney's version of the Queen of Hearts, as seen in the 1951 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, seems to be an amalgam of the Duchess and the Queen in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and the Red Queen of Through The Looking-Glass. Also, the Dormouse is an amalgam of the Mouse and the Dormouse.
- The character Robert Ciaro in the biographical film Hoffa is an amalgamation of several Jimmy Hoffa associates over the years.
- Several characters in the movie 21.
- Many of the characters in the film Black Hawk Down are composites, including the protagonist Matt Eversmann.
- The character Henry Hurt in the docudrama Apollo 13 is portrayed as a NASA public relations employee assigned to the wife of astronaut Jim Lovell, and who also is seen answering reporters' questions. This character is a composite of the NASA protocol officer Bob McMurrey assigned to act as a buffer between the Lovell family and the press, and several Office of Public Affairs employees whose job was to actually work with the press.
- Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs is a composite based on the serial killers Jerry Brudos, Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, Gary M. Heidnik, Edmund Kemper, and Gary Ridgway.
- Barty Crouch, Sr. in the 2004 film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is combined with Ludo Bagman.
- The character Friedrich Sternberg in the 2008 film The Red Baron is a composite of the many Jewish pilots who fought for the German Empire in the First World War.
- The character Peter Brand in the 2011 film Moneyball was a composite of Peter Brand and his real life assistant Paul DePodesta.
- Lucy in 2016's Lion is a composite of several of Saroo Brierley's acquaintances.
- The character Commander Bolton in the 2017 film Dunkirk is a composite of several real life people, including Commander James Campbell Clouston and Captain Bill Tennant.
- Glinda the Good Witch of the North in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz is a composite of the Good Witch of the North and Glinda the Good Witch of the South from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
- The characters in the 1963 film The Great Escape are based on real men, and in some cases are composites of several men. The character Virgil Hilts, the "Cooler King," was based on at least three pilots, David M. Jones, John Dortch Lewis, and William Ash.
Use in musicals
- The musical version of Les Misérables has the charismatic revolutionary Enjolras die while waving a flag at the top of a barricade; in the original novel by Victor Hugo, a character named Mabeuf dies in such a way.
- The musical Wicked has the character of Fiyero who fills in the roles of both himself (the love interest of the Wicked Witch of the West) and another minor character from the novel.
- In the musical Legally Blonde, the character of Professor Stromwell from the film does not appear. Her storyline is split up between Vivian and Professor Callahan.
Use in television
- The main antagonist of the third season of Jessica Jones, Trish Walker, was based on a combination of Carol Danvers as depicted in Alias and Patsy Walker.
- The main antagonist of the fifth season of Arrow, Simon Morrison, poses as the villainous warrior Prometheus as well as the Star City District Attourney Adrian Chase.
- 1st Lt. (later CPT) Colleen McMurphy on the television series China Beach was a composite of several real-life Army nurses who served in Vietnam.
- Savitar in The Flash television series is depicted as a possible future version of Barry Allen/The Flash. Savitar's costume, a dark suit covered in glowing blue lines, is based on the costume of Barry's future self from the New 52 comics.
- Marshall Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke is a composite of several Old West Kansas lawmen.
- Chris's siblings Drew and Tonya from Everybody Hates Chris are based on Chris Rock's seven real-life siblings.
- The Shocker in Spectacular Spider-Man combines both the comics version of the character and a separate, unrelated Spider-Man villain Jackson "Montana" Brice. Similarly, Fancy Dan is a composite of the comic character and Ricochet, one of the various identities assumed by Peter Parker.
- Jamie Moriarty in Elementary is a composite character of both Professor Moriarty and Irene Adler from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original novels.
- Ulana Khomyuk in Chernobyl is a composite character created to represent "the many scientists who worked fearlessly and put themselves in a lot of danger to help solve the situation."
Use in books
- The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy, a memoir by Richard E. Burke allegedly exposing various activities of U.S. Senator Teddy Kennedy featured several composite characters associated with Kennedy's alleged drug use and sexual dalliances; the inclusion of such became a point of criticism for the book.
Use in comics
- All the characters from Amalgam Comics are combinations of superheroes from Marvel Comics and DC Comics, such as Super-Soldier (Captain America + Superman) and Dark Claw (Wolverine + Batman).
- “The Immortal Mr. Murderhands” in the second volume of Spider-Gwen serves as a combination of Manji from Blade of the Immortal and the Wolverine.
Use in journalism
Creating composite characters in journalism is considered a misrepresentation of facts and, without appropriate notice to the reader, unethical. Some writers who are considered journalists or who describe them selves as journalists have on occasion used composite characters.
- In 1944, The New Yorker ran a series of articles by Joseph Mitchell on New York's Fulton Fish Market that were presented as journalism. Only when the story was published four years later as the book Old Mr. Flood did Mitchell write, "Mr. Flood is not one man; combined in him are aspects of several old men who work or hang out in Fulton Fish Market, or who did in the past." Mitchell assigned his composite character his own birthday and his own love for the Bible and certain authors. In his introduction to Mr. Flood, Mitchell wrote, "I wanted these stories to be truthful rather than factual, but they are solidly based on facts."
- John Hersey is said to have created a composite character in a Life magazine story as did Alastair Reid for The New Yorker.
- Vivian Gornick in 2003 said that she used composite characters in some of her articles for the Village Voice.
Places may be amalgamated in fiction by taking districts, landmarks, or characters of real-world locations, or previously created locations of another work of fiction. For example, a sample fictional city could contain the Eiffel Tower a block away from the Forbidden City, where Bill Gates may be living after having bought a nearby clacks tower from Albus Dumbledore. Usually, if the author or artist desires the city to be more believable, he or she will amalgamate it only from real places, whereas if the story is more fantastic, fictional places may be better.
An author or artist may choose to amalgamate a city rather than imagining all of its aspects from scratch in order to be humorous by referencing other works and/or real places, or to avoid having to name his or her city altogether, such as when shooting a film in several existing cities, while the city portrayed is supposed not to exist.
- Gutkind, Lee; Fletcher, Hattie (2008). Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction (1st ed.). New York: W.W. Norton. p. 39. ISBN 0393065618.
- Frank E. Dicken, Herod as a Composite Character in Luke-Acts, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament II 375 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 7.
- Koester, Craig R. (2014). Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300211030.
- "House of cards". Boston.com. 6 April 2008. Retrieved 13 October 2013.(subscription required)
- Lovell, Jim; Kluger, Jeffrey (1994). Apollo 13. New York: Pocket Books. pp. 118, 209–210, 387. ISBN 0671534645.
- Grow, Kory (14 February 2016). "'Silence of the Lambs' at 25: Inside Buffalo Bill". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
- Alexander, Bryan (20 July 2017). "'Dunkirk': How historically accurate is Christopher Nolan's WWII battle film?". USA TODAY. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
- Bruemmer, René (2 August 2017). "Inspiration for summer blockbuster Dunkirk an unsung Montreal hero". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 2 August 2017.
- Adams, Guy (25 July 2017). "The real hero of Dunkirk: Courage of the pier-master who manned a crucial jetty to organise evacuees for six days and five nights without a break". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
- "Unsung hero of Dunkirk evacuation a former McGill student". McGill Reporter. McGill University. 7 August 2017. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
- "This war hero was forgotten in Canada and portrayed as a Brit in 'Dunkirk.' Now he's finally getting his due". Washington Post. 21 September 2017.
- Broich, John (20 July 2017). "What's Fact and What's Fiction in 'Dunkirk'". Slate. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
- Kaufman, Michael T. (13 August 1999). "John D. Lewis, 84, Pilot in 'The Great Escape'". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
- Bishop, Patrick (30 August 2015). "William Ash: The cooler king". BBC Online. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
- Foley, Brendan (29 April 2014). "Bill Ash obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
- "William Ash - obituary". The Daily Telegraph. London. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
- Goodykoontz, Billy (28 May 2013). "25 years later, 'China Beach' earns your respect". USA TODAY. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
- "'China Beach': Cast Reunites, Reflects on Series' Impact". ABC News. 30 September 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
- Barra, Allen (July 2013). "Dodge Vs. Deadwood". American Heritage. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
- "Emily Watson on her new TV drama, Chernobyl". www.scotsman.com. Retrieved 4 June 2019.
- "Ex-aide's Book Alleges Kennedy Used Drugs The Senator Called Allegations About Orgies, Drugs And Alcohol "Bizarre And Untrue"". The Inquirer. 27 September 1992. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
- Isaak, Sharon (30 October 1992). "Tales of Ted Kennedy". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
- Weiner, Robert G. (2008). Marvel Graphic Novels and Related Publications: An Annotated Guide to Comics, Prose Novels, Children's Books, Articles, Criticism and Reference Works, 1965-2005. McFarland. pp. 228, 385. ISBN 97807864-25006. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
- Shafer, Jack (12 June 2003). "The fabulous fabulists". Slate. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
- Carduff, Christopher (3 November 1992). "Fish-eating, whiskey, death & rebirth". New Criterion. Archived from the original on 6 March 2001. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
- O'Rourke, Meghan (29 July 2003). "Literary license". Slate. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
- "Unethical writers love the power of creative non-fiction -". WTOP.com. 13 January 2006. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 13 October 2013.