The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was so deeply influential in my early life that I wonder how much of what I have written since has been affected by that story, especially the sibling relationships in that series. What if Edmund hadn’t lied? What if Peter decided to be vengeful instead of forgiving? What if Susan had dismissed her beloved sister, Lucy? Siblings can, in other words, make or break the story in both fiction and real life.
Sibling relationships are complicated, full of swift undercurrents and strong bonds. Protective siblings have long been a deeply powerful part of our favorite fantasy novels. I have two sisters and I know the need to protect and love even when the going gets tough. We may choose our friends and our allies, but siblings come just as they are: there is no choice.
From the moment I started writing Once Upon a Wardrobe about Megs Devonshire and her eight year old ill brother, George, I knew I was riding the long and beautiful story-river that brings siblings to the forefront of our favorite stories and myths. Megs Devonshire is on a mission to find out the origin of Narnia for her beloved brother. She will do anything to discover the answers for him, including tracking down the author at Oxford University in the winter of 1950. Her need to protect her brother, to make sense of what seems senseless, to find meaning of what appears meaningless, drives her forward. Although she can’t protect him from what is coming, can she help him understand and offer him some hope.
Of course as she tries to protect George, she finds herself on a transformational journey. I’ve seen this dynamic in other novels that I love and it always draws me in.
Here are some of my favorite stories with protective sibling relationships.
Artemis and Apollo in Greek Mythology
Here we turn to the origins of so many stories—mythology! In Greek mythology these are the twins of Zeus: Artemis a goddess of the hunt, wild animals and childbirth, Apollo a god of music, prophecy and healing, and they are often referred to as the “Power Twins”. They remained close throughout their life, sheltering not only their mother, but also each other as they sent plagues to mankind and also guarded young children. Story after mythical story renders Artemis and Apollo protecting each other; true siblings of the gods.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
As the child of scientists, Meg is the older sister to Charles Wallace. Their father has vanished and life is more than confusing. Awkward and unpopular, Meg considers herself dumb; she rarely talks to anyone outside her family and yet we almost immediately see her get into a fight while protecting her little brother Charles Wallace when someone makes fun of him. Little do they know that Charles Wallace is a genius who can read minds. Throughout the story, Meg keeps him safe and close as they travel through time with Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. In protecting Charles Wallace, Meg grows braver and more sure of herself until she finally saves Charles Wallace from IT; her love saves them all.
Wings of Ebony by J. Elle
After Rue’s mother is shot dead on her doorstep, Rue is forced to leave her little sister behind as she is whisked away to Ghizon, a hidden island of magic wielders. On this island, magical powers come at the cost of human suffering. Rue is desperate to save her little sister from a life of crime in Houston as black children are being forced into violence. Rue must decide: will she embrace her true identity to save her sister and her neighborhood, or allow the gods to burn it to the ground? The ultimate sacrifice of a protective sibling is displayed in this fantastical novel of gods and humans at war with each other.
Caraval by Stephanie Graber
Scarlett is the older sister, the sensible one, the protective one. Donatella is the younger sister who is more adventurous. These half-sisters lost their mother when they were young, and now they must tolerate an abusive father. When they finally garner an invite to Caraval—a legendary, magical performance—they believe they have escaped. This sibling bond is tested to its limits in the mind-bending Caraval when Scarlett must find a way to save her little sister, or…is her little sister saving her?
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
What is a greater sacrifice than to take the place of someone you love in a dangerous mission? In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen steps forward and takes the place of her gentle and beloved little sister, Prim, when Prim’s name is called to participate in the Hunger Games. Katniss knows she has more years of experience hunting and that she is far more likely to survive in the deadly game that takes place in the deep woodlands. In a powerful scene, Katniss is carried off not knowing whether she will live or die in her sacrifice, but only knowing she must save her little sister from certain death.
Patti Callahan is the New York Times, USA TODAY, and Globe and Mail bestselling novelist of fifteen novels, including Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Surviving Savannah, and Once Upon a Wardrobe. A recipient of the Harper Lee Distinguished Writer of the Year, the Christy Book of the Year, and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year, Patti is the cofounder and cohost of the popular web series and podcast Friends & Fiction. Visit her online at her website, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.