Today I thought I’d tell you about my top three fictional relationships. While I do not consider myself a hard core shipper, there are a few pairings in which I am super invested, and here they are.
The Doctor and River Song (BBC, Doctor Who)
Perhaps I should provide some background here for those readers unfamiliar with the BBC series. The Doctor is a space and time travelling alien from the planet Gallifrey who has a special fondness for Earth and who is frequently called upon to use his smarts and trusty sonic screwdriver to save the world. As a Time Lord, he has the unique trait that, when he is severely injured, his body regenerates, giving a whole new look and personality to the character. River Song is a slightly-more-than-human time traveller whose timeline collides on a regular basis with that of The Doctor.
Showrunner Russell T Davies, who introduced River to the show, has said that his inspiration for the character was Audrey Niffinegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife in which a time traveller’s relationship with his wife is complicated by his meeting her at different points in her life. The first time we – and The Doctor – meet River is shortly before her death when it’s clear she has already enjoyed a long and event filled relationship with The Doctor, one of which The Doctor is unaware. Her devastation that her Doctor doesn’t know her is beautifully and poignantly played by Alex Kingston.
Throughout the following series, we learn more about River and her relationship with our favourite Gallifreyan. Not only is their relationship complicated by jumping in and out of each other’s timelines – their first action upon meeting is to compare diaries to pinpoint where they are in their timelines – but also The Doctor’s changing personality due to his regenerations.
Why I love this relationship. In spite of the time travel and fantasy elements, there is a lot of human in this relationship, particularly the fear that a loved one will no longer be able to remember you or share in the memories of events you’ve experienced together. That is the aspect of the relationship that touched me the most. I’ll be perfectly honest here and say that much of my investment in this relationship comes from Alex Kingston’s performance as River. it has to be said, she has some very cheesy lines: “I live for the days when I see him, but I know that every time that I do he’ll be one step further away. The day is coming when I’ll look into that man’s eyes, my Doctor, and he won’t have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it’s going to kill me.” Kingston delivers those lines with such truth you can’t help but feel for her character.
Fitz and The Fool (Robin Hobb, Realm of the Elderlings)
Again, perhaps some background might be necessary here. Fitz is the protagonist of Hobb’s Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies. These are typical epic fantasy novels in which the Fool prophesies a dire end for the Six Duchies unless he and Fitz can work together to prevent it. Their adventures together creates a very strong bond between them, and it is a joy to watch their friendship develop.
What makes this relationship very different in epic fantasy is the Fool’s gender fluidity. At some points in the narrative he (I’ll use the male pronoun just for convenience) presents as male, at other points, he is female. Throughout the series the Fool is extremely careful and adept at avoiding situations which may reveal his physical gender – he avoids bathing in public and refuses medical attention. There are moments where Fitz could ascertain the truth of the situation but out of respect for his friend he refuses. At this point I wonder if the Fool’s physical gender will ever be revealed – and more to the point, what difference it would actually make.
His gender has absolutely no bearing on the Fool’s love for Fitz; as far as he is concerned, Fitz is the centre of his world, his other half. Fitz, on the other hand, views things differently. For him a physical relationship is an integral part of a pair bond, something he struggles to accept with the Fool, given that he views him as male. The Fool’s comment on that is very astute; “You are confusing plumbing and love again.” I believe though that Fitz is lying to himself about the depth of his love for the Fool. This central conflict between the pair has yet to be resolved – there is one more book to come in the Fitz and the Fool series – and I am so impatient to see how Hobb has the pair overcome this hurdle.
As far as I am concerned, Fitz and the Fool is endgame. Hobb all but confirmed it when Jinna the hedge witch reads Fitz’s palm and says “By your left hand, I’d say you had a sweet and true love in your short life. A love that ended only in your death. Yet here in your right hand, I see a love that wends its way in and out of all your many years. That faithful heart has been absent for a time, but is soon to return to you again.” The very next chapter it’s not his previous love, Molly, who returns to Fitz’s life but the Fool.
Why I love this relationship. The depth of the connection between Fitz and the Fool is so movingly written. Both would happily give up their lives and/or happiness to ensure the other’s wellbeing. I am so invested in the relationship and am keen to see how it develops.
Tessa Gray, Jem Carstairs and Will Herondale (Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices)
Generally I am not fond of love triangles, especially in young adult fiction. All too often, it’s very clear from the beginning which couple the author intends as endgame (did anyone seriously expect Bella to end up with Jacob?) and the third party serves as little more than a temporary roadblock on the way to true happiness. Bleugh. I’ve read that scenario far too often now for it to be remotely interesting.
The love triangle between Tessa, Jem and Will in The Infernal Devices is different. The triangle is perfectly balanced in that both Jem and Will are written as valid partners for Tessa. Clare does not make it clear which couple is endgame. Jem and Will also have a very strong pre-existing bond and they love and respect each other as brothers. Both are willing to sacrifice their lives and happiness so that the other may be happy. I was genuinely upset that one of them had to step aside, and I couldn’t decide which Tessa should choose.
Why I love this relationship(s). That ending. Wow. The way Clare resolved this triangle was just so beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time. She clearly did her work well to evoke such a reaction in me.
So there you have it, my top three fictional relationships. What they all have in common is that the love between the pairs is selfless – they would all give up their lives in a heartbeat to ensure their partner’s happiness – and that they all have interesting obstacles to overcome. Let me know about your favourite fictional relationships in the comments!