"Pooh!" he whispered.
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you.”
― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
In my last post, I mused about the concept of friendship... and shortly thereafter, was asked by several friends to provide a few favourite examples of literary friendships, especially as I also said that, contrary to what too many uninspired writers seem to think nowadays, it’s absolutely possible for two males, two females, or a male and a female to have deep friendships with no physical/sexual element involved. (Oh, for goodness’ sake, people, come on: life isn’t all about sex, despite what our hyper-sexualized society, egged on by a greedy entertainment industry oft bereft of real creativity, would like us to think.) Anyway, I went with the first five literary platonic friendships (same and opposite sex) that popped into my head. So without further ado... the envelope, please:
Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings – (one of my friends has suggested I should have, instead of a swear jar, a Tolkien jar that I can drop a dollar into every time I mention Tolkien. To which I say, thanks very much, friend --- and You Know Who You Are --- but... can’t help it. Professor T was an enormous literary influence on me --- and, apparently, one or two others. When I need a literary example of something --- good or bad, because not even the Master is without fault --- I know I can go to the Middle Earth well, and it’s never going to run dry.) (I’m digressing again, aren’t I?) Right. Frodo and Sam. How many of your friends would willingly accompany you on what can most charitably be described as a suicide run? Yet Sam does it without a qualm... and maintains (mostly) unflagging optimism throughout. (We don’t hear Mr. Frodo, this sucks like a vacuum cleaner and I wanna go home from him.) He sincerely wants only the very best for his friend. They start off the story on slightly uneven social terms --- Sam is Frodo’s gardener and often refers to him as ‘Mister Frodo’ --- but that’s long since set aside by the time they’re crawling up the flank of an active volcano at the story’s climax. (Active volcanoes tend to be great levellers of social status.)
Harry and Hermione in the Harry Potter series – a small caveat here, because this is a relationship between two teenagers, so there’s the added complication that it’s awash in hormones (I recall once hearing a psychologist describing adolescence as a time of ‘transitory psychosis’ and as a career teacher, can testify the statement is very true). It’s also not a relationship of intellectual equals --- not that every relationship must be, of course, or is. And I think we all wanted them to end up together (there have been rumblings even Jo did, too), but... the relationship between Harry and Hermione works, on the whole, very well. (I was going to add “as much as any adolescent relationship works,” but really, you know... that’s an unfair dig at teenagers, isn’t it? After all, there are way too many adult relationships out there --- real and literary --- characterized by truly infantile behaviours. And we don’t have the hormone excuse that teenagers do. Plus our prefrontal lobes are, theoretically, mature.)
Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables – My CanLit example. Anne (with an ‘e’) Shirley, the irrepressible, at-times-over-the-top red haired orphan, and her best friend Diana Barry. Great example of two friends who can --- and mostly do --- share everything together. I think it’s a bit of a stereotype that female/female friends tend to share more and deeper things with each other than male/male friends do, but we must glumly also acknowledge that stereotypes arise in the first place because they occur among us humans so often, so we’ll go with it. But it is a stereotype that really needs knocking down. Which I’m working on in my own books.
Pooh and Piglet in Winnie the Pooh – Although they’re both nominally male, this is a great example of a relationship where gender is truly irrelevant --- even Walt Disney, that paragon of family virtue, only ever bothered to give Pooh a shirt. (Yeah, I know... I was baffled by that, too.) But Pooh and Piglet’s platonic love for each other shines forth so clearly, even the most cynical adult cannot but help be moved by it. And young children, of course, get it completely, because for them, it’s so obvious, it’s like trying to teach a fish about water. And even in the midst of their truly muddled thinking (or lack thereof), Pooh and Piglet frequently manage to illuminate our lives with some pretty profound thoughts.
Hamlet and Horatio in Hamlet – I include this mainly to show that, contrary to most students’ beliefs, even Will could write extremely effectively about friendship. I show my classes the 1996 Kenneth Branagh film version after we’ve read the play together, and anyone who isn’t moved by Nicholas Farrell’s brilliant performance as Horatio must possess a heart of stone. Particularly during the play’s denouement, when Horatio, utterly devastated by Hamlet’s immediately impending death (scratched by a poisoned blade during a duel, dontcha know), stands more than ready to kill himself --- but is, fortunately, stopped by Hamlet (You’ve gotta live to tell my story accurately!”). Devotion at its finest. Well done, Will.
There are, of course, many, many other possible literary friendships I could have mentioned, and I’d be interested to hear what your favourites would be. In the meantime, though, we’ll leave the last words to Pooh, because he encapsulates friendship really well with these words:
“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
“I promise,” he said.