Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. Apparently it’s Father’s Day (not where I’m from, although it’s not something I keep track of), so this week we’re thinking about the other fictional parentals.
I found it far easier to knock out a list of despicable Dads than decent ones, but I’ve decided to celebrate both this week. I guess paternal conflict is a prime motivator in genre fiction, so there’s almost too many to choose from. Besides, having grown up without a Dad in my life, the loving/inspirational father character really has to go some miles before I stop unfairly rolling my eyes about paternal relationship tropes and get on board with how awesome this one is. Let’s just call that the mild case of existential jealousy that it probably is and move right along to the Fab Dads…
Cullyn of Cerrmorr (Daggerspell – Katharine Kerr)
When Jill’s Mama dies, her absentee father Cullyn – a sword for hire who was rarely home – takes her on the road and teaches her the blade. This alone would put him high on my list of Awesome Dads, but his personal development in facing down his demons – including some that have dogged him through 400 years of reincarnations – is now one of the things I love best about this series.
Father Chains (The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch)
Father Chains buys orphans from the Thiefmaker and turns them into accomplished conmen (and one notable conwoman). He probably considers himself a teacher rather than a stepdad, but if the Gentlemen Bastards aren’t found family then I don’t know what is. And Chains is wonderful: from his eclectic approach to education to his wily gambits for keeping his adoptees in check, his wisdom and tough love are a joy.
Matthew Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables – L M Montgomery)
Who can resist gentle Matthew Cuthbert, the quiet farmer of Avonlea who was meant to bring a boy home, but doesn’t have the heartlessness to abandon a girl at the station – and can’t resist her lively charms once he brings her home? I think the best thing about Matthew is the way he’ll go all around the houses to make Anne happy whilst trying not to make waves with Marilla – but he always stands up for his choices once he’s found out.
Gordon Zellaby (The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham)
Another educator and a philanthropist, Gordon Zellaby must reconcile his love for his natural daughter with his fascination in and growing love for his entirely unnatural grandchild. The closest most of the Midwich Cuckoos get to a father figure, his terrible decision at the end is the ultimate expression of his conflicted loyalties; but he takes it with love, and whole-heartedly. Respect.
Ishak ben Yonannon (The Lions of Al-Rassan – Guy Gavriel Kay)
Ishak is another man prepared to teach his daughter skills beyond the usual social remit – and an indomitable man at that, who refuses to be beaten down by his blinding and who can’t turn his back on a patient in need. He may be in a minor supporting role, but he puts Rodrigo “I’ve endangered my whole family again haven’t I” Belmonte in the shade. He’s a goddamn hero, and a shining example. And – as best we can tell from the narrative – a damn good Dad, too.
Honourable mention to Mr Hendemore (Lady Trent’s father) for secretly encouraging his daughter’s interest in the natural history of dragons and going to exceptional lengths to find her the right sort of husband: that is to say, one who would let her pursue her heart, not one who would keep her out of the library.
Before I start on the Bad Dads, I want to be clear that not all terrible fictional fathers are intelligent, charming, amoral psychopaths, it’s just that – Elves aside – I apparently find those more interesting. Or more terrible. If you don’t know any better, or are carrying your own scars, that’s one thing. But all these men should know better.
Almost Any Dad By Tolkien, Really
I was all set with Denethor – even if we ignored the damaging favouritism, he tried to burn his son to death – but then I thought about the Elves. Elu Thingol, who locks his daughter up over an inconvenient romance; Fëanor the arch-douche, who asks his sons to damn themselves; inconstant Finwë, who goes along with it. But there’s also Eöl (again prone to locking his family up) and even Elrond’s attitude to Arwen merits mixed feelings at best. Elves, eh? They like locking up their children. Putting aside our hero hobbits, who grow up well, are there any good dads in Tolkien?
Tywin Lannister (A Song of Ice and Fire – George R R Martin)
I need hardly say more, although I sort of love Tywin as a character. He’s strong, single-minded, intelligent, ruthless and pragmatic, so he’s a wonderful villain (although I admit he gets a likability boost from the Charles Dance Effect). And his determination to dictate his children’s lives and his inability to accept Tyrion make him a terrible, terrible father.
Richard Serrailler (Simon Serrailler – Susan Hill)
Richard Serrailler is a judgmental arsehole given to scathing remarks (we rarely see the charm that earns him the affection of two remarkable women). He can’t see the damage he does, but the scars he’s left on his son Simon after a lifetime of being undermined and criticized are unmissable. And then there’s The Soul of Discretion, where he goes beyond the pale – while this feels jarring, it is in keeping with a narcissist who has always carefully curated his own reality.
Gingren Eskiath (A Land Fit For Heroes – Richard Morgan)
Oh hey, it’s another privileged old white dude! Because that is of course the other lens for this list: it’s a bunch of old men who think they have the right to dictate the lives of others. Gingren is elitist, racist, misogynistic and a rampant homophobe to boot, and tries to ‘cure’ his gay son before acknowledging Ringil’s not giving up cock and exiling him instead. Fuck you, Gingren. For all he and Tywin are two peas in a pod, he’s written very differently – I love to hate Tywin; I just hate Gingren. He makes my skin crawl.
Do you have any favourite literary Dads you love / love to hate?