Last year, we celebrated Father’s Day with a post on The Top 12 Literary Quotes About Fathers. This year, I decided to list 15 of the most interesting fathers from the books I’ve read. I hope some of them inspire you to create memorable fathers in the books you write. Please add your choices in the comments section below.
The Bad Dads
- Humbert Humbert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov. Humbert is one of the most repulsive stepfathers in fiction. He marries Charlotte Haze so that he can get close to her twelve-year-old daughter, Dolores, who he nicknames ‘Lolita’. When Charlotte dies, he commits statutory rape with Dolores.
- King Lear in King Lear by William Shakespeare. Lear’s decision to test his three daughters to find out who loves him most and to determine the size of their inheritance is a bad idea. He favours his youngest daughter, Cordelia, but she angers him when she refuses to play his game. His other daughters are happy to flatter him. They get the land, and then they plot his downfall.
- Jack Torrance in The Shining by Stephen King. As the belligerent alcoholic and possibly possessed father in The Shining, Jack is terrifying. After trying to beat his wife, Wendy, to death with a croquet mallet, and kill his son, Danny, he comes to his senses and allows them to escape, moments before the hotel’s boiler explodes, killing him.
- Pap Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Huck sets off in a little boat across the Mississippi because of his father. Pap Finn is an uncouth, abusive drunk. Luckily Huck escapes and sets off on great adventures.
- Henry Wingo in The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. Henry is successful shrimper who spends his money on ludicrous businesses that leave his family destitute. He raises his children, Tom, Savannah, and Luke, by beating them. Their proud, status-hungry mother does not let her children speak about their father’s abuse.
Somewhere in between
- George Darling is father to Wendy, Michael and John in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. George Darling prefers to be respected by his children rather than liked by them. Darling has a stressful job and he can’t relate to his children’s stories of Neverland. However, George Darling wants what is best for his children.
- Mr Banks in Mary Poppins by PL Travers The typical middle-class patriarch, city banker George Banks is portrayed as a distant father in the Poppins series of books. Although gruff, he is loving towards his wife and children.
- Mr Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen The long-suffering husband of Mrs Bennet and the father of five unmarried daughters, Mr Bennet uses sarcasm and wry humour to cope with the domestic dramas in the Bennet household. A fairly weak man, he mostly plays the part of a bemused bystander. He does love his daughters, particularly Elizabeth, and supports her decision to marry for love.
- Franklin Plaskett in Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Franklin’s problem is that he indulges Kevin too much. He will not discipline him or acknowledge that he has a problem. He is severely punished for his ineffectual parenting.
- Ted Cole from A Widow For One Year by John Irving is a tragic figure. He is dealing with a loss that does not make him stronger. The first half of the novel focuses on the womanising children’s book writer when his daughter, Ruth is a child. The second half focuses on the adult Ruth trying to cope with the fallout of being her father’s daughter.
The Good Fathers
- The Dad from The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The father loses everything as he tries to protect his son from the worst of a post-apocalyptic world. Even though he is dying, he does his best in the face of constant threats of attack, exposure, and starvation.
- Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Atticus conducts himself with dignity as he shares important moral lessons with his children, Jem and Scout. The lawyer defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. Finch’s willingness to do what is right no matter the cost, has made him one of the most popular literary characters of all time.
- Joseph in La Gloire de mon père by Marcel Pagnol. Marcel’s father, Joseph, is a hard-working strongly atheist school teacher in Marseilles. During a summer break, Joseph and his brother-in-law, the very theistic and Roman Catholic Uncle Jules, decide to take their respective families to the country. Over the course of the summer, Marcel comes to respect and admire his strong, courageous father. I also loved Le château de ma mere. Both books were love letters from a boy to his parents, to tradition, and to happy childhood memories.
- Mr Lancaster from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. The father of cancer patient, Hazel Grace, influences Hazel’s world view. Even though she mocks his tendency to display emotions and cry during difficult times, she realises her father is a wise man. He is also not afraid to call her out when she’s out of line, and most importantly, he truly loves her mother.
- Jack Salmon is Susie Salmon’s father from The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. 14-year-old Susie disappears and evidence of her death is eventually uncovered. Narrated from the dead girl’s perspective, the novel shows how far a father will go to get to the bottom of his daughter’s fate.
© Amanda Patterson
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