Sets of Four
There are some characters you can have a la carte and some characters you have to take as a set. Try to take them away from the characters they come with, and they aren't half as wonderful. I thought I'd honour a certain type of set--the four sisters--with a special post. =)
A few weeks ago, I learned that the Henricksens of HBO's Big Love, who almost made my Top 5 TV Families post, are planning to add a fourth sister-wife to their family. But since that hasn't officially happened yet, the following will be the second Shredded Cheddar Top 5 List they almost make. =P
My Top 5 Sister Act Quartets
1) Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)
They're usually the first to come to mind, aren't they? Indeed, they just might be the most famous sisters in all of fiction--and for good reason!
The four of them couldn't be more unlike. Without Marmee as their centre of gravity, they'd fly away in different directions and never miss each other: Meg, the pretty, domestic eldest sister who just wants her own home and family; Jo, the outspoken rebel who wishes to be a great writer; Beth, the shy musician who is such a little angel that Alcott treats her to an early death; and Amy, the artistic one who likes the things only money can buy and isn't ashamed of the fact. (Amy doesn't get enough credit for it, but she was really more of a rebel than Jo.)
With different talents and trials (Oh, how Puritan!), they are not just vibrant characters, but also archetypes of girlhood. In any corner of the world where there are girls who love books, you will find readers who can relate to the Little Women. And each one will always have her favourite--the character she identifies with most! There is something true about these four sisters which transcends different time periods and cultures. Alcott fiddled with other character sets in later books like Little Men and Eight Cousins, but never again captured the magic of these first four.
2) Marie, Wendy, Cindy and Connie (Just the Ten of Us, ABC)
Okay, there are a total of eight siblings in the Lubbock family--but nobody is going to argue with me when I say that the four oldest girls were the real stars of the show.
I suppose the writers were also aiming for the Little Women bar, though they tried to be more modern when they picked characters for the girls. Marie is the responsible, religious eldest daughter; Wendy and Cindy are the boy crazy twins, the former also acting as mastermind of all their schemes and the latter playing a ditz you have to see to believe; and Connie is the writer with feminist leanings who feels understandably awkward in her older sisters' collective shadow.
No, they're not also archetypes . . . but I think they managed to represent what a reasonable number of high school girls in the late 1980s wished they could have been. (For yes, by the end of the series, the singing group the Lubbock Babes did land a recording contract. Yay!)
3) Lena, Bridget, Tibby and Carmen (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares)
Okay, so these four girls aren't really sisters. In fact, if you recall that their parents met in a prenatal class and were the first sisterhood, then our heroines are properly considered cousins. But never mind that . . .
The premise of this series is that the girls can draw some magical strain of "girl power" from a pair of second-hand jeans that suits them all perfectly, though they are of very different builds. Which is an interesting reflection of one consuming thought in the minds of today's image-conscious teenage girls.
Brashares (a former ghostwriter for the Baby-Sitters Club series, FYI!) has created a group of characters meant to appeal to the widest possible cross-section of potential readers--not just for their personalities, but also for their body types. And as they learn to embrace the flaws in their personalities and in their families, they must also learn to embrace the flaws in their bodies.
Tibby, the sullen teenager, and Lena, the shy beauty, hide behind their clothes for different reasons--but the pants refuse to be just another mask for them. Then there is the very curvy Carmen, who has trouble getting along with her new super-skinny step-family: the magic pants give new meaning to her theme of "fitting in." But I'd say the novel fails when it comes to Bridget, whose fashion or body issues, if any, aren't addressed. That is probably rectified in the second novel of the series.
4) Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche and Rose (The Golden Girls, NBC)
If you had a problem with the "sisters" in the previous set, then you'll really have a problem with this group of "girls"! Not only are they not all biologically related, but the two who are, also happen to be mother and daughter!
What we have here that we'd never get with a younger set of four is a wealth of past experience each one can bring to the table. Literally, too: no episode is complete without everyone getting to weigh in on the latest issue around the dining room table. And each of them always has a different take on things . . .
Sophia came all the way from Sicily when she was a young woman, settling in Brooklyn, where she raised Dorothy and her other children; Blanche grew up a Southern Belle; and Rose seems to begin every other speech with, "Back in St. Olaf . . ." (Bwahahahahaha! Oh, good times!)
But the best thing--sitcom-wise--about their being "women of a certain age" is that characters from their "past lives" keep showing up to make the present more interesting. Grown children, ex-husbands, former suitors, all sorts of friends. The Golden Girls have not led full lives; they are still living them!
5) Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle (The Craft)
Now that we've totally killed the definition of "sisters," we definitely have room for these girls. How appropriate, since it was they who taught this Geometry geek, in the summer of 1996, that a circle has four corners.
This group isn't thrown together for episodic fun or problem solving, but for one big explosion. Although the three original members of the coven are pleased when Sarah comes to town and agrees to be their final corner, they are never truly in balance even when they are complete. But it would be too easy to blame the power-hungry Nancy for the implosion of their sisterhood. If anyone went rogue on her coven, it was Sarah.
I'd say the weakness of this set is that it the dynamic eventually boiled down to Sarah vs. Nancy. You can see it in the poster, in which the girls are wearing outfits that both reflect their personalities and their group unity, but also emphasise that the colour key that unlocks their secret is "black and white."
And that is probably why Bonnie and Rochelle are not fully developed characters: they didn't really need to be. All our other "sister acts" are set up so that each reader or viewer has his favourite; this quartet is set up so that everyone has to loathe Nancy and side with Sarah by the ending, or else wonder whether he is as twisted as Nancy is. So no balance here . . . but I was young in 1996, so they make the list.
Image Sources: a) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, b) The Lubbock Babes, c) The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, d) The Golden Girls, e) The Craft poster