Reflecting on Friendship

This week’s post is by Anna Purkiss, an MPhil-er who’s almost done!

One of my favourite parts about my MPhil year has been the lovely friends I have made, both on the course and at my college, with people from a wide range of countries, backgrounds, ages and experiences. I had heard before arriving that the children’s literature community here at Cambridge is very friendly, welcoming and supportive and this has certainly proven to be the case. Lisa and Beka have recently mentioned that we MPhil students are currently working on our theses, and studying with friends who are working towards the same goal and with whom I can talk through my ideas helps me to be much more productive and enjoy the experience more. Making friends and building friendships are a key aspect of childhood and consequently one of the most prevalent themes in children’s literature, whether a key feature or in the background. There are so many examples to be found but here are some of my all-time favourites that offer valuable lessons on the nature of friendship.

Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables (1908) by L.M. Montgomery

‘Marilla,” she demanded presently, ‘do you think that I shall ever have a bosom friend in Avonlea?’

‘A—a what kind of friend?’  

‘A bosom friend—an intimate friend, you know—a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my innermost soul. I’ve dreamed of meeting her all my life.’ (p.74)

When Anne arrives in Avonlea, one of her primary concerns is finding a ‘bosom friend’, and she soon does so in Diana Barry. Their blossoming friendship is rudely interrupted by Anne unintentionally getting Diana drunk (currant wine instead of raspberry cordial!) but restored when Anne saves the life of Diana’s little sister, Minnie May. After this, their friendship goes from strength to strength, and they become true ‘kindred spirits’, going through the ups and downs of life together, including Anne’s various escapades such as inadvertently dying her hair green, nearly drowning, and falling off the Barry’s roof. Anne and Diana show the value of a best friend who will stick by you through thick and thin. 

Wilbur and Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web (1952) by E.B. White

‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’

‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’ (p.154)

From their initial meeting where Wilbur thinks that Charlotte is cruel and bloodthirsty to their final and emotional goodbye, this pig and spider build an unlikely but close and loyal friendship, and Charlotte’s amazing web-spinning skills quite literally save Wilbur’s life! The other animals in the barn, together with Wilbur’s initial saviour, Fern Arable, augment and complement this friendship, and even Templeton the rat plays a begrudging but vital role in both the retrieval of words for the webs as well as the survival of Charlotte’s eggs and eventual daughters. The above quote from their last conversation shows the unconditional nature of true friendship and emphasises the often forgotten value it has: being her friend was more than enough to ‘balance’ all of the help Charlotte gave to Wilbur, even though in her eyes no such balancing was needed. For me, the final paragraph of Charlotte’s Web demonstrates the lasting legacy of true friendship:

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. (p.172)

Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling 

Harry, Ron and Hermione begin this beloved series as nervous first-years and finish as tight-knit best friends who have vanquished Voldemort and who would do anything for each other, including being willing to sacrifice themselves to save the others. It isn’t all plain sailing as there are plenty of fallings out along the way, even in the last book, but these are always resolved and forgiven, as can be seen in this exchange between Ron and Harry from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007):

‘[H]e must’ve known I’d run out on you.’

‘No,’ Harry corrected him. ‘He must’ve known you’d always want to come back.’ (p.317)

For Harry, who has grown up without a loving family, isolated and with only Dudley Dursley for company of his own age, his friends are vitally important. Over the course of the series, he gains others as varied as Dobby, Hagrid and Luna Lovegood, all of whom have different things to teach him about friendship and enrich his life in various ways.

Other notable friendships in children’s literature include:

• Mary, Colin and Dickon in The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

• Joey, Simone, Frieda and Marie in The Chalet School series by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer (1925-1970)

• Pooh and Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (1926)

• Sophie and the BFG in The BFG by Roald Dahl (1982)

• Albert and Joey in War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (1982)

Please feel free to suggest any more examples in the comments below!

One comment

  1. Lovely post, very cheering! The friendship between Tom and Hatty in Tom’s Midnight Garden is so poignant … friends growing apart


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