A couple of months ago, I blogged about fictional sisters, and more recently, about fictional mothers. Today, fictional brothers get their day in the sun--and a complicated, conflicted lot they are too!
One thing that fascinated me about brotherly relationships is the extent to which competition shapes their dynamic--and probably has since the dawn of time. Sisters can be competitive too, but when brothers go head to head over something they want, the threat of violence and even bloodshed tends to loom large. Just ask Cain and Abel!
Some brotherly rivalries are a match for that Biblical pair in drama and intensity, like that of bellicose Thor and manipulative Loki, who both aspire to the throne of Asgard--and know that only one of them can have it. Or Adam and Charles Trask in East of Eden, who compete for everything from their father’s affection to the beautiful but soulless Cathy Ames--a rivalry that continues into the next generation with Adam’s sons, Caleb and Aron.
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Introducing additional brothers to the mix only amps up the rivalry. Think of all those fairy tales in which three brothers compete for the kingdom, the throne, and the hand of the princess--the youngest usually triumphing because that’s generally how fairy tales end. A historical equivalent of that situation plays out in The Lion in Winter, which dramatizes the ongoing strife between a “greedy little trinity” of princes, sons of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: spoiled Daddy’s boy John, calculating middle son Geoffrey, and berserker soldier Richard, who happens to be Mom’s favorite. Except that there's not a “Happily Ever After” in sight!
And some brothers, in spite of their differences, sincerely love and support each other. Like Jaime (the family Golden Boy) and Tyrion Lannister (the clever but undervalued dwarf) in A Game of Thrones, whose closeness stands out sharply from the more twisted relationships in their highly dysfunctional clan.
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And the Bolt brothers--Jason, Joshua, and Jeremy, from the vintage TV series Here Come the Brides--whose fraternal relationship is reassuringly normal and healthy. Competitive at times, but always affectionate, moving easily from wrangling to teasing to embracing, sometimes in the space of a few minutes. They may occasionally wound each other’s feelings, but they always have each other’s backs.
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One of my favorite brotherhoods is that of Richard and Francis Crawford from Dorothy Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles. Neither as toxic as the Trasks nor as wholesome as the Bolts, the Crawfords occupy a fascinating middle ground that encompasses deep affection, mutual respect . . . and frequent misunderstanding. Steady, reliable Richard loves but is often baffled and infuriated by his mercurial, unpredictable younger brother. While Francis, for all his brilliance, does not always understand Richard as well as he thinks and tends to underestimate him. And like many siblings, they have an ongoing rivalry, a history of flight and pursuit, attack and counterattack, most often expressed in Francis’s challenge, “If you won’t lead, try following, Richard!” (The Game of Kings, the first volume of the series, is especially rife with brotherly love and brotherly conflict.)
Who are your favorite fictional brothers?