From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Bad Romance: Ten of Fantasy’s Weirdest Relationships

One of the best tropes in fantasy is the clash of characters under tough conditions. Sometimes, these characters are enemies. Sometimes they become fast friends. Sometimes things get romantic. And sometimes, things get a little weird.

Weird doesn’t always mean disaster, but in some cases it gives you pause (and if it doesn’t, it probably should). Below, we run down ten of fantasy’s oddest relationships.

1. Sarah and Jareth the Goblin King, Labyrinth

You know it’s going to be a sweet story when the date begins with him kidnapping your little brother at your request. This coming-of-age quest features David Bowie as the seductive Goblin King, who strikes out until he takes a side trip to Roofie Lane just to get the teenage Sarah complacent and alone. She’s smart enough to find her way out, but not until he tries to trick her, then beg her, into staying with him. Dude, I don’t care how much she makes your magic dance. That girl is fifteen. Shut it down.

2. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie, The Chronicles of Narnia

During their adventures in Narnia, the four Pevensie children keep busy: Edmund psychologically tortures Lucy, Peter and Susan are locked in a power struggle, Edmund turns traitor on the whole family, Peter and Susan repeatedly disbelieve always-correct Lucy, Lucy and Edmund drag unwilling family members with them, and they all lock Susan out at the last second. Get it together, you kids!

3. Irena Dubrovna and Alice Moore, Cat People (1942)

Irena thinks that she’s the descendent of a cursed bloodline that turns into murderous panthers when aroused. This has put an understandable damper on her marriage. Alice would love to have Irena’s husband for herself. Ostensibly, these two are rivals for a man’s affection. However, most of the movie is made up of scenes of Irena in panther form, stalking Alice at length: through the park, at her job, during a skinny dip in a swimming pool. Nothing like some Hays Code to make subtext come to life!

4. Morgaine and Arthur, The Mists of Avalon

Isn’t it always so awkward when your first date is wild sex with a stranger during a pagan fertility ritual, and you get pregnant with a kid you keep secret from your religious order, and then you meet the dude again at a party a few months later and it turns out he’s totally still into you, and also he’s your half-brother? (How do you break that ice? Why doesn’t Cosmo ever give you dating advice you can really use?)

5. Jen and Lo, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Young noblewoman Jen and bandit Lo meet when he steals her comb. She races after him on horseback. He bests her and kidnaps her. She gets Stockholm syndrome, and they become lovers. When parted, she learns Wudang on the sly, which she uses to fight off two prospective mentors who are trying to help her relationship with Lo (she’s a peach). When she gets one of them killed, she abandons Lo and flings herself off a mountaintop as penance. Just so we’re clear, this is over a comb.

6. The Prestige

Eh, just pick anybody.

7. Mary Poppins and Mr. Banks, Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins arrives at the Banks home in response to a nanny ad she fished out of a fireplace. She employs herself when Mr. Banks won’t, allows a home-maintenance subcontractor to party in his home while he’s out, and arranges for a Take Your Kids to Work day that ends in a bank panic that costs him his job. And he’s supposed to be the bad guy. Thank goodness he tricks her into leaving by faking a violent fit of whimsy; only then can the poor man get his livelihood back.

8. Chihiro and No-Face, Spirited Away

And you thought Jareth was bad. No-Face is a client of the demon bathhouse where Chihiro is being forced to work. It’s great that during her cross-country trek to break a magic spell, she has caring adult supervision. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the way he cares. Don’t worry, though: this never quite turns the corner to aggression, so the two of them sitting side by-side in a railway stays more oddball than off-putting.

9. Malta and Piale, Sea Prince and the Fire Child

Malta is the daughter of the Fire Queen, charged with guarding the eternal flame, though secretly in a forbidden affair with her rival the Sea Prince. Piale is Malta’s devoted companion. Like, really devoted. Like, when Malta dallies with the Sea Prince and accidentally lets the fire go out from neglect, Piale lights herself on fire until her dying body replenishes the flame. (To be fair, I bet Malta got her an amazing basket of bath salts for Christmas.)

10. Louis de Pointe du Lac, Lestat de Lioncourt, and Claudia, Interview with the Vampire

So, Lestat is Louis’s vampire father, and wants Louis to be his companion, until Louis kills prepubescent Claudia, and then Lestat becomes Claudia’s vampire father, but as she gets older inside her child body SHE wants to be Louis’s companion, and so she fatally poisons Lestat in order to free her and Louis to run off and live alone together. And then things get complicated. (Yikes.)

What do you say, Fantasy readers? Is all this just par for the course when stakes are high, or have one or two of these raised an eyebrow for you? What silver-screen relationships give you the creeps?

Genevieve Valentine’s fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Fantasy, Federations, and more. She is a columnist at Tor.com and Fantasy Magazine. Her first novel, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, is forthcoming in 2011. Her appetite for bad movies is insatiable, a tragedy she tracks on her blog.