Relationships between characters are at the heart of any story… even ones dealing with extreme cases of isolation, like Robinson Crusoe or The Martian, where our intrepid protagonist is seemingly removed from any other human contact. (Crusoe, of course, comes across Friday --- who is a person, by the way, not a day of the week, for those of you not familiar with the book --- and while Mark Watney, author Andy Weir’s astronaut protagonist, is stranded all alone on Mars --- which has to take the cake for isolation --- he does manage to establish communication with NASA on Earth, so isn’t completely without contact with his fellow humans.) So in that vein, when I discuss “couples,” I thought I’d actually include one that doesn’t fall under the category of romantic love. Hey, it happens, people. All. The. Time. (Which is not something our hypersexualized society tends to want to acknowledge, but it’s true, all the same.) In no particular order, here’s this year’s list:
Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series – I’m currently wading my way through Ms. Gabaldon’s seemingly endless parade of novels, mainly at the behest of my wife, who is besotted with them, and while I don’t rank the novels at the top of my all-time favourites, they are largely well-told and entertaining. There’s certainly no denying the intense love and loyalty Jamie and Claire feel for each other; she’s an unwitting time-traveller, hurled back a couple of centuries to Scotland and Jamie in the first book. While their unlikely marriage is borne of sheer, desperate necessity, their relationship quickly deepens until they’re inseparable. Personally, I find the mommy-porn in the books regarding their sexual escapades tiresome and unnecessary, but apparently, that’s just sour ol’ me. And even I have to admit that their devotion to each other is extraordinary.
Jane Eyre and Edward Fairfax Rochester in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre – a thoroughly unlikely couple, especially in 19th century rural England; she is poor governess to wealthy Rochester’s young ward, and the class system in England at that time all but prohibited such a romance. He’s rude, abrupt and on the surface, a fairly unlikeable guy. But Jane is prepared to stand up to him, which rather makes her something of a feminist before the term actually even existed, and their mutual attraction blossoms into love. Duped into marrying an insane woman some years before, Rochester attempts to conceal this little problem and marry Jane, which, needless to say, doesn’t go well. Understandably distraught, she leaves him, but realizing and accepting her love for him, returns before the story’s conclusion --- only to find that his wife is dead and he is blind. But that doesn’t stop her from agreeing to marry him, which leads me to agree with Rochester’s observation of her that, “you transfix me quite.”
John Proctor and Elizabeth Proctor in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible – set in the small town of Salem, Massachusetts, during the Witch Trials of 1692-93, this play is a riveting commentary on persecution and the power of relationships. John and Elizabeth are a married couple with problems --- he cheated on her and had an affair some months prior to the story, and they have huge problems communicating --- but the bottom line is that they do love each other deeply. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, it takes true calamity to make them realize that, and even though things don’t end well for them, they do at least have their shining moment before the End.
Beren and Luthien in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion – my obligatory Tolkien reference for the day. This is by no means one of Tolkien’s more famous tales --- Aragorn makes a brief reference to it in LOTR, and Christopher Tolkien recently decided the story deserved its own book, so it was published last year --- but it is a tale of love and devotion, nonetheless. Beren was a mortal man, Luthien an immortal elven princess, so their relationship was fraught with that sorrow, to start with. Then, together, they infiltrate the fortress of Thangorodrim to steal a rather ultimate jewel (called a silmaril) from the crown of Morgoth i.e. they infiltrate Hell to steal a jewel from the devil. That’s a pretty special love that’s willing to go that far.
Pooh and Piglet in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh – I’ll end with the non-romantic couple who nonetheless clearly experience what classical philosophers term agape love: a fundamental affection/love that is neither physical nor sexual in nature, but no less real for that. Pooh and Piglet so obviously care so very deeply for each other’s wellbeing, it’s impossible to be unmoved by their innocent tenderness. There’s a charm there that both children and adults can relate to, a charm so frequently lacking in our own cold and loveless world.