Pale Fire

Pale Fire Character List

Charles Kinbote/King Charles of Zembla

Kinbote is the major character of the work. He is an exiled literature Professor in a small New England college town called New Wye. He is originally from a country called Zembla. Kinbote is a deranged liar and his loose grip on the truth makes the novel interesting. The novel Pale Fire is composed of John Shade's poem of the same name and a largely inaccurate commentary composed by Kinbote. Throughout the novel, Kinbote drops hints that he is the exiled king of Zembla, King Charles the Beloved. To the extent that Kinbote actually is the king of Zembla, it is well worth remembering that there is no king of Zembla.

John Shade

John Shade is the poet-professor who wrote the poem "Pale Fire." He is the next door neighbor of Prof. Charles Kinbote, who writes the commentary and introduction to the published version of the poem "Pale Fire." We know very little about John Shade besides the biographical information that is provided in his poem. Kinbote's commentary offers information about Shade that is questionable at best. What do know about Shade is mostly information that is skeletal in structure: we know that he is married to Sybil, that his parents died when he was young, that he was raised by Aunt Maud, and that his daughter committed suicide midway through her troubled adolescence. Shade is accidentally killed by the assassin Gradus, who intended to kill Charles Kinbote.


Gradus is an assassin hired by the anti-Karlist movement of Zembla; he is assigned the task of finding and killing the exiled King. Gradus has several aliases (Jacques D'Argus, Gradus, Jack Degre, etc.) but little professional ability. As assassins go, Gradus is extremely incompetent. With the help of a few Soviet spies, Gradus is able to locate the exiled king, but when the moment of assassination comes, Gradus accidentally shoots at the wrong person. He is apprehended by authorities and soon after, he commits suicide in a psychiatric facility.

Aunt Maud

The aunt of John Shade, she raises him into adulthood after his parents died very early in his childhood.

Hazel Shade

The daughter of Sybil and John Shade, she was both highly unattractive and depressed. She committed suicide as a teenager.

Sybil Shade

Sybil is the wife of the poet, John Shade. While John Shade's poem suggests that their marital relationship was vibrant and full of love, Kinbote's commentary suggests that John is unhappy with Sybil.


Odon is King Charles' bodyguard and right-hand man. He assists in Charles' escape from the palace and joins him, for a time, in France.


Disa is the princess that King Charles is supposed to marry. She remains largely spurned by him however, as he has little sexual interest in women.

Professor Pnin

A colleague of John Shade and Charles Kinbote who has contempt for Charles Kinbote.