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Literary Frenemies

literary friends

What is a friend?

For most people, the answer to this question will be something along the following lines: it is a person who is ready to reassure you when you feel down, who supports you in all your undertakings, always has a kind word for you, provides a shoulder to cry on, helps you in an hour of need and so on.

Lars Iyer, a philosophy lecturer at the University of Newcastle and an author of two novels, thinks differently, citing Friedrich Nietzsche: “In your friend you should possess your best enemy”.

Compare this idea with social network hive minds whose members feel obliged to express admiration about every word each of their innumerable “friends” say, expecting them to pay back in kind.

Probably in the past it was a more usual phenomenon; modern world, however, calls for a different word to distinguish it from what we are more and more used to associate with the concept of friendship. And, as usual, English language obliged, forming a new term: “frenemy”.

Frenemies are very close, but their closeness is of unusual kind. They annoy, berate, insult and enrage each other. They would have been enemies, but they like each other too much to stay apart.

And, according to literature, this relationship is as interesting to read about as it is interesting to experience.

Sometimes this frenmity appears when fate clashes together two people from completely different social, educational or ideological backgrounds. Such is the relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza from the famous novel by Cervantes. Don Quixote is an anachronistic, idealistic and, frankly speaking, stark raving mad nobleman, while his frenemy Sancho Panza is a an uneducated and ignorant yet extremely shrewd and realistic peasant who sees the world for what it is but has to follow his extravagant master.

Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson come to mind as well. Holmes never shies from showing off his mental superiority or making an ironic remark concerning Watson’s writing describing their adventures, Watson constantly complains about his friend’s eccentric habits like shooting indoors and keeping a chemical laboratory at home, but it is just a backdrop for their friendship.

Sometimes frenmity comes, vice versa, as a result of both characters being too alike: Trurl and Klapaucius from Stanislaw Lem’s Cyberiad are two nigh-omnipotent Constructors who constantly try to surpass each other, are always the first to make a snarky remark about one another’s failure but also the first to come to help when one of them really gets into trouble.

All in all, writers, irrespectively of whether they experienced this in life or not, seem to understand that frenmity is fascinating to explore. And it is quite natural: it provides a dynamic relationship, it allows bringing together people who are completely unlike each other; it is, after all, simply much more interesting than friends who feel obliged to agree with everything you say lest they insult or discourage you. It is, in a word, unusual – unusual enough to become a rarity in modern world.

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