The Blythes (Meredith children) (LM Montgomery):
These were the very first families to come to mind when it came to best literary families. Anne and Gilbert are completely impossible always-loving, always-patient, always-kind, -understanding, -wise, -funny, etc, etc, parents. Of course, maybe that’s not impossible when you have a Susan Baker to do all your dirty work – the disciplining, the maintaining the household, the practical day-to-day details. Heck, I want a Susan Baker! Maybe then I can finally be the fun mom I’ve always wanted to be.
Be that as it may, Gilbert and Anne are awesome parents, and the children are just as winsome and lovable as their parents. I confess to a special fondness for Shirley, the poor unmentioned child through the latter books, who merits only a few sentences in Rainbow Valley, and one or two lines in Rilla of Ingleside.
The Merediths are not so lucky as the Blythe children – in Rainbow Valley their mother is dead and their father is neglectful. Things have looked up for them in Rilla, but through it all they have forged a funny, kind, loving friendship between themselves that is charming. Whenever I think of great sibling friendships, I think of these two families first.
The Seven-Day Magic families (Edward Eager):
I enjoy all of Eager’s families, but these two sets of siblings (and their families) especially touch me. John and Susan and their eccentric Grannie (who is AWESOME, by the way), and Barnaby, Abbie, and Fredericka with their funny and warm parents. I like that their parents/guardians are neither stupid nor unkind nor dead/otherwise absent, and that much of the magic revolves around them. Grannie gets her own adventure, with the children coming along but very definitely playing a side part; and Abbie’s entire wish has to do with her father. Very, very fun families.
The Melendys (Gone-Away Lake cousins) (Elizabeth Enright):
After listing Rush and Randy among my favorite heroes/heroines, you didn’t think I’d leave the rest of the family out, did you? The Melendys are such a delightful family – they bicker, make up, support each other, tease each other, and above all, enjoy each other’s company – even Father and Cuffy. And when a new member of the family joins them in “Then There Were Five,” it just gets even better.
As for the Gone-Away cousins … Julian and Portia always reminded me of my cousin Zachary and me. We were inseparable as kids, getting into trouble and out of it, always finding adventures everywhere we went, even occasionally including the younger ones in our mischief. I love finding literary relationships that mirror those in my own life! Alas, Zach and I never discovered anything so wonderful as Gone-Away Lake and Aunt Minnehaha and Uncle Pin, but we had some pretty marvelous adventures of our own.
The Stanton family (Susan Cooper):
My dad is one of eight children, and reading about Will’s large, loving, normal family always reminded me of Dad and my aunts and uncles. I especially appreciate how each of them has their own distinct personality, from artistic Max to motherly Barbara to vain Mary – and especially, of course, the musical genius Paul, among the others. The friendship between Stephen and Will, eldest and youngest, is beautiful, and the poignancy as it changes when Will comes more fully into his own as an Old One makes me catch my breath every time.
The Wimsey family (Dorothy L Sayers):
We don’t actually see much of the Wimseys after marriage and children, but what we do is delightful. The views on parenting and individuality in children expressed in the short story Tallboys has shaped much of my own views – and this only in a few lines! But that is part of Sayers’ genius, that she wraps truths up in such simple phrases and presents it so clearly that one doesn’t need more words than a few (something I obviously have yet to attain, given the length of these posts). And the relationship between Lord Peter and his wife (working very hard here not to spoil the outcome of the series for those who haven’t read it yet by giving away her name) is just perfect.
The Beresfords (Agatha Christie):
The marriage between Tommy and Tuppence was always described as a “joint venture,” and the way that they shared in everything, from government work to parenting to running a detective agency, has always charmed me. Carl and I have taken occasionally to describing our marriage as a “joint venture” (okay, that’s how I describe it, but he always agrees), and we too try to share in everything as an equal team – each with our own strengths, but always working together.
The Pevensies (CS Lewis):
Others have described the friendship between the Four far better than I could – if you really want to see why I love them so much, go read Andi Horton’s Valley Verdant or Kingdoms Come … or any of her works, really. I will content myself with saying that they each have a very special bond with each other, and it is precious to see.
The Rays (Willards) (Maud Hart Lovelace):
The Rays, with the exception of Margaret (since we had only two sisters), always reminded me of what my family might have been like had we lived back in that era and been just a little bit wealthier. Julia and Betsy bicker as children and grow up to be the firmest of friends. Their parents love them and guide them but also trust them to make their own decisions and own mistakes, and are always there to help them pick up the pieces and move along. Mr. Ray even allows the girls to join a different church when they are able to tell him why, telling them he is prouder of them for thinking it through and wanting to be part of a church than he is sad that they want to leave the church they grew up attending. In that same scene, he gives them one of the best pieces of parental advice ever: “You might as well learn right now, you two, that the poorest guide you can have in life is what people will say.”
As for the Willards, as seen in “Betsy’s Wedding,” they are just fun and real, and I love, love, love reading about Betsy’s trials and triumphs as a young bride!
The Marches (Bhaers) (Louisa May Alcott):
There are many things people could criticize Mr. and Mrs. March for in their parenting, but they always loved their children unconditionally and did their best to raise them according to their principles. I have always appreciated Marmee’s work with Jo in learning self-control. I do not like how they always coddled Amy – but then I’ve never been able to forgive Amy for destroying Jo’s book AND for getting to go to Europe just because Jo was having one bad day, so I would have liked to see her thoroughly squelched by her parents once or twice throughout the book. Ahem.
As for the Bhaers, the love they showered on even the most unlovable of children through “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys” is a lovely example of unconditional love. And the fact that they go about life in their own way, regardless of what society thought, is also delightful. The brotherly love between Teddy and Rob is so sweet, too.
The Fairchilds (Tuttle cousins) (Rebecca Caudill):
Not many people, I find, are familiar with the delightful books about the Fairchilds, or “Saturday Cousins,” which introduces us to the Tuttles. And it really is a shame, because both families are charming. Quaint, of course, hearkening back to that “simpler era” so many nostalgically yearn toward, but with everything that still makes a good family today – loyalty, friendship, love, trust, and guidance.
That same thread, in fact, weaves through all of the families on my list here. The same traits that my family always strove toward, and that I now strive to accomplish with my own family. In many ways, I look toward parts of these families for guidance in my own journey through these difficult waters of raising children. I am so thankful that literature, through heroes, heroines, and families, has given us all something to look up to, and something to strive for.
I may never be an Eilonwy, or a mother like Anne Blythe, or a brilliant and sensitive detective like Lord Peter, but they all can provide me with guideposts along my own journey. And really, what more can we ask of these fictional friends?
And the end of my “Favorite Literary …” series (unless you all can think of another list of “favorites” I ought to write)! Did your favorite literary family make it to my list? Who would you have added? Who would you have left off? Does anyone in the entire world actually like Amy March?