It Takes Two
February 14, 2010 4:31 PM   Subscribe

What books feature good character pairs?

I'm looking for book recommendations (or movies, though I prefer literature) that features opposing/paired main characters. That may sound broad, but I'm specifically curious about a pairing of friends who became enemies, or rivals in the same profession, or co-workers, or any number of pairings. I'm not as interested in specifically romantic pairings per se, but that can be part of the mix.

Examples from film:
-Buffy versus Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: they are both Slayers and start off working for the same team, then of course Faith takes a different course and her path intersects with Buffy's as their arcs continue.
-The rivals in The Prestige, who are first collaborators then enemies

Examples from literature:
-Holmes & Watson: colleagues, but two very different people
-Lord Peter & Harriet Vane
-Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in the eponymous novel
-Elinor & Marianne in Sense and Sensibility

I'd welcome any suggestions!
posted by fantine to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Jeeves and Wooster, perhaps? You couldn't really call them colleagues (Jeeves being Wooster's valet), but they are two characters who work closely together, and the interplay between Jeeves' cunning/wisdom/wit and Wooster's impetuousness/obliviousness/stupidity is what makes the series interesting.
posted by mellifluous at 4:37 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Jeeves and Wooster is based on a series of novels, of course, even though that Wikipedia article is about the television adaptation.)
posted by mellifluous at 4:39 PM on February 14, 2010

Mason & Dixon.
posted by Damn That Television at 4:46 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, it's more of a trio, but Andrew, Valentine (and Peter) Wiggin from "Ender's Game".

Oh, here's a random one - in "Sixth Day" (with Schwarzenegger), Schwarzenegger and his clone are a great example of this; although they have identical characteristics and personality, they are in a very different position, as one is demonstrably a clone. slightly embarrassed about remembering that movie.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:46 PM on February 14, 2010

What about Aubrey and Maturin in Patrick O'Brian's novels? They're friends and shipmates, but they represent opposing types: the intellectual vs. the man of action and all that.
posted by craichead at 4:49 PM on February 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe
posted by BoscosMom at 4:49 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:53 PM on February 14, 2010

This may not be exactly what you have in mind, but your question made me think of Krzysztof Kieślowski, whose films often feature parallel lives and unusual (often non-romantic) connections. I am reminded especially of Red (third part of a trilogy), and also The Double Life of Vèronique.

These are wonderful movies that I'd recommend even if they aren't precisely what you're looking for.
posted by cirripede at 4:54 PM on February 14, 2010

William and Adso from Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose are a sort of 14th century Holmes and Watson.

John Dies At the End features John and Dave, two guys who fight the supernatural.

Of Mice and Men is about a pair of migrant workers.

Kavalier and Clay is about a pair of comic book writers/artists.
posted by shaun uh at 4:55 PM on February 14, 2010

Harry Potter and Severus Snape? (I think that's a more interesting pairing than Harry and Draco :)
posted by purlgurly at 4:57 PM on February 14, 2010

Mikael and Lisbeth in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc).
posted by cabingirl at 4:57 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.
posted by beandip at 4:58 PM on February 14, 2010

Kane & Abel

Tin Men

No Other Life

Scratching my head for others.
posted by fso at 5:16 PM on February 14, 2010

Huck Finn and Jim.
posted by pecknpah at 5:20 PM on February 14, 2010

Aziraphale and Crowley from Good Omens. The representatives of heaven and hell (respectively) on Earth, they're basically enemies who've become sort-of-friends.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:25 PM on February 14, 2010

Fahfrd and the Mouser in Fritz Lieber's books.
posted by nicwolff at 5:31 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bouvard et Pécuchet.

In October 1872, [Gustav Flaubert] wrote, "I am planning a thing in which I give vent to my anger... I shall vomit over my contemporaries the disgust they inspire in me... It will be big and violent." It is possible that the stress contributed to his death as he was drawing near to the close of the novel. Indeed, in 1874, he confessed to George Sand "[it] is leading me very quietly, or rather relentlessly, to the abode of the shades. It will be the death of me!"
posted by aquafortis at 5:35 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is classic high school lit, but how about Gene and Finny from A Separate Peace? A great example of how a rejection of your best friend can be a painful part of growing into your adult self.
posted by missmary6 at 5:39 PM on February 14, 2010

The "buddy cop" film genre.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:51 PM on February 14, 2010

Louis and Lestat from Interview with a Vampire.
Pretty much all the characters at one point or another in the TV series Rome
Horatio and Lt. Bush in Horatio Hornblower (TV series & book series)
posted by _cave at 5:58 PM on February 14, 2010

Felix and Oscar in the 'Odd Couple'
posted by SLC Mom at 6:59 PM on February 14, 2010

Caesar and Brutus.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:16 PM on February 14, 2010

Ricky and Adele in Victor LaValle's Big Machine--ex-junkie scholars fighting monsters and each other, sort of. It's a weird but great story.

Margaret Lea and Vida Winter in Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale--reluctant biographer and famous author finally ready to tell her life's story, the real version.
posted by gladly at 7:22 PM on February 14, 2010

Something Borrowed and Something Blue tell the story of friends and rivals Rachel (narrator of Borrowed) and Darcy (narrator of Blue).

Yes, it's "chick lit," but it's some of the best in the genre.
posted by sallybrown at 7:31 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Richard Mayhew and Door (yeah, just Door) in Neil Gaiman's dark fantasy Neverwhere (haven't seen the TV series but I'm told it's fantastic). Richard is a helpless, well-meaning ingénue thrown together with Door, a sarcastic, cynical, and worldly but fundamentally vulnerable noble child. Their evolving relationship cements the whole narrative arc of the story. One of my annual rereads!
posted by mindsound at 8:15 PM on February 14, 2010

2nding kieslowski. one of his films (cant remember name, part of the dekalog) features a female proffesor and a young(ish) woman who meet. it is absolutely amazing. wont spoil it for you just in case.
posted by marienbad at 8:19 PM on February 14, 2010

P.S. Huh, that Wikipedia article is chock full o' spoilers. Fair warning. Sorry. :(
posted by mindsound at 8:20 PM on February 14, 2010

Nick and Gatsby in "The Great Gatsby."

They're friends, but completely different, and Nick claims to "disapprove of" Gatsby.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:41 PM on February 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Answering this question has been a lot harder than I thought it would be but after a good long think, here's the pair based novels that have stayed in my head the longest.

Heroes & Villians, Angela Carter
Z for Zachariah, Robert C O'Brien
Lolita, Nabakov
Mara & Dann, Doris Lessing
The remains of the day, Kazuo Ishiguro
The twins, Tess de Loo
Oscar & Lucinda, Peter Carey

Oh and nthing Kavalier & Clay. Awesome book.
posted by Wantok at 1:00 AM on February 15, 2010

Mary Gaitskill's Two Girls, Fat and Thin is pretty fantastic at depicting a relationship between two women--they drift in and out of each other's lives, worry about each other, dislike each other, grow wary, and ultimately come to understand one another, warts and all. Come to think of it, female relationships seem to be a preoccupation of Gaitskill's--Veronica of course also had this theme, and there are short stories, IIRC especially in Because They Wanted To, that focus on the strange, sometimes creepy or depressing, and often unfathomable connection between girls growing up.
posted by ifjuly at 1:32 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Awesome -- thanks for the suggestions, everyone!

I realize that my list of suggested pairs was rather paltry, so I'm already familiar with some of these books, like the Neil Gaiman suggestions. But there are quite a few that I'll be checking out.
posted by fantine at 2:46 PM on February 15, 2010

Hermione and Ron are a pretty awesome pair (as are Harry and Ginny, to a lesser extent.)

Holmes and Watson (and the bizzaro world version in Gaiman's A Study in Emerald)

Spock, Bones, and Kirk (pick your pairing.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:47 PM on February 15, 2010

On Farscape [POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING] a recurring theme was the enemy of one season becoming an ally in subsequent seasons.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:04 AM on March 20, 2010

Auberon Waugh's The Foxglove Saga, the two main protagonists' friendship is said to be based on "a sort of mutual blackmail." I always thought that was particularly ingenious.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:18 AM on March 20, 2010

Spenser and Hawk in Robert Parker's Spenser series
Elvis Cole and Joe Pike in Roger Craig's Elvis Cole novels
posted by bove at 12:27 PM on March 20, 2010

The Hap Collins and Leonard Pine series by Joe R. Lansdale. Hap is a straight, white, ex-hippie and Leonard is a gay, black, Vietnam vet. Start with Savage Season.
posted by Max McCarty at 10:53 AM on March 26, 2010

« Older Scared of Living?   |   Home Field Advantage? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.