Fourteen Ways To Portray Fathers In Fantasy (Part I)

Moving on from subliminal messaging in narratives, we shall now look at fourteen ways to portray fathers in fantasy and fiction. Like in real life, fathers in fiction and fantasy have been depicted in many different ways, with varying degrees of complexities. In addition, we shall briefly discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and how every father impacts his children in each example.

The fourteen ways to portray fathers in fantasy and fiction is by means an exhaustive list, and they are listed in no particular order. (In fact, the order is merely how they came to me when I came to write this blog post.)

Nevertheless, the list should give you a good flavour for the sort of fathers that have been portrayed before in narratives. In this blog post, we shall look at:

  • The Wise Father;
  • The Honourable Father;
  • The Father Is The Enemy;
  • The Narcissistic Father;
  • The Overbearing Father; and
  • The Weak And Imbecilic Father.

1 – The Wise Father

One of the classic fathers of fiction is the wise one. Invariably, he is the one that children (and the audience vicariously) look up to as an authority figure because he is knowledgeable, just and loving. Also, this type of father educates his children on how to be a good father and an effective ruler, providing solid moral guidance along the way.

However, the wise father usually has a flaw. And, usually, this flaw is what costs him his life. In some respects, the wise father cannot survive the entirety of the story, as then his children cannot go on their own journey, both physically and in terms of their character development.

Example – Mufasa

Mufasa, after teaching Simba a lesson; Simba looking with love and reverence for his father.

If there ever were an archetypal ‘wise father’ it would be Mufasa from The Lion King (and he would be voiced by the incredible voice-actor, James Earl Jones, too). Mufasa shows us how the ideal father-figure should come across in a kid’s eyes. Mufasa is a strong, authoritative figure. He loves his family and wants his son, Simba, to continue his legacy. So, he teaches Simba about how everything exists in a delicate balance and elucidates his knowledge about the complexities of ruling (i.e. that it is not all fun and games).

Furthermore, Mufasa has a phenomenal understanding of justice. He knows instinctively when and how to lay down the law; to be stern; and to be fair when the situation arises. Equally, he knows when and how to have a laugh, too.

However, for all Mufasa’s wisdom, he fails to see his brother’s cunning. This proves to be his fatal weakness and is a major contributing factor to Mufasa’s sudden and devastating death. Indeed, Mufasa’s flaw leaves Simba in a vulnerable situation at a tender age, forcing him to flee and to become lost for a while (until Nala and Rakiki find him, and remind him who he is).

2 – The Honourable Father

The second of the fourteen ways to portray fathers in fantasy and fiction is the honourable father. This one is very similar to the wise father, down to even the flaws.

Yet, the honourable father tends to be much sterner than the wise father. Plus, he tends to have less of a sense of humour. In short, he values honour and duty above all else, possibly even his family.

Example – Lord Eddard Stark

Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North in A Song of Ice & Fire, is the stereotypical father of fantasy. He is a loving father and husband, but a stern lord who wants the best for his people. In addition, he is honourable, fights well (but only when he has to), and strives for justice.

When his friend, King Robert Baratheon, comes calling for him to become Hand of the King, Lord Eddard answers the call. He ignores his own misgivings and his wife’s pleas because it is what honour demands of him.

Nevertheless, it is his honour that is his undoing. Lord Eddard is a strait-laced man, untrained for the viper’s nest of intrigue at court in the capital. He believes that others around him play fairly and is unsuspecting of ambition and treason. His honour is why he ultimately loses his head, putting his family in peril as a result.

3 – The Father Is The Enemy

The third of the fourteen ways to depict fathers in fantasy and fiction is to make the father the hero’s enemy. When writers aim for this kind of father, the moment the hero finds out this piece of information must be a shocking revelation and a plot twist.

The problems with the father being the enemy is that, first, it is hard to achieve; and, second, it has become a bad cliché. Unless writers want to write a spoof (as Toy Story 2 did), ‘the father is the enemy’ trope is best avoided.

Example – Darth Vader

fourteen ways to portray fathers in fantasy - darth vader as the father is the enemy.
Darth Vader is the ultimate Father is my enemy trope, and writers are advised to stay clear of this portrayal for a father.

Towards the end of Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes, Darth Vader, the Emperor’s no.1 henchman and the face of evil in the Galaxy, reveals to Luke Skywalker, the hero of the initial trilogy, that he in fact is his father.

This has the effect of changing the way Luke sees Darth Vader to a certain extent. Moreover, it explains why Darth Vader saves Luke from the Emperor in Episode VI – The Return Of The Jedi.

(Again, back in 1980, the “I am your father” revelation was a jaw-dropping surprise, and Luke had good reason to shout “NOOOO!” in response. But since then, this line and plot twist has become something of a joke. Writers would do well to stay clear of it.)

4 – The Narcissistic Father

A rarer depiction of a father in fantasy and fiction is the narcissistic father. This type of father sees his children as an extension of himself. He demands that his children do as he tells them and follows in his ways.

Often, such a father is perennially disappointed in his children, for failing to act in a way that he sees fit.

Example – Lord Tywin Lannister

Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock and Warden of the West in A Song of Ice & Fire, is the epitome of a narcissistic father. With the strength of a lion and the mind of a fox, Lord Tywin claims to do everything in the name of House Lannister, to forward his family’s interests.

Undoubtedly, Lord Tywin is a highly effective ruler. However, in practical terms as a father, he demands that his children do as they’re told. That his eldest son, Jaime, is a member of the Kingsguard and cannot take up his position as the heir to Casterly Rock, disappoints him; that his daughter, Cersei, refuses to marry Loras Tyrell in Seasons 3 and 4 of Game of Thrones, disappoints him; and that his second son, Tyrion, is a dwarf insults him. Lord Tywin is completely consumed by the idea he has of his family, and he is furious that they don’t match up to his expectations.

Moreover, he hates his dwarf son so much that he not only looks down upon him, he sentences him to death for a crime he knows he did not commit. In the end, Lord Tywin’s blind hatred towards Tyrion is what brings him down.

fourteen ways to portray fathers in fantasy - Lord Tywin
Lord Tywin (as played by Charles Dance in Game of Thrones) staring down at his dwarf son, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Believe it or not, this is one of the few moments when he is not showing his disgust at Tyrion.

5 – The Overbearing Father

The fifth of the fourteen ways to portray fathers in fantasy and fiction is as an overbearing one. Such a father is strict, demanding and intolerant.

These fathers want their children to achieve something exceptional (invariably because of their own inadequacies) and it can have sad consequences for the children.

Example – Peter in Shine

In Shine, the 1996 film in which Geoffrey Rush won his OSCAR, Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is an overbearing and demanding father to his son, David (played Noah Taylor when young and Geoffrey Rush when older).

Peter realises quickly that David has a talent for the piano and teaches him to play it. But Peter is obsessed with winning and has no patience for failure or disobedience. He puts his son under an enormous amount of pressure, causing David to have a nervous breakdown.

6 – Weak And Imbecilic

Sadly, not every father in fantasy and fiction is strong, wise or has many admirable qualities. Sometimes, they are weak. And when they are weak, they are usually imbecilic.

The effect of them being weak and imbecilic means that they are prone to lapses of daft decisions and (obvious) manipulation. Furthermore, such a father will almost always need saving from those around.

Example – The Sultan in Aladdin

The Sultan in Aladdin (1992) is a caricature of laughable stupidity. There is no chance that any ruler in the real world could be as silly as him and survive.

Nevertheless, if one were to lower his camp and silly ways (i.e. like Guy Ritchie did in the 2019 Aladdin remake), the Sultan is still prone to being exploited by Jafar, his “most trusted advisor,” who just happens to be the villain of the narrative (not that it wasn’t blatantly evident).

Lucky for the Sultan, he has a strong daughter in the form of Princess Jasmine; and an ally in the form of Aladdin the ‘street rat,’ who saves him (and the Kingdom of Agrabah) from destruction and ruin.

fourteen ways to portray fathers in fantasy - the sultan from Aladdin
The epitome of a weak and imbecilic father – The Sultan from Aladdin (1992).

7 – The Neglectful Father

We shall discuss this kind of father in the next blog piece, along with a handful of the other fourteen ways to portray fathers in fantasy and fiction.

Thank you for reading this blog post. I hope you have enjoyed this blog post, found it interesting, and that it given you a taste for how you could depict a father in your novel.

Paul

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