We know them better than we know our friends: brilliant Sherlock Holmes; stingy Ebenezer Scrooge; the idealistic Don Quixote; the obsessed Captain Ahab.
Hamlet is indecisive and world-weary; Romeo and Julief are young, lusty and impulsive; Indiana Jones is dashing, learned and courageous.
We speak of men with Oedipus Complexes or Peter Pan Syndromes.
We know women who dream of being Cinderella - or Madame Bovary.
We fear Orwell's Big Brother, Bram Stoker's Count Dracula and Dr. Frankenstein's Creature. And we marvel at odd couples: Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. D'Arcy; Huckleberry Finn and Jim; Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock; Humbert Humbert and Lolita. Yet all of these unforgettable icons - who have shaped civilization and embodied our deepest archetypes - are not human: they are fictional constructs, some created by great authors, others by long processes of folklore and myth.
Now TIME has enlisted a host of brilliant authors to ponder the impact of these remarkable figures.
Imagine Paul Ryan saluting Ayn Rand's heroic individualist, John Galt.
Think David Sedaris sizing up the Marlboro Man, Gloria Steinem dressing down the Barbie doll, and Chris Rock ripping the reign of Jim Crow.