Foil / Literature

Book series with their own pages


  • The Epic of Gilgamesh makes this trope Older Than Dirt. Gilgamesh is hot-headed and arrogant, and uses his status as god-king to always get his way, (especially with the young brides) so in response to the people's prayers expressing annoyance with Gilgamesh, the gods create Enkidu, a wild beast-man who is tamed via The Oldest Profession and becomes the only person who can rival Gilgamesh's strength, thus holding him accountable fot his actions. Whereas Gilgamesh is bold, arrogant, and hasty, Enkidu is level-headed and expresses understandable fear at the things Gilgamesh wants to do.
  • Played for Drama in A Prayer for Owen Meany. The titular character, while physically weaker than the narrator, is self-driven, determined, assertive, and has a good head on his shoulders, if not a bit bullheaded. In stark contrast, Johnny is passive, unmotivated, socially off, maladjusted and after Owen's death, utterly lost and stuck in a rut.
  • In Animorphs, it's all over the goddamn place. All the main characters act as foils to each other to some extent.
    • Marco is foil to Jake (taking orders vs. giving orders), Tobias (pragmatism vs. idealism), Cassie (pragmatism vs. moral relativism) and Rachel (subtlety vs. brute force).
    • Jake is foil to Marco (taking orders vs. giving orders), Rachel (leadership vs. insubordination; they say this is what happens when two "strong" personalities mix), Tobias (confidence vs. insecurity) and Ax (leadership vs. loyalty to authority figures).
    • Cassie is foil to Marco (pragmatism vs. moral relativism) and Rachel (peace vs. conflict).
    • Tobias is foil to Rachel (peace vs. conflict), Jake (confidence vs. insecurity), and Marco (pragmatism vs. honor).
    • Rachel is foil to Marco (subtlety vs. brute force), Jake (leadership vs. insubordination), Cassie (peace vs. conflict), Tobias (peace vs. conflict) and Ax (giving orders vs. taking orders).
    • Ax is foil to Jake (giving orders vs. taking orders), Marco (pragmatism vs. "warrior ethics"), and Rachel (emotionality vs. logic).
    • Ellimist and Crayak act as foils to each other (life vs. death, the forces of good vs. the forces of evil).
    • Visser Three is foil to Visser One (psychopathic, sadistic, irrational evil vs. pragmatic, intelligent, everyday evil).
    • Visser Three is a foil to Alloran. Visser Three declared his brother a traitor and was responsible for him being forced into hiding, whereas Alloran's brother was the one with the goal of killing Alloran.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Boromir might be considered the foil to his brother Faramir as well as to Aragorn, as while he had similar heroic goals, he is a Tragic Hero who is tempted by the Ring.
    • Saruman and Gandalf are both powerful wizards, however, Saruman is seduced by power, whereas Gandalf refuses to take the Ring.
    • Denethor and Théoden are both the rulers of their countries who succumb to the influence of Sauron and Saruman respectively (Denethor via the Palantír, and Théoden through the influence of Wormtongue.) Both kings also struggle with despair, having lost their son. Ultimately, Denethor succumbs to despair and commits suicide, but Théoden triumphs over it and dies an honorable death in battle.
    • Denethor and Faramir: both are noble and powerful pure-blooded Númenóreans with the abilities to read the hearts of other men and to command over them, who share a love for ancient lore and other scholarly pursuits over feats of arm. Yet all these similarities only highlight their differences: the son is warm, gentle and understanding where the father is cold, harsh and scornful. Faramir chooses to keep on fighting despite having lost all hope, Denethor succumb to despair. Faramir demonstrates humility and open-mindedness, Denethor displays arrogance and stubbornness, etc...
    • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, Tuor and Túrin might be considered each other's foil. They're cousins (though they -almost- never meet), both their fathers are lost in Nirnaeth Arnoediad, they are separated from their human families to be fostered by Elves, go live in hidden Elven cities, fall in love with Elven ladies... However, Túrin is a rash, not always sympathetic Tragic Hero Blessed with Suck while Tuor is an all out good guy who ends pretty well - what with being one of the few characters who actually survive to the end of the book.
    • The Valar Aule and Melkor/Morgoth serve as foils. They are both Valar who have their own ideas and don't always work with Eru's plans for Arda. However while Aule tried making his own life, creating the Dwarves, he repented of doing so when Eru reprimanded him and Eru gave the Dwarves true life for this. In contrast Melkor 'creates' his own creatures by corrupting Eru's creations, such as the Orcs being made from corrupted Elves. Aule created Dwarves out of a desire to populate the Earth and actually loves his creations as his children. Melkor breaks with Eru's plans out of envy and doesn't loves his creations, Tolkien writing Morgoth would have eventually destroyed them.
  • Sancho Panza, Don Quixote's sidekick, is the complementing and contrasting opposite to his master in both body and temperament. Physically, Don Quixote is tall and thin as a scarecrow while Sancho is short and plump. While Don Quixote is an overly idealistic Lord Error-Prone who lives in his own fantasy world, Forgets to Eat, has no regard for his own safety, thrives on hardship, and takes himself way too seriously, Sancho is an unsophisticated farmer governed by his own appetites and desires, has a sane and realistic outlook, is a bit of a coward, wants the easy life promised to him as a reward, and has a sense of humor.
  • In The Reynard Cycle, Reynard and Isengrim are a Red Oni, Blue Oni example.
  • Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are classic foils. In addition to physical attributes (Holmes tall and lean, Watson shorter and stout), Holmes leaps into plans without explanation and follows up on wild clues. Watson, as his namesake trope points out, tends to ask realistic questions and accept more conventional theories. Holmes is also highly excitable when "the game is afoot" and Watson, a war veteran, is a skilled marksman and cool-headed in combat.
    • Actually, Watson was never stout in the books — the two times he is described physically, he is "thin as a lathe and brown as a nut" in the first book, and "strongly built, with a square jaw and a thick neck", several years later. This description (plus the mustache) still counts as a physical foil next to Holmes's thinness, pallor, and severe, aquiline features, though. He's also usually portrayed as having brown or blond hair, while Holmes's is black.
    • Also, while Holmes is a complete pain in the ass and Watson, well, y'know isn't the only time where a detective's kinder side is shown as well as his protective side is when Watson is wounded. Cue said detective panicking and threatening death on the moron who shot his friend. Seriously. Holmes might be a jerk, but, the only way to get him to snap? His best friend being harmed.
  • Quite a few examples in the Tortall Universe;
    • Alanna and Kel, the first two female knights in a hundred years. Alanna actively hid and shunned her femininity for years; Kel was proud of her position as the Girl. Alanna is hot-headed and short tempered; Kel is reserved and stoic. Alanna is prone to resenting authority, while Kel is obsessed with duty. Alanna is the prototypical lone hero, while Kell is an effective commander and leader.
    • George and Jonathon also served as foils to on another, in something resembling Betty and Veronica. Both were natural leaders with devious natures, but George was much more practical and down-to-earth, while Jon was more haughty and big-picture oriented.
    • Sarai and Dove from the Trickster Duet. Both absolutely hate the treatment of the Raka, but they respond to it in different ways; Sarai rages and rants against it, while the more quiet and sensitive Dove speaks to the people. Eventually Sarai runs away, leading to Dove taking her place as future Queen.
  • In a Romeo and Juliet story that's way way different from the original, the titular characters are a demon and angel respectively, whose physical appearances(he wore black spiked armor and had black demonic wings to contrast with her white dress and wings and personalities (he was stoic, quiet, and snarky and she was kind, spontaneous, and cheerful) differed. The places they lived in reflected this as well: Juliet's was a peaceful, well-lit, and beautiful realm as opposed to Romeo's gloomy, perilous, and quite frightening one. Despite the current war between the two races, this doesn't stop them from falling in love. Until Paris, Romeo's Evil Twin tricks Juliet into thinking that Romeo killed her father during the last war(which is actually proven to be true) and is just pretending to be in love with her so that he can find out the weaknesses of the Angels and kill her next, putting her in a Heroic B.S.O.D. until Romeo tells her that he is deeply in love with her because she is the only one that truly understands him and he proves his love by giving her the necklace her father wanted to give her and he had to kill her father, who was succumbing to fatal injuries that Paris caused. This, combined with Jessica's and Ron's words, makes her eventually forgive him.
  • Every character in The Stranger is basically a foil for the narrator, Meursault. Not surprising, of course, since the point of the novel is to develop a particular Existentialist philosophy.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novels Deus Encarmine and Deus Sanguinius, Sachiel is used as a foil to Rafen, for his Pride. At his first appearance, Rafen remembers their rivalry and how Sachiel had always preferred to talk, and Rafen to let his actions speak for themselves. Most starkly contrast when Sachiel thinks Rafen dead (No One Could Survive That!!) and gloats to the empty air — "Rafen, you are dead." — versus when Rafen sees Sachiel's corpse and feels sorry for him.
  • In Suzanne Collins's Catching Fire, the reaction of Katniss's family and friends is neatly contrasted with that of her prep team, of whom Katniss observes that they never had to be strong for anyone else. (The District vs. the Capital, in small-scale.)
    • Later in Mockingjay District 13 acts as one to the Capitol. The Capitol is dependent on the districts, while District 13 is self reliant. The Capitol's people live in luxury, while the people of District 13 have only there basics needs. In the end it is revealed that Alma Coin the leader of District 13 is just as tyrannical as President Snow, the leader of the Capitol, without his redeeming honesty.
  • Quantum Gravity: The worlds serve as this. Interestingly enough, all of them are foils for all the other ones:
    • Otopia is mostly aetherically dead.
    • Demons of Demonia are very focused on knowing and being yourself, regardless of what that is, in contrast to the different social rules in all the other realms.
    • The Fair Folk of Faery, for instance, deliberately hide things from themselves and forget. They are also the strongest aetherically, throwing them that much farther from Otopia.
    • Elves in Alfheim are masters at hiding themselves, throwing them away from the demons; and also at self-control, in contrast with the generally more playful fey. Their system of alliances would also make anyone from another realm dizzy, and their True Names are very powerful.
    • Zoomenon is everything broken down into its pure state, meaning the creatures/beings there do not always have what we would call a consciousness, and it is a much harsher environment than anything you'd be likely to find in the other realms outside a volcano or something similar.
    • Thanotopia is The Nothing After Death. Probably.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "A Witch Shall Live", Conan the Barbarian's In Harm's Way reaction to victory is explicitly contrasted to Valerius's Home Sweet Home.
    But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood, restless harbingers of violence and bloodshed, knowing no other path. . . .
  • Ayn Rand loves these, as her characters are archetypes more than they are people. In The Fountainhead, Roark is The Hero and all the others are those who could have been the hero, except for one minor moral failing, or deliberately choosing to be evil, soulmoney-sucking leeches, etc. At least for the men. Women get this treatment, too.

  • Stolz to Oblomov. The latter is a fat, lazy and pessimistic Cloudcuckoolander; the former is industrious and optimistic.
  • Discworld has a few:
    • The earliest example is Rincewind and Twoflower, who react to danger in completely opposite manners.
    • Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Both are powerful, smart, and tough-as-nails Lancre witches. But Nanny is easy going, has a huge family, behaves in a friendly manner, and is usually drunk and telling bawdy jokes. Granny is serious, stoic, never married, feared and respected by all, and has no sense of humor. Naturally they are best friends (and argue a lot).
    • Vimes and Carrot. Vimes is a cynical, grouchy, dirty-fighting former drunk who has no respect for authority (especially kings). Carrot is an optimistic, ultra-friendly, honorable young officer who always obeys the letter of the law (and may secretly be a king). To make it more complex, Vimes is also clearly a true idealist deep down (his cynicism results from how disappointed he is at the world), while Carrot can show remarkable cunning and deviousness for someone so innocent seeming.
    • Lord Vetinari and Leonard of Quirm: they're both extremely intelligent, but Leonard is a naive Ditzy Genius who's fascinated with everything, trusts everyone, and doesn't have very good social skills, and Vetinari is uninterested in anything too scientific or technical, trusts almost no one, and can manipulate people into doing just about whatever he wants. There's a bit of a mirror-image quality to their conversations: Vetinari explains whatever devious schemes are on his mind at Leonard without expecting Leonard to understand because he really just wants to talk to himself to get his thoughts in order, and Leonard assumes Vetinari understands all the odd scientific things he's up to even though obscure scientific knowledge isn't exactly Vetinari's forte.
  • The In Death series:
    • Blair Bissel in Divided in Death is this for Roarke, in that he is not brave, not particularly smart, is greedy, has no conscience, has a fragile ego, and has conquests rather than relationships, unlike Roarke. Eve puts a lampshade on that.
    • Magdalana in Innocent in Death is this for Eve, in that she is rich, a thief, loves no one but herself, is charming, speaks French and Italian fluently, and will use Roarke to achieve her ends, unlike Eve. Eve makes a comment about Magdalana being the "anti-me".
  • The Acts of Caine: Berne to Caine. To summarise a lengthy spiel, while both are vicious and skilled fighters, Berne is The Hedonist, while Caine has a cold discipline.
  • In the Twilight series, there is Bella and Leah. Both are completely and utterly in love with someone (Edward and Sam respectively) and both suffer devastating heartbreak when he leaves them. Bella reacts by going into a Heroic B.S.O.D. until Edward returns, abandoning plans of any future or attempts at emotional healing. Leah is forced to move on, fighting to protect Forks and, by Breaking Dawn, planning to deal with her anger issues via yoga and going to a nearby community college. Interestingly, Bella is the hero in this situation, while Leah is meant to be disagreed with.
  • In Galaxy of Fear the siblings Tash and Zak Arranda gradually differentiate more, with Zak being Book Dumb while Tash is a Bookworm, Zak being more impulsive and physical, and so on. The two Shi'ido scientists, Hoole and Gog, also contrast; Hoole shape-shifts often and takes combat forms but mostly remains in his default form, Gog never fights but is constantly taking forms for The Infiltration to the point where his default form is rarely seen. Hoole also is The Atoner, while Gog... not so much.
  • Valjean and Javert in Les Misérables. Both are The Fettered who made the choice To Be Lawful or Good. Valjean the convict believes in honor and duty and spends much of his life being a Good Samaritan, even if it means occasionally bending the law. Javert the policeman believes in Law above all; redemption, mercy, and flexibility have no place in his worldview.
    • Also from Le Mis, Grantaire acts as as foil to Enjolras. Enjolras is a serious man who cares for no one but his revolution, Grantaire is a drunkard and is only in the revolution for Enjolras and cares not for the actual revolution.
  • In Those That Wake, Mike is one to Mal. Mike is an older man who can't fight for anything because he believes he's worth nothing, while Mal is a young man who fights no matter what because fighting is the only thing that gives him purpose.
    • In the sequel, Aaron and Rose are foils to Laura. Aaron is a child genius who believes in the good that technology can bring, while Laura is a teenager who doesn't believe technology is good. Rose is clingy and fragile, while Laura is stronger and assertive.
  • The vikings and blood brothers Hjalmar and Odd in The Saga of Arrow-Odd. Hjalmar became a viking so he will be able to marry princess Ingibjorg back in Sweden, and voluntarily adheres to a chivalrous code of honor. Odd is quite ruthless, fights for his fame only, is not attached to women and plans never to return home.
  • Everyman Binx Bolling is this to everyone he meets.
  • The Mortal Instruments:
    • Isabelle Lightwood is the seasoned, snobbish, girly Nephilim to Clary Fray's naïve idealist tomboy.
    • Sebastian/Jonathan Morgenstern to Jace: He was experimented on with demon's blood while Jace was experimented on with angel's blood. Valentine raised him to be cold, cruel, and sadistic, while Jace is more compassionate and kind.
    • Aline Penhallow to Isabelle Lightwood; she's conservative and shy where Isabelle is outspoken and outgoing.
  • In Vampire Academy, the dhampirs Janine Hathaway and Olena Belikova stand as foils, representing the different life choices presented to dhampir women. Janine chose her career as a guardian over romance and family life. She travels the world with the Moroi family she is sworn to protect. Olena chose to settle down early and devoted herself to raising a family. She has never set foot out her hometown of Baia.
  • Eric and Four in Divergent. The former preaches all-out combat with no mercy rules, while the latter preaches fair fights with protective rules.
  • In Gautrek's Saga, King Gautrek is not very bright but very generous; his friend Jarl Neri is clever but a pathological miser.
  • The Secret Garden: Colin to Mary — both spoiled brats who gradually begin to redeem themselves, Mary faster than Colin. It is through him that the beginnings of her growth are emphasized and encouraged. In fact, to begin with, he's practically her Shadow Archetype.
  • Frances Hardinge loves this trope, particularly in the Fly By Night Series. The protagonist, Mosca Mye, has a lot of foils - the most obvious are Lady Tamarind and Beamabeth Marlebourne, who are beautiful, graceful and charming rich young women of very high social standing, respected and beloved by everybody. Mosca, on the other hand, is a dirt-poor, "ferret-faced" daughter of an exiled historian, despised and shunned by most. Lady Tamarind turns out to be a religious fundamentalist, which is the furthest thing from Mosca, while Beamabeth is simply an Alpha Bitch with no regard for anyone but herself - Mosca, on the other hand, really does believe in something greater than herself, in spite of her cynicism. There is also a subtler, but interesting dynamic with Mosca and Aramai Goshawk: both have animal themed names, except Mosca's animal is a fly, which is typically seen as a less "noble" animal than, well, a goshawk, neither has a permanent residence. Mosca has a lot of stereotypically male, unladylike attributes (rage-prone, abrasive, loud-mouthed, swears a lot) and wears breeches under her skirt, Goshawk has some feminine attributes, like little delicate white hands and a chatelaine, normally worn by housewives. The colour associated with Mosca is black (the black of her hair and eyes, a fly motif), the colour most associated with Goshawk is, oddly enough, white, even though he does wear all black (the white of his hands, his face and his eyes). Mosca is centered on the accumulation of spiritual wealth - words and books, Goshawk is centered on the accumulation of material wealth. Both set up elaborate schemes, but through completely different means, for completely different ends and from completely different positions.
  • Red Mars Trilogy
    • The whole political and interplanetary conflict is embodied in the characters Frank Chalmers and John Boone. Frank is an unlikable cynic who believes that people are stupid and afraid to make hard choices, forcing people like him to seize control for their own good, and works with Mega Corps to try and minimize their depredations. John is a charismatic idealist who thinks Mars colonization is an opportunity to distill the best qualities of Earth societies and ceate something new and worthwhile, and opposes interference by the Mega Corps as an intrusion of old, stifling systems.
    • The philosophy of terraforming is argued mainly by Sax, a proponent who wants to turn the planet green, and Ann, who thinks it should be preserved in a pristine state. (They both have Meaningful Names: Saxifrage is a plant known for breaking apart rocks, and Ann's surname is Clayborne.)
  • In the Unicorns of Balinor series, Ari and Chase (her bonded unicorn) are foils. Chase is a proud, Hot-Blooded warrior who believes he should go out and fight all the Shifter's minions, right now. Ari is a insecure, cautious girl who often reminds him that they can't serve the rebellion if they get killed. This relationship makes them highly effective on solo missions- even though it sometimes results in mid-battle arguments.
  • Terra Mason, the protagonist in Aeon Legion: Labyrinth, has a number of foils.
    • Roland's outward confidence contrasts with Terra's constant internal self doubt. He is also well liked, but ultimately cynical as opposed to Terra who is disliked by others, but ultimately idealistic. Roland's very nature as a liar clashes with Terra's brutal honesty. A big contrast is Roland's innate skill and mastery of the shieldwatch and aeon edged sword, both of which Terra struggles to master through nothing more than hard work.
    • Hikari is beautiful, skilled, and praised by others, but seems to have suffered from a traumatic past that makes her distance herself from close relationships. Terra's looks are average at best, she has no combat skills at all, and is actively ignored by others, but had a stable home life that provides her with emotional stability.
    • Delphia is gorgeous and always entering new romantic relationships. Terra is ordinary in appearance and has never experienced a romantic relationship. Delphia is indirect and breaks down into tears with even the slightest hint of a confrontation. Terra is blunt, thrives on confrontation, and never cries.
    • Kairos was also Alya's squire, just like Terra, but Kairos had an excess of talent and a strong connection with fate unlike Terra who struggled with every aspect of the academy and has no connection with fate at all.
  • In Malazan Book of the Fallen Clip serves as a foil to Nimander Golit. Where Nimander is humble, conflicted and secretly badass, Clip is boisterous and self-confident despite having only a fraction of the skill. They are set in direct contrast to one another when the leadership of their group is concerned.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Szeth to Kaladin. Both value honor and despise the actual act of killing, and are both slaves after a fashion. In the debate of To Be Lawful or Good, Kaladin falls under "Good", while Szeth ascribes to a version of "Lawful". Whereas Kaladin takes responsibility for everything, Szeth takes it for nothing. The powers they exhibit are also similar. However, Szeth is an assassin, not a soldier, and is not actually a surgebinder until joining the Skybreakers, who are rivals to the Windrunners, which Kaladin is one of.
  • The Machineries of Empire: Kel Cheris and Shuos Jedao. Cheris is a straightforward Kel who's a math prodigy to the point where everyone's surprised she's not a Nirai (of the scientist caste). She's an infantry captain and her signifier, the Ashhawk Sheathed Wings, means she's very stable mentally. By contrast, Jedao is a cunning Shuos, has dyscalculia, has mostly led fleets throughout his career and his signifier, Immolation Fox, is considered an alarm bell by people who know the meaning of it.
  • The Irregular at Magic High School characters Tatsuya and Kichijouji are similar, except that they serve different clans. Both are socially awkward Badass Bookworms who're eternally loyal to their aristocratic School Idol patrons. Rivalry was instant.

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