Mothers in fantasy

By Scott Bury

Hindu Mother Goddess Durga

Hindu Mother Goddess Durga Creative Commons

One of the best aspects of writing fantasy is that it allows authors to play with characters and to compare ideas about archetypes. All fiction enables that, but with fantasy, we have more scope and can make more extreme comparisons.

As Mother’s Day is tomorrow, I thought I’d explore the presentation of mothers in fantasy. I don’t think mothers get much attention in our genre. There are not many mothers to be found in science fiction.

The Hunger Games series portrays the protagonist’s mother mostly as a victim, someone who suffers through her life in vain hope that her children will live.

Classic fantasy novels don’t spend much time on mothers, either. For example, in Lord of the Rings, nearly all the mothers are dead: Aragorn’s mother was killed by Orcs a half-century before the story begins; Arwen’s mother was wounded and goes to the West centuries before that; Bilbo’s parents are long gone, and Frodo’s mother and father drowned, again well off stage.

In A Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin, to his credit, has a number of main characters who are mothers: Lady Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Samwell’s friend Gilly, to name just a few. Then there is the Mother Goddess, one of the Seven in his invented religion.

I may be wrong, because I have not done an exhaustive analysis, but I think that Martin is unusual in giving that much attention to the mother archetype.

Three sides of the Mother

As a writer, I enjoy the ability to explore different aspects of a number of character types. In my epic fantasy (historical magic realism), The Bones of the Earth, a lot of things come in threes, including three main mother figures:

  • the hero’s literal mother, Ketia
  • Mother Tiana, head of the order of nuns of Chalkoprateia in Constantiople
  • Kriemhild, mother of the main love interest, Danisa.

The suffering, supportive mother

The hero’s literal mother, Ketia, is close to the standard mother character in most fantasy works these days. She’s a nurturer and care-giver to her husband and child. A hard worker accustomed to suffering because of the poverty she and her people live in. Following this trop, she’s ultimately a victim, too.

Triple Goddess

Triple Goddess by NinfeAde, licensed under Creative Commons

The wise mother

The next mother figure in The Bones of the Earth is Mother Tiana. As Abbess of the convent of Chalkoprateia in Constantinople, she’s the stand-in mother for all the women in the convent, and in a more limited sense, for the men in the next-door monastery, as well. She plays an important role in the story and in the life of the main character, Javor.

Tiana represents what a mother can be. She is

  • protective of the hero, Javor
  • pious and gentle
  • wise, figuring out things that the men around her could not
  • the wife of a father-figure (yes, she’s an abbess and a wife. If that sounds complicated, read the book!)

Writing a character like Tiana allowed me to bring out important aspects that I think anyone would want in a mother: strength juxtaposed with vulnerability; surprising abilities; having old, arcane knowledge contrasted with an ability to think on her feet.

The evil mother

Kriemhild statue

Statue of Kriemhild. Wikimedia Commons.

The final mother character, Kriemhild (also known as Ildico—look that up), is the opposite of what any of us would want our mothers to be: controlling her husband and children, she’s destructive instead of nurturing in her pursuit of her own ambitions.

Writing an evil character who will do anything to achieve what she wants, can be a lot of wicked fun.

It’s also enjoyable as a writer to put different sides of the same archetype in the same room and see what will happen. What happened when the good mother met the bad mother? What do you expect?

I’d love to read anyone else’s analysis of different sides of the same stock character in a fantasy novel. What are your thoughts?


Scott Bury is author of the historical magic realism/fantasy novel The Bones of the Earth, urban fantasy short story Dark Clouds and other works of various genres. Follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.


One comment on “Mothers in fantasy

  1. I agree that Mothers seem to get short press in a lot of speculative fiction. Sheri S Tepper does an interesting job with Mothers in her book “The Gate” to Women’s Country”. The archetypes explored, I think, are the stateswoman vs the nurturer. The two main characters are strong women and mothers who learn what it is to balance family and tribe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s