Male friendships in fiction

So, a few days ago . . . weeks, maybe, I lose track . . . I happened across this post by Rupert Wallis on friendships between male characters –in kid’s stories,mainly, though there are also some suggestions for older readers.

I’d only read one of these works myself: Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World, which I loved, for all the reasons given in Wallis’s post. That one is a dad-son relationship, really well handled. It can be hard to find central parent-child relationships in MG and YA, I think, largely because if you’re going to give the kid the job of saving the day, you have to have some reason the adults can’t handle it, so removing parents completely or fading them into the background is one popular method of seeing to it that the kid stays front-and-center.

It’s interesting to me that Wallis wrote this post, because his newest book — All Sorts of Possible, which is a great title — seems to set up a situation where instead of a central relationship between father and son, the father is apparently removed as an active character. I know this because I looked at the summary on Amazon. I looked on Amazon because this book has the worst ever summary on Goodreads (it has essentially no summary at all so you can’t begin to guess even what genre the book is.) Here’s what Amazon says:

When the sinkhole opened there was no time to brake or turn the wheel and the old green Land Rover was snatched off the dirt road over the smoking rim. The moment that a sinkhole swallows the car Daniel and his father are travelling in, everything changes: suddenly Daniel is the ‘miracle boy’ who escaped unharmed and his father is gone, trapped in a coma with no sign of recovery. Everyone wants to know the secret to Daniel’s escape, including a Mason, a gangster who believes that Daniel is special and can help him secure the biggest score of his career…whatever it takes…But is Daniel really special or just lucky? And can he use whatever other’s think is within him to help his father? A lyrical and atmospheric novel from the phenomenally talented Rupert Wallis about love, loss and learning to accept the world for what it is, not what it could be. Perfect for fans of Patrick Ness and David Almond.

I’m not at all sure this sounds like something I would like; also, the summary is perhaps not as well written as it could be, because honestly, people do survive all kinds of accidents and I’m not sure why Daniel’s survival of this particular accident was so striking.

Also, all this immediately makes me think about exceptions where the parent-kid relationship is particularly well done. Well, maybe later. Right now I want to extend the “male friendships” idea and extend that into SFF, which Wallis did not. I was trying to stick more to unrelated guys, not brothers or whatever. Here are some of the titles that come to mind when I think of particularly well-done male friendships in SFF, in the order I thought of them:

1. Shaun David Hutchinson’s The Deathday Letter , with a teenage boy protagonist sorting out his life when he knows he has 24 hours to live.

2. Richard Adam’s Watership Down, with Hazel and Bigwig and Fiver and the rest. Really hard to beat.

3. Sarah Rees Brennen’s The Demon’s Lexicon series. I’m not thinking of Alan and Nick here, although their relationship is central and extremely well done. I’m trying to think of friends rather than brothers, so in this case I’m pointing out Nick’s relationship with Jamie, which is developed wonderfully in the trilogy.

4. CJC’s Fortress in the Eye of Time series. I’m thinking of Cefwyn and Tristen, of course; also Cefwyn and his brother.

5. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora series offers one of the most central male friendships I can think of in SFF, between Locke and Jean, of course.

6. Gillian Bradshaw’s Cleopatra’s Heir — this one is the first one I thought of when I stopped thinking about brothers and starting thinking about the father-son relationship. Of course they’re not actually related — that would kind of destroy the entire premise of the book — but the relationship between Caesarion and Ani is very much a son-father type of relationship, as well as absolutely central to the story.

7. And one more, also unrelated but very much a son-father relationship — I’m a sucker for that trope, apparently — Moon and Stone from Martha Wells’ Raksura series. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best scenes in the whole series is when Stone arrives at Opal Night. Also, Wells has been blessed with the best of all possible covers for her Raksura series:


You all do know that we’ve got two more Raksura books on the way, right?

UPDATE: Lots of good suggestions in the comments. Also:

How can I not have remembered the guys from The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater? Oh, well, I suppose it’s because I’m waiting to read the rest of the series until it’s complete. But still.

Stepping outside SFF, it occurs to me that Benjamin January / Hannibal Sefton / Abishag Shaw from the January mystery series by Barbara Hambly offer one of the best examples of male friendship I can think of.

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10 thoughts on “Male friendships in fiction”

  1. I am reminded of it just because I am reading another book by the author. Sylvia Kelso’s “Everran’s Bane. She’s an Australian writer, and some of her books are hard to come by, but worth the search – and the undiscounted $$ (if, like me, you are used to buying used, or ebook prices.) Ms. Kelso is a really good writer. I had not read her for awhile, and had forgot that her style is a bit dense – almost poetic. Have to stop and think. But her stories and characters stick with you. I haven’t read Everran’s Bane for years, but remember it is about a king, and the dragon scourging his country, and the sacrifices he makes to save his country. All told through the eyes of his bard, who is at his side – sometimes unwillingly on both their parts – throughout. The development of their friendship was particularly well drawn.

    So now I’m starting to think of other men friendship stories. Judith Tarr’s Hall of the Mountain King – one of my old favorites that I still like to go back to.

    And Lorna Freeman’s Covenants. She wrote three books in the series, and has left it hanging, unfinished, and driving me crazy.

    Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series. The friendship between Gen and the magus, Gen and Sophos and Gen and Costiss.

  2. Mary Anne, I should have thought of Gen and Sophos particularly. And I’ll look up Everran’s Bane right now.

  3. The Malazan series by Steven Erikson has many male friendships (as well as corresponding enmities, female friendships/enmities). Erikson really lets the characters speak to another in situations that aren’t simple preludes to action/violence or main plot exposition moments. This tactic lets the friendship elements really pop off the page.

    The best friendship within the series as a whole is Icarium and Mappo, who are traveling companions with a twist: Mappo has a dangerous secret that Icarium can’t know and despite that, Mappo is still Icarium’s best and truest friend he’s ever had.

    James Barclay has friendship (between superheroes) as a central theme in the Raven series, as well. Not as nuanced as Erikson, but it expands and contracts well over the course of the series.

  4. Sam and Frodo from LOTR is of course the obvious one that springs to my mind. Taran and Fflewddur Fflam from the Prydain Chronicles is another (Taran’s relationships with Gwydion and Coll are great, too, come to think of it). Will and Bran from the Dark is Rising series. Calcifer and Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, too. I love friendship-centered stories! Will take those even above romance.

  5. *Facepalm* Of course Frodo and Sam. I have no idea why I didn’t think of them.

    On the other hand, I’d never have thought of Calcifer and Howl — another good suggestion.

    Ben, I must admit that the sheer size of the Malazan series has kept me from ever looking at it. It’s hard to make time for a huge series…you do make it sound like something I might like, though. Also, now I’m curious about Mappo’s secret.

  6. Phoran and Tier and the other guys in Brigg’s RAVEN duology.

    Florand’s six male cousins in her Rose book. (Yeah, I know, not SFF – it came to mind, ok?)

    When I was grumbling about feminized men in stories someone recommended Sullivan’s Novron series, which seems to be mostly a buddy story. And actually the Riyria Revelations Chronicles.

    In manga & anima Team Mustang in Fullmetal Alchemist.

    Elof and Kermorvan in Rohan’s WINTER OF THE WORLD, also Elof and Roc. Elof & Kermorvan are sort of Merlin & Arthur, who also qualify in some Arthurian retellings.

    CJC’s pretty good at them, not just Tristan & Cefwyn, but Donal and Niun, (the Mri trilogy) and Niall and his men in Ealdwood.

    Of course some people WILL see slash…. I’ve been thinking about this some since realizing that the way the female bodyguard of the prince in Fullmetal Alchemist reacts to her lord is mostly the same way her grandfather does, and the same way in another series other underlings act towards their lords. People see her as in love. But when you look at the others and realize they show pretty much the same – it’s non-servile, non-romantic devotion. Like Sam and Frodo. A lot of people in this culture don’t seem to be able to wrap their minds around this concept, which I find depressing.

    Grayson Lanning and his pack. :-)

    Gimli & Legolas, and Aragorn and Eomer.
    Gaptain America and Bucky in the movie.

  7. The Teen adds Pyetr & Sasha from CJC’s Russian trilogy, and Pratchett’s Nightwatch, especially Vimes & Carrot, and Colon & Nobby, but also the 4 together.

  8. I read the RAVEN duology, but apparently I need to re-read it, because honestly I don’t seem to remember much about it. I also thought of the male cousins in Florand’s series, and why be stuffy about genre, right? But I was trying to stick to unrelated guys.

    Vimes and Carrot are another good suggestion … even Colon and Nobby, I guess, though I was never very fond of them.

    And yes, I am SO tired of the hypersexualized component of modern society. I REALLY wish people would start once again recognizing that not every close relationship has to involve romance or any kind of sexual tension.

  9. Colon and Nobby aren’t my favorites either, but they do seem close in a male way. And after NIGHTWATCH we figure out that they stayed with Sam Vimes because all three had been part of the Lilac Revolution.

  10. Speaking of Frodo and Sam (and as I’m watching Sherlock) how about Holmes and Watson? Yeah, I know Freeman played Bilbo but that’s how my brain works.
    And speaking of CJC, Sandor and Curran in Merchanter’s Luck

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