Monday, June 21, 2010

A post Father's Day post: Where have all the fathers gone?

Posted by Simcha 7:36 AM, under | 7 comments

Yesterday, in honor of Father's Day, Geek Dad at Wired.Com posted a list of his top favorite fathers from science fiction and fantasy. I did not actually recognize many of the names on this list, and I think most were from TV shows movies (which I'm not so familiar with) but considering the fact that both Geppetto and Mr.Incredible were included I got the sense that the author of the post was scrambling a bit to come up with some names.

And so I decided to try to come up with my own list of favorite fantasy and scifi fathers, and let me tell you- it was hard! Speculative fiction authors just don't seem to be fond of fathers in their books. In almost every book I can think of the protagonist is either fatherless or has an abusive or negligent father. Rarely have I read a fantasy or scifi book with a strong, positive father figure and I wonder why that is. While orphans do seem to make popular protagonist, if they have one parent it's usually the mother. I can easily come up with some great book mothers, but no fathers.

I'm wondering if this has to do with the fact that in many fantasy books the main character is provided with an older and wiser mentor who helps guide the protagonist as they grow, and this person takes the place of a father. Maybe the father has to be axed to make room for this mentor who so strongly contributes to the development of the main character.But why can't this roll be given to a father as well?

After wracking my brain for a while and going over the books on my shelves I did manage to come up with a few really good fathers. It was tricky though trying to determine what qualifies as a good book father. I thought it should be someone who is actively present throughout the book and doesn't die early or participate occasionally from the distance (à la Garth Nix's Abhorsen or Sarena's father in Elentris), but this also cut my choices down quite a bit. And so here is what I came up with (in no particular order):

1. Colonel Next from Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. Even though Thursday's father was eradicated he still manages to frequently visit his daughter, via the time-space continuum, in order to offer fatherly advice and sometime to save her life. One time he even saves the world, making him a totally awesome dad.

2. Duke Leto Atreides from Dune: Although Paul's father doesn't survive for the whole book (or even half of it) I think he lives long enough to make an impact and his strength of character and love for his son does come through clearly.

3. Erny from Peter Brett's The Warded Man: While Leesha's father has difficulty standing up to his shrewish wife, when Leesha needes his support he is there for her, which is definitely the sign of a good father.

4. Motimer from Inkheart by Cornelia Funke: Mo is probably one of the best fantasy fathers I can think of since he is by his daughter's side throughout the book, as Meggie's father, her friend and her protector. I think the close father/daughter relationship portrayed in this book is really pretty unique for the fantasy genre and it was very refreshing and enjoyable.

5. Daniel's father in Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind: Another book that features a strong relationship between a loving father and his son.

6. Ok, I've got nothing...

Can you come up with any other good scifi or fantasy book fathers, or perhaps some ideas as to why good fathers are so hard to find in these genres?


I expect good fathers are hard to find in regular fiction, too, though - I'm thinking of all the books on my shelf and not coming up with a lot of good father characters. Father figures all over the place, though - Giles from Buffy, Silas from The Graveyard Book... I was going to go look at my catalogue of books on LibraryThing and find more, but my computer won't cooperate. :/

Thursday's father is the ultimate absentee dad - he's never "home" but when he does show up it's during very important moments.

I noticed a somewhat related theme in fairy tales, that is the dead mother with the clueless father, a situation which creates danger and drama for the children.

I agree with you on Duke Leto Atreides, he was the strength that Paul relied on.

I would also add, Tam al'Thor from Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series.

The Father from The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Collan Rosvenir from Melanie Rawn's Ruins of Ambrai trilogy. This series has quite a few excellent fathers.

Sparhawk from David Edding's Elenium and Tamuli trilogies.

Jeff Raven and Afra Lyon from Anne McCaffreys The Rowan series.

I can even make an argument for the type of father that Withen Ashkevron becomes in the Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey.

I could probably come up with more but I'm tired. I will admit though that it is hard to think of and I agree that the Wired list is a little week, Arthur Weasley aside.

The one that sprung immediately to mind was Colonel Next and I agree with all the others (except Erny6 because I haven't read The Warded Man)

And I can't think of any others which is kind of shocking.

the only one i recognize from your list is daniel's father from shadow of the wind. that was an AMAZING read!

the only one that came to mind for me is Red (Sorcha's husband) from Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters series. I remember him being a good guy.

Jenny: Father figures are easy to find in fantasy, it's a good natural father that is so rare, as if they are just not interesting enough to keep around. And I do think this is a phenomenon mostly limited to the spec. fic genre because I can easily come up with good fathers in non-genre books.

Stephanie: Yeah, I was a bit undecided abt including Thursday's father b/c he technically isn't around but I do think he is present enough to be included as a regular characters and thereof can be a top dad.

And you are right that when the fathers are included they are usually weak characters, browbeaten by their wives, even in many modern fantasies.

Ryan: I figured there must be at least one good father in WOT considering how long the series is, but it has been so long since I read any of it that I couldn't actually name anyone. I've also been meaning to reread Melanie Rawn's books b/c I don't remember anything about them but now I definitely have to.

Esther: I know, isn't it strange? This actually isn't something I ever paid attention to until I tried to come up with a list.

Michelle: The Sevenwater series did actually come to my mind but the only father I remembered was the one who married the witch (and no father awards for that one!) but I think these are more books that I really need to reread.

You know, I was going to take this as a challenge and think up a whole bunch of counter examples...but then I realized that I couldn't think of any except for Tam from The Wheel of Time--and someone's even mentioned him already!

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