Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The authoritative list of the best siblings in fiction

When I was writing about Gravity Falls a couple weeks ago, I mentioned that brother-sister teams are one of my favorite vehicles for story telling. As you may know, I was born from the sea foam (like Aphrodite, but more manly) and never had any siblings, but I always wanted a sister. I think this might be part of why, as an adult, so many of my close friends are women.

Anyway, that got me thinking about sibling pairings in fiction I enjoy, and I decided to make a list, because that's what nerds do. My original thought for this piece was best brother-sister pairs. I thought I might be missing something, so when I brought it up on Facebook, I expanded it to "best siblings in popular fiction", and when my cousin asked me what I meant by "best", I said that I had deliberately left it undefined so as to receive the greatest variety of responses.

I got a bunch of good suggestions, but since my list was already heavily skewed towards my original conception of brother-sister sets, I eventually decided to limit it to that. (Though I did think that Phil's offer of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes was particularly inspired.)

So here's my list of the best brothers and sisters in fiction, with one sister-sister pair at the end because they were too good not to include. More specifically, it's a list of properties that I happen to enjoy primarily on the strength of the brother-sister sibling interaction, but that's hardly a catchy title.

I'll open with a brilliant show from the first decade of the 21st century. It featured Jewel Staite and a brother and sister and was cruelly axed by Fox before more than a handful of episodes had aired.

I speak, of course, of Wonderfalls.

Oh, were you expecting something different, Browncoats? I don't want to hear your bellyachin'. You got eleven episodes! We got four!

Wonderfalls, Jaye and Aaron Tyler:

Ah, Wonderfalls. I caught the show one night, fell in love with it, proclaimed it my new favorite show, and then issued a resigned sigh when it was cancelled before the next episode could air.

The main character, Jaye, is an Ivy League underachiever from a family of overachievers who works at a dead-end retail job while she tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. I love that the other people in her family are named Karen, Sharon, Darrin, and Aaron, because it's a great way to show that she doesn't really belong.

Let me tell you a story about myself. After a particularly nasty breakup, my Evil Ex confronted me in the parking lot of the place where we both worked. She was crazy. Climbing on the roof of my car and trying to kick in the windshield crazy.  I finally got away from her and got into my car and got on the road. She had this bright blue Geo Metro. The color is called "Competition Blue". You might be able to imagine it if you've seen that model of car. Anyway, she starts following me on the highway. Somehow I lose her and she actually gets ahead of me. I see her waiting at a jug handle to turn around and go home, and in a demonstration of the motto ("We never leave well enough alone!") for which I've become famous, I beep at her as I go past.

So I'm driving over a hilly road now, and in my rear view mirror, I see the Geo, rising into view like the bright blue dorsal fin of a shark. She's right behind me this time, and I only lose her by pulling off the road next to a cop who was ticketing someone, something, I have learned, that they do not appreciate.

Anyway, I always felt sympathy for Jaye, because she's unable to resist the Akratic urge to honk that horn and self-destruct as stupidly as possible. She'll cut her whole head off to spite her face.   I like Aaron too, though. He's a phlegmatic counterweight to his neurotic sister.

Gravity Falls, Mable and Dipper Pines: 

Watching them is like getting the Halloween episode of the Simpsons every week! I mentioned in the Gravity Falls review that I think I like Dipper a little more than Mabel, but they're a package deal. You can't have one without the other. Unfortunately, I wrote that post pretty recently and I don't have much to add to what I said there. But you can click over if you're so inclined.

Avatar: The Last Airbender, Katara and Sokka: 

I love Avatar, in no small part due to these two. They bicker, they watch out for each other, they have the shared experiences that only siblings have. Again, I said everything I had to say in an earlier post about them.  But you can click over to that one too.

The Simpsons, Bart and Lisa Simpson: 

There's not a lot to say about the Simpsons that hasn't already been said. My favorite episodes of the show were always the one where the two of them work together.

The Fantastic Four, Sue and Johnny Storm: 

The Invisible Woman and the Human Torch. With a lot of super-people, you call them by their superheroic identity. When talking about the person who spins a web any size and catches thieves just like flies, you don't call him Peter Parker unless you're referring to his civilian identity. You don't call Superman Clark Kent unless he's wearing glasses and a tie. And so on. But with the Fantastic Four, they always seemed to be a family who happen to be superheroes and not the other way around, and when they talk to each other, it's never with the codenames, but always with their real names or affectionate nicknames.  I didn't especially care for the animated series, but I did like the dynamic between Sue and Johnny. 

And while we're on the subject, the Incredibles: Violet and Dash Parr.

Violet! An awkward teenaged Invisible Woman, PLUS Sarah Vowell's voice! And Dash is great. I think everybody has the same favorite scene with Dash. It's when he's running from the bad guys, realizes he's on the water but he's moving too fast to sink. And he looks down and throws back his head and laughs with a joy so pure that the sound of it would have killed the Dust Witch.

Peanuts, Linus and Lucy Van Pelt: 

I put out a call for suggestions, and my buddy Tim provided this one, and I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't think of it myself. The thing I imagine when I think of Lucy is not the bit with Charlie Brown and the football (an image I instead now associate with the Democrats in Congress), but, when her brother falls asleep in the pumpkin patch as she knows he will, she arises in the predawn gloom, turns off her alarm, puts on her coat and tenderly retrieves him.

Freaks & Geeks, Lindsay and Sam Weir: 

Another show cancelled before its time and a rare non-genre example. I love the whole family, (Mrs. Weir: "Nobody's home. You wanna have a little sex?"  Mr. Weir: "Sex?! Well, okay." ) but these two in particular. I think the best scene is in the pilot. Sam is worried about a bully, but Lindsay clearly has something else on her mind and she tells him how she was the only one there when their grandmother died.

Sam: Can I come in? Do you think that me, Neal and Bill could beat up Alan?

Lindsay: Just Alan? Yeah. Alan and his buddies. No to maybe.

Sam: That's what I thought. Um, why are you throwing your life away?

Lindsay: Did Dad tell you to ask me that?

Sam: No. Millie did.

Lindsay: Figures. Forget it. You know, tell her to mind her own business.

Sam: You know just because she asked me to ask you doesn't mean I was going to tell her what you said.

Lindsay: Sam. Did Mom and Dad tell you I was the only one with Grandma when she died?

Sam: No.

Lindsay: Yeah. They went down to the cafeteria to get some coffee. And all the sudden Grandma looked so terrified. I didn't know what to do. She grabbed my hand, told me she didn't want to go. She looked so scared, Sam. I said, Well, you know, can you see God or Heaven or a light or anything?

Sam: What did she say?

Lindsay: "No. There's nothing." She was a good person all her life and that's what she got.

And there's a long pause when Lindsay, this middle class, middle America honor student is ruminating on the event that caused her to revaluate everything she thought she knew. She's in the midst of this when her brother speaks up.

Sam: So... you do think that we could beat up Alan?

Lindsay: Yeah. He's a goner.

And I just love her smile there. Because she knows he doesn't understand what she was saying, but he's her baby brother and she still loves him, so she puts on her brave face, because even though she can't comfort herself, she can still comfort him.

A Wrinkle in Time, Meg and Charles Wallace Murray:

And here's a rare non-TV example. (There's a TV movie version, but I didn't like it) This book has been one of my favorites since I read it in the fifth grade. Jen and I used to read out loud to each other before Lily was born, and this is the second book we read (the first being The Last Unicorn).

One of the things I like most is being awake with someone I love in the small hours of the day. Times like that make it seem like the night lasts forever and you're the only people awake in the whole world. A Wrinkle in Time opens with a scene like that, with thirteen year old Meg and five year old Charles Wallace making hot chocolate together, and it conveys that warm feeling of intimacy so lovingly.

Meg is one of my favorite characters in fiction anyway. And Charles Wallace too.  Each of them makes mistakes, but they always manage to pull the other back due to their unwavering love for each other. “I love you. Charles Wallace, you are my darling and my dear and the light of my life and the treasure of my heart. I love you. I love you. I love you.”

And honorable mention:

My Neighbor Totoro, Mei and Satsuki Kusakabe:

This is such a wonderful movie. I think it's one of the all time great movies ever made. It's set in post war Japan. The girls move with their father to the country in order to be closer to their mom, who's in the hospital with spinal tuberculosis.

There's a scene where the eight-year-old sister, Satsuki, is talking to the four-year-old, Mei. Their mom was supposed to come home for the weekend, but her visit from the hospital had been canceled because she had caught a cold. Mei says that she wants mom to come home anyway, and while Satsuki does too, she understands the reality of the situation and knows that she has to stay. In disappointment and frustration, she yells at her sister "Do you want mom to die?!"

Mei starts crying and she runs away and decides to walk to the hospital by herself. She gets lost and the whole village is searching for her. Satsuki is running all over the countryside, not with any hope of finding her, but because running is better than doing nothing, and someone catches her and tells her that they found a little girl's sandal by the pond and it might be Mei's.

So Satsuki runs there as fast as she can, and you see the adults are dredging the pond. She gets there and an old woman holds up the sandal and asks if the sandal is Mei's. What follows is a ten-second eternity while Satsuki catches her breath enough to answer the question. The whole scene is so beautifully composed, and while we wait for Satsuki to answer, the focus slowly draws in on the woman holding the sandal, and that effect and the half-hopeful, half-fearful expression on her face gives the impression that the whole world is closing in.

Roger Ebert loved it. It's on his list of great movies.

From the review:

Here is a children's film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy. A film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. A world that is benign. A world where if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap.

There is none of the kids-against-adults plotting of American films. The family is seen as a safe, comforting haven. The father is reasonable, insightful and tactful, accepts stories of strange creatures, trusts his girls, listens to explanations with an open mind. It lacks those dreary scenes where a parent misinterprets a well-meaning action and punishes it unfairly.

I'm afraid that in praising the virtues of ''My Neighbor Totoro'' I have made it sound merely good for you, but it would never have won its worldwide audience just because of its warm heart. It is also rich with human comedy in the way it observes the two remarkably convincing, lifelike little girls (I speak of their personalities, not their appearance). It is awe-inspiring in the scenes involving the totoro, and enchanting in the scenes with the Cat Bus. It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need.

And a list of other people's suggestion that didn't quite fit what wound up being the theme of the post.

  • The March sisters from Little Women
  • The Hardy Boys
  • Thor and Loki, which I particularly liked.
  • Jaime and Cersei Lannister from the Song of Ice and Fire series (nominated by a couple people. Poor Tyrion is their brother, but he always comes up short)
  • From the Harry Potter series, in various combinations,  Fred and George, Ron and Ginny Weasley
  • Various Greek Gods
  • Corwin and his siblings from Zelazny's Amber books
  • Neil Gaiman's Endless (Particularly Dream and Death in The Sound of her Wings)
  • Tim mentioned Seita and Setsuko from Grave of the Fireflys but that movie is so sad that I couldn't include them because it would shift the whole timbre of the post
  • Scott and Stacey Pilgrim (I wanted to include them, because I particularly liked Anna Kendrick's performance in the movie, but I couldn't think of a standout moment to justify them.)
  • Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes (Win!)
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (also clever)
  • Raistlin and Caramon Majere
  • Cain and Abel (both Biblical and House of Mysteries/House of Secrets versions)
  • Greg suggested some characters from the Sisters Grimm series of tweenie girls books, which is apparently what professors of Arthurian Lit read when they're not translating Geoffrey of Monmouth
  • He also nominated Leto II and Ghanima from Dune, whom I had considered on my own, but rejected for being too obscure.
  • Also Paul and Alia Atreides
  • Luke and Leia came up too, from Star Wars, and while I like each of them individually as characters, I don't think of them as siblings, possibly because of Leia's propensity for sticking her tongue down Luke's throat whenever he's laid up in a hospital bed.


  1. You mention the Firefly siblings but you omit Titus and Fuchsia from Gormenghast? You philistine!

    1. That's because I specified "fiction" and, as every schoolchild knows, the Gormenghast trilogy is a documentary.

  2. I always rather liked Tony and Tia from "Escape to Witch Mountain" (the book or the first movie in the 70's, not the others).

  3. I know that this was written over a year ago, but my friend showed it to me earlier. What do you think about Edward and Alphonse Elric from Full Metal Alchemist?

    1. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar enough with them to have an opinion. I've only ever seen one episode of the show, and I've never read the manga that inspired it. It's probably something I should watch, but I've just never gotten around to it.