I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.
“I liked white better,” I said.
“White!” he sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it is no longer white,” said I. “And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”
“You need not speak to me as to one of the fools that you take for friends,” said he. “I have not brought you hither to be instructed by you, but to give you a choice.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Would you talk this way to a dear friend? Me neither. In fact, dear or no, this exchange --- part of a larger conversation --- is not how one friend addresses another at all. Which got me to thinking...
I’ve been on something of a friendship kick lately... discussing it here, that is. A couple of posts ago, I was inspired (by an Xbox game, of all things) to muse on the concept of friendship, and then last post, I examined great literary friendships. So... today, in the enduring spirit of contrariness... I thought I’d look at toxic literary friendships.
What does toxic friendship look like? Well... it’s unhealthy, abusive or codependent, possibly physically, more often spiritually/emotionally. Hmm. It’s weird when you put it down on paper. Leaves one scratching one’s head, doesn’t it? Why would anyone put up with crap like that from someone who theoretically cares about them? And yet we see it all the time, regrettably... in both the real and literary worlds.
It took only a moment to bring to mind a plethora of toxic literary friendships, but I limited myself to five. (I could have written several posts about all the toxic friendships in the Twilight canon alone, but... nobody has the time or endurance for that, I think.) So, as I said last post, without further ado... the envelope, please (I list the toxic character in each relationship first):
Saruman and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings – you can’t help but get the feeling that, even before he decided to throw in his lot with Sauron, Saruman was a little too holier-than-thou and disparaging with Gandalf. Friends don’t treat friends like they’re idiots, which Gandalf in any case is not. And Saruman is deliberately deceiving, using honeyed blandishments of the truly dishonest and insincere: “And listen, Gandalf, my old friend and helper... I said we, for we it may be, if you will join with me.” Nope. It won’t.
Toad and Mole/Ratty/Badger/Everyone in The Wind in the Willows – I looked in my go-to exemplar of children’s lit, Winnie the Pooh, but there just aren’t any toxic relationships in there. Not really. So plan B was Kenneth Grahame’s classic, another children’s lit story I really like. Toad isn’t evil... but he’s a classic narcissist, terribly immature, only thinking of himself. And like most narcissists, he inflicts his problems and immaturities on everyone around him, including his long-suffering friends.
Iago and Othello in Othello – “I hate the Moor.” When Iago says that, early in the play, it’s because he suspects Othello is having an affair with Iago’s wife. Iago doesn’t know whether it’s true, but even the possibility is enough to kindle his rage and determination to bring Othello down. Really, dude? You’re prepared to act destructively and murderously on mere suspicion, without bothering to ascertain the facts? Well... yeah. As do all too many people. Yikes. Here’s a suggestion: avoid the Iago types in your lives, folks. You’ll find fewer knife blades protruding from between your shoulders. Literally and figuratively.
Malfoy and Crabbe/Goyle in the Harry Potter books – We all know Malfoy is a grade A jerk... although Rowling does attempt to generate some sympathy for him in the later books. But while Crabbe and Goyle, his Slytherin partners in crime, are nominally friends, he really doesn’t treat them respectfully. To him, they’re naught more than tools to be treated with a dollop of contempt every time they say or do something he regards as stupid. Some try defending this by saying Crabbe and Goyle are just malign morons, too dull to know they’re being used... which may be true, but still doesn’t justify treating them with such odious behaviour. Would Malfoy ever grow out of his nastiness? Hmm. Debatable. Eventually, some jerks do realize they’re jerks... but that takes real spiritual growth. It’s much easier for them just to stay spiritually stunted jerks, blaming everyone around them for all life’s misfortunes.
Abigail Williams and John Proctor in The Crucible – okay, they’re simultaneously less and more than friends: Abby begins as an employee in the Proctor household before having an affair with John. But she’s one of these people (notice I don’t say ‘women,’ because there are plenty of men who act this way, too) you really want to be wary about entering into any kind of relationship with. Why? Because Abby is prepared to bring down anyone or everyone in a bid to get what she wants... which is John. But although he’s older and theoretically wiser, the poor chump doesn’t stand a chance when pitted against Abby, the maniacal harpy. And when she gets an unexpected taste of power in her very patriarchal, misogynistic society... look out. Her borderline psychopathic behaviours are terrifying.
So... there’s today’s quotient of “friends” who are really completely undeserving of the title. They’re self-serving and self-aggrandizing, shallow and deceitful, sometimes downright evil, mostly altogether pitiful excuses for humans (or toads). Quite the rogue’s gallery.
Let’s end by saying that, at least in the literary world, such people are necessary because they generate the conflict and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune necessary to move stories along.
But in the real world... well, we just want to know: why can’t we all get along?