Happy belated Valentine’s Day! How did everyone celebrate? Do you go all out with dinner, flowers, and chocolates or just sit at home and blow it off? I know, it’s not for everyone. I’ve never been much of a Valentine’s Day fan, myself, thinking all those school exchanges silly and meaningless. Although when we were younger our mom would make Valentine’s cards for my brothers and I, which were always cute and fun ─ but the best part was without a doubt the chocolate involved. In past years the teens from our church would host a party for the couples, having things like a dessert contest and playing The Newlywed Game. That was always a riot!
Recently I was thinking about some of the couples that I’ve written in my own stories, and that got me thinking about some of the other couples I’ve come across in my reading. So here I want to share with you four of my top favorites (because otherwise we might be here awhile). The best romances, in my (*ahem* humble, of course) opinion, are the ones that aren’t advertised. The ones that are more subplots and subtle over the course of the story, with their good moments and their bad as the characters deal with the world and their circumstances in it.
Which means there probably won’t be any Danielle Steele or Mary Higgins Clark in my future. Just sayin’.
That aside, I will confess that sometimes I do like a little bit of love ─ if it’s done well. After all, humans are creatures designed and made for relationships, and a lonely soul is not an happy or healthy one. The bonds of good old fashioned brotherhood and familial ties usually gets high marks from me, but since it’s Valentie’s Day I’m going to focus today on couples.
Howl and Sophie
Whether you’re a fan of the book or movie, Howl’s Moving Castle has one of the more interesting love stories I’ve come across. I love both the mediums, the book and the movie (I can hear you gasping in shock, by the way), and while the storylines are quite different, both of them are great fun, magical, and heartwarming.
Howl and Sophie first meet on a May Day celebration, but neither knew who the other was, and by the next time they meet, Sophie has been turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. She flees from home and takes refuge in the unlikeliest of places: Howl’s castle, where she meets and makes a deal with the fire demon Calcifer.
At first they don’t really like each other. Sophie has preconceptions of Howl as an awful wizard who eats young girls, finding him immaturish, selfish, and whimsical. Howl doesn’t seem to like Sophie because she’s klutzy and keeps messing things up. They argue and fight quite a bit, but as the adventure unfolds and the more time Sophie spends around him, she comes to realize he’s not so bad after all.
Sophie did not care to think how Howl might react if Fanny woke him by stabbing him with her parasol. “No, no!” she said. “Howl has been very kind to me.” And this was true, Sophie realized. Howl showed his kindness rather strangely, but, considering all Sophie had done to annoy him, he had been very good to her indeed.
By the end we realize that Howl has been working on breaking the spell on Sophie, all the while Sophie has been working with Calcifer to break the spell that was on the demon and Howl. The life Sophie had wanted, one that ‘had a bit more interest than simply trimming hats’, had found her, made her more courageous, and made her an even match for the wacky wizard. Her ‘old age’ gave her some perspective, where she wouldn’t take any of Howl’s nonsense, and when such forces collide sparks are bound to fly. But instead of the usual gushy declarations of love that come out of realized feelings, it happened more like:
“I think we ought to live happily ever after . . . it should be hair-raising,” added Howl.
“And you’ll exploit me,” Sophie said.
“And then you’ll cut up all my suits to teach me,” said Howl.
Now doesn’t that make your heart just go pitter-pat? Or laugh. It made me chuckle.
Hurin and Morwen
I just recently learned of these two in the book The Children of Húrin by J. R. R. Tolkein and his son, Christopher Tolkein. (This story also introduced me to another favorite archer to add to my list, Beleg Strongbow).
Húrin and Morwen (also called Eledhwen) are the parents of Túrin and Niënor, of which the story is largely about, but I was struck by this husband and wife, for the love and trust they shared was strong and lasted through decades of Húrin’s captivity at the hands of Morgoth.
‘But I say: Do not wait! I shall return to you as I may, but do not wait! Go south as swiftly as you can ─ if I live I shall follow, and I shall find you, though I have to search through all of Beleriand.’
─ Húrin, The Children of Húrin
Húrin is a bright and enthusiastic man, both fierce and fearless, and yet compassionate. Morwen is more dour and stern, for the people of her birth and childhood ─ the House of Bëor ─ had fallen and she bore always that sorrow. She is a proud woman, but also courageous, and in her Húrin confides his thoughts, hopes, confidences, and misgivings. And even though he told her to run were the battle to go awry, her love for him and the desperate hope she carried that he would return overcomes the cool shell of her demeanor.
And her heart still cheated her with hope unadmitted; her inmost thought foreboded that Húrin was not dead, and she listened for his footfall in the sleepless watches of the night, or would wake thinking that she had heard in the courtyard the neigh of Arroch his horse.
─ Of Morwen, The Children of Húrin
Such devotion to one another paints a beautiful picture of what I’ve always believed marriage should look like, and even after so many long and hard years of separation and tribulation they are not strangers when again they meet. I’ll not lie to you, it brought the water to my eyes.
‘Eledhwen! Eledhwen!’ Húrin cried; and she rose and stumbled forward, and he caught her in his arms.
‘You come at last,’ she said. “I have waited too long.’
‘It was a dark road. I have come as I could,’ he answered.
Sergil and Lyla
Since this is a list of my personal favorites, I have to add Sergil and Lyla from my own books. While there are many couples to chose from (Tym’Othy and Bertha, Jonquil and Iris, and Kurou and Lan Fen just to name a few), but when I think about it, the relationship between Sergil and Lyla is my absolute favorite, and perhaps because of its subtlety. It’s never mentioned in narrative that they love each other, and not once throughout the story do either of them say “I love you”, but I believe the message is clearly stated through their actions.
Not much is revealed about their history together, only that they’ve known each other for a long time, since it was to Lyla that Sergil went after he found the infant Jonquil and deserted the army. Their friendship has lasted long and through some hard times, but the situation of their lives ─ Sergil’s in particular ─ never really allowed for it to become much more than that.
“All right then!” Aunt Lyla clapped her hands together happily, but then her face fell. “I suppose you’re all about ready to leave?”
“We are,” Sergil answered.
“All right. Well, I’ve got a few things that I hope will help you on the way.” Out of her apron pocket she pulled a pair of well worn, brown leather gloves. “You left these here a while ago,” she said to Sergil, her cheeks turning pink.
There was a meaningful look passed between the two of them, and Sergil accepted the gloves with a slight, satisfied smile. “Thank you, Lyla.”
In days of olde, the throwing down of a gauntlet (or slapping across the face with one) was the issuing of a challenge. Someday I would love to expand on the histories of these characters, but that may be a long time coming, so I’m sharing this ‘backstage’ insight with you all now so you can share in the awesomeness. Not many of you may know this, but Lyla wasn’t always the sweet and peaceable lady she is today. Once upon a time she was a fiery maiden, a no-nonsense country girl that Sergil fell in love with on sight. He was enlisted at the time and traveling, but they met here and again over the years, getting to know each other bit by bit. Then one day decades later he challenged her to marry him, throwing down his gloves. It took a while, but she accepted his challenge, expressed by the returning of his gloves.
Unfortunately, fate and destiny got in the way and it was a long time before they saw each other again ─ and for the last time, too. SPOILERS for all of you who haven’t read the saga yet, but the once upon a time of Sergil and Lyla doesn’t get an happily ever after. That may be another reason why it is my favorite, it’s a tragic story, but perhaps beautiful all the more because of it.
Eugenides and Attolia
Here’s another complicated pair for you. Eugenides, often called Gen, is the royal thief of the kingdom of Eddis. Attolia, birth name Irene, is the queen of the kingdom of Attolia. (Note: the rulers of their respective countries bear the names of their countries ─ the queen of Attolia is referred to as Attolia, the queen of Eddis is known as Eddis, and the king of Sounis is called Sounis ─ the first time I read The Thief I was confused, so now you know so you won’t be confused).
Attolia is a strong ruler; stern, harsh, and merciless. Eugenides is a thief; snarky, clever, and sneaky. How could two such contrasting personalities ever fall in love? Childhood crushes, political unrest, and the inner workings of the human heart.
Eugenides first fell in love with Attolia as a boy when he saw her dancing in the palace garden from his hiding place in an orange tree, but years passed and life happened. Attolia became the ruler of her country, and in order to maintain her control of the throne from the barons she had to become stone cold and brutal. That also applied to her treatment of Eugenides every time she caught him infiltrating her palace (which he did often, but only got caught a few times). Every time she sent him home, he went seriously injured and sick. One time she cut off his hand.
That would make most people shy off, wouldn’t it? But no. Eugenides certainly does bear some fear of the queen, but he’s spirited, frustratingly witty, and on a mission. Not to mention called by the gods. The precedent is to save the three kingdoms on this coast from an invasion of the Medes, forcing a political marriage between the kingdoms of Eddis and Attolia, but underneath it lies a budding romance, struggling to bloom. Eugenides appeals to the loneliness and affections stowed deep inside Attolia’s heart. It takes a while, but his persistence and devotion to her, the things he goes through for her sake and the kingdom, slowly draws her conflicted and convoluted emotions to loving him.
“I have been living with your grief and your rage and your pain ever since. I don’t think- I don’t think I had felt anything for a long time before that, but those emotions at least are familiar to me. Love I am not familiar with. I didn’t recognize that feeling until I thought I had lost you in Ephrata. And when I thought I was losing you a second time, I realized I would give up anything to keep you . . .”
Ahh, the tugging heartstrings of fragile young people, like delicate flowers that need careful handling. . . . You really need to read the story to truly appreciate the subtleties that go into these two, and it’s totally worth it. Really. These books are some of the absolute best fantasy I’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience.
That’s only four of them, but we could be here all day with others (like Sig and Izumi Curtis from Fullmetal Alchemist, Aragorn and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings, or Hoban and Zoe Washburne of the sci-fi space western Firefly).
Did I mention any of your own favorites? If so, which ones? Do you have any other favorite fantasy couples? I’d love to hear about them!