Sunday, June 19, 2011

Top Ten Literary Dads

In honor of Father's Day, I decided to compile a list of great literary dads.  It's shocking how many bad fathers there are in literature, but there are great dads worth noting.  I'm not limiting it biological fathers, since there are many great adoptive fathers and foster fathers in books.  Here are my favorites, in no particular order:

1.  Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.  One of the most famous and beloved literary dads, he was the first one I thought of.  He's a great dad AND he stands up for his principles, defending a black man unjustly accused of a crime in small Alabama town, long before the Civil Rights era.   Plus he's a great checkers player AND a crack shot!

2.  Mr. Harding from Barchester Towers and The Warden by Anthony Trollope.  Even though his daughter Eleanor is in love with a man who could potentially ruin his career, Reverend Harding supports her and her decisions.  How many fathers would do that?  He staunchly stands by Eleanor, no matter what it means to his own lifestyle.  

3.  Arthur Weasley from the Harry Potter series.  He's not the best breadwinner and he's a little goofy at times, but he makes up for it in his devotion to his seven children AND Harry Potter, whom the Weasleys essentially adopt since his aunt and uncle are so wretched.  There is not a better father in the wizarding world.  

4.  Danny's father in Danny, the Champion of the World.  Roald Dahl's books are rife with horrible adults, but Danny's father is a real winner.  He's a single dad devoted to his son (though he's slightly morally suspect).  This book is one of the few Dahl novels without magical or supernatural elements, and it's always been my favorite.

5.  Dr. Gibson in Wives & Daughters.  Another single dad, he has a great and loving relationship to his daughter Molly, and marries a widowed governess to give her a mother figure.  Even though this doesn't work out as well as planned, he still loves her and tries to do his best, unlike many of the fathers in Victorian literature (note that I do not include a single father from the works of Charles Dickens -- there are some great uncles and father figures, but the biological fathers are either dead or terrible.)

6.  Mr. Emerson in A Room with a View.  He stands up for his son George in matters of the heart, and convinces Lucy Honeychurch that his son is the man for her, despite their class differences.  Brilliantly portrayed by Denholm Elliot in the 1985 film version, far superior to the 2007 BBC adaptation, which has a horrible, unnecessary epilogue.  (If you do watch this version, skip this.  Trust me.)

7.  Hans Hubermann in The Book Thief.  He's technically not a father, but he's Liesel's foster father, and he's a great father figure.  He does the best he can to take care of an orphan girl in Germany during the end of WWII.  And he does some heroic stuff too.

8.  Silas Marner.  Not my favorite book by George Eliot, but curmudgeonly Silas is a memorably great dad.  He finds a little orphan child in the snow, and she changes his life.

9. Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables.  He was supposed to adopt a boy, but brought Anne home instead, to the chagrin of his sister.  Worked out very well for everyone though, especially the readers who get to enjoy the entire series.

10.  Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni from The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.  An adoptive father, the finest mechanic in Botswana, and all-around great guy.  He is never too busy to help out fixing things at the local orphanage and does not bat an eyelash when his fiancee Madame Ramotswe adopts two orphans, a brother and sister, one of whom is disabled.

Happy Father's Day to my dad and to my dear husband!  They'd definitely make the list of great dads.


  1. Great post for a special day and thanks for reminding me just how much my heart melted reading Silas Marner.

  2. great list! I have Wives and Daughters waiting for me. I'll look forward to meeting Dr. Gibson.

  3. Awesome post! I'm glad Atticus Finch topped the list. :)

  4. When I saw the heading, I thought first of Atticus Finch as well. But I was happy to see Mr. Harding on the lst. How fitting to include father figures like Matthew Cuthbert, single dads and foster dads as well.

  5. Atticus Finch was the first one that I thought of, too. And I agree about Arthur Weasley. And there aren't too many others. I was trying to think of a decent father in Austen's books - of which the only one is Mr Bennett - and he's far from perfect.

  6. A truly awesome list, though I have to admit to wanting to give Dr. Gibson a good shaking--why didn't he trust Molly? His foolishness sacrificed his and her happiness...silly man.

    I've never met Danny's father but I do love Roald Dahl so maybe I should read that book over the summer.

    I reread Silas Marner a few years ago and was surprised to find how much I liked Silas himself--all I had remembered from high school English class was him counting his gold.

  7. Darlene -- I thought Silas was a slow read but the payoff was great. I loved how the little girl changed his life.

    Audrey -- Wives and Daughters is one of my favorite classics. Dr. Gibson isn't a perfect dad, but he does care about Molly unlike so many other fathers in Victorian literature.

    Joanne -- Atticus has to be the best dad in classic lit, hands down.

    Lisa May -- I loved Matthew Cuthbert. I actually had to include the single dads and foster fathers to round out the list -- there are a lot of horrible fathers in literature.

    Betty -- thanks!

    Tracy -- I had a hard time with the fathers in Jane Austen. Mr. Bennet is not so great really. Maybe Catherine's father in Northanger Abbey? It's a bit of a stretch. Sir Thomas in Mansfield Park turns out to be okay but he starts out as a big jerk.

    JaneGS -- I'm starting to wonder if Dr. Gibson was a poor choice. I did love the Squire in the book, though he is flawed. And Danny's father is SO great! Their relationship is just wonderful, it's the best thing about the book.

    Brenna -- thanks!

  8. I had a hard time with the fathers in Jane Austen. Mr. Bennet is not so great really. Maybe Catherine's father in Northanger Abbey? It's a bit of a stretch. Sir Thomas in Mansfield Park turns out to be okay but he starts out as a big jerk.
    We barely see much of Catherine's father. Sir Thomas is so severe and cold that he's the reason Maria hides her true feelings from him - and so she was able to convince him that she really wanted to marry Rushworth.

    But then, when you consider how Jane's father behaved, deciding to move the whole family to Bath without consulting any of the others, it's not really surprising that there aren't many decent father-figures in her novels.

  9. I was thinking of your list last night, and if it went all the way to 11 I'd add Pa Ingalls to the list. With Austen, there are some secondary characters who are good fathers, like John Knightley (in spite of his grumpiness) and the senior Mr. Musgrove.

  10. what a great list. I haven't read all of the books you mention, but I love the ones I'm familiar with. Great thinking!


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