There’s always an ideal way of pairing characters together, and sometimes the authors even get it right. But when they don’t, fan shipping comes to the rescue.
When fans decide what characters should be together and write stories about these non-canon relationships, this is called “shipping.” If you believe that Batman and Carmen Sandiego should date, you are a Batman and Carmen shipper. Is it wrong to ship unlikely couples? No. The world is full of unlikely things; have you seen what people have been doing in relationships recently? Truth has no business criticizing unlikely couples in fiction.
In every book, there exist possible romantic couples the author does not acknowledge—couples the author would deny until their dying day. But just because the person who literally built the world denies them, that doesn’t mean they don’t hold water. Some couples do exist in the text, whatever the creator might say.
But even in literature, there are degrees of difference. There are unlikely couples, and then there are unlikely couples. I’ve identified 10 of these couples, which are labeled “crack pairings” in shipping terms. But for our purposes, you’d have to be smoking crack to deny that there’s nothing there. Absence of proof is not proof of absence, and there’s definitely proof, of some kind, for the pairings below.
No matter how outlandish these pairings seems, they already exist somewhere online. Most of us were rooting for them before we even knew they existed.
Crazy? Crazy like a fox, which are hunted by the English gentry Jane Austen wrote about. By the transitive properties of highly-sane logic, Austen has the powers of a fox, and that’s a good thing, since it would take a fox to riddle out the hints in Pride and Prejudice that, yes, Wickham and Darcy are the secret power couple hiding behind the bland normie assurances of designated official couple Liz and Darcy.
Let’s go down the list: Belligerent sexual tension? Check. Checkered history that Darcy will not speak of? Check. Opposites attract? Check. Introverted melancholic meets scheming dipshit? Check, check and doubleplus check. You trust in Wikipedia’s neutrality, I assume? Let’s see what the ol’ Arbiter of Truth has to say about the pairing that I’ll hereafter refer to whisperingly as “Dickham”:
“George Wickham is introduced as a militia officer who has a shared history with Mr. Darcy.”
Shared. History. With. Mr. Darcy. Well, well, well. Why is it that when Liz Bennet, cash-poor and brain-rich, goes to Mr. Darcy it’s love everlasting and realistic. But when Wickham, implied sexual powerhouse of the sexiest English time period, the Regency, who is just as desperately urchined, goes after Mr. Darcy, it’s a bad thing? Like you wouldn’t go for Mr. Darcy. We all would. He’s Mr. Darcy. Hell, Mr. Darcy would go after Mr. Darcy, and he hates himself.
Practically canon. Mercutio, friend to Romeo and a kinsman to the Prince, he is very much That Guy. Mercutio knows everybody, and his ribald, witty nature is at odds with Romeo’s morose, teenage-love persona. Mercutio seems oddly belligerent about Romeo’s tendency to moon over girls—strangely so. His first response to Romeo mooning over a past girl is to invite him to club. Afterwards, Mercutio ribs Romeo for ditching and dashing them at the party and offers to bite Romeo “by the ear for that jest.” But here are some fast facts:
FACT ONE: Mercutio dies, and the play goes to hell.
FACT TWO: How could you not being attracted to Mercutio? Forget the wit; it’s there in the name: more-cutey, yo.
FACT THREE: Romeo is willing to die to save Mercutio from Tybalt, which leads to Mercutio’s death.
Finally, a few hundred lines after Mercutio falls, Romeo commits suicide. You put two and two together.
I have a simple question for you: Is it wrong for one tower to love another tower? Now imagine if tower relationships extended to a five-way tower relationship. Despite the title The Two Towers, there are—correction—five towers in Tolkien’s epic legendarium. I’ll remind you that all the towers have relationships, and the people who built the towers and live inside the towers also have relationships. In a world where trees can talk and horses can teach us the meaning of speed, is it so unreasonable that one stack of stone can love another? Which, since we’re on the subject, brings me to another Tolkien relationship…
The Ring gets around. Whereas the Five Towers of Middle Earth are clearly in some kind of erotically-charged deep cahoots, the One Ring is a serial philanderer and heartbreaker. Does the Ring tire of its paramours, or is it simply playing the game as it found the game? Is the Ring cheating itself of lasting happiness, or is it pursuing a means to an end: shacking up with whatever passerby it can find to get back home to its One True Love, Sauron of Mordor?
But this is less a rom-com and more like the Madea franchise, where one protagonist never changes and the rest of the characters rotate through the lovesphere like loose change hitting dryer walls. It’s a tragedy, because the Ring never get what it theoretically wants. At least Gollum dies with the one he loves
If you can’t fall for an enchanted piece of jewelry, what are you doing with your life?
This doesn’t feel like a crack pairing, so much as a “How could everyone else be so blind?” level of obviousness. (If you’ve ever spent any time around Potterheads, this is a fairly prominent pairing.)
Harry Potter had a father, and that guy had three friends in school. Two of them are hard-luck cases; one who is a literal monster for part of the month, the other whose existence is an extended Tim Burton fugue state. What they have in common is a shared history, an enchanted antique and a prominently scarred orphan boy. Put the unnecessary addition of Tonks to the side. In the books, this duo is always joined together; linked physically, thematically or historically through every scene of the series. In the stories, the Remus/Sirius pair spend a lot of the Potter backstory just kicking around; like they had anything better to do.
All kinds of things happen at camp. We agree on this. If that’s the case now, then how much crazier would it be in the Middle Ages? A time when a cow could become pope and people gave birth in public stables. What’s sexier than the Middle Ages? Rock bands on tour. Touring plus camp plus Middle Ages is a definite engine for relationship-building. And the perfect example of this is the implied pairing between the perfect knight, Brienne of Tarth, and Westeros’ own cyborg wonder, Jaime “My Sister Who?” Lannister. Again, the text directs us, in A Feast for Crows:
Or I could take the kingsroad south, Brienne thought. I could slink back to King’s Landing, confess my failure to Ser Jaime, give him back his sword, and find a ship to carry me home to Tarth…The thought was a bitter one, yet there was part of her that yearned for Evenfall and her father, and another part that wondered if Jaime would comfort her should she weep upon his shoulder. That was what men wanted, wasn’t it? Soft helpless women that they needed to protect?
Jamie’s actor on the TV show, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, confirmed it:
The truth is that they’ve never, you know…Yes, Jaime’s been with his sister his whole life and that’s the love he knows, and God knows that’s a version of it. Brienne, she loved Renly I think, but they would never recognize the thing that there is between them because it’s just beyond imagination—or at least they would never allow themselves to go to that place.
“Beyond imagination?” I see Coster-Waldau has never been on the Internet.
I wish I could claim to have made this up, but like every couple on this list, Bella and Tyler’s Van has been shipped before online. For those of you not in the know, in Stephanie Meyer’s vampire-prey romance novel, the male lead Edward Cullen saves Bella Swan from being crushed to death by a van:
Edward Cullen was standing four cars down from me, staring at me in horror. His face stood out from a sea of faces, all frozen in the same mask of shock. But of more immediate importance was the dark blue van that was skidding, tires locked and squealing against the brakes, spinning wildly across the ice of the parking lot. It was going to hit the back corner of my truck, and I was standing between them. I didn’t even have time to close my eyes. Just before I heard the shattering crunch of the van folding around the truck bed, something hit me, hard, but not from the direction I was expecting…Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van’s body…”Get Tyler out of the van!” someone else shouted.
As we discover, Tyler is innocent of wanting to murder Bella. But this text makes clear a submerged point: the Van is clearly interested in getting to know Bella Swan before Edward steps in.
Some people will doubt that vans can form romantic bonds with protagonists. And yet the genius of the human spirit cannot be contained to finding ways to write new country songs about Ford Truck Month. Eventually, the mind turns its eyes towards relationships between human beings and inanimate objects. People do literally anything for money. They love it, and it doesn’t even have a heartbeat. So shipping human beings with inanimate matter is not merely a conceit; it is the worldliest, most practical relationship possible.
And so it goes for the Twilight series, and the van in question. Am I saying that cars can love? No. But if you’re scoffing now, I’ll remind you that vans actually exist, whereas vampires do not. If you believe vampires can love, you already agree to have faith in an event more unlikely than the Van wanting to show big feels.
I feel as if I’m cheating by including this, because to these all-seeing elf eyes, this is what Love Is. In Jim Butcher’s series, Dresden is the wizard guardian of Chicago while Marcone is the undisputed crime lord of the Windy City—and everyone knows it. Yet Dresden’s always describing Marcone’s eyes (as green as dollar bills) and marveling at his strange sense of honor. Once, using his wizard sight, Harry glances into Marcone’s eyes and almost gets knocked down on his ass. Marcone, for his part, regards Dresden as his great and worthy opponent.
Dresden has ideals, and these principles are flexible in a world of greys—magic and crime being cousin industries. And while Dresden makes a point to antagonize Marcone in the shallowest ways possible, Dresden and Marcone are reflections, one to another. Like Marcone, Dresden is a day-to-day human gifted with great power beyond his own qualifications. No wonder his reaction to the crime boss is visceral, almost physical. You’d feel that way, too.
Why does Mr. Tumnus care so much about bringing new people into Narnia? Is it because he’s paid by the White Witch, as he claims? Or is it perhaps because there’s more to him than a lamppost and an arrangement with the aforementioned snowy monarch? I think the answer is pretty clear.
In reality, Mr. Tumnus and the Witch are that Boomer couple you know who are embarrassingly into “hip” date nights and tell everyone about them. Why? Because both of them are immortal, and once you run of out narrative landing strip, you begin to get funky. Narnia is superficially a fantasy England, but it’s really a snowy North California: a bunch of catty Big Names who know each other and have weird suburban issue grievances you know nothing about. Before you even understand what’s happening, you’re on some billionaire’s mountain estate and there’s a genetically engineered lion that can talk and give life advice.
If I have a single issue with this list, it’s that pretty much all of these pairings seem neon-sign-level obvious to me. And Loki, the final contestant in the 25,000 dollar pyramid of romantic relationships, has been with every single person, object or concept you can imagine. He’s the type O of erotica, the train station into which all romantic pairings can be pulled. Whatever it is, this polymorphously non-binary pansexual god(dess) of mischief has done it.