Seven Evil Uncles of Fiction

The Evil Uncle is a well-established and familiar form in fiction, and has been since – well, let’s take a look, shall we?

The classickest of evil uncles, to my mind, is Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius, who kills his brother (Hamlet Senior), steals his brother’s wife (in that order) and usurps the throne which was rightfully Hamlet Senior’s and is now rightfully Hamlet Junior’s. Confronted with this heaping pile of villainy, he feels a modicum of remorse (see Act III, Scene iii) – but not enough to actually try to put things right to the extent that he still can.

Claudius_at_Prayer_Hamlet_3-3_Delacroix_1844Slightly younger than Uncle Claudius is Uncle Richard, aka the Duke of Gloucester. (Only slightly younger – c. 1592 as opposed to c.1599-1602. Not 1485 – I am putting him in the fictional category as Shakespeare’s version doesn’t adhere all that closely to historical fact. Probably because he was writing under the rule of the grand-daughter of the man who killed (and replaced) Richard.) Shakespeare’s Richard orphans one niece and nephew, marries off the former to a nobody and imprisons the latter, has two other nephews murdered, and tries to marry another niece. That is a bad uncle.

Zipping on two or so centuries, to the late 1830s, we come to Kate and Nicholas Nickleby’s Uncle Ralph, a cold-hearted Scrooge of a man who uses his niece as bait for objectionable men and tries to ruin his nephew. He veers from the classic mould in not actually killing his brother (possibly because his brother doesn’t have a throne), but he doesn’t give a damn that he’s dead, either.

Nicholas Nickleby, (1875?)
C.S. Lewis furnished the world with two fine examples of the Evil Uncle genus. First (in 1951), Prince Caspian’s Uncle Miraz, who returns to the purity of the classics by killing his brother and pinching his crown – as well as planning to kill the rightful heir. Unlike Claudius, however, he does not pinch his brother’s widow, being already married to the hilariously named Prunaprismia.

Lewis’ second example is the magician who has the nephew in The Magician’s Nephew (1955) – Digory’s Uncle Andrew. A fool, perhaps, but an ambitious, meddling and arrogant fool, which to my mind qualifies him for the title of an Evil Uncle.

“Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”
As he said this he sighed and looked so grave and noble and mysterious that for a second Digory really thought he was saying something rather fine. But then he remembered the ugly look he had seen on his Uncle’s face… and all at once he saw through Uncle Andrew’s grand words. “All it means,” he thought to himself, “is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants.”

Carl Spitzweg 015
So far the list of Evil Uncles seems to be dominated by the fruitful minds of the male of the species: two of Shakespeare’s, two of Lewis’, and one of Dickens’. But now, at last, we come to an Evil Uncle from the mind of a woman.

The woman in question is Ellis Peters, creator of Brother Cadfael, and also of Iveta de Massard’s Evil Uncle Sir Godfrid Picard (from The Leper of Saint Giles, 1981). He may be further from the murdering, throne-stealing Claudian mould than many of the above, but he’s still prepared to force his niece to marry a rather nasty man who is older than her father, purely for his own financial gain. And to blackmail her into pretending to like it by threatening the life of a young man she cares for. In short, a rotter.

The final Evil Uncle of the list is due to make his appearance in January 2018. Also from the mind of a woman (mine, in fact), he follows the classic mould in killing his brother to seize the throne, and trying to kill the rightful heir as well. (Why mess with a winning combination?)

man-1519667_640It is perhaps worth noting that of the first six Evil Uncles on the list (spoilers!), five are dead by the time the tale is wound up. I decided to be boldly different, and as a result, the death of Princess Lily’s Evil Uncle Phelan is announced before Chapter One is wound up. But of course, that’s not the whole story…

What fictional Evil Uncles have I missed? Feel free to add entries to the list below!


Call me eccentric (please!) but if there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s a really telling metaphor. As I have mentioned before, the Greeks used the same word for pruning, purging, and purification: katharsis. While all three have a bearing on decluttering, I think pruning makes the best metaphor.


You have to have the courage to make a cut – a permanent cut. You have to decide where to cut, because cutting too much off can be just as bad as cutting too little. Pruning clears away the deadwood. It strengthens what remains, and it is used both to move the plant toward the desired shape and to increase its fruitfulness. Fruit does not grow on deadwood. Productivity does not flow from a cluttered life.

But it’s not just about doing what’s best for you in the long run. It pays off in the short term as well. It really is “a disproportionate boost to happiness” to clear out the clutter from your life – even just a little patch at a time.

Hollósy, Simon - Laughing Girl (1883)

While you have to clear your own clutter to feel the happiness for yourself, it sometimes helps to share your progress with others – to encourage them, and to remind yourself of how far you’ve come, when all you can see is the clutter that’s still left. So here’s a chance for you to share what deadwood you’ve cut out of your life lately. I haven’t counted plain old rubbish, mostly because I’m too lazy to actually count it.

The deadwood I pruned in April included:
one formerly non-stick frying pan
one book about walking
one French grammar book
a jigsaw puzzle
a ragged old cloth I used to carry as a child
lots of old wrapping paper
and several cookbooks.

Feel free to add your own lists in the comments!

Great* Wizards of Literature

This week, I thought I’d make you a list of great wizards in literature.

Smoke 1

You’re a list of great wizards in literature!

More seriously (but still not completely), and in approximate order of ancientry:

1) Merlin

First appearance in (written) literature: 1136, i.e. Before English, courtesy of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who turned him from Welsh into Latin. Best known for his connection with King Arthur.

My favourite incarnation is in T.H. White‘s The Sword in the Stone (1938). Enchanted tea-things that wash up after themselves? That’s my kind of wizard. “Let’s dunk the teapot!” Also sound on tiggies.

2) Gandalf

First revealed to the reading public in 1937, in Tolkein’s The Hobbit.
The very epitome of the wise elder, with his robes, his shabby hat, his staff, and his contributions in the area of entertaining explosions.


3) Tim the Enchanter

“I – am an enchanter…. There are some who call me – Tim.”
Literature might be stretching the point slightly in the case of Monty Python‘s 1975 creation, but movies are stories too – let us not be snobbish.
He also is skilled in the area of explosions (if not so decorative as Gandalf’s) and warns the Holy Grail-hunters of the perils of the killer rabbit. “Death awaits you all with nasty big pointy teeth.” Indeed.

4) The Librarian

The Librarian has been part of Sir Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld since the beginning: The Colour of Magic in 1983. It was not until 1986 (The Light Fantastic) that he took on his present form: that of an orangutan.
Devoted to his books and his bananas, he has a strong sense of justice, particularly when it comes to people who refer to orangutans as ‘monkeys’. You Have Been Warned.

5) Questor Thews
The court wizard of the Magic Kingdom for Sale by Terry Brooks, he has been in circulation since 1986.
Questor is a very relatable wizard: like so many of us, he tries his best in some tough situations, and sometimes his best isn’t good enough. The court scribe is a Wheaten Terrier for this very reason.

6) The Bursar aka Professor A.A. Dinwiddie, colleague of the Librarian. First introduced in Sir Terry’s Faust Eric, published 1990, he is a mild and harmless fellow who has lost his sanity in the dog-eat-dog world of wizardly politicking. Fortunately, a precisely calibrated dose of dried frog pills (for recipe see here) causes him to hallucinate that he is sane. And occasionally that he can fly.

Hallucinogenic Frog in Outer Space

7) Professor Dumbledore first saw the light of day in J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997).
Full disclosure: I haven’t read all the books and I do not know all his tale. But this was enough to make me like him: “I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Brilliant.

8) Derk
Here is the example par excellence of how a talented writer can parody the clichés of a genre without alienating readers who enjoy that genre: Diana Wynne JonesThe Dark Lord of Derkholm, published 1998.
Personally, I love the sequel, The Year of the Griffin just as much, if not more. Derk specialises in genetics, which is why he and his wife have seven biological children, five of whom are griffins.

"Griff" Statue in the forecourt of the Farkasréti Cemetery Budapest

9) Woodward**
Woodward came into existence sometime in the early 21st century – darned if I can remember precisely when – and is currently pulling strings in my WIP, Tsifira.
In appearance he is much like a dandelion – raggedy green with a fluffy white head – but he has spent the last 15 years disguised as a gardener who only ever says “Eh.”
In this disguise he keeps an eye on the growing princess and tends the ensorcelled privet hedge he planted to protect her. But he knows he can’t keep her safe behind the hedge forever.

Is It Still Europe's Tallest Yew Hedge?

So there you have it! It was going to be The Top Ten but I could only think of nine and it seems like a more wizardy number in any case.

It may be that this list of ‘Greats’ is more a list of my favourites – so who did I miss? Who are your favourites, and by whose hand?
All comments welcomed; only spammers will be turned into frogs.

Your obedient servant,
Sinistra Inksteynehand250

* for a given value of “great,” i.e. obtaining and retaining my affection and/or interest

** formerly known as Wentworth; he underwent a name-change between drafts.