A little over a month ago, I started a mini blog series on what I think makes lasting fantasy. You can read Part I - A Clear Definition of Good and Evil over here.
Part II - Persistent Characters
While the story has to be well written, characters are what really draw people in. You can have all the action in the world, but if your characters are all one-dimensional twits, it will be hard to keep people interested.
Let's look at Harry Potter, for example. When you think of the series, what comes to mind first? The battles? The storyline? Or do you immediately start picturing Harry, Ron, Hermione, Voldemort?
Let's try it with Lord of the Rings, now. While the battles are awesome in that series, the characters are definitely front and center.
A good fantasy novel not only allows us to align ourselves with good (or bad, if that's your thing), but it gives us a stake in the whole thing. We stick with the same characters throughout the book (or series). All of us develop our favorites, like we're following a sports team. A good example of that is the whole "Team Jacob" vs "Team Edward" thing (I'm totally "Team Charlie", by the way). In order to keep us hooked, we need that consistency to really invest ourselves emotionally in the books.
I think that's one place George R. R. Martin has failed. I have not read his most recent book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance with Dragons, but I have read the others in the series. By the last book, I found my attention wavering. Martin has a habit of killing off his characters. He would build one up, get you attached to them, only to cut them down later on. It became very frustrating and was one of the reasons I stopped reading (you can read the other reasons here).
This topic also brings up another point. To have persistent characters, you really need more than one novel. The most prominent works in fantasy are all series: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. I'm having a very tough time thinking of a solo book that really stands out.
Do you think persistent characters are needed to really get into a book/series? Who are your favorite characters? Do you know of a lasting fantasy book that defies the need for persistent characters across a series?