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MY BROTHER'S KEEPER by Pamela Sherwood

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.
Thor vs. Loki: The Hammer or the Horns?
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!

"I'm Father's favorite--that's what counts!"
Fortunately, not all brotherly relationships are as toxic. Dallas’s J.R. and Bobby Ewing are the classic “bad boy/good boy” combo, who are constantly at odds over the family oil business and the family ranch, but still share an unbreakable bond and a deep affection that neither can easily express.
Bobby and JR, in a rare moment of accord
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.
"What kind of mess have you gotten yourself into this time?"
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.
Joshua, Jason, and Jeremy: Seattle's Most Eligible Bachelors
 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?


  1. What a great post! I love writing about brothers. I'd say my favorites are Nora Roberts's Quinn brothers.

  2. I love the dynamic of Thor and Loki (sometimes the bad boy wins my heart over Mr. Straight Arrow...or in their case Mr. Hard Hammer).

  3. I'd forgotten about the Bolt brothers. Really enjoyed that show.

  4. Shana, Nora Roberts writes great brothers--and the Quinn brothers are a hoot. I think my favorite scene with them is the Shopping Trip from Hell, wherein Cam wonders how they spent so much money, Seth complains over the clothing choices, Ethan grouses over there not being enough room in the back seat, and Philip has a meltdown in the driver's seat and swears he's ready to kill them all and go on the lam under an assumed name!

    Gina, I agree that Thor and Loki's dynamic is intriguing, especially since we get to see it play out over a series of films (three, so far) and it's a little bit different each time.

    Cheryl, as a kid, I remember Here Come the Brides airing in syndication, so I was pleased when the series came out on DVD and I could finally watch from the beginning. It's a fun show, and there are some memorable romances in it too.

  5. Right now I'm watching the old television show, Numbers. The complexity of the relationship between Don and Charlie really intrigues me. And the father's wisdom in handling them is great, too.

  6. I just saw a poster from the old Hardy Boys TV show with Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson, probably the first fictional brothers to make an impression on me.

  7. Carolyn, I'll have to check Numbers out! And let's hear it for fathers who know how to deal with competitive sons!

    Sherri, I remember that old series too! It would alternate on Sunday evenings with Nancy Drew mysteries, starring Pamela Sue Martin in the title role! I also read some of the original Franklin W. Dixon books about the Hardy Boys, though I can't say any left much of an impression on me!


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