Literary (or cinematic) depictions of prodigiously gifted young people?
May 16, 2010 12:47 PM   Subscribe

I know of Salinger's Glass family and of Hal Incandenza in Infinite Jest. Who are your other favorite fictional child/adolescent geniuses? Literature preferred, although films are okay, too.
posted by Houyhnhnm to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Billy Twillig.
posted by chaff at 12:49 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ludo from The Last Samurai, this is the best book in the world that very few people have heard of, I URGE you to check it out...the character has much in common with Hal.
posted by vito90 at 12:52 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Great Brain
posted by xsquared-1 at 1:02 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Royal Tenenbaums

I cannot second The Great Brain enough. Chaw raw beef!
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:06 PM on May 16, 2010

Luzhin from Nabokov's Defense.
posted by mmmbacon at 1:07 PM on May 16, 2010

Le Grand Meaulnes. Downloadable from Project Gutenberg. Very French but as the same time very wonderful.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:07 PM on May 16, 2010

Turtle Wexler.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:08 PM on May 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Charles Wallace Murray, A Wrinkle in Time.
posted by thebrokedown at 1:08 PM on May 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Artemis Fowl.

"Artemis Fowl II is an Irish child prodigy and a ruthless master criminal who takes charge of rebuilding his family fortune following the disappearance of his father."
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:21 PM on May 16, 2010

Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain and his twin sister Eliza, from Vonnegut's Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!
posted by hot soup girl at 1:22 PM on May 16, 2010

This kind of character is extremely common in science fiction, for some reason.
posted by grobstein at 1:28 PM on May 16, 2010

posted by kickingtheground at 1:29 PM on May 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Alia Atreides, but maybe that's cheating.
posted by Gorgik at 1:30 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Charles Wallace! And Sheldon Cooper, who is at least emotionally still kind of childlike.
posted by elizardbits at 1:32 PM on May 16, 2010

Little Man Tate
posted by duckus at 1:34 PM on May 16, 2010

Oskar Schell from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

He isn't a genius or a prodigy, per se—the Wikipedia entry has this to say about him:
Oskar is not a literary prodigy created to tell a story. Rather, he is over-educated and over-sensitive.
But he certainly reads like the Glass family or Charles Wallace Murray, and his "over-educated" nature makes up for the fact that he's not necessarily brilliant, even though he is very intelligent.
posted by relucent at 1:35 PM on May 16, 2010

posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:36 PM on May 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Dexter probably isn't who you're looking for, huh?

As common as precocious characters are in children's lit, you would think there would be more spillover to books for adults, but all I can come up with are a minor character in Separate Peace, almost the same character shows up in If.... (movie), and that real prig guy in Tom Brown's School Days (not really an adult book, was it?)

Owen Meany might qualify, but his annoying-ness came from other kinds of specialness more than intelligence.

I'm old enough to have senior moments, so I'm happy to see no one has done much better than I have, but I'm sure there are lots more, and much better examples.
posted by Some1 at 1:41 PM on May 16, 2010

Beth Harmon, from Walter Tevis' wonderful novel The Queen's Gambit.
Eight-year-old orphan Beth Harmon is quiet, sullen, and by all appearances unremarkable. That is until she plays her first game of chess. Her senses grow sharper, her thinking clearer, and for the first time in her life she feels herself fully in control. By the age of sixteen, she’s competing for the U.S. Open championship. But as she hones her skills on the professional circuit, the stakes get higher, her isolation grows more frightening, and the thought of escape becomes all the more tempting.
posted by nicwolff at 1:50 PM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd say Anne Shirley qualifies.
posted by something something at 2:25 PM on May 16, 2010

Clark, from Robert Heinlein's "Podkayne of Mars."
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:42 PM on May 16, 2010

posted by rhizome at 3:53 PM on May 16, 2010

The entire Polaris unit in the old Tom Corbett, Space Cadet novels is exceptionally gifted-- Tom at piloting, Astro at nuclear engineering, Roger at navigation. Roger is arguably the brightest overall, but it's pretty much Lake Wobegon in space-- they're all above average.

Danny Dunn in the series of the same name. ESP McGee in the 1980s kids' mysteries of the same name. Jupiter Jones in Three Investigators. Mitch, Chris, and Jordan in Real Genius. Kitty Pryde, Amadeus Cho, Valeria Richards, Franklin Richards, and Doug Ramsey in the Marvel Universe.

Really, prodigies thick as flies in the pulp genres.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:54 PM on May 16, 2010

Yunior de Las Casas is a 300lb teen with the hopes of becoming a Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien in Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
posted by banannafish at 4:44 PM on May 16, 2010

nthing Ender and adding Bean.
posted by karminai at 5:42 PM on May 16, 2010

Candidia Maria Smith-Foster in Emergence, by David R Palmer.
Wili Wachendon in The Peace Was, by Vernor Vinge.
posted by Bruce H. at 6:14 AM on May 17, 2010

Re previous post, The Peace War.
posted by Bruce H. at 6:14 AM on May 17, 2010

Miles Vorkosigan.
posted by jb at 9:39 AM on May 17, 2010

The Mountains of Mourning -- novella from the Vorkosigan Saga, free online from Baen Free Library.
posted by jb at 9:44 AM on May 17, 2010

Billy in Don DeLillo's Ratner's Star
posted by statolith at 10:22 AM on May 17, 2010

Oskar Matzerath from The Tin Drum.
posted by memewit at 4:24 PM on May 17, 2010

If you want to follow one of these characters into the complexities of adulthood, I'd suggest Brenda Chenoweth from "Six Feet Under." Such a fascinating character.
posted by greekphilosophy at 2:00 PM on July 12, 2010

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