Who is Scotland’s greatest literary character?

It is a popularity contest which will pit Harry Potter, Oor Wullie and Peter Pan against John Rebus, Jean Brodie and Sherlock Holmes.

Oor Wullie, left, is listed in a poll that asks the public to name Scotland's greatest literary character. Picture: Getty
Oor Wullie, left, is listed in a poll that asks the public to name Scotland's greatest literary character. Picture: Getty

A nationwide poll is underway to find Scotland’s greatest literary character of all-time, with book lovers of all ages set to do battle over the next few weeks.

Celebrated creations in books by Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, James Hogg and Iain Banks are already in contention along with comic book heroes, children’s favourites and even characters in poems.

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A 50-strong longlist has been drawn up to kick-start a debate which will culminated with the publication of the most popular 10 characters next month, to coincide with an annual celebration of literature in Scotland.

The contenders have been identified by an expert panel put together by the Scottish Book Trust, which last year ran a controversial poll to find the “10 favourite Scottish novels.”

The previous survey - which named Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting as the nation’s number one - was limited to the last 50 years and children’s literature was overlooked by the organisation, which runs the annual Book Week Scotland initiative, which is now in its third year.

Philippa Cochrane, head of reader development at the Scottish Book Trust, said: “We were met with so much enthusiasm and passion last year, when he had around 9000 people voting, that we decided to open it up to include things like poetry, Gaelic literature and children’s books.

“We also didn’t want to put a time restriction on when the characters were created this time. A lot of the really iconic Scottish characters aren’t from the last 50 years. It made real sense to extent the criteria this time. We also felt it was a really good opportunity to include poetry. It just wouldn’t have felt right to exclude a character like Tam O’Shanter.”

Other contenders in the long-list include Richard Hannay, hero of John Buchan’s classic novel The 39 Steps, Francis Begbie, the fearsome hardman in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, maverick journalist Jack Parlabane, the character which helped crime writer Christopher Brookmyre make his name and Tam O’Shanter, the character immortalised in one of Robert Burns’ best-known poems.

Iconic female characters include Chris Guthrie, the main character at the heart of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song, which will be turned into a big-screen movie next year, Alan Warner’s Oban supermarket clerk Morvern Callar, who was portrayed by Samantha Morton in the film adaptation, and Isserley, the extraterrestrial sent to Earth in Michel Faber’s sci fi novel Under the Skin, who was portrayed by Scarlett Johansson in the recent film.

Alexander McCall Smith, Neil Munro, James Robertson, Alsadair Gray and William McIlvanney are among the other authors whose characters are in contention. Other famous children’s characters in the running include Dennis The Menace, the long-running star of The Beano, Julia Donaldson’s famously monstrous creation The Gruffalo and Hebridean schoolgirl Katie Morag, whose exploits were recently turned into a TV series.

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, who helped launch the online poll, said her favourite character was Chris Guthrie, the young woman struggling with life on a remote farming community at the start of the 20th century.

She said: “She is a such a strong character and such a strong woman. I must have read Sunset Song when I was 16. For a girl growing up, to read about someone like that who was so central to a book, there was such a strength of feeling and emotion.”

More than 600 book-related events are being held across the country during the annual Book Week Scotland celebration, which runs from 24-30 November. The £250,000 initiative, launched two years ago, is funded by arts agency Creative Scotland.

Director of creative development Leonie Bell said: “Whether it’s writing a love letter to your local library, voting for the Scottish character you love or meeting the author you love to read at one of the 600 events across Scotland, there’s something for everyone.”


Alan Breck Stewart


Robert Louis Stevenson


The Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame

Bascule The Teller

Feersum Endjinn

Iain M Banks



Irvine Welsh


Ostrich Boys

Keith Gray

Catherine McKenna

Grace Notes

Bernard MacLaverty

Chris Guthrie

Sunset Song

Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Dangerous Dan McGrew

The Shooting of Dan McGrew

Robert W Service


Carol Ann Duffy

Dennis the Menace

The Beano

DC Thomson

Dougal Douglas

The Ballad of Peckham Rye

Muriel Spark

Dr Finlay

Dr Finlay’s Casebook

AJ Cronin

Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson

Duncan Thaw/Lanark


Alasdair Gray

Eoin Lachlain Mhor

An Oidhche Mus do Sheol Sinn

Aonghas Padraig Caimbuel

Frances Crawford of Lymond

The Game of Kings

Dorothy Dunnett

Gideon Mack

The Testament of Gideon Mack

James Robertson

Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

JK Rowling

Hermione Granger

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

JK Rowling

Hit Girl

Kick Ass

Mark Millar

Holy Willie

Robert Burns


Under the Skin

Michel Faber

Jack Parlabane


Christopher Brookmyre

Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Muriel Spark

Jeanie Deans

The Heart of Midlothian

Sir Walter Scott

Joss Moody


Jackie Kay

Joy Stone

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

Janice Galloway

Judge Dredd

2000 AD

Alan Grant (and John Wagner)


The Boy with the Bronze Axe

Kathleen Fidler

Katie Morag

Katie Morag

Mairi Hedderwick



William McIlvanney

Long John Silver

Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson

Morvern Callar

Morvern Callar

Alan Warner

Mrs Scott (The Old Woman)

Consider the Lilies

Iain Crichton Smith

Oor Wullie

Oor Wullie

DC Thomson

Para Handy

Tales of Para Handy

Neil Munro

Peter Pan

Peter Pan

J M Barrie

Precious Ramotswe

No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Alexander McCall Smith

Prentice McHoan

The Crow Road

Iain Banks



Cairistiona Dick



Ian Rankin

Richard Hannay

The 39 Steps

John Buchan

Robert Wringham/Gil-Martin

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

James Hogg


Across the Barricades

Joan Lingard

Sammy Samuels

How Late it Was, How Late

James Kelman

Sherlock Holmes

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Arthur Conan Doyle

Tam O’Shanter

Tam O’Shanter

Robert Burns

The Gruffalo

The Gruffalo

Julia Donaldson

The Midge

Edwin Morgan

Tony Hill

Wire in the Blood

Val McDermid