In May I paid tribute to my mom with a list of my favourite fictional mothers, so it seemed only fair that this week I count down my top ten favourite fictional fathers/father figures. When it comes to fiction, it can be difficult to find positive father figures. In fact, I could probably create an entire list of awful fathers (and three-quarters of them would be from Lost!), which is all the more reason to celebrate those positive fathers who make an impression. Want to join in the fun? Head on over to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish.
1. Jean Valjean (Les Miserables)
As a huge fan of both the book and the musical, how could I not place Jean Valjean at the top of this list? The ultimate in adopted fathers, Valjean keeps his promise to Fantine, retrieving her daughter Cosette, who has been treated as a servant, from the Thénardiers and raising Cosette as his own. Despite the looming threat of Javert, Jean Valjean ensures that Cosette wants for nothing. The love in this father-daughter relationship is incredibly moving. Cosette and Valjean are so lacking in love that when they are brought together the bond is that much stronger between them. He thinks the world of his daughter, and she of him. When Cosette worries that her father is eating the poor brown bread, she insists that she will eat what he does, knowing that he will not let her do so and will accept the white bread for her sake. When Valjean learns that his daughter has a young man who loves her and intends to fight on the barricades he is initially relieved that the man (Marius) will certainly die, but feels such guilt that he goes to the barricades and rescues the young man, carrying Marius on his back through the sewers to safety for Cosette’s sake. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is!
“When he saw Cosette, when he had taken possession of her, carried her off, and delivered her, he felt his heart moved within him.
All the passion and affection within him awoke, and rushed towards that child. He approached the bed, where she lay sleeping, and trembled with joy. He suffered all the pangs of a mother, and he knew not what it meant; for that great and singular movement of a heart which begins to love is a very obscure and a very sweet thing.
Poor old man, with a perfectly new heart!”
2. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Through the book and the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch has made such an impression as a positive role model and father that he can be found on just about every list of great fictional fathers. Controversy about the recent sequel aside, Atticus deserves this place of honour. He is a model of fairness and justice, encouraging daughter Scout to see things from the perspective of others, and defending the cause of social outcasts.
“Atticus, he was real nice.”
“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
3. Arthur Weasley (Harry Potter)
Like his wife Molly, Arthur is a wonderful parent not just to his red-headed brood, but also to the orphaned Harry. Admittedly it has been a long time since I read Harry Potter, but I remember Arthur as being the kind of man who believes in the equality of muggles and magical folk, who may not be ambitious but he is good, and who cares deeply about the wellbeing of his family. The Weasleys may be poor, but they are rich in love with parents like Molly and Arthur on their side.
4. Isak (Pachinko)
Above all, what I loved about Pachinko was its characters. This fabulous multi-generational novel about a Korean family through the twentieth century has characters who are real, who work hard, and who are generally good people. Isak is one such character. A young and sickly, missionary, he encounters the pregnant Sunja at her mother’s boarding house and decides it is his destiny to give this young unmarried woman’s child a name. He marries Sunja and brings her with him to Japan, raising her first son Noa as his own, as well as their biological child, Noa’s younger half-brother Mozasu. Although he endures hardship, including the discrimination that Koreans living in Japan face, poverty, and even torture and unjust imprisonment, Isak is a kind husband and father who tries to do right by his family and his faith.
5. Harold (A Little Life)
One of the things that prevents A Little Life from being the bleakest book on the planet (don’t get me wrong, it is definitely still DARK, but there is some light in the darkness) is Jude St. Francis’ support system, and Harold Stein, the Harvard law school professor who officially adopts an adult Jude as his son, is a big part of that. Having lost his biological son Jacob to sickness in childhood, Harold tries to make Jude feel like he is Harold’s son and selflessly takes the troubled Jude’s sorrows into his life. And if your heart hasn’t already been broken earlier in this 700-page novel, the final letter written by Harold will definitely do it.
6. Ned Stark (A Song of Ice and Fire)
It goes without saying that Eddard Stark, in following his principles and honour, does not always make the best decisions, but he obviously cares deeply for his family and children. I loved the glimpses we see throughout the first book of Ned’s regard for his wife and children. He never admonishes tomboy Arya or expects her to act more like a lady (likely because she reminds him of his deceased sister), even hiring a swordsman to instruct Arya in the basics of how to use her sword Needle. Although the reader doesn’t see as much of Ned with his other children, his love for them is always clear.
“She had never loved him so much as she did in that instant.”
7. Bob Cratchit (A Christmas Carol)
Surprisingly A Christmas Carol is the only Dickens this English major has read, but it’s an interesting book and involves, of course, an excellent father in Bob Cratchit. Although they are a very poor family, as Cratchit, the clerk at Scrooge’s moneylending firm, is overworked and underpaid, they are kind and respectable. Cratchit clearly loves sickly son Tiny Tim and for the rest of his family and works hard to ensure his family’s survival.
8. Matthew Cuthburt (Anne of Green Gables)
His sister Marilla is a fair but sometimes sharp-tongued woman, who sometimes finds herself in conflict with imaginative Anne Shirley, the girl they accidentally received from the orphanage instead of a boy to help with the farm, but shy kindly Matthew takes a liking to Anne from the start. While Marilla serves as the stern parental figure, Matthew spoils Anne and serves as a sympathetic ear and a “kindred spirit”. Noticing that Anne is dressed more plainly than her friends, he buys a dress in the new fashion with puffed sleeves as a Christmas present for Anne, which brings her to tears of joy. This father figure bond with Anne has stuck with me all of these years and still comes to mind when I think of positive father-daughter bonds.
“That’s a Christmas present for you, Anne,” said Matthew shyly. “Why–why–Anne, don’t you like it? Well now–well now.”
For Anne’s eyes had suddenly filled with tears.
“Like it! Oh, Matthew!” Anne laid the dress over a chair and clasped her hands. “Matthew, it’s perfectly exquisite. Oh, I can never thank you enough. Look at those sleeves! Oh, it seems to me this must be a happy dream.”
9. Pyotr (The Bear and the Nightingale)
A recent favourite of mine was The Bear and the Nightingale. Like Pachinko, this was a book I loved because the characters are so vividly rendered and likable. The story centers around Pyotr Vladimirovich’s daughter, Vasilisa who is compassionate but also wild and brave, with something of the supernatural about her. Despite the fact that the novel is set in medieval Russia, Pyotr obviously loves and admires his family, especially his daughter, who reminds him of his deceased wife. Although he invites strife by bringing home a highborn woman as a new bride (who turns out to be very devout and spooked by the northern household spirits, which she believes to be devils) this is obviously not Pyotr’s intent and he tries to do the best he can for his children.
10. The King (The Balloon Tree)
The Balloon Tree was my favourite picture book as a child and it remains a favourite today. The beautifully rendered artwork, the fantasy story about a princess and a kingdom that she saves, and that fairytale balloon tree sent my imagination soaring. In the story, the King leaves for a tournament, telling his beloved daughter Princess Leora “If anything goes wrong, release a bunch of balloons from the castle tower. Wherever I am, I will see them and come home right away.” Leora’s evil uncle wants to become king though and the first thing he does is pop every balloon in the kingdom. It’s up to Leora to find one remaining balloon to save her kingdom. Of course she does, plants it, and a beautiful tree full of balloons grows, releasing enough balloons to warn the King and bring him back in time.
Have you read any of these books? Who are your favourite literary fathers or father-figures?