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Here are two adjacent sentences from Sherlock Holmes

  1. Few fictional characters have taken on a life of their own outside the pages of their stories the way Sherlock Holmes has.

  2. Count Dracula and Ebenezer Scrooge come to mind, and each conforms ...

Can anyone explain the meaning of the first and the grammar in the second?

The first sentence

I would try to rephrase the first one in this way, please correct me, if I am wrong:

There are (almost) no characters that tried (?) to live lives (what "of their own" adds here? Is not it a tautology?). And then I cannot understand how fictional characters could live lives "outside the pages of their stories"?

The second sentence

In the second sentence:

Count Dracula and Ebenezer Scrooge come to mind, and each conforms ...

the most difficult thing is subject - presumably it is "Count Dracula and Ebenezer Scrooge", but in which sense "count" is used here? Is it noun or verb? It ought to be a noun, but as far as understand, as a noun it requires the preposition "of" afterwards - as in "Hold your breath for a count of ten., He was charged with two counts of theft."

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To understand this consider a shorter sentence

Dracula has taken on a life outside the pages of his story.

The "story" here is "Dracula", a novel by Bram Stoker. But many people use "Dracula" and know the character "Count Dracula" even if they have never read the novel. The character is used in many other stories, films, some have very little connection to the original novel. For example "Hotel Transylvania" is a film with "Dracula". This is what it means for a character to "live outside the pages of their story": They are used as a character in other stories.

Similarly Sherlock Holmes and Ebeneezer Scrooge are well-known characters, and even people who have never read their original books know the characters.

There are almost no fictional characters that are as well-known from stories other than their original novels as Sherlock Holmes.

"Count" is a title, it is a noble title equivalent to "Earl" (ranking just below "Duke" and above "viscount" and "baron"). In the original story, the vampire was a member of the Transylvanian nobility.

  • Thanks! Great explanation about Dracula! – DimanNe Nov 3 at 21:36
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    Count Dracula is not the story, but the character. The novel was called simply Dracula. – IMil Nov 3 at 23:47
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Few fictional characters have an existence in the world elsewhere than in the original book they feature in: those characters all exist in books, comics, films, games, toys, cartoons etc.

Life (and indeed life of their own) is metaphorical: it doesn't mean they are living, breathing, people in the real world; but that they exist outside the original books.

A life of their own might be seen as tautology, but it is an established expression; and here it reinforces outside the pages.

Count is a noble title, her part of the style of the character Count Dracula.

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"take on a life of its own" is a well-known idiom:

Definition: to become very large, important, or hard to control

The story took on a life of its own and began to appear on news broadcasts everywhere.

A modern example might be an internet meme, which is taken out of its original context (a local news interview, for example), and becomes something more (viral video with 145 million views):

enter image description here

So your first sentence should be parsed as:

Few fictional characters have (taken on a life of their own) (outside the pages of their stories) the way Sherlock Holmes has.

This author is saying that Sherlock Holmes has become something larger than his original stories, in a way that few other fictional characters have.

Count Dracula and Ebenezer Scrooge come to mind, and each conforms ...

The author is offering two possible counter-examples here, Count Dracula (from Bram Stoker's "Dracula"), and Ebenezer Scrooge (from Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol).

The term "Count" is a title of nobility, like "Duke" or "Earl"; "Count Dracula" is the name of the character.

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The characters have become synonymous with attributes or failings. We know that being a Scrooge is being mean, being like Dracula is to be a bloodsucker or parasite..'it's like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank'...or displaying an unusual degree of acuity and observation like Sherlock Holmes. It helps that all have names that are pretty well unique and so cannot be confused with anyone else, something that probably was deliberate by the authors.

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It's nothing to do with what the characters are trying to do, and I find it odd that you think that. Indeed the concept makes my head hurt a bit.

Rather, it means that they appear in other works by other authors, and/or that people sometimes talk about them as if they're real. For example I might quote Holmes as saying "When you've eliminated the impossible then what's left must be the truth", when really it was Conan Doyle who wrote it.

Oddly, it makes more sense coming from Holmes. Conan Doyle believed in fairies.

  • I don't find anything "odd" about the learner's theory. In fact, I appreciate questions like this one, because they highlight how quirky and flexible our language can be. Sometimes you have to put yourself in the language learner's shoes, and try to figure out how you might try to interpret a phrase like "a life of one's own" without the foreknowledge of its meaning as an established idiom. (It's meaning would not be inherently obvious, and it's fascinating to see how the words get twisted in an effort to make sense out of it.) If anything is odd here, it's English. – J.R. Nov 4 at 22:15

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