Michael J. Sullivan has worked as a commercial artist and illustrator, founding his own advertising agency in 1996, which he closed in 2005 to pursue writing full-time. He is the author of The Riyria Revelations fantasy series, comprised of Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire and Heir of Novron. His short fiction has appeared in Triumph Over Tragedy: An Anthology for the Victims of Hurricane Sandy, Unfettered and elsewhere. Next up for Michael is The Riyria Chronicles, a prequel fantasy series to The Riyria Revelations, consisting of The Crown Tower (coming in August 2013) and The Rose and Thorn (coming in September 2013) being published by Orbit. Michael can be found online at his website, on Twitter as @Author_Sullivan and on Facebook.

Iconic Duos in Fiction

by Michael J. Sullivan

Duos have a long standing tradition in literature. In many cases it takes the form of a sidekick, as in Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Batman and Robin, or The Lone Ranger and Tonto. I’m glad to hear that the Lone Ranger remake is going to elevate the character of Tonto as these hierarchical pairings have never held much appeal to me.

Instead, I’m drawn to partnerships where both members have a more even footing, Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Thin Man, for instance. Several things occur to me about this particular duo. First, is their witty banter, which infuses the novel with a lightness not seen in Dashiell’s previous works such as The Maltese Falcon. Besides the genuinely entertaining aspect of their dialog, it also wonderfully illustrates the deep seeded affection between the two and hints at a long standing relationship that has likely seen times both good and bad.

Another favorite of mine is the dynamic between Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee, and their relationship illustrates another important aspect with duos, and that is unflinching loyalty. Having a character that another is willing to walk through fire for, provides a nice framework for incredible drama and tension. Threaten that dynamic, by introducing an outside influence, such as Gollum, and the emotional impact becomes even further heightened.

If you were to lookup the definition of duo in the dictionary you might find an entry such as this: Two items of the same kind. I, however, find that the most gratifying duos are those that contain very different personalities. Take for instance the television show Quantum Leap. Sam Beckett is the perfect example of a traditional fantasy epic hero. He’s a “good guy” that is compulsively drawn to “doing the right thing.” He is honorable, trustworthy and respectful toward women. Al Calavicci, on the other hand, is a cigar-smoking womanizing antithesis of Sam and I think the series is better because of their differences.

For those that don’t know, I have my own duo in the form of Royce and Hadrian. A pair of rogues for hire whose stories were told through the six-books of The Riyria Revelations (released in three, two-book omnibus editions from Orbit). In fact, readers discover over the course of the series that Riyria is elvish for two, but the word also implies a bond. I’m often questioned why I wrote a duo as opposed to a single main character. Well, for many of the reasons that I’ve already discussed so far. Having a duo allows me to present the same situation from different perspectives; Hadrian’s naiveté is accentuated against Royce’s cynical nature. On some unconscious level, I’m sure the witty banter that I’ve been exposed to form Nick and Nora, Butch Cassidy and th Sundance Kid, and even Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott (from the 1960’s television show I Spy) have had an influence.

In The Riyria Revelations, I explored my duo from a perspective of a well-formed and long lasting friendship. At the time of the opening pages of Theft of Swords, the two had already been together for over twelve years. When the series was over, I thought that would be the last I would see of the pair, and after being with them for so long, I was saddened to say goodbye. But due to constant prodding from my wife (who has a bit of a thing for Hadrian – and I’m not sure how I should feel about that), and a lot of support of readers who said they wanted more, the two are coming back. The challenge for me, then, was how to explore a different aspect of the duo tradition.

The approach I took was to show the origin story. To roll back the clock to their first meeting, and the first jobs they performed together. It occurred to me that these two really wouldn’t have liked each other…in fact they would have hated each other. So my fun came from constructing a history that could realistically demonstrate how they would go from where they started out to where they ended up. And so The Crown Tower (releasing Aug 6) and The Rose and the Thorn (releasing Sep 17) were created.

One pair that may seem conspicuously overlooked in this post is Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, perhaps one of the most famous duos in all of fantasy. The reason for this is quite simple. I’ve never read any of those works. Many find this surprising as they see corollaries between Fritz’s pair and my own. I assure you any similarities are purely coincidental. At some point I do plan on reading all of those stories, as I’ve heard so much praise about them, but I won’t until I’m sure there will be no more Royce and Hadrian tales. I don’t want to bias how I portray my characters either by emulating or distancing myself based on Lieber’s pair.

So those are some of the duos I find most appealing and the reasons why. Who are your favorites, and what draws you to them?

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