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Played for laughs in one episode of Samurai Champloo where Mugen is revealed to be illiterate because of his habit of always ordering the same thing as his companions Fuu and Jin. It is revealed that Wild Child Sapphire is barely literate when she has to pass a written test for the chance to battle Roxanne, and of course, said Gym Leader mocked her and lectured her on the importance of reading. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Asuka portrays the recent immigrant version. She’s been failing tests at school, but when Shinji is having issues with a math problem and reads it out loud, she solves it easily in her head. In a flashback in Fairy Tail, Natsu says his Disappeared Dad Igneel taught him how to read, but it turned out he only learned the words that have to do with food.
Erza gives him a strict lesson that teaches him the other words in about three days. Apocrypha, Jeanne d’Arc never learned to read since she was a farmer’s daughter turned warrior. However, since the Holy Grail provides the Servants with basic knowledge of the modern world, it doesn’t hinder her that much. Tekkadan, including the protagonist Mikazuki, fit in here due to never having had a formal education. When Kudelia offers to teach Mika early in the series, he and a number of other boys eagerly start studying. In Ashitano Joe, Joe Yabuki is a former Street Urchin who never went to school and is barely literate.
Ashitaro asks him to teach Asahi how to do it, and Alan happily accepts on the condition that Ashitaro should learn too. Yuuri from Girls’ Last Tour never learnt how to read even phonetic Japanese, whereas Chito can both read and write it, but can’t read kanji. Living in the post-apocalypse makes this rather excusable. In one of his stand-ups, Chris Rock talked about how American slaves weren’t allowed to learn how to read, which must have lead to some rather awkward scenarios: Slave driving a carriage: Oh Lord there’s a stop sign up ahead, what is I gon’ do? Cop: Nigga what’s wrong with you! Couldn’t you see that stop sign?
Slave: Uh you mean dat octagon thing? Cop: Nigga, who taught you OCTAGON? Bizenghast: Edrear is shown to be illiterate. Cassandra Cain has it worse than most.
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The reason her dad never spoke to her is to encourage the language centers of her brain to “read” body language. Meggan from the X-Men spinoff Excalibur was illiterate since her inhuman appearance kept her from going to school as a child. New Mutants: Also X-related, Catseye from the Hellions was abandoned at birth since her mutation manifested early, and she spent much of her life thinking she was a cat who transformed into a human rather than vice-versa. Once discovered by Emma Frost, she went from complete illiteracy to grade school-level reading within a year, showing a hidden intelligence.
Roadbuster apparently never learned to read and somehow survived millions of years in spite of this handicap, as revealed in an addendum story to The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers. Much like Fenris in Dragon Age II, Marius of Magekiller is mostly illiterate due to being a former slave and relies on Tessa to read to him. As in the original cartoon, Roxy from Jem and the Holograms is mostly illiterate. Scare Tactics: Fang, coming from an isolated clan of werewolves in Appalachia, is semi-literate at best. Slither offers to help him improve his reading. The My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fic Between the Lines shows that Big Macintosh never learned to read.
Luffy from None Piece is unable to read the disclaimer in episode 3, Played for Laughs. They managed to, however, she can’t read much besides kindergarten and preschool level, along with the fact that she tends to disregard the syntaxes and the fact that she can’t spell too many things, making her, in most senses of the term, functionally illiterate. Satsuki notes she might not advance very far. In chapter 9 of Lost, Found, this is downplayed, as Ryuuko can read and does read but wasn’t allowed to by the “orphanage” workers, it’s just that she can’t write, probably because she hasn’t learned how to. The Bridge: While most of the Kaiju have received information about the human world in some way, Godzilla Junior was never taught how to read. He is later given lessons, which let him read slowly.
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Bing Bong from Inside Out can’t read at all aside from identifying letters, which gets him, Joy, and Sadness into trouble when he leads them into an area that says “Danger” which he insists is a shortcut. Wart reveals he’d never learned how to read or write, prompting Archimedes to start teaching him how to do so. The Reader, there are hints throughout the first half, and then it’s dramatically revealed that a character is illiterate and it’s a very important plot point that could rule the lives of several people. Not only that but said character originally worked at a Siemens at the beginning of the war until she was proposed for a promotion. It is hinted she didn’t want to accept that promotion since then people would find out she was illiterate so she joins the SS instead. Parodied in a scene subtitled “Oscar Scene” in Wayne’s World, where Wayne finishes up a tearful lament with “And worst of all, I never learned to READ! Played for Laughs in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
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Harry disguised as Goyle: Oh, um, reading. Hoke” in Driving Miss Daisy couldn’t read, but he could somehow get a driver’s license despite this fact. Since he was licensed in the 1940s, one presumes the requirements were different at the time. This is essentially the plot of Stanley and Iris, starring Robert de Niro as illiterate cook Stanley and Jane Fonda as the widowed Iris who teaches him to read. In Braveheart, Murron tells William Wallace that she never learned to read, something that wasn’t abnormal in the Scottish highlands in the 13th century. In 50 First Dates, Henry uses this as a trick to get Lucy to talk to him on one of the many days he introduces himself to her in the diner. He splashes water on his eyes and acts like he’s crying until she comes to see what’s wrong.
When he confesses that he can’t read the menu, she spends all morning sitting with him “teaching” him. In Corky Romano, one of Corky’s brothers is “rumored” to be illiterate, with the FBI commenting that he hides it well. A variant in Drumline, where the main character never learned to read music. Shirley in A League of Their Own, which leads to a hilarious moment when former burlesque dancer Mae takes it upon herself to teach her how to read: Shirley: Her.
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M – mi – mil – mil – milky, milky. Evelyn: Mae, what are you giving her to read? Mae: Oh, what difference does it make? 7, So Yang-ho, a gang leader in prison, is exposed as illiterate when he is asked to read a children’s storybook for the visiting daughter of one of the other prisoners and desperately tries to fake his way through it by making up a story based on the pictures. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Jade Fox stole a manual on martial arts, but since she didn’t know how to read, she was only able to pick up moves based on the pictures. Her friend Jen knew how to read and became a much more skilled martial artist after studying the manual, which led to Jade Fox hating her. Duke of Buckingham asks D’Artagnan if he has read the Queen’s letter, D’Artagnan admits that he cannot read.
Orozco is giving Raymi after-school tutoring because it turns out that he can’t read. When she decides to take a job at another school after one of the students tried to rape her, Rick personally takes over Raymi’s lessons. It’s noted that many extras can’t read, as was common during the time period. The end of “Gaston” contains this gem. In Anne of the Indies, Captain Providence can read charts by identifying coastlines, depth marks, etc.
Jameson to read and write for her. It’s implied that Jameson might be the only member of her crew who can read. Due to his lowly origins, the smuggler-turned-knight-turned Lord never learned how to read. It’s his elevation to Hand of the King that prompts him to learn, alongside his young son. This applies to the majority of common people in Westeros. Gilly outright calls Samwell Tarly a wizard when he proves able to “turn squiggles on paper into words”.
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Brutha from the Discworld novel Small Gods is illiterate and remains that way through the duration of the book. And also played with in Brutha’s case because at one point he’s called upon to memorize the contents of an entire library so that it can be reproduced even if the library is destroyed by Omnian fundamentalists. This being the Discworld, the books start to “leak”, he gains the information without having understood the words that he memorized. Harry King, a former mud lark and now-recycling-mogul, never bothered to learn letters either. He hires people to read things aloud to him, but thinks of written words as a distraction to the business side of things. Also used for a quick gag with the Disorganiser demon who has “handwriting recognition” – it looks at it and says “Yep, that’s handwriting. Garion in The Belgariad had his family deliberately keep him illiterate and socially isolated on a distant farm.
The prequel, Belgarath the Sorcerer, gives another reason: one of his ancestors nearly threw Aloria into civil war after reading the prophecies and getting a swelled head, and they’d rather history not repeat itself. Or rather Polgara would rather it not. Somerset Maugham is about a man whose illiteracy bars him from promotions in the local church, so he looks for alternatives and by opening tobacco shops makes a fortune. The last line makes the story. Aunt Sissy in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn never learned because her immigrant parents didn’t realize they were supposed to send her to school until she was too old to start.
A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell is well-known for its opening line of “Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. Eunice, the family’s maid, is obsessed with keeping her illiteracy a secret from everyone throughout the story, and the family’s learning of it leads her to kill them all. Larten Crepsley in The Saga of Darren Shan. Considering his upbringing as a child laborer turned vampire’s assistant, it’s understandable.
Ragged Dick, young Dick realizes that his illiteracy will be an obstacle in his plan to lift himself by his bootstraps. He solves this by finding another orphan who was able to get some schooling before being kicked out on the streets, and allowing the boy to sublet his room in exchange for tutoring. Being literate is comparatively uncommon among most of the population of Redwall. Most of the Abbeydwellers learn enough of the basics to function, but most vermin and a few of the Long Patrollers don’t really need to read. Brom irritably speculates that Garrow considered it an unnecessary luxury. A touchy subject for Todd in Chaos Walking. He never learned to read beyond a few words, and he can’t even read his own mothers journal.
Leads to a heartwarming moment wherein Viola reads out her journal for him. The aptly named Blood Knight Zsadist of J. Although there are newspapers and bookstores around, a point is made that illiteracy among lower-class people is common in A Brother’s Price, since mothers make more money if their daughters work alongside them than if they’re off in schools. Men are almost never taught to read.
Soren began teaching her how to read in the Ga’Hoole library, and their relationship developed from there. In The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers: There was a back-up story where Springer is in a coma and put in the care of Roadbuster on their base. Roadbuster passes the time by reading to him, having to learn to do so, because he’s spent millions of years fighting. Comes up by way of Culture Clash in Patricia C. A large theme in Captive of the Orcs. Even high ranking Orcs are usually illiterate.
On the other hand, the Luminean Exiles have near-universal literacy. Bards in the Deverry series are forbidden to read. They pass on all their lore through oral tradition. Spenser encounters a college basketball star who can’t read in the novel Playmates. In Matched, most people don’t know how to read, since reading and books are outlawed.
Inverted by Tarzan, he somehow taught himself to read English from some books his birth parents had, but didn’t know how to speak it. In fact when he first meets other white people they assume he’s a different man from the Tarzan who wrote the warning sign outside his parents’ cabin because he can’t understand their speech. In Holes, Zero agrees to dig Stanley’s holes if he’ll teach him how to read. Stanley is hesitant to foist his work on Zero, but Zero insists. The other campers begin to resent Stanley, because they think he’s taking advantage of Zero.
At the climax, the two are stuck in a hole surrounded by poisonous lizards and with the treasure the warden had been searching for. The Guns of the South: Nate Caudell ends up teaching a fair number of adults to read and write during his stint in the Confederate Army, and marvels at how deeply learning letters impacts people who learn it in adulthood. Satisfied Street Rat and the son of a middle-class man wash up on the island. In the Earthsea Cycle, the Kargs as a people view reading and writing as “black arts” and avoid them at all costs, though ironically they are excellent at mathematics. When Ged rescues Tenar from the Tombs of Atuan and brings her with him to his land, she eventually learns to how speak his language, and then to read and write in it.
The Stormlight Archive: Part of the Vorin religion’s strict gender roles mean that men are not allowed to read. In Unofficial History by Sir William Slim, The Scrounger of Slim’s unit is caught red-handed stealing a box of supplies. To everyone’s surprise, he’s acquitted by a court-martial. The eponymous Eva Luna always wanted to learn how to read and write, so she could properly use her talent as The Storyteller. Say of Pink And Say can’t read. In Animal Farm, shortly after taking control of the farm, the pigs reveal that they can already read and write, so they teach it to the other animals. The dogs can read as well as the pigs but aren’t interested in reading anything other than The Seven Commandments of Animalism.
Denny Blood from Bad Girls, after her mother writes her a letter of apology for abandoning her and begs her to read it. Davos’s wife and son tried to teach him in the past, but it’s suggested he was wary of that because they were trying to convert him through holy books. Shireen decides to teach him and he finally learns. Amory Lorch sent a letter regarding the Lannister plans to the wrong House, a House that is loyal to the Starks. Inverted for Arya Stark when she serves as Tywin Lannister’s cupbearer during the second season.
She’s had a highborn daughter’s education and thus can read very well, but this makes her stick out since she’s trying to pose as a lowborn peasant and thus probably shouldn’t know how to read. Jimmy Hickock in The Young Riders is a perfect example of this trope and one episode is devoted to his shameful secret being discovered by the other Riders. It is referred to in passing in later episodes, though. London from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, thanks to years of neglect, sacrificed education and overall being a lazy ditz.