A bit of a tortuous introduction to a simple theme. I was looking for a Name Day for Jono, our daughter’s partner, and was a bit stuck for a Saint Jonathan. It turns out – with a bit of a wobble – that Jonathan, the son of King Saul and confidant of the man who will become King David, is commemorated on 1st March. I rather suspect that Jonathan, son of Saul is commemorated here in a confusion with Saint David, the fierce and energetic patron saint of Wales, but the story of David and Jonathan refers to the early kingship struggles in Israel, and to the mutual friendship between the two. I also see that Jonathan is commemorated as one of the patron saints of friendship in some Churches.
So today is today. The feast of St David of Wales and (very much in its shadow), a commemoration of Saint (?) Jonathan, and although John the Beloved Disciple and a choir of others might join him, it strikes me as a day one might celebrate friendship. We are a long day from the International Day of Friendship, the world looks awful, I am coughing and coughing: we need our friends… So here is a quick roll-call, not much more, of some Significant Male Friendships in (mostly) young people’s literature.
- In High Fantasy the obvious Tolkien friends might be Frodo and Sam – but what about Legolas and Gimli? Sparrowhawk in A Wizard of Earthsea has Vetch; their true names are Ged and Estarriol, which I cannot omit because of how the latter name rolls around in the mind, echoing the stars, or Tolkien’s Estel.
- Historical fiction takes me to Dara and Lubhrin the Heart-Brothers in Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sun Horse, Moon Horse, and to Vortrix and Drem, to Artos and Bedwyr, to the tragic story of Randall and Bevis (I have discussed close male friendships in Sutcliff before) – but to other friendships, too – maybe to Thomas Becket and King Henry, for example. Not all friendships go well. Perhaps I unfairly stretch out of “children’s literature” with Sword at Sunset and with Mydans‘ Thomas anyway
- Other fiction must include Ratty and Mole, of course, Ping and Tolly, and the friendships that begin so awkwardly for Eustace (not a boy one could easily take to, himself) in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair: with Reepicheep and Puddleglum. And there is no forgetting Snufkin and Moomintroll, life-affirming and heartbreaking all at once.
- Picture Books? Well, if I exclude Nen and the Lonely Fisherman it’s only because the significance of this male friendship seems to me to be much more romantic than many encounters, although almost its contemporary, Emmett and Caleb, provides a poignant example of ambiguity. The ambiguity of text is a thread for a labyrinth of half-meanings and unstated feelings going back to the story of Jonathan and David after all, and maybe its time to acknowledge the subtleties of such tales. But back to those passionate, wild child younger friends: how about Bernard and Alfie? How many Bernards did my children meet up with, or for how many of their friends were my children the Bernard? Rambunctious, up for a laugh, just on the edge of “naughtiness.” Whose house were they in when all the children took mattresses off the beds and used them to toboggan down the stairs? Who encouraged a young visitor to write her name on our bookcase?
In fiction as in real life we meet friends on the edge of tragedy, comrades in arms and united in more gentle fellowship. We meet friends whose devotion to each other is deep and sustaining; comic; brotherly; on the cusp of romantic (and sometimes a coded version of this), so many invitations to adventure, to joy, to wholeness. Happy feast day, friends.