It’s Tough Travelling time again! Tough Travels was originally created by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn, revived on Fantasy Faction, and is now hosted by the team at The Fantasy Hive. Inspired by Diana Wynne Jones’s humorous classic The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, every month it highlights a particular fantasy trope, theme or cliché, and invites bloggers to list stand-out books related to that week’s theme.
This month’s theme is mothers.
Now this is a tough topic, because as I already mentioned in a post last year about absent parents, it’s often hard to find mothers or fathers who aren’t dead or otherwise absent in fantasy narratives. However, there are definitely some out there, so I’ve picked five I found particularly memorable:
The Mists of Avalon
It’s been a while since I read this, but the most striking thing about it for me was its unflinching look at the complexities and difficulties of motherhood. I’m not going to say it was a light or easy read, but it certainly left a strong impression (and few books have ever made me as angry on behalf of the characters as this one did).
There are so many explorations of motherhood in this: Igraine is a mother stuck in an unhappy marriage, later her daughter Morgaine is a reluctant mother who feels she has been tricked into a shameful pregnancy, Morgause rears a son who isn’t hers, pious Gwenhwyfar desperately wishes to become a mother but fails to produce an heir, and even Viviane is a “priestess of the Mother”.
The Northern Lights (aka the Golden Compass)
I’m planning to re-read The Northern Lights soon, since I loved this series when I was a teen, and since The Book of Dust was released last year. It’s on my list because one of the most memorable characters for me was Lyra’s mother.
She was not a nice person – in fact, she was downright scary, and bent on doing horrible things to children. Lyra seemed to be the only one she treated kindly, but it didn’t redeem her. She’s one of the best examples of a villainous mother I can think of.
I thought I’d throw a YA paranormal romance into the mix and include Angelfall. This post-apocalyptic love story is set a world that has been destroyed by an angel war.
Penryn’s mother is not wholly absent, like the mothers in many YA books are, but she’s crazy and volatile, so much so that she endangers her daughters at times… and as a result, the main character has to do most of the caring for her younger sister by herself. Her mother often shows up and plays a role in events, and even helps her daughters, but not in the ways you would expect a mother to.
A Game of Thrones
I think Cersei Lannister, Catelyn Stark, and Ellaria Sand are all some of the most prominent examples of fierce and protective mother characters out there, and it’s impressive that they’re all characters from the one series. Also I suppose even Daenerys is a “mother of dragons”.
They’re not all good people – and indeed Cersei is a character you love to hate – but they are certainly layered characters, and they will all go to extreme lengths to protect their children.
Stardust is a quirky, amusing, fairy-tale-like fantasy, and the main character’s mother plays a romanticised maternal role that fits the story’s style.
While Lady Una only really appears at the start and end of the story, her actions are important to all the events in between (including, unsurprisingly, Tristan being born!).[spoilers ahead:] In typical fairy tale fashion, her revelation that she is Tristan’s mother is also important because she is the long lost Queen, and that makes Tristan heir to the throne.
For links to more Tough Travelling posts, or to join in yourself, check out the host page on The Fantasy Hive.
And if you have your own favourite mothers from fantasy stories, feel free to mention them in the comments!