On Sunday it’s Father’s Day in Australia. It’s also three months since my father passed away. He’d lived a long and good life and is now with God, though I miss the twinkle in his eye, his warm hugs and smile. He was my hero growing up and, though like us all, he had his quirks, he left me a wonderful legacy, including a love for books, for science-fiction and fantasy.
As a tribute to my dad I thought I’d ponder some memorable fathers (or father-figures) in speculative fiction, including in the Nardva World. One thing that strikes me is their rarity. Fathers, especially in children’s/YA literature/books, often seem absent, whether dead (like Harry Potter’s dad or Eragon’s or Catniss Everdeen’s) or distant (the Pevensey kids’ parents) or hidden (Luke Skywalker’s dad). Even when they are alive at the beginning of the book, they often don’t make it alive (Tris’ parents, for example). No doubt, this is allows the hero or heroine to come into their own.
Not all the dads are great role models. Some we love, some are doing their best, while others need a few lessons on being a great father. Warning – possible SPOILERS ahead.
Professor Kirby in Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Professor Kirby is a father or grandfatherly figure to the Pevensie kids in C S Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy have been shipped to the countryside during the bombing of London in World War II. The Professor mostly allows his housekeeper to care for the children, but when Lucy begins talking about Narnia and Edmond teases her mercilessly, it’s Professor Kirby Peter and Susan turn to. Much to their surprise, he doesn’t discount Lucy’s story and gives them some sage if enigmatic advice. What makes this even better to my mind, is that we later find out that the Prof has travelled to Narnia in his youth (recounted in The Magician’s Nephew).
Théoden and Denethor in Lord of the Rings
For such a sweeping saga, there are not a lot of living fathers in Lord of the Rings. Two that come to mind are not the best of examples – Théoden King of Eodras and Denethor Steward of Gondor.
Théoden allows himself to be enthralled by Grima Wormtongue and becomes so embittered by grief at the loss of his only son, that he ignores the plight of his loyal niece Eowyn and drives away his nephew Eomer. Only the dramatic intervention of Gandalf breaks Wormtongues’ hold, and Théoden is restored to his senses and show both courage and heroism in protecting his people and coming to the aid of Gondor. He heroically dies in battle with the Witch King of Angmar, who Eowyn then slays.
Denethor is ensared by his own despair and pride. He sees the darkness coming out of Mordor. He knows that Aragorn will claim his rightful place as King, making him and his house redundant. I’m not sure which he fears the most. But his most egregious fault as a father is his blatant favouritism of one son over the other. He admires and loves Boromir’s stalwart military prowess, while despising Faramir’s more thoughtful approach. In his grief for Boromir’s death, he sends Faramir to certain death in defending Osgiliath, and in bitter regret almost burns himself along with his still living son on a funeral pyre. In Denethor’s case, Gandalf’s intervention and advice is denied and one cannot help but wonder whether Boromir’s downfall was in part seeded by his father’s unwise favouritism.
Who could forget Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back ‘I am your father.’ Yes, but in name only. Consumed with an unreasonable fear of losing the great love of his live, Padme, Anakin is seduced to the dark side, cemented by his unspeakable act of killing the younglings in the Jedi Temple. His turn to the dark side, rather than saving Padme, brings about her death as she gives birth to twins, Leila and Luke. The babies are whisked off and hidden from their father (perhaps not all that well in Luke’s case, with his uncle and aunt on Tatoonie). When they do finally meet, Darth Vader oscillates between trying to kill Luke and his friends, to seducing him to the dark side to serve the Emperor. It’s a pretty sad track record (perhaps as sad a John Lock’s conman father in Lost). But in the end, the father’s love in Anakin wins out, and rather than see his son killed, he turns on the Emperor, a final redemptive act.
This is reversed in the next generation with Han and Ben Solo (Return of the Jedi and Last Jedi). Han is not a perfect father, perhaps often away, yet there is no doubt he loves his son. Yet Ben turns to the dark side, as Kylo Ren, worships his grandfather Darth Vada and kills his own father so he will not be tempted by the weakness of love. We don’t know how it will turn out for Ben but I’m thinking not good.
On a side note, I chuckle at Jeffrey Brown’s take on Dad moments between Darth Vader and his kids.
Ned Stark versus Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones
Ned Stark is a man of integrity in a world of gutter politics. He is stern and at times tough with his children, but there is no doubt he loves both them and their mother. His interactions with Rob, Sansa, Arya, Bran and others, shows that he understands their strengths and weakness, and wishes to bring out the best in each of his children. Yet in the end it is his integrity, his drive to do what is right, and his compassion for the children of his enemy that is his undoing. He pre-warns Cersei of his plans to reveal her incest and the illegitimacy of her children, so that she might get them to safety, Instead, she strikes back, bringing him down and leaving his own children exposed and in a mammoth struggle to survive in a predatory world.
Tywin in contrast pushes his children and shows only scorn for his youngest son Tyrion because of his dwarfism. His cold calculating drive brings out only the worst in Jamie and Cersei in particular.
Lief’s Dad in Deltora’s Quest
In Deltora’s Quest, Lief’s father gives him the task to collect the seven stones of Deltora and add them to the Belt of Aidan, so that the true heir of the realm might be returned and the Shadow Lord defeated. Lief’s father, a blacksmith, seems gentle and almost mild. What Lief doesn’t know is that , through arrogance and trust the wrong people, his father allowed a great wrong, which he now greatly regrets. He teaches Lief not only to be a blacksmith but strong values and integrity, things Lief needs on his quest. And he must face his own judgement of his father’s failings, before he can come into his own.
Harry Potter in The Cursed Child
Harry Potter (another orphan) finds it hard to relate to his younger son Albus. They are different personalities and Albus makes friends with Scorpios Malfoy and is sorted in the Slytherin, the group that opposed Harry in the past. I think Albus reminds Harry of his own failings and temptations. Albus feels the weight of these fears and expectations and travels into the past to rectify what he sees as his fathers mistakes. The results are catastrophic and by the end both Harry and Albus make peace with each other.
King Caspian in The Silver Chair
Caspian’s own father died when he was a child and he is brought up by his murderous scheming Uncle, though it is his nurse and then his tutor that form his character and teach him of the Old Narnia. Caspian marries a star’s daughter, but she is killed by a snake when their son is a young man. Both Caspian and his son are grief-stricken and then his son disappears, only to be returned to Narnia ten years later some months after Caspian dies. It seems Caspian was a good father, but is unable to help his son when tragedy strikes, perhaps because of his own grief. He longs for his son return and does everything he can to find him. Tragic as this seems, Lewis pulls back the curtain in Aslan’s Land and shows Caspian restored, with the sorrows of his life transformed, showing his suffering is not permanent (a theme in explores in more detail in The Last Battle).
I’ve also written some fathers good and bad in the tales of Nardva.
Korak in the Under the Mountain series
Korak is Zadeki’s father, one of the shapeshifting Forest Folk. We first meet him in Blood Crystal though he probably doesn’t come to the fore in Stone of the Sea (planned release date September). He also makes a cameo appearance in Akrad’s Children. Korak is a more relaxed father, perhaps in part because the Forest Folk take to heart ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, but also because he remembers what it’s like to be young, impetuous and constantly in trouble. He provides Zadeki with direction and restraint when needed or shares a joke or the adventure, giving Zadeki a strong sense of acceptance and value.
Rokkan in Akrad’s Children
Rokkan is both a good and a bad father. He had a fraught relationship with his own father, Martal. Martal showed marked favouritism for his younger son, Naetok, and held Rokkan to an almost impossible standard. Rokkan wants to be a good father, and guides his son, Prince Mannok with more tolerance and warmth. Even so, Mannok often feels he does live up to his talented father. But it is Rokkan complicated past relationship with Kiprissa Gaia and the need to juggle the uncertain balance between clan loyalties and outwit his cousin, Haka’s, ambition for the throne, and his fears of Akrad’s ongoing influence, that means he treats the children of his former marriage, Dinis and Ista, with far less justice and compassion.
Zander in Withered Seeds
Zander’s ambition to leave the poverty and shame of his childhood behind, leads him to make an irreversible deed (as told in Moonflame). He achieves the wealth and acclaim he desired, but find himself in a loveless marriage and treated with disdain. In reaction, he becomes in many ways an uninvolved father, not giving the input and concern he perhaps should. It is only when his youngest daughter insists on coming with him on his last trip, that the opportunity arises to rectify the mistakes of the past.
As I said at my own dad’s memorial service . No father, except our heavenly father, is perfect. Yet being a parent is one of the greatest privileges, sometimes ignored for what are fleeting goals (wealth, power, prestige, status). The best fathers are not necessarily perfect or strong, but warm, fair and prepared to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them.
Who are your favourite fathers (or father-figures) in fiction? What makes them a great, or at least, lovable fathers.
The latest release in the Tales of Nardva: Ruhanna’s Flight and Other Stories includes Ruhanna’s Flight, Before the Wind, The Herbalist’s Daughter, Heart of the Mountain, Moonflame, Withered Seeds, Stasia’s Stand and more. It’s a great way to dip into a world of Nardva for engaging heroes and heroines and thrilling adventures.