Themes in Fiction #15 – Companionship as Salvation

“A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.” ~ Marilyn Monroe

About

Companionship is the comfort and happiness taken in the presence of other people – perhaps friends, perhaps lovers. It’s something that almost all people seek in their lives in some form or another, and in literature it’s often shown through the Hero’s journey that our protagonist, heroic and strong though they might be, is better with other people.

Examples

edgeEdge by Tiffinie Helmer 

In Edge, the main female character Mel has isolated herself at the edge of the world so that she can stay away from people who might hurt her or use her. She has relationships, but she doesn’t tell anyone the truth about her past, and she doesn’t make deep emotional connections with the people she invites into her bed. That all changes when she meets Cache, but he still has a hard job to persuade her that she isn’t better off on her own, that she can be in a relationship without having to compromise who she is and what she wants. A lot of romance novels seem to follow this trope – the solitary, ‘happy’ person who comes to realise that they aren’t better off alone.

harry_potter_and_the_philosophers_stoneHarry Potter Series by JK Rowling

One of the great things about Harry Potter is that, despite the face that he is the chosen one, The Boy Who Lived, the one named by the prophecy, he’s nothing without his friends and companions, Hermione and Ron.

Harry, who had always been alone for the first years of his life, learns the value of companionship over and over again – but perhaps most memorably in the  end of the first book, where their combined skills and expertise allowed them to complete the challenges set by the teachers of Hogwarts to protect the Philosopher’s Stone.

If Harry had been aloof and elitist as Draco would have wanted, there was no way he would have got through.

Heroic Quests

In almost every adventure novel, the value of companionship is explored. Like Harry Potter, the different players bring different skills to the table, allowing different obstacles to be overcome. When the hero branches out on their own, they inevitably fail.

In Lord of the Rings, only Sam remains as Frodo’s companion by the time Frodo reaches Mordor. He’s faithful and brave, but he’s not exactly a skilled warrior, or able to do anything particularly useful. Frodo, corrupted by the ring, allows Gollum to persuade him that he doesn’t need Sam any more.

Frodo abandons Sam and is quickly overcome by Shelob and then taken prisoner by Orcs. Fortunately for Frodo, Sam’s loyalty doesn’t only last as long as Frodo’s friendship, and he saves the day, rescuing Frodo and helping him ultimately complete the quest to destroy the ring. If Sam hadn’t been there, Frodo wouldn’t have survived and Mordor would have prevailed.

So why so many heroes with companions? Why do superheroes always have sidekicks? Often the bad guys on the opposite side are portrayed as solitary. They have minions, maybe, but rarely companions. I think it speaks to the fact that very few of us really want to be on our own. We all crave companionship in our lives and see friendship as a positive quality. Plus, there’s something really heartwarming about two or more people pulling through the hard times together.

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