Tough Travelling: Mothers
Welcome to Tough Travelling, a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived on Fantasy Faction and now continued by the team here at the Hive, Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then submit the link at the end of this article!
This month, we’re searching for MOTHERS. Special thanks to T.O. Munro and Laura M. Hughes for contributing to the list below!
(The Malice by Peter Newman)
The goat featured amusingly well in Peter Newman’s debut The Vagrant, and in its sequel – The Malice set some years later we meet the kid, son of a goat. Like many young sons, kid aspires to the freedom of adulthood and being accepted on at least equal terms by his cantankerous mother. However, the lengthening years have only served to shorten the goat’s already frayed temper and there are many butts along kid’s road to glory. He journeys far south with the child Vesper – retracing his mother’s steps through a land of demonic flora and fauna returning older, stringer, wiser – but will that be enough to impress the mother with one of the strongest stomachs in fantasy? (verdict: bad mum)
Chenelo (Maia’s mother)
(The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison)
Maia was never meant to inherit the imperial throne. To a father with not just heir and spare but an extra one for good measure Maia was the unwelcome progeny of a purely diplomatic marriage. Effectively exiled to the country the young goblin’s childhood was spent in the company of his mother. Although – by the book’s opening – Chenelo has been dead some years, she lives on through the influences and memories she left her son with. The start of Maia’s unexpected reign cracks a brittle patriarchal autocracy with the gentle softness she bequeathed him. A positive endorsement of the Jesuit saying “Give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man.” (verdict: good mum)
Elona Paper (Leesha’s mother)
(The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett)
Peter Brett paints a variety of characters along a spectrum from awful to adorable. Elona belongs at the awful end of that scale. Shallow, deceitful, unfaithful and narcissitic, she is the nightmare mum that a girl would never want her friends to meet and certainly not her boyfriends. The speed of her rage only exceeded by the speed of her self-interest as Leesha her luckless daughter is alternately derided and embraced. If ever there was a character in the book that the reader willed the ground to open beneath and swallow whole it is Elona. (Verdict: bad mum)
Queen Laithlin (Yarvi’s mother)
(Half a King by Joe Abercrombie)
Like Maia the Goblin, Yarvi the throne but when his father and his brother fall to treachery the crippled prince turns to his mother for love and guidance. Laithlin appears cold, distant – she is the golden queen whose skill in commerce has built a national wealth that others envy. Married to two kings, mother to two more reminds me of that skilful medieval operator Eleanor of Aquitaine – wife to a king of France and a king of England, mother of Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland). The maker of deals, the weaver of gold, she is anything but a hands-on mother. For all her skills, the reader finds her as remote as her son does – a woman too difficult to impress, too formidable to cross. (Verdict: a great mother of gold, less so of people)
Mrs Coulter (Lyra Belacqua’s mother)
(His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman)
Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel were far too volcanic a pairing of parents to have lasted much longer in a relationship than the time it took to conceive Lyra. Believing her parents dead, Lyra then spent her youth in the care of the dusty masters of Jordan College Oxford, until Mrs Coulter appeared as patron to whisk her away to a world of elegant sophistication. However, Marisa’s motives are personal – an endless pursuit of power and greed to which she has sublimated every maternal instinct she ever had. At times those instincts rise up, trying to break through Mrs Coulter’s ice-cold ambition. The jury is out on whether those flashes of motherly compassion outweigh the myriad cruelties of her professional life. (Verdict: a curate’s egg of a mum – bit of a stinker tbh)
Ungoliant (Shelob’s mother)
(The Silmarillion/The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Her name means ‘dark spider’ and Ungoliant is certainly no Charlotte writing messages with her spinners to save Wilbur the pig. Ungoliant weaves a cloud of darkness within which Melkor assaults Valinor and destroys the twin trees that filled the divine land with their gold and silver light. She then helps Melkor steal the silmarils of Feanor, jewels that are the last place in which the trees’ beauty has been captured and preserved. Ungoliant’s path to motherhood is less well charted – as she disappeared into Ered Gorgoroth and reputedly satiated her hunger by devouring her mates and her own offspring and – eventually – herself. Shelob somehow emerged from this social-services nightmare and set up a lair in the shadow of Minas Morgul – a trap for weary ring-bearers. It is hard to say how far Shelob’s appetites were a matter of nature or nurture, of difficult upbringing or carnivorous tastes. However, it’s pretty safe to say, Ungoliant was neither a good example nor an attentive mother. (verdict: very bad mother)
I headed over to Westeros for most of this month’s inspiration. Once again, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire provided fertile ground as usual for a loving send-up of another fantastic fantasy trope.
Oh, Catelyn. Catelyn, Catelyn, Catelyn. First, you allowed your beloved daughter to be whisked away to the capital to be betrothed to a psychopath. You then spent weeks uselessly moping by your unconscious son’s bedside, totally neglecting your other kids, before irresponsibly abandoning them all to trek across country with a message you could have just entrusted to the bodyguard you dragged along with you. Later, you tagged along with your eldest son and his battle entourage, undermining his authority, releasing his prisoners, and totally ruining his street cred by marrying him off in exchange for a goddamn bridge (no wonder your not-so-well-laid plans went completely tits-up). And let’s not forget that you were a complete and utter BITCH to Jon Snow for his entire life, shutting him out of your family as though it’s his fault he’s a bastard and knows nothing.
Seven Hells, Catelyn. You’re nearly as bad as . . .
Lysa, your son is clearly far too old to breastfeed, so just STOP IT. Also, throwing people to their deaths on a regular basis right in front of him seems to have psychologically damaged him in some way. Stop doing that, too.
Still, you could be worse. You could be . . .
When it comes to protecting your children, Cersei, you’re totally ruthless. I get why you do some of the things you do – such as murdering your dead husband’s bastard babies in order to protect your own son’s inheritance – and really, the fierceness of your love for your three golden-haired offspring is admirable. However, it has to be said – and please don’t have me killed for this – that somewhat less admirable is the fact that your children’s father is actually your brother, Jaime, not to mention that your eldest son, Joffrey, was a cruel tyrant who was eventually murdered right under your very nose. Also, you and your brother then had sex next to your son’s corpse. NOT cool.
But at least you love your daughter, which is more than can be said for . . .
Selyse, I really need to tell you something: keeping the preserved bodies of your stillborn sons in glass jars, Devil’s Backbone-style, is downright creepy. Try paying some attention to your only living child, Shireen, for a change. What’s that? Shireen is disfigured by a disease known as grayscale, and you’re ashamed of her? Well, that’s stupid, it’s hardly her fault if- eh? You actually think the grayscale is punishment from the Red God for your daughter’s heretical nature? Are you kidding? Let me get this straight: you believe your daughter is completely worthless, and you continually try not only to leave her behind but also to prevent your husband Stannis from ‘wasting his time’ on the poor girl? Gah, may the Lord of Light pass judgment on your soul, you heartless bitch.
Perhaps a better role model can be found in . . .
Daenerys, you’re an unusual example of a mother because technically you have no kids. And no one can blame you for that: I mean, it’s hardly your fault that you traded away the life of your unborn son in exchange for saving your zombiefied warlord husband in a failed dodgy black magic ritual. But just because you have no children of your own doesn’t mean that you can’t be a surrogate mother to others: after all, thousands of the common folk of Slaver’s Bay affectionately refer to you as ‘Mhysa’, which means ‘mother’, after you demonstrated your maternal instincts by crucifying their masters and leaving their cities in a state of anarchy. And let’s not forget you are the Mother of Dragons – though perhaps we should forget that when your wayward ‘children’ got out of hand you chained them up inside a dark cave where even the R.S.P.C.A couldn’t find them. Perhaps you should have tried teaching them the Valyrian equivalent of ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ and ‘stop eating people’ before you taught them ‘dracarys’.
All you Westerosi mums should have taken advice from . . .
(The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham)
Clara, you’re a total darling. When your poor husband was executed as a traitor, you elected to live in poverty and shame in order to protect your sons. Not only did you ostracise yourself from society so that your sons could keep their positions of safety, but you also overcame your own ingrained social prejudices in order to fully welcome your new daughter-in-law to your family.
Clara, you’re lovely. But the Mum of the Month award has to go to . . .
(The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)
Ah, good old Molly. There is nothing you won’t do for your seven children – except, you know, get a job and actually help your husband to financially support your struggling family. Still, you always have your children’s best interests at heart, whether you’re feeding them up with extra dinner portions, knitting them awesome jumpers, bollocking them for their mischievousness, or spending your last sickle to buy them their school supplies. You’re the solid rock at the heart of the Weasley family, and you act like a mother to everyone, whether they’re your own kids or not. Congratulations, Molly, you’re the best mum in fantasy fiction and I love you.
Bonus points go to…
(The Bloodline trilogy by T.O. Munro)
The theme of motherhood plays a huge role in this series, which is populated with strong, unique female characters. As evidenced above, so much of fantasy focuses on brutality and poor role models that it’s easy to lose sight of the positive aspects of this particular side of femininity.
Not so the Bloodline trilogy. In addition to Niarmit, who is a sort-of mother figure to damaged teen Hepdida, Giseanne is a perfect example of a woman – and a princess, and a mother, and a wife – who is emotionally strong without being cold.
In short, Giseanne is loyal, smart, practical, and warm. She’s a great role model for her own child, as well as some of the other less privileged characters in the series.
Tough Travelling is going on hiatus for a while. Thanks to everyone who’s joined us in the past!