Favourite Duos #1 - Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

Credit to TV Tropes
Apparently this sword-and-sorcery series by Fritz Leiber has passed a lot of people by. In fact, I've heard it said that it was Fritz Leiber who coined the term "sword-and-sorcery". When I started working on my swashbuckler series, a member of the writers' group I'm in recommended these stories.

Set in the fantasy world of Nehwon, the so-called Swords series follows the adventures of these two "larcenous but likeable" anti-heroes. Fafhrd is a tall and brawny Northern barbarian, who originally trained as a singer. He has a romantic view of the world, but mostly gets by through his practical nature. The Grey Mouser is a skilled thief and former wizard's apprentice, who retains some magical ability. He's a lot more cynical than Fafhrd, but is still prone to sentimental moments.

The stories frequently have the characters getting into bar fights and seducing women, but some stories have them on opposite sides of a conflict. But their friendship nonetheless wins through. At the time of writing, I'm working my way through the third collection, Swords in the Mist. But I figured I'd look at stories in the first collection, Swords and Deviltry, which establishes the pair.

  1. The Snow Women follows Fafhrd chafing under the authority of his overbearing mother. While visiting the Northerners' trading post at Cold Corner, he meets an acrobat named Vlana and elopes with her.
  2. The Unholy Grail follows The Grey Mouser as he returns from a quest to find that the wizard he apprenticed to has been executed by a Duke who has outlawed magic. He enacts a plot in revenge, with the aid of the Duke's daughter Ivrian, a fellow apprentice.
  3. Ill-Met in Lankhmar brings the duo together when they meet while ambushing the same party of thieves. They recognise each other as kindred spirits, introduce their respective girlfriends, and embark on a drunken dare to infiltrate the Thieves' Guild.
I've heard that Fritz Leiber wrote these in a bid to make fantasy heroes closer to human nature, believing that Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories were too unrealistic for his tastes. Yes, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser aren't the most moral individuals, but it's established that the world they live in is a decadent and corrupt one.

I hope you've enjoyed this countdown, and I'd love to hear about what duos are your favourites.

Happy writing.

Favourite Duos #2 - Spike Spiegel and Jet Black (Cowboy Bebop)

Credit to Overthinking It
From one of my favourite animes, we have two bounty hunters who act as another archetypal "odd couple".

Spike is a former mob enforcer from Mars, who faked his own death after a feud with his former brother-in-arms over the latter's girlfriend. While he has a smart dress sense, he's lazy and lacks ambition, but also loves fighting and tends to cause a lot of wanton destruction. In contrast, Jet is a former police officer from Ganymede, who quit after losing his arm in an ambush. He dresses a lot more casually than Spike, but is more level-headed and has more of a work ethic.

While Spike would be regarded as the protagonist, Jet is technically the owner of the Bebop which they both call home. He could also be regarded as the brains of the operation to Spike's brawn. Spike prefers to do things his way, which sometimes causes friction between them. The first episode establishes the dynamic; Spike complains about the meal Jet has cooked, to which Jet reminds them that they're broke after spending most of their last bounty to pay for the damages which Spike had caused.

Both characters get their own moments to shine, such as the episode "Ganymede Elegy", in which they travel to Ganymede where Jet reunites with his ex-girlfriend, Alisa. However, Spike learns that her current boyfriend, Rhint, has a bounty on his head. It's one of many scenarios which puts them both into conflict with each other, while also exploring Jet's flaws.

As the series went on, more characters join the Bebop crew. Jet acts as a father figure to Ed while Spike has an antagonistic relationship with Faye. But it's implied that he does care for her, above his cavalier attitude towards life.

Great characters, great show, great duo.

Favourite Duos #3 - Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call (Lonesome Dove)

One of my recent favourite reads, with a pretty good screen adaptation, and one of my favourite duos. Just be aware that this post contains spoilers.

Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call are former captains in the Texas Rangers, who are now the joint owners of a livestock trading firm in the remote Texas border town of Lonesome Dove.

Gus, as he's commonly known, is affable, kind-hearted, talkative, and lazy to the point of eccentric. In contrast, Woodrow - who is referred to by everyone as "The Captain" - is a stern workaholic who believes that everybody should give it their all, and is disdainful of men who drink and gamble their lives away. Which you'd think would put the two at loggerheads. Gus is more interested in wine, women, and song than a hard day's work, but he is also twice widowed and pining for his old flame Clara Allen. Meanwhile, Call is in denial of a liaison he had with a prostitute which produced a child called Newt. When the boy's mother died, the pair took him in, but Call is reluctant to acknowledge that he is Newt's father (an open secret to everybody else).

Like Miles and Jack in Sideways, everything you hate in one character you admire in the other. Personally, I can't stand Call, but I like Gus serving as his foil.

In an odd twist, it's Call who ends up having bigger dreams, and leads the firm on an epic cattle drive from Texas to Montana. It's Gus who needs convincing, being told that Clara is living in Nebraska, on the route they'll be taking. During the journey, Gus is shown to deeply care for Lorena Wood, the town's prostitute who is making her way to San Francisco. When she gets kidnapped by a renegade, Gus ends up saving her, and tries to care for her afterwards. Call also demonstrates a compassionate side (not to mention a berserker rage) when he witnesses a US Army scout assault Newt.

I'm going to spoil it now, to discuss how their flaws end up being their undoing. Gus takes a few arrows to the knee (I'll never look at that meme the same way), and has to have his leg amputated. But by that point the infection has spread to his other leg, meaning that one needs to be amputated too. While he relished the idea of walking around on a crutch, he doesn't like the idea of having no legs, and refuses to allow his other leg to be amputated despite knowing his life depends on it. He asks Woodrow to take him back to Texas to be buried in a place where he used to have picnics with Clara. Woodrow obliges out of a long-lasting loyalty, leaving Newt in charge of the ranch they set up, even giving him his prized horse and watch, but he doesn't admit that he's the boy's father. He also ignores the advice of Clara to have Gus buried on her property.

It's because of this that I gave up on Streets of Laredo. It proves that they're a duo who need each other.

Favourite Duos #4 - Jules Winfield and Vincent Vega (Pulp Fiction)

Credit to Villains Wiki
This is a duo which doesn't get as much screen-time as the others on this list, but there is a clear dynamic between these two characters.

Jules and Vincent are enforcers for the crime boss Marsellus Wallace, who are tasked with recovering a mysterious glowing briefcase from a group of former associates. Vincent presents himself as a suave and charismatic figure, but it becomes increasingly clear that he isn't the most competent henchman around. It's his partner Jules who often sees the job through, but he starts have second thoughts after surviving a shootout due to what he believes is divine intervention.

The frequently re-enacted Breakfast Scene shows the pair at work, with Jules acting as spokesperson while Vincent hangs around and smokes. Instead of checking to see if there's anyone else in the apartment. Like the guy hiding in the bathroom with a hand cannon who tries to jump them, triggering the aforementioned divine intervention. Vincent still refuses to take the blame, and instead chastises their informant for not telling them about the ambush. He later shows a complete lack of trigger discipline while discussing the divine intervention with the informant, accidentally shooting him in the face.

Jules himself goes through an interesting development after the shootout, to the point where he talks down a pair of armed robbers at a diner by explaining his ambivalence towards his life of crime, and the Bible verse he would traditionally quote before killing someone. We still follow Vincent for most of the film, and his story has a clear end. I suppose I haven't really discussed Jules much, but the film essentially shows what ultimately happens when he's not around to back Vincent up.

The duo's opening scene is mostly a casual conversation about burgers, and later shifts to some more plot-relevant dialogue about Mia Wallace, whom Vincent is taking out for a meal. But it's the so-called "Bonnie Situation" which shows how much the pair can get at each other's throats.

I don't know about you, but I want to see a film with Jules "walking the Earth" as he says he's going to do after retiring.

Favourite Duos #5 - Asterix and Obelix

Credit to Wikia
Another duo I'd cite as a major influence. I've talked about the comics on this blog already, but I'll still look at the dynamic between these iconic characters created by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo.

Asterix is a petite warrior from a Gaulish village which has resisted Roman occupation through the use of a magic potion which grants superhuman strength. While this puts him on par with the rest of the warriors of his village, he is nonetheless respected above them thanks to his wits and cunning. This makes him more of a guile hero than an action hero.

Meanwhile, his best friend Obelix is a carver and supplier of menhirs who had fallen into a cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby, which meant it had a permanent effect on him. While his principal pleasures are fighting and eating, he also has a love of animals, especially his dog. He's similar to Lennie from Of Mice and Men in that regard. If he liked fighting. And if his unawareness of his own strength was applied to doors.

Again, this is a duo which shares a close bond. While Obelix isn't the smartest person around, he nonetheless deeply cares for Asterix. The best example of this is in Asterix and the Cauldron, in which Asterix is banished from the village, prompting Obelix to voluntarily go into exile just so he can travel with him.

All in all, they're a duo whose dynamic provides scope for all kinds of adventures. Something I hope to achieve in my own work.

Favourite Duos #6 - Miles Raymond and Jack Cole (Sideways)

Credit to amathusdrinks
If you haven't seen the movie Sideways, I recommend it. This has another classic example of a dynamic duo. I originally heard about them from Doug Walker's "Top Ten Favourite Characters" countdown, and I apologise if I'm treading the same ground.

Miles is a divorced English teacher and struggling writer with a drinking problem. His best friend Jack is a soon-to-be-married, past-his-prime actor and serial womaniser. The two long-time friends are going on a road trip through the vineyards of Southern California, which is to serve as Jack's bachelor party, but both have hidden agendas: Miles simply wants to drown his sorrows, and is essentially using Jack as an enabler for this; Jack wants to have one last fling before he settles down, and hopes to find a partner for Miles as well.

Sure enough, Jack meets a wine pourer named Stephanie, and they immediately hook up to the point where Jack is willing to move house to be with her. Meanwhile, Miles meets a waitress named Maia and develops a connection, but is too timid to take things further. This establishes them both perfectly, with Jack's impulsive nature with little regard for the consequences of his actions, and Miles' tendency to play it safe and take little chances.

These contrasting flaws provide an excellent dynamic, allowing the two to complement one another. While they are both terrible people, they do genuinely care for one another. Their flaws essentially cancel each other out. Jack would be making too many poor choices if Miles wasn't there to hold him back, and Miles would be stuck in his self-destructive comfort zone if Jack wasn't there to push him forward.

Again, this is another dynamic I wish to borrow from. Instead of a "big one and little one" or "brawn and brains" duo, we have a duo in which one character is too impulsive while the other is too cautious, so there's a happy medium between the two.

Favourite Duos #7 - David Lister and Arnold Rimmer (Red Dwarf)

One of the classic odd couples in comedy, from one of my favourite TV shows of all time.

David Lister is a Third-Class Technician aboard the mining ship Red Dwarf. He's lazy, unkempt, and lacks ambition, but is still a moral individual and quite mechanically inclined. He shares his quarters with Second Technician Arnold Rimmer, his immediate superior who contrasts him in every way: While Lister has talent but no ambition, Rimmer is eager to advance his career but is too incompetent to have any hope. While Lister is laid back, Rimmer is neurotic and petty (not to mention egotistical). While Lister is prone to displaying strong moral courage, Rimmer is a dirty coward. Or to use the show's dialect, a smeghead.

After Lister survives the radiation leak which kills the rest of the crew, Rimmer is brought back as a hologram to keep him sane. And because of his ego, he tries to assert his (minimal) authority by claiming to be captain on the grounds that he is technically the highest-ranking crew member aboard the ship. Since Lister does not respect his authority, this goes about as well as you'd expect.

I think the first two seasons highlight this dynamic the best. Kryten hadn't joined the crew yet, and Cat wasn't really involved in the stories at this point. The best example from this series is in "Balance of Power", in which Rimmer confiscates the ship's entire supply of cigarettes and rations them to coerce Lister into working for him. Lister tries to get around this by taking a chef's exam; it's the easiest exam around, and if he passes, he'll technically out-rank Rimmer. The episode also establishes their relationship when Lister asks Holly about his decision to bring back Rimmer. Holly claims that Rimmer was the person he knew best because they exchanged a total of 14 million words. Lister's response: "7 million of those were me telling him to smeg off, and the other 7 million were him putting me on report for telling him to smeg off."

That said, there are some moments when Lister does genuinely care for Rimmer if the latter's depressed, showing that their relationship isn't entirely antagonistic. Rimmer is also surprisingly egalitarian and open-minded when it comes to conflicting beliefs.

The isolation of the show accentuates this greatly, providing some true comedic gold.

Favourite Duos #1 - Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

Credit to TV Tropes Apparently this sword-and-sorcery series by Fritz Leiber has passed a lot of people by. In fact, I've heard it s...