Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. It was recently Mother’s Day in other parts of the world (we do it earlier here in the UK), so today is all about Mum.
I’ve struggled this week – few books I read are driven by maternal relationships (so I’m sure I’m forgetting some great peripheral Mums) and far too many genre novels kill parents off early as ‘motivation’ (GAH). There’s also a big gap between characters driven by being mothers vs characters who happen to be mothers – I adore Admiral Roland, but she won’t make my list because we never really see her as a mother. In fact, I’m not sure she and Emily ever inhabit the same scene. It was late in the day that I realised I could have gone with Fictional Mum (i.e. if a character could be my Mum), but I am slightly uncomfortable with the angle – I’m not trying to replace you, Mum!
So, let’s take a quick breeze through some fictional Mums I appreciate for their approach to motherhood.
Taveth (Lifelode – Jo Walton)
Taveth is the calm centre her unusual family revolves around – her ‘magic’ is home-making (and an unconventional lived experience of time, but that’s less relevant). I love how she accepts her children, even when they choose paths alien to her: magic, asexuality, education – and how she remains distinct as her own person, with her own desires.
Phedre no Delaunay (Imriel trilogy – Jacqueline Carey)
Phedre is a brave, glamorous heroine in her own trilogy, but I love how she steps freely into the role of Mum for Imriel. In his trilogy we see how she supports and protects him, never stinting on love for the damaged son of her arch-enemy – and frees him to follow his own path. She’s an epic foster Mum.
Mrs Frisby (Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – Robert O’Brien)
Let’s hear it for indomitable mousewives! Mrs Frisby raises her children alone after her husband’s death, and I will never get over her journey from worried mother to epic heroine facing down cats, rats and owls to ensure their safety. Everything Gandalf ever said about small hands? Move over Frodo, Mrs Frisby did it with more grace.
Mara of the Acoma (Empire trilogy – Janny Wurts and Raymond Feist)
Mara of the Acoma is a kick-ass character by any measure, and I am perhaps including her here for the wrong reasons – but as her motivations switch from her own survival to securing a future for her children, she gets a spot here for being Totally Heroic Fantasy Mum.
Jo Bhaer (Little Men – Louisa May Alcott)
Of all the Little Women, Jo would have been voted Least Likely To Get All Maternal. But as a clever, independently-minded woman who retains her broad streak of mischief, she turns out to be a brilliant foster mother cum educator and I unexpectedly loved the book about her school.
Of course, literature is awash with terrible mothers, too. Wicked stepmothers, controlling mothers, vicious mothers-in-law – the archetypes can be exhausting and demoralising. Still, I love to hate some of them so I couldn’t resist doing this Top Ten as a half and half.
Ungoliant (The Silmarillion – JRR Tolkien)
Tolkien was rubbish at writing women, but his Spider Queen of Shadow – peripheral at best – leaves a big impression. More than just Morgoth’s sidekick, she bites a god’s hand off; fills the world with terrifying spiders (Shelob is one of her many children); and remains unvanquished save by her own hunger. Let’s hear it for an all-out mythic villain.
Mrs Bennett (Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen)
Oh, Mrs Bennett. She’s awful. I can’t stand her, even while I laugh at her. But I’m not sure any list of literary Mamas is complete without her, so she gets to stand in for all the classical mothers that I have hated over the years.
Patience (The Republic of Thieves – Scott Lynch)
I’m giving Archedama Patience a spot because I love her as a character, but she’s a dreadful mother. I mean, her son is an over-the-top villain in his own right, but Patience’s manipulative approach to, well, everything is the very opposite of loving or maternal. The fact we cheer her is by the by. Or I did. Sorry, I’m dreadful too.
Elizabeth Sanderson (Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss)
The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity. The religious daughter of a devout family is the least likely woman to marry a pre-Raphaelite artist, and she’s every bit as harsh a mother as you might imagine. This book is exquisite, and Mrs Sanderson is the unlovable, relentless engine that drives it: unexpectedly feminist, unforgivably unsympathetic.
Mama Papaver (Split Worlds – Emma Newman)
Cathy’s Mum is a woman entirely willing to drug her daughter into an immortal marriage, all the while reminding Cathy that she’s a disappointment and they always loved her sister best. We’re meant to hate the Nether: Mama Papaver is just the first of many effective demonstrations of just how poisonous it is. I don’t love to hate her; I want to see her world burn.
Dishonourable mention goes to Dajeil in Excession – who see only as an expectant mother – but that’s quite bad enough thanks.
Do you have any favourite literary Mums you love / love to hate?