Today is National Aunt’s and Uncle’s Day, so in celebration I’ve compiled a brief list of some of the best aunts and uncles found in literature. Children’s books in particular are so rife with vile aunts and uncles that the good ones are hard to find!
Aunt Etta, Aunt Coral, and Aunt Myrtle: Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson
These kookie aunts live on a mysterious island where they take care of the animals and magical creatures that reside there. As they get older they realize that they need to find someone to take their place once they’re gone and what better way to find those replacements than to kidnap them? These sisters make some questionable choices but they always mean well and their love for their island home and its inhabitants is deep.
Miss Bates: Emma by Jane Austen
Poor sweet Miss Bates could talk about her niece Jane Fairfax all day and often does, much to the annoyance of everyone around her. As tedious as it would be to listen to, her raptures about Jane’s piano playing and well-written letters are actually rather adorable and her devotion to her niece earns her a place on the best aunts list.
Aunt March: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Fussy and conventional, Aunt March definitely would not be Jo’s favorite relative, but she is very supportive of Amy who is more her cup of tea. She takes her to Europe with her and helps her get an education which is why she deserves a spot on this best list despite her poor treatment of Jo.
Aunt Ada Doom: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Though she slightly redeems herself at the end, Aunt Ada Doom is a horribly controlling matriarch throughout most of Cold Comfort Farm. She won’t let anyone leave and stays in her room getting waited on hand and foot all because she once “saw something nasty in the woodshed”.
Aunt Marge: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
I almost gave this spot to Aunt Petunia but then I remembered her horrendous sister-in-law. There are times when you sort of feel for Aunt Petunia but I never once felt for Aunt Marge, even as she blew up like a giant balloon and floated away.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Proud and snooty, Mr. Darcy’s aunt is a quintessential snob. She looks down on Elizabeth because she is of inferior birth and does everything she can to keep her from her nephew. It is due to her spiteful machinations that Darcy learns Elizabeth is interested in him though so in a way, their happiness is due to her. Thanks Lady Catherine!
The Downright Evil
Mrs. Reed: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Mrs. Reed hates her niece Jane because her husband has more affection for her than he does for his own children. She gets the award for worst aunt for locking poor Jane in the haunted red room, causing her to go into paroxysms of terror. When she begins screaming, thinking she sees demons and monsters forming in the darkness, Mrs. Reed ignores her. When I read this as a child this scene was pure nightmare fuel.
Uncle Wiggily: Uncle Wiggily’s Story Book by Howard R. Garis
First on this list I have to go with a personal childhood favorite. Uncle Wiggily is a cheerful, storytelling rabbit gentleman who can understand what little girls and boys are saying though he doesn’t speak human himself. Whether it’s teaching children that the dentist isn’t all that bad or that freckles are beautiful, Uncle Wiggily is always there with his red, white, and blue striped rheumatism crutch to teach children the lessons they need.
Uncle Albert: Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
Mary Poppins’s Uncle Albert is “a cheerful sort of man and very disposed to laughter”. Unfortunately this means that every year on his birthday he gets so excited that he fills up with laughing gas and floats up to the ceiling. When his niece brings Jane and Michael Banks to visit him they quickly catch his laughing gas and enjoy a delightful tea while floating in the air.
Bilbo Baggins: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
While technically Frodo is Bilbo’s first and second cousin once removed both ways, the significant age difference between the two causes Frodo to look upon his elder relative as an uncle figure and since that is what he usually calls him, I’m going with it. There are too few good uncles in literature for me to be picky here.
King Claudius: Hamlet by William ShakeSPEARE
Probably the most infamous bad uncle, King Claudius killed his own brother and married his wife. It doesn’t get much more despicable than that but at least his nephew ultimately gets his revenge on his father’s murderer.
Uncle Vernon: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
While Aunt Petunia has some redeeming qualities, Uncle Vernon remains horrendous throughout the entire Harry Potter series but there’s no denying he is comedy gold. My favorite Uncle Vernon is the slightly mad one who drags his entire family out to an island in the middle of nowhere to escape the letters from Hogwarts.
Christopher Lilly: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
If there’s one book that you don’t want any spoilers for, it’s Fingersmith so I won’t say much about the despicable Uncle Lilly but he will make your skin crawl with loathing.
The Downright Evil
Uncle Andrew: The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Uncle Andrew is just the worst. When he discovers a portal to another world he is too scared to test it for himself so he tricks his nephew Digory and his friend Polly into going instead despite the dangers. He’s the epitome of the creepy uncle and his cowardice makes him the worst uncle here.