I decided that, in honor of Father’s Day, I would compile a list of memorable fathers in speculative fiction. Before I wrote a word – in fact, as soon as I actually began to think about it – I encountered the main obstacle to such a list.
This is, after all, the genre of the orphan, of emancipated minors and tragically separated families. Parents are usually cut out of the picture in short and ruthless order, whether by death or by somehow becoming separated from their children – either involuntarily or voluntarily, for noble or ignoble reasons. Memorable fathers are thus relatively few.
And yet still existent. Here is my list – and yes, we are counting talking animals.
King Triton from The Little Mermaid. Yes, I know: He was close-minded, bad-tempered, and destroyed Ariel’s awesome collection. But unlike the merely comic fathers of some Disney films, and the absent fathers of many other stories, he had the dignity of being a strong, crucial presence in the story. Not wholly positive, of course: Who can overlook his role in Ariel’s foolish bargain? But he mattered. And in taking his daughter’s place as Ursula’s slave, and later in giving her her happy ending, he proved not only vital but good.
Gaffer Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings. I wanted to do Elrond, as father of Arwen and foster-father of Aragorn (raised apart from Arwen, to prevent oddness). But that draws too heavily from the appendices, rather than the story proper. I also thought of Denethor, but that was depressing, and I frankly don’t feel like talking about it. So: Gaffer Gamgee. Important to the story? No. But unique and certainly memorable, through a curious secondhand presence that he had through other people’s words – principally Sam’s (“My old dad would take on so”), though Gandalf got into it, too (“Many words and few to the point”).
Marlin from Finding Nemo. And here we get to the talking animals. Few heroes have been so defined by fatherhood, let alone a fatherhood that was fearful and yet loving and ultimately brave – because his love was greater than his fear. Not in any way extraordinary, not even funny (and he was a clownfish!); just a dad who could be, when his son needed it, heroic.
The Panther Master from Starflower. The Eldest, leader of his people, such as they were, and a father of two daughters – in a culture where that was a disgrace to be wiped away with blood sacrifice. It’s a remarkable thing to rebel against your society when it has crowned you king. The portrayal of the Panther Master was one of the most interesting and one of the most powerful portrayals of fathers I have encountered in fiction.
The fathers from the live-action Cinderella. The fathers of both Cinderella and the prince received unexpected attention in Disney’s second re-telling, being made sympathetic even in their mistakes. The relationships between them and their children were tender, and exceedingly well-portrayed; one of the most moving shots of the entire movie was the prince curling up, like a little boy, by his father on his death-bed.
Darth Vader from Star Wars. Few characters are as memorable as Darth Vader, and his famous “I am your father” declaration transformed Star Wars. The father-son dynamic not only became the dramatic center of the story, it deepened the hero and the villain and, with them, the whole Star Wars saga.
What fathers would you add to the list?