In a technology-saturated world, these old-fashioned friendships from books–developed over tea or music or adventures–are both refreshing and timeless.
Although we thrill to the romances of Jane and Rochester or Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, I think we crave friendships as much as we do a good love story. There’s something very satisfying about a novel that celebrates the tight bonds of friendship, don’t you think? And while it would be silly to try to emulate a character’s love story, it makes more sense to cultivate similar friendships. We wouldn’t want to copy the way Anne Shirley despises her future soulmate, for instance, but we can definitely get on board with pledging our loyalty to a Diana Barry and sticking together through thick and thin.
The best friendships in books satisfy us and, hopefully, also inspire us to be more intentional about our own relationships. I think the following 10 friendships from literature certainly do. In a technology-saturated world, these old-fashioned friendships–developed over tea or music or adventures–are both refreshing and timeless.
Let them be a reminder to invest (or re-invest) in your own friends.
10 Famous Literary Friendships that Will Inspire You to Be a Better Friend
1. Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took
From The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
There are many excellent examples of friendship in The Lord of the Rings, but I find Merry and Pippin’s relationship especially interesting. Unlike many of the other characters in Tolkien’s series, Merry and Pippin are already friends when the story begins. While other characters form surprising friendships during their journey (Legolas and Gimli, Frodo and Sam), Merry and Pippin are likely friends who share an unlikely story. Of all the members of the Fellowship, Merry and Pippin have the least idea of what the journey will entail. They stumble into heroism by virtue of their loyalty and friendship–to each other, to Frodo, and to many others they meet along their journey.
2. Anne Blythe and Leslie Moore
From Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery
“I am your friend and you are mine, for always,” she said. “Such a friend as I never had before. I have had many dear and beloved friends–but there is a something in you, Leslie, that I never found in anyone else. You have more to offer me in that rich nature of yours, and I have more to give you than I had in my careless girlhood. We are both women–and friends forever.”
– Anne’s House of Dreams
Yes, there’s Anne and Diana, who are “bosom friends.” But if you go deeper into the Anne series you’ll discover Leslie Moore, a vibrant and complex character who actually has much more affinity with Anne than Anne’s childhood friend. Sometimes the friendships that are formed through pain and hardship are the sweetest. Anne and Leslie’s friendship flourishes after suffering, and it helps both women to heal.
3. Eugene Wrayburn and Mortimer Lightwood
From Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
These two aspiring lawyers are fun to watch because of their dry senses of humor, their cigar-smoking companionship, and their sarcastic commentary on the people in their social circle. By their own admission, Mortimer and Eugene are lazy, disillusioned, and bored, and their satirical outlook on life is one of the things that make them entertaining. But their friendship also matures beyond shared commiserations and becomes a sustaining, redemptive force for both of them. By the novel’s end they inspire each other to become better men and to make bold, courageous choices.
4. Calvin and Hobbes
From Calvin and Hobbes comics by Bill Waterson
This friendship might be imaginary, but it encapsulates the ideal childhood friendship–someone who’s always there, a constant companion and pal, someone you can spend long, lazy summer days with or grumble over school and bad weather.
5. Ronald Weasley, Harry Potter, and Hermione Granger
From the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
It’s not often that we get seven long novels to watch a friendship develop! And this trio’s friendship gets some serious development, not only because it’s solidified during such formative years, but because the stakes the kids are up against are so high. Although there are a bajillion themes in Harry Potter, friendship seems to be one that Rowling is particularly interested in. At the series’ climax, it’s Harry’s love for his friends (and their love for him), that enables them to face Lord Voldemort.
vintage illustration by Julie Wilcox Smith
6. The March sisters
From Little Women by Lousia May Alcott
The relationship of the March sisters in Little Women is what people remember, perhaps even more than the girls’ love stories. Alcott chronicles the girls’ friendship from childhood through early adulthood. We get to watch their homemade theatricals and their Pilgrim’s Progress role playing, we watch them fight and learn to forgive, and we see the way their friendships change but remain strong as they relate to each other as adults. I identify with these sororal friendships more than other literary friendships because growing up, my three sisters were usually my best friends. We weren’t all personality matches of the March sisters, but we interacted in many of the same ways (even down to the homemade theatricals!).
7. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin
From the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian
“Although [they] were almost as unlike as men could be, unlike in nationality, religion, education, size, shape, profession, habit of mind, they were united in a deep love for music, and many and many an evening had they played together, violin answering cello or both singing together far into the night.”
– The Ionian Mission
It’s their extreme differences that make Aubrey and Maturin such an interesting pair. They’re complete opposites, yet the twenty-one novels in which they appear are as much held together by their friendship as they are with the ongoing narrative of nautical escapades. Some of the best friendships are the ones that both shake us up to view the world differently–and at the same time balance us out.
Vintage illustration by Hugh Thomson
8. Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley
from Emma by Jane Austen
Although they eventually fall in love, Emma and Knightley’s relationship is rooted in lifelong friendship. Their families have been friends and neighbours for years, and Emma and Knightley know each other better than anyone else. They know each other’s strengths and shortcomings, enjoy each other’s companionship, and already have a friendship that’s stood the test of time when Knightley proposes. You could argue that Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram also share friendship and childhood memories, but I believe Emma and Knightley’s friendship has a better give and take. (Plus, Fanny is in love with Edmund for years before he’s ready to move out of the friend zone!)
9. Mary, Dickon, and Colin
From The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I grew up with this classic children’s novel, but it wasn’t until recently that I realised the awakening garden in the story is a metaphor for the blossoming friendship of the children who tend it. Well, the garden is probably a metaphor for lots of things, actually. But it is beautiful to watch the personalities of the trio unfold when they take ownership of the garden.
10. Winnie Foster and the Tucks
from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
“They were friends, her friends. She was running away after all, but she was not alone. Closing the gate on her oldest fears as she had closed the gate of her own fenced yard, she discovered the wings she’d always wished she had. And all at once she was elated.”
– Tuck Everlasting
Ten-year-old Winnie Foster has only herself (and perhaps a toad) for a friend when the novel begins. Her friendship with the Tucks is as unexpected as it is necessary. And even though she only spends a few days with them, their story reminds us that friendships have the power to change the whole course of our lives.
What are your favourite friendships from books?