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LIST OF CHARACTERS
Charles Kinbote - the first person narrator of the story. He begins by telling of his recent life and interests, particularly his connection with his favorite poet, John Shade. In his early forties, Charles quickly reveals himself to be a "character." It becomes clear that he is thinly disguising himself from total recognition as the last king of Zembla. He is really Charles, the Beloved, recently overthrown and hiding out in the U.S. He is flamboyant, raucously emotional, homosexual, self-absorbed and wickedly funny. Although he is tall, bearded, heavily browed and very striking, he is also very uncoordinated and sometimes makes a humorous figure. He attaches himself to people, like John Shade, and grandly assumes he has importance in their lives. For instance, he has expected Shade's last poem, "Pale Fire," to be all about Zembla and the tribulations of the last king; after all, he has been telling his neighbor, John Shade, the whole story in great detail. The poem is not about Zembla at all, but Charles proceeds to edit and annotate the poem as if it were.
John Shade - a famous poet, well-known in the U.S. and Zembla. Like Charles, he teaches at a small liberal arts college in Appalachia. In July of 1959, a couple of weeks before he is shot, Shade celebrates his 60th birthday. He has a wife, Sybil, whom he extols in his final poem as the light of his life. They also had a daughter, a homely girl who killed herself at age 22, a couple of years before the writing of the poem. Shade is a short, stooped, grizzled alcoholic, apparently dodging his wife's efforts to keep him healthy.
Gradus (or Jack Grey, Jacques d'Argus, Vinogradus, etc.) - the Zemblan extremist who is sent to kill Charles Kinbote, but who shoots John Shade instead. Gradus is pictured as a lower class political thug, who is not very intelligent, rather dirty, and a bad liar. He is portrayed as a kind of slapstick, bumbling terrorist.
Hazel Shade - John and Sybil's daughter. Unattractive from birth, Hazel never overcame her parents' shame. Although she is smart, she is a pathetic figure, particularly in the eyes of her father; he claims in his poem that he loved her even though she was terribly ugly. Hazel had an interest in ghosts, and it is hinted that she might have had supernatural powers or at least a penchant for torturing her parents with bizarre manifestations. She commits suicide, drowning herself, after being cruelly rejected by a blind date. Charles sympathizes with her feelings of unhappiness and rejection and suggests that he is very much like Hazel.
Disa - wife of Charles, the Beloved. Disa is a Zemblan Noblewoman with some Russian heritage as well. She is quite young when she marries Charles, and it takes her a while to figure out that the reason her husband rejects her is because he prefers the company of men. Since she loves he husband, she is terribly angry about his sexual preference and becomes rather wry and cynical. She eventually moves to a family villa on the Cote d'Azur, in France, where Charles visits her after escaping from Zembla.
Odon (Donald O'Donnell) - Charles' Zemblan friend who helps him escape. Odon is a loyalist who poses as an extremist in order to help the king and the loyalist cause. After Charles leaves Zembla, Odon moves to France, starts making movies, and falls in love with a film actress of whom Charles disapproves.
The Gardener - Charles' gardener in Appalachia. He is a young African-American man whom Charles "finds" by the side of the road. The gardener is the only other witness to John Shade's death and later makes claims for Charles' innocence. The gardener is never given a name even though Charles seems to have fallen for him.