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A friend of mine was a few dozen pages into Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and refused to read anymore if Door was going to be nothing more than Richard's Manic Pixie Dream Girl. His arguments were basically the definition of the trope: she shows up unexpected, rescuing him from a miserable relationship, and whisks him off to wonders before undreamed-of, without having much actual depth of character, but equipped with an unusual worldview and a penchant for crime.

I couldn't remember if Door fit the trope or not, but my instinct said no — did I lie?

3 Answers 3

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Let's take it one by one:

  • She shows up unexpected. Check.
  • Rescuing him from a miserable relationship. At the time Richard is engaged to a domineering woman who basically controls his life. Check.
  • Whisks him off to wonders before undreamed-of. London Below is certainly wondrous. Check.
  • Without having much actual depth of character. Hmm. Debatable. Door has her own back story and struggles to face, with or without Richard.
  • Equipped with an unusual worldview and a penchant for crime. Also debatable. She has unusual powers, and comes from an unusual place. Her worldview is different than Richard's, but that's because for all intents and purposes she's an alien.

Personally, I would say Door does have some characteristics of the MPDG but has enough depth on her own than she doesn't fully qualify.

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I'd say the main thing that separates Door from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl profile is the manic element. She's not obsessed with Richard, and she's not wacky or playful (except in one scene, which stands out against the otherwise serious events). I don't think she cares whether Richard learns to live freely; she just needs help. She's a woman on a mission, and instead of flitting around thrilling the boy with her life of crime, she puts him in mortal danger as she tries to escape the people who massacred her family.

There are some elements of the MPDG, but her effect on Richard is not to get him to loosen up and enjoy life, but to make him a hero.

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It's more accurate to say that she destroys his current relationship--very much against his will, and not really on purpose on her part.

He becomes her champion/defender (and it is essentially unbeknownst to either of them that this is happening--quite surprising, in fact), not her lover. Even at the very end of the book they are working together to get him back to his old life, which he still (thinks he) wants.

She doesn't take him to a place with "wonders unknown" so much as "horrors unknown"--it's not some awesome fantasy world, but a place where things dangerous, discarded, and forgotten have collected. He is in danger for his life/soul over and over again, not having bunch of new, care-free experiences he had never known he could have had if he had just let go.

Also, one of the negative characteristics of MPDG characters is that they sort of only exist to move the male character's arc along, without any particular goals/depth of character of their own. While Neverwhere is definitely about Richard's trials and growth, Door has overwhelming, meaningful problems of her own and is on her own quest to deal with them, using her own relationships and resources--all of which she rightly considers more valuable/capable/reasonable to rely on than Richard--to do so.

[Full disclosure: I find even full-on MPDG characters to be some of the most enjoyable parts of film/literature, so I don't really consider it a negative in the first place if a character "fits the trope". But people seem really eager to pigeonhole characters into this frame when it isn't necessarily warranted, and I think this is an example of that mischaracterization.]

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