Manic Pixie Dream Girls, stock characters whose presence is almost purely concocted to support the development of drifting male protagonists, existed long before they got their catchy moniker from film critic, Nathan Rabin. These one-dimensional archetypes had supporting roles in even the earliest works of literature. Original MPDGs have the same attributes as the newer models: they’re free-spirited; they’re always imparting knowledge or inspiration; they’re usually pretty and girlish—and sometimes quirky. And most of the time, they’re transitory—because it’s the hero’s story, never theirs.
1. Kamala from Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
Kamala has MPDG traits in droves starting with her desirability, as MPDG are almost always lovely in the eye of their leading man. Kamala is a beautiful courtesan, which leads to our next point: Like any clichéd MPDG, Kamala’s role is to coach Siddhartha, and in this case, she teaches him the art of love. (Racy for a novel about enlightenment, right?) And so we see the typical MPDG trajectory play itself out: Kamala meets Siddhartha while he’s wandering; she teaches him all about physical love and the real world; but then ultimately (in conventional MPDG fashion) dies, leaving Siddhartha with the courage and illumination to reach his spiritual destiny.
2. Calypso from The Odyssey by Homer
On Odysseus’s epic journey home, the goddess Calypso is one of the many figures he encounters, and compared to the Cyclops and sea monsters, she’s one of the better distractions. Calypso takes Odysseus into her grotto for a few years, and they have lots of blissful sex, but this leads to his ultimate realization that home is the where the heart is (as well as his wife and son). So Calypso sends him on his way with some magical provisions. She has no backstory and no ongoing future story. She’s just there as a catalyst for the hero’s journey.
3. Beatrice from The Divine Comedy by Dante
Singular in her goodness, the ethereal muse, Beatrice leaves her seat in heaven to literally lead Dante to spiritual fulfillment: She physically guides him through the celestial spheres of heaven—after he has already been through hell and purgatory—and ultimately directs him towards God where his heroic journey concludes with his salvation. Classic MPDG skills.
4. Ophelia from Hamlet by Shakespeare
Modern day MPDGs are often eccentric (adorkably so). But unlike other ladies that play into this trope, Ophelia is more straight-up cray cray than quirky due to the conflicting pressures put on her by her family and Hamlet. Unfortunately, she’s single-faceted in her lunacy and ultimate death: She’s there to enlarge the conflict and light a fire under Hamlet’s ass—not to overcome her own adversities.