Tough Travels: Mothers

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

Book Cover: The Mists of AvalonIt’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)

Book Cover: The Northern LightsI’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.

Angelfall

Book Cover: AngelfallI 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

Book Cover: 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

Book Cover: Stardust

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.

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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!

< Last Month’s Tough Travels: ‘Apprentices’

26 thoughts on “Tough Travels: Mothers

  1. Pingback: Fantasy & Motherhood | WL Hawkin

  2. Wow, you’re right that so many fantasy characters have dead or absent mothers! Having said that, when the mothers are present, boy are they fascinating to behold. The Cersei Lannisters, Catelyn Starks, and “Lyra’s mother”s of fantasy are complex, well-thought out women who certainly inhabit the “grey areas” of morality (some more than others). I haven’t read Stardust, but the movie is one of my favourites!

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  3. You’re right about it being tough to think of mothers in fantasy (I always get stumped after Molly Weasley). Mrs Coulter is a good one- well, not good exactly 😉 And Penryn’s mother is a good one too. GOT definitely has the best variety of all different types of mothers- and of course, even if we love to hate Cersei, she’d do anything for her children (I used to get in frequent arguments with a professor about how dreadful he was, but he didn’t think she was that bad because she’s trying to be a good mother). And Dany definitely becomes a sort of mother to the dragons (and her people). I’ll grudgingly admit that Catelyn’s a good mother as well 😉 (though not to Jon) Ooh Lady Una is a great one!! Awesome post!

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    • Ah yes true I could have included Molly Weasley! I guess she just wasn’t as memorable for me as the others – definitely a prominent mother character though. And yes, Cersei would certainly do anything for her children… doesn’t make her a good person though, I agree with you and not the professor!! 🙂 Hehe yeah Catelyn definitely fails at mothering Jon, though she was mostly a good mother to the other Starks (even though she made some pretty poor choices). Thanks!!

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      • That’s totally fair- she’s just on my mind at the moment, cos I’m doing a reread of HP for the first time in years 😉 hehe I’m glad you agree with me!! Yeah definitely agree with you there (and yes, I’m glad you agree she made bad decisions, cos it’s something that really rubs me the wrong way!) You’re welcome!!

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  4. Less High Fantasy I know, but one mother I found really interesting was Buffy’s mother, Joyce Summers. She’s an interesting example of the difficulties of combining responsible parents into tales of children and young adults having adventures, but the plot keeps having to make her utterly oblivious to so many large chunks of her child’s life. Like Joyce is often shown as being worried and caring for her daughter, worried about her grades, her detentions, her getting into trouble, but at the same time even Buffy ends up pointing out that Joyce happily washes blood out of ripped clothing with nary a query about how her daughter got hurt. Joyce ends up having these huge blind spots, and the way the show has to deal with the repercussions of plot-mandated parental absence in the long-term is fascinating to me!

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    • That’s a really interesting example! Now you mention it I can think of a few other TV shows where keeping up the oblivious/largely-absent parent character got pretty strained and implausible after a while… though with Joyce it sounds like it got stretched to extremes. It’s funny Buffy even pointed that out! I guess because it’s quite a self-referential and funny show (or so I’ve heard) they don’t hesitate to do things like that. I’ve actually never seen the show – I don’t know why because I think it’s the kind of thing I’d enjoy and I’ve heard a lot about it. Maybe I will finally watch it one day.

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      • It certainly did have its moments and oh boy! did I forget how … 90s the 90s were!
        But I mostly remember it as the show that finally taught me why most writers end up killing the parents as early as possible! It’s hard to send kids off into life-threatening peril regularly and still look like a decent human being, much less a decent parent!

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  5. Have you read the Queens of Renthia series yet? There are just two books out so far, but the second, The Reluctant Queen, has a mother as the MC. Both books have been terrific, I think you’ll like them.

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  6. Great list, Nicola! While it might be cheating, I would add Wendy Darling from Peter Pan. She acts as the mother to all the lost boys and mimics the stereotypical British mother in many ways. I loved re-reading that series as an adult and reflecting on how Wendy’s motherhood is realistic, if overexaggerated.

    Molly Weasley, and even Narcissa Malfoy, should not be overlooked. They are both incredible mother figures in their own right.

    And, finally, one of my all-time favorite mother figures in fantasy: Alana from Saga. She is a caring mother figure while still kicking-ass and taking names. More like her, please!

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    • Thanks! That’s so true, Wendy Darling does play the role of a typical British mother even if she is not technically one – she’s a good choice. I hadn’t even thought about Narcissa but she’s an influential and protective mother character too, along with Molly. I have never read Saga but if I do I will keep my eye out for Alana now, she sounds great!

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      • I love Narcissa’s character development. While she isn’t introduced to us directly until later in the series, it’s obvious that she is a caring and protective mother first and foremost. I actually think the films do a great job bringing her character arc to the fore. She would have been an easy character to just let exist.

        Saga is a really fun twist on a sci-fi family-focused adventure. That said, don’t confuse family-focused with family-friendly. This graphic novel is certainly NSFW. 😉

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  7. I was a little disappointed not to see an actual MOTHERS entry in my copy of the Tough Guide! But I suppose that would be because they’re usually absent. xD

    I just started re-reading the Stormlight Archives. Many of the parents are absent/dead, as usual, but Navani (the mother of the king & Jasnah Kholin) is a pretty badass scholar-mom.

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    • Ah yes I noticed there was no Tough Guide quote this time round (the theme was picked because it was mother’s day in the UK, so not because of the guide) – that’s a shame! It does show their common absence I guess.

      I’m really keen to read the Stormlight Archives, it’s on my list for next time I allow myself go to a book store (I own too many unread books right now so until I whittle down the collection the book store is off limits 🙂 ). I look forward to being introduced to Navani!

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