The SFF genre has no shortage of stock friendships and familiar pairings. They can be magical and memorable: Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Frodo and Sam. Locke and Jean. There’s a certain wonder that comes with fantastic friendships in fiction, where like-minded companions support each other through good times and bad.
But there are also plenty of deep, intriguing friendships that stem from unlikely meetings and unexpected bonds, when authors explore the kind of connections that can sometimes take us by surprise. These groupings result in some of the genre’s most unique and touching stories, showing us how genuine camaraderie can spring up between unexpected allies in completely unforeseen circumstances.
Tee up Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” and enjoy these five unlikely SFF friendships…
Geralt & Jaskier: The Witcher
What a pair. In any other series, you might find a jovial bard aghast at the horrific actions of his stoic, sword-wielding counterpart. In Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher saga, the script flips. Geralt saunters into town to find his debaucherous bard friend engaged in dubious behavior (often involving young maidens or married women).
But there’s an extra layer of whimsy to this bromance: Jaskier provides the single clearest window into Geralt’s lingering humanity. In a world where Witchers are viewed as emotionless killers, Jaskier shows us the exact opposite. When Jaskier latches onto Geralt, gallivanting into treacherous encounters with reckless abandon, there’s a certain ease to their interactions. For Geralt, Jaskier’s presence can be uplifting, as though the Witcher craves human connection even when society has told him he should be unrelentingly grim and solitary. That acceptance feeds into the overarching themes of The Witcher saga, in which the monsters Geralt hunts are almost never as evil as the people who hire him to dispose of the beasts.
Jaskier and Geralt began their peculiar friendship by being thrown together by circumstance…at first. But readers soon learn to expect and anticipate Jaskier’s appearance in myriad Witcher stories. The charming odd couple may be the best pairing of the entire series because we see Geralt at his best when he’s with the famed bard. He lets his hair down and even utters a few exhales that could be interpreted as guffaws in Witcher-speak. Together, Geralt and Jaskier represent one of fantasy’s most delightful pairings.
Vin & TenSoon: Mistborn Era One
Vin punched the daylight out of a hound, and the rest was history. Brandon Sanderson has a knack for writing unlikely relationships, but this one takes the cake. Vin’s tumultuous friendship with TenSoon draws out a treasure trove of juicy storytelling and lore. It fills out the worldbuilding of the initial Mistborn trilogy by giving us a glimpse into the culture of the Kandra.
TenSoon’s relationship with Vin is fraught for many spoilerific reasons, which I’ll avoid here. But the broad strokes are painted with questions of trust and faith. What begins as a relationship of necessity soon evolves into a special, but tenuous, friendship unparalleled in the SFF genre.
My favorite facet of the Vin-TenSoon dynamic is the power struggle between them. Understandably skeptical of TenSoon, Vin will often launch into Allomancy-fueled flights over Luthadel in pursuit of her many investigations and goals. TenSoon, powerful in his own right, struggles to keep up with her in his hound form. Their growth as a pair, then, stems from an ongoing exercise in earning the other’s trust. The more TenSoon learns about Vin’s objectives, the better he can keep up. The more he keeps on her toes, the more she respects him. They grow together. And although plenty of wrenches will be thrown into the gears of their relationship, it’s fun to watch straight through the epic conclusion of The Hero of Ages.
Exorcist & Demon: Prosper’s Demon / Inside Man
Prosper’s Demon packs a 100-page hellish punch. Over its short page count, K.J. Parker’s novella introduces us to a nameless protagonist who takes a sick pride in his job, though it brings him no joy: The exorcist removes demons from possessed humans, often damaging both beings in the process.
It’s all macabre fun, but the coup de grâce comes in the form of the eponymous Prosper’s possessing force. Prosper is a magnate, an artist—an early influencer, if you will. His work is respected, lauded, desired by the populace. And it’s all the product of the demon possessing him. When the exorcist discovers the demon, a playful back and forth ensues. To call this a friendship might be a stretch, admittedly. If anything, it’s a witty acquaintanceship sparked by begrudging respect.
This SFF friendship serves as a vehicle for discussions about morality and fate. Does the exorcist remove Prosper’s demon, putting the man (and the demon) at risk, alongside the art and cultural work they perform together? This question and this tenuous mutual respect is the core of Prosper’s Demon, and the relationship alone is reason enough to give the novella your attention.
Dex & Robot: A Psalm for the Wild-Built / A Prayer for the Crown-Shy
Here’s an SFF friendship that flares and flashes like a beacon of hope in a confusing world. Dex has a corporate job on the human side of Panga, a world in which robots gained sentience and left for the wilds. Humanity was left with a lack of technology, eventually learning to live without robotic aid. Having grown tired of their current existence, Dex abandons the corporate world and purchases a tea wagon, traveling from one town to another to listen to the woes of humans and offer them a calming presence.
But Dex grows bored yet again. They venture out into the Wild and encounter a friendly robot eager to soak up the vast knowledge made readily available by surrounding nature. Dex and the robot strike a fast friendship and begin to bridge the gap left when robots withdrew from humanity.
A hefty chunk of Becky Chambers’ novella is spent exploring Dex’s friendship with the robot, and the pair offer a great window into themes of acceptance, repentance, and loving oneself.
Merry, Pippin, and Treebeard: The Lord of the Rings
Alongside the tried-and-true Frodo and Samwise pairing (featuring companions who’ve grown up devoted to each other), we have the hilarious trio, formed on the fly, of Treebeard, Merry, and Pippin. Lost in the Fangorn forest, the two easygoing halflings stumble across Treebeard and almost immediately begin forging a humorous and unexpected friendship.
Despite the unlikely pairing, this triad eventually feels so natural it should be considered a staple of SFF friendships. Hobbits are a carefree bunch, all things considered. Merry and Pippin are content to enjoy their meals, smoke leaf, and live a restful life. But by an Ent’s standards, Hobbits are living life in the fast lane. Ents prefer the slow growth of the trees to the speedy endeavors of shorter-lived races.
This unlikely grouping actually decides the fate of the world, in a way. Had Aragorn or Gimli met Treebeard first, they may have grown impatient with the slow deliberations of the Entmoot. Merry and Pippin, though they have some urgency, respectfully allow the Ents to take their time, eventually resulting in the aid of Treebeard and company in the attack on Isengard. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, an unlikely friendship helps tip the balance in a world-changing conflict.
Originally published December 2021.
Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science-fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are: The Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House In The Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.