Welcome to this month’s Tough Travelling with The Fantasy Hive and Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
Each month, we look at a different fantasy trope and explore our favourite examples in fantasy literature. This month, to celebrate (belatedly) Mother’s Day (stop panicking, the UK version) we’re looking at Mothers.
Missing Mothers is itself a common trope in Fantasy, so I’m going to list some of my favourite Active Mothers first, then make some honourable mentions.
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
There’s a gaping lack of mothers in Tolkien’s The Hobbit and his Lord of the Rings trilogy; and the one that is present doesn’t make a big song and dance of being one either. But according to LotR lore, Galadriel is mother to Celebrian; wife of Elrond and in turn mother to Elrohir, Elladan and Arwen.
Although there are references to these relationships, they are missing from the two bodies of works of his that I’ve actually read; we have the parental relationship between Elrond and Arwen and of course Denethor, Boromir and Faramir, but very little (as I recall) is made of the relationship between Galadriel and Arwen. It creates a sense that our characters are isolated from familial ties, it encourages a sense of coming together; creating their own family bonds in order to face their ordeals and preserve the land and ideals of their absent loved ones.
The Discworld Series by Sir Terry Pratchett
The Discworld has plenty of mothers but my favourite, of course, is Nanny Ogg. She is the archetype matriarchal figure; having outlived three husbands, she has fifteen children and an unmentioned number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All referred to with pretext “our”, something I previously hadn’t experienced until I met my in-laws.
Nanny Ogg didn’t care much about what people knew and even less for what they thought, and lived in a new, knick-knack crowded cottage in the middle of Lancre town itself and at the heart of her own private empire. Various daughters and daughters-in-law came in to cook and clean on a sort of rota. Every flat surface was stuffed with ornaments brought back by far-travelling members of the family. Sons and grandsons kept the logpile stacked, the roof shingled, the chimney swept; the drinks cupboard was always full, the pouch by her rocking chair always stuffed with tobacco. Above the hearth was a huge pokerwork sign saying “Mother”. No tyrant in the whole history of the world had ever achieved a domination so complete.
A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R. R. Martin
Again, Martin has some fantastic mothers in his series; although Cersei Lannister is up there as one of my most hated characters (manipulative bitch that she is), oddly she’s one of my favourite mothers? I’ve never pretended that I make sense in any way.
There aren’t any lengths Cersei wouldn’t go to for her children; its as if Martin thought, “if you had kingdom at your disposal what would you do to aid the furtherment of your own family”.
But of course, no-one gets it easy in Martin’s series and mothers are absolutely no exception.
The Thursday Next Series by Jasper Fforde
It has been quite Some Time since I read these wonderful books, but I have the vague memory of Thursday being a mother (in quite a complicated way; the books feature rather a lot of time travel).
Thursday is mother to Tuesday, Friday and Jenny; the youngest being named so as “one of us should have a semblance of normality”.
I really must organise a re-read at some point soon.
Devinia the Red
The Silver Tide by Jen Williams
Devinia the Red is a notorious pirate; she is fearsome, ambitious, and lethal. She is also the mother of one of my favourite ever fantasy characters; Wydrin, the Copper Cat of Crosshaven.
It’s a wonderfully complicated relationship; a childhood shared between parents, one of which is a pirate. An aloof mother, judgemental, cold; but truthfully beneath that fiercely proud and protective.
Fans of Devinia should know there’s some fantastic original fiction about her over on Jen Williams’ Patreon page!
The woman looked as though she was in her fifties, with deep red hair tumbling in an untidy cloud to the middle of her back… There was a pair of well-used cutlasses at her belt, along with a range of smaller daggers.
‘Who is it?’ There was a look of sheer alarm on Wydrin’s face now… ‘Is this one of the pirates you’ve angered?’
‘You could say that.’
The man was still shouting, his face growing redder and redder. The woman with the cutlasses seemed to grow abruptly tired of it, and in the middle of his rant she reached out with both hands, grabbed hold of his shirt, and brought her forehead up smartly to meet his nose.
Godblind by Anna Stephens
Anna Stephens’ incredible Godblind features a diverse cast of characters; complicated personalities some of which pass through many shades of ambiguity.
Gilda is “midwife, priestess, counsellor” and mother, holding together not only her own family but cleansing and tending to the children of her gods.
Her knuckles slammed into Lanta’s right eye and buckled her legs. She screamed with pain and shock and Gilda had the satisfaction of seeing tears stain her perfect, satin cheeks and red blood pump from her nostril.
Gilda looked out at the stunned army and shook the pain from her hand. ‘That’s what the Dances says,’ she shouted into the silence and cackled.
Any mother that cackles is good in my books. I may have been known to occasionally cackle…
Honourable Mentions: Missing Mothers
It’s a common theme; emotional trauma brought upon the absence of a mother’s love. Lets look at some of our favourite orphans:
Subei, Servant of Rage by A. Z. Anthony
In a culture where upholding your family name and honouring your ancestors is everything, Subei has neither; the lone survivor of a brutal attack, he must find a way to forge his own family name.
Prince Jorg, The Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence
Witness to the horrific murder of his mother and younger brother, Jorg is driven by a horrific dose of Survivor’s Guilt; the emotional trauma leaves him deeply damaged.
Locke Lamora, The Gentleman Bastard Series by Scott Lynch
We know very little about the hows and whys of Locke’s parents’ deaths; but suffice to say it led to the kind of difficult childhood where you learn to adapt pretty sharpish.
Kvothe, The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss
Kvothe’s entire way of life is wiped out one night by the chandrian; what ensues is a (very slow) quest for vengeance.
Arya Stark, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
Now obviously all the Stark children have been orphaned by the deaths of their parents, but I wanted to shout out to Arya, whose witnessing the beheading of her father brought about the creation of the infamous List. She’s far more successful at vengeance than everyone else on this list so far.
Corporal Carrot Ironfoundersson, The Discworld Series by Sir Terry Pratchett
Although there are rumours of Carrot’s ancestry, all we know for definite is he is an orphan raised by dwarfs. Being biologically human, and a tall one at that, growing up was particularly difficult.
Who is your favourite mother in fantasy?