Whether you love them or want to throw them out the window, there’s no denying siblings are a nonstop story parade. In multi-child families, siblings are our formative rivals, allies, bosses, confidantes, and defenders, so it’s hardly a surprise that brothers and sisters play such a central role in storytelling, dating all the way back to the earliest recorded myths. Here are some of our favorite sibling dynamics in literature, which run the gamut from lifelong friends to bitter enemies.
8. The Weasleys (Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling)
Despite the whole family being big into the wizarding business, the 7 Weasley siblings manage to keep their rivalry friendly. On top of that, they don’t believe their pureblood status makes them superior to Muggles, unlike some purebloods we can think of (looking at you, Malfoy). Oh, and then there’s Percy. By putting conformity and duty above all, he becomes the black sheep of his amazing, quirky family…but he comes out all right in the end.
7. Scout and Jem Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee)
There are few fictional families more beloved than the Finches of Maycomb. Scout and Jem are shaken up by the events of the book, but with the help of their morally upright father, Atticus, the siblings emerge wiser and tougher for having the courage of their convictions.
6. The Alba Sisters (The House of Bernarda Alba, by Federico Garcia Lorca)
If you think you have a dysfunctional family, you should check out this play—you’ll either relate to it, or realize you don’t have it half bad. After the death of her husband, Bernarda Alba imposes an insane 8-year period of mourning on her family of five sexually repressed daughters. The result is every bit as messed up as you’d imagine, and a great introduction to Lorca’s fiery imagination.
5. The Starks and Lannisters (A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin)
The five children of Ned and Catelyn Stark, plus their outsider half-brother Jon Snow, have had a rough ride in this blockbuster saga. The very qualities that make them so admirable spell their downfall, because honor can be a real handicap in Westeros. The Lannister brood, meanwhile, are known for pyrotechnic rivalries and a penchant for breaking taboos, providing an effective foil to the loyal Starks. And let’s not even get into the Targaryens, those crazy weirdos.
4. The March Sisters (Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott)
The lives of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March have inspired a century of readers—especially women—to make their own path in life. Though Jo is undeniably the focus of the novel, her three sisters face their own battles with wit, bravery, and, in Amy’s case, some pretty impressive manipulation.
3. The Antipholus and Dromio Twins (The Comedy of Errors, by William Shakespeare)
Shakespeare loved using identical twins as a plot device so much that he threw two sets of them into this play. Needless to say, hilarity ensues.
2. The Oedipal Siblings (Antigone, by Sophocles)
When your father is also your half-brother, and your mother is also your grandmother, things are bound to get a little messed up. In the final play of his legendary trilogy, Sophocles chronicles the plight of the four children born to Oedipus and his mother Jocasta. The brother Polyneices and Eteocles kill each other, Antigone condemns herself to death, and Ismene is left to mourn them all. Don’t mess with Greek gods—they play for keeps!
1. The Brothers Karamazov (The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky)
It’s hard to think of a set of literary siblings with more sharply drawn philosophical differences. Dmitri, the eldest, is a pleasure hound just like his old man. The middle child, Ivan, is a Spock-level logician, and the youngest, Alexei, is deeply spiritual and well-liked. Though it is never confirmed, it’s implied that sociopath Pavel is the illegitimate fourth Karamazov brother. Only Dostoevsky could write a novel with such dark themes, and somehow leave us with a sliver of hope at the end.
Who are your favorite siblings in fiction?