One of the most precious things to me has been the friendship of those who come into my life. Marriage breakup, work stress, self esteem issues – all have been made easier by the love of my friends. Our friends reflect us to ourselves. Often we have friends who serve different needs in us. We have the crazy friend, the sweet friend, the super awkward friend, the friend who loves super cheesy music and doesn’t care what anyone thinks (I think that last one might be me..)
We also have the friend who listens to us for hours when our hearts bleed out through tear tracks on our face.
The friends who laugh with us and comfort us are precious. The treasure that they are can be overshadowed by a focus on romantic relationships, despite the fact that romantic relationships can often end in heart-ache and true friendships tend to last forever. I’m sure we’ve all had that wonderful joy of seeing a friend after many years and feeling as if no time had passed at all. Friends love you even when they discover that you were the one who left the passive aggressive reminder note that they’re telling someone else about, and when you’re brave enough to tell them it was you they laugh for 10 minutes straight and then hug you.
Female friendship in fiction can often be forgotten in the drive for a romantic storyline. I love romance, i really do, but I admit that reading about strong female friendship unencumbered by conflict/betrayal/a love triangle is infrequent and precious. There’s a bit too much of the heroine being ‘unlike other women’ and other women being portrayed as weaker or more irritating.
Mercedes in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson novels is one of my favourite characters. It struck me the other day that one of the developments i have enjoyed in her character throughout the series is the developing female friendships/relationships she has – mainly with her step-daughter, Jessie, but also with some of the, initially hostile, werewolves in the pack like Honey. These relationships give scope for Mercy’s character to show different aspects of herself or reinforce those parts of her identity that we connect so strongly with.
I also love reading about friendships between two people of the opposite sex that isn’t based on a When Harry Met Sally ‘friends to lovers’ trope, but a genuine and authentic friendship. That said, my mother always told me that the reason she and my father have been married for so long is because they married their best friends.
Male friendship in movies and TV shows is now glorified by the bromance, to the extent of frequent shipping of two male characters who are set up by the writers as friends. I think this not only taps into a strong need for more non-binary romances in mainstream fiction and media, but also shows how much we cherish friendships and suffer from not focusing on them. BBC’s Merlin is a great example. The friendship between Arthur and Merlin is complicated, full of banter, and almost beyond brotherly. They are described more than once as being ‘two sides of the same coin’. Their friendship is also limited by their different social stations, although in one way this means that Merlin knows more about Arthur than anyone else. I’m certain that it was this friendship, even more than magic and knights and dragons, that kept my 12 year old glued to the screen and devastated by Arthur’s death. He saw in this friendship something that he would cherish in his own life.
I tried to capture this friendship in my Merlin – The Return of Arthur fanfic, which I initially began writing for my son to try to ameliorate the pain cause by Arthur’s death. I was curious as to how the friendship would grow and what challenges it would face once Arthur had returned to the world thousands of years later in 2016, and also once he knew about Merlin’s magic.
He felt frustration bubble out of him.
“It’s alright for you, Merlin, you’ve had a thousand years or so to get used to this idea but it’s a bit new to me. There’s nothing for me here, there’s no space. No point for me to be here. There’s nothing I can do! Do you have any idea how completely useless I feel?”
‘Just because we haven’t fully figured it out yet doesn’t mean that there’s no reason behind it”
“Oh really? And exactly what is my role do you think?”
Merlin screwed his face up and shrugged. “King? Leader? Peacemaker?”
“You don’t know, do you? You have no idea and yet you expect me to follow blindly to the tune of some crazy destiny. Elyan was right, magic is nothing but trouble.”
His friend stilled and he wished he’d chosen different words.
“You don’t mean that, Arthur”.
He let out a huff of air. “No. Well, sometimes yes. But not you, not your magic”
“Look, Arthur, I know you’re frustrated but you’ve got to give it time, we will figure it out”
“And if we don’t?”
“Not all of us are idiots, Sire, I’m sure I’ll work it out”
He picked up the nearest thing to his hand and threw it hard at Merlin. The torch didn’t make it very far; Merlin’s eyes flashed gold and with no more than a flick of his fingers the unfortunate torch exploded, the pieces falling to the ground, audible in the sudden silence. He’d never seen Merlin like this; he seemed taller and the lines of his face held an inflexible strength. It only lasted a second before Merlin seemed to recollect himself and relaxed, lowering his hand. Arthur ran his hand through his hair and tried to find some words. Merlin found them first.
“Sorry Arthur. I’ll get you another one”
He forced out a smile. “Doesn’t matter. It was actually your torch. You can probably just create light from magic or something.’
His friend, familiar yet so strange, shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged. “Yes. I can”
Friendship isn’t always easy. Sometimes our friends go down paths we can’t, or don’t want to, follow. But for friends of the soul those split paths converge again and are made stronger for the diversion.
What’s your favourite friendship in fiction? Why does it appeal to you so much? Let me know in the comments!