How To Portray Fathers In Fiction And Fantasy (Part III)

In the last two blog pieces, we have discussed up and to including nine of the fourteen ways on how to portray fathers in fiction and fantasy. In this blog piece, we will conclude the mini-series by looking at:

  • A father who is dead before the story starts;
  • The non-existent father;
  • Various kinds of abusive fathers; and
  • The man who adopts.

As ever, with each kind of father, we shall look at how their behaviour affects their children i.e. what the children do as a result of their father’s character.

10 – Dead Before The Story Starts

In some stories, the central protagonist’s father is dead before the story starts. When considering how to portray fathers in fiction and fantasy in this scenario, the writer should aim to make the father physically absent, yet very much a part of his central protagonist’s character. Consequently, this has a great impact on how the main character conducts himself or herself.

Example – James Potter

how to portray fathers in fiction and fantasy - james potter, who was dead before the story started
James Potter, as played by Adrian Rawlins in the films, is as example of a father whom the hero never knew, but is very much a part of Harry.

In the Harry Potter series, the titular character’s parents were murdered by Lord Voldemort when he was in the crib. As a result, Harry never knew his father, James Potter.

Nonetheless, Harry longs to find out more information about his father. That way, he can in emulate him and make him proud. (That is until he finds out that his father was a bit of a bully towards a young Severus Snape, that is…)

11 – Non-Existent Father

Unlike the absentee or dead father, the non-existent father is barely mentioned, if at all. The father simply does not exist and has no role in the central protagonist’ character or how the hero conducts himself/herself.

Usually, when there is no father in the child’s life, others step up to the mantle to act as a father-figure to the child, to influence him/her.

Example – Anakin’s Father

In the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Anakin Skywalker, our young hero-cum-villain, has no father. The Force created him. (How exactly it did that is anyone’s guess. After-all, it’s not as if the movies explain it.)

As Anakin has supernatural gifts, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi find him and train him to become a Jedi. Both do their part and act as the father-figure to him that he has lacked his whole life; particularly, Obi-Wan after Qui-Gon dies.

However, there is another man who comes into the equation to watch over Anakin; one who senses vulnerability in him – Palpatine. By the end of the prequel trilogy, it is arguably Palpatine who has had the greatest impact on him, sadly.

12 – The Abusive Father

In case the depiction of fathers in fantasy and fiction as weak and imbecilic or as a discarder, were bad enough, try the abusive type. Granted, it is not popular in fiction and fantasy to portray fathers as watching abuse does not tend to go down well with audiences.

However, such (despicable) kinds of fathers have been depicted in stories. Thus, they are worth exploring when writers consider how to portray fathers in fiction and fantasy, and how their children can respond to the abuse.

Example – Alexander Zalachenko from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series

Sadly, some fathers are scumbags who beat and rape their partners. In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, we get a glimpse of this through the memories of one our main protagonists, Lisbeth Salander. Over the course of the series, we learn that her father beat and raped her mother.

Lisbeth came to pity her mother and hate her father because of what he did. In part, this is what made her become a hacker-vigilante; although, it’s also why she set fire to her father. (This latter action has contributed to the fierce debate as to whether or not Lisbeth is mentally ill. But that is not for here.)

Alexander Zalachenko (as played by Georgi Staykov in the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), who Lisbeth beat and raped his wife until Lisbeth torched him.

13 – The Drunkard

No doubt alcoholism is an addiction and can be a massive contributing factor to domestic abuse. Whether a man abuses his wife or his child(ren) is beside the point. Both types of man are terrible, cowardly, and hard to stomach.

However, the nature of their abuse can be different i.e. either physical or psychological. That is not to say that one is better or worse than the other. The examples below merely highlight different ways that alcoholic fathers can affect their children.

13a – The Drunk Who Abuses His Children – Wade in Joe

Near the beginning of the critically acclaimed 2013 film, Joe, we see Wade beat his son, Gary (Tye Sheridan) in broad daylight and take his son’s hard-earned money. Depressingly, this sets the tone for the kind of father Wade is. And Wade’s actions only get worse as the narrative continues, as he sends his young daughter to a pimp to become a prostitute.

However, Gary does not go down the same route as Lisbeth Salander as he does not want to kill his father. Rather, he befriends an ex-con, named Joe (Nicholas Cage), to save his sister.

13b – The Drunk Who Terrorises His Family – Jack Torrance from The Shining

Not all alcoholic fathers stoop as low as Wade in Joe, thankfully. Still, a father’s alcoholism can drive him mad and terrify his family. Jack Torrance from Stephen King’s The Shining, and from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the novel starring Jack Nicholson, certainly earns his infamy this way.

Jack is a recovering alcoholic when he goes to be the caretaker of an empty and remote hotel. At The Overlook Hotel, he aims to write the novel he’s been meaning to write for a while. But soon his old demons return. Combined with the supernatural elements of the hotel, itself, Jack becomes an absolute lunatic. He terrifies his wife and young son, forcing them to flee before he kills them.

how to portray fathers in fiction and fantasy - jack torrance going mad
Jack Nicholson masterfully depicting the crazed Jack Torrance in The Shining in this most infamous of stills.

14 – The Man Who Adopts

Sometimes the main character does not know who his biological father is. The central protagonist will naturally wonder who his father is; nevertheless, in essence, he/she is brought up by an adopted father, a man who he/she either refers to or looks up to as a father.

How to portray fathers in fiction and fantasy when a man adopts? The simple answer is that you can make this type of father like any of the listed kinds of fathers that we have discussed over the last few blog pieces. Usually, though, the man that adopts is somewhere between the ‘average Joe’ and the Honourable Father.

Example – Uncle Garrow from Eragon

In The Inheritance Cycle, Eragon (the eponymous main character) is raised by his uncle. They live in Carvahall, a quite village in the north-west of the Alagaesian Kingdom. Uncle Garrow gets killed early on in the story (setting Eragon on his journey), so we don’t know much about him.

But from the little we do know of him, he seems like a nice and decent person, who has treated Eragon as a son since the day his sister, Selena, handed him his nephew and vanished. Uncle Garrow is a bit of a simpleton (befitting his provincial life). Yet, he does his best with his limited skills to ensure that his nephew/adopted son has everything he needs. In many ways, what more could you ask of a father?

Thank You

Thank you for reading my mini-series on how to portray fathers in fiction and fantasy. I hope you have enjoyed these posts and found them useful and interesting.

Also, if you think that I have missed out any kind of father(s), please write it in the comment below. As I said at the start, the list is not exhaustive and the ones I have listed are only those that I could think of. I welcome hearing more.


PS: If you enjoyed this post on how to portray fathers in fiction and fantasy, please fill in the short below to be the first to receive next week’s blog post, which starts a mini-series on how to depict mothers in fiction and fantasy:

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