#Bookaday – 15 June 2014

Children’s stories don’t often feature parents. It’s a common theme, that in order to have children as protagonists, you very often have to find a means of removing the parents. This means stories about orphans, foundlings and abandonment are common. Think Hansel & Gretel (abandoned in the woods), Luke Skywalker in Star Wars (orphan), or Harry Potter who has the double trope of being both an orphan and shipped off to a boarding school.

Fictional fathers are few in the books I read growing up, Atticus Finch being the only one that immediately springs to mind. But father figures abound. Teachers in an educative setting, wise old guides if the story is a hero’s quest and the like.

But one stands out as a father by necessity and honour, rather than biology. Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s epic Les Miserables. Valjean is a convict on a life licence who manages to forge a new identity as a businessman and mayor of his adopted town. When his true identity is exposed he flees, but not before promising a dying Fantine that he will find her daughter Cosette and look after her.

This he does, to the extent that he is the father she never knew. Valjean’s honour compels him to look after Cosette, but over the years he too views her as his own daughter. His rescue of Cosette, his promise to Fantine and his attempts to protect Cosette from his own past are the driving plots of the novel. If he were not one of the greatest fathers in fiction, this novel would not be what it is.

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