In honor of Mother's Day, I've been thinking about mothers in middle grade sci fi and fantasy. How many mothers are there in mg sff who are not a. dead b. evil c. virtually non-existent by virtue of being depressed/insane/preoccupied with their own lives? From the fairy tales of the nineteenth-century on to the present, there have been so many, many orphans. So many, many, children of absent and evil mothers. And even when a mother might be "good" (which is to say, involved and caring), often she is an impediment (actual or emotional) to the magical journey of the child protagonist (as in The Puzzle Ring, by Kate Forsyth).
I just went through all 156 posts I've written about middle grade books (most of which are fantasy), and found only one really nice mother (in The House on Mayferry Street, by Eileen Dunlop, from the 1970s). Moving beyond the books I've written about, I could only think of one contemporary series where there is someone who meets my criteria for a "good mother" -- Sarah Heap, in the Septimus Heap series. She genuinely cares about all her children, she's there for them, and she's not evil or dead. Casting my mind further back in time, I rather like the mother of Will Stanton in The Dark is Rising, a book in which the hominess of Will's home makes the magic stand out ever so clearly. And that's about all that's coming to mind.
It's not at all surprising that there are so few good mothers in this genre, and, in fact, I thought of sub-titleing this post "should there be Good Mothers in sci fi fantasy?" I think that one of the reasons kids read these books is to escape their own lives, to explore and try on other personas. Fantasy offers metaphors that can be brought home--ways of re-casting issues from the real world. And so one does not necessarily want the Good Mother casting her shadow of stifling love over the realm of the imagination. (For Good Mother as Nightmare, Neil Gaiman's Coraline is the obvious choice, although The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown, is a close second).
As I was going through the mg sff books I've reviewed, I ticked them off in my mind--dead, dead, absent, dead, evil, dead, dead, dead. There are a huge number of dead mothers (fathers, not so much). It's rather sad that so many authors are killing the mothers--as a mother myself, I don't want to be cut out of my sons' journey toward growing up (and I want to stay alive, thanks very much). I don't want to be cast an impediment that will hold them back. And I think this is one of the reasons I am very fond of the Septimus Heap books is that Angie Sage makes Sarah a loving mother, without, in any way, impinging on the magical experiences her stories offer either the characters or the readers.
If I am missing any obvious (or even not so obvious) good mothers, let me know!
(for those who want to read more about parents, this time in contemporary YA literature, here's a NY Times article from April entitled The Parent Problem in YA Literature, and here's Liz's response at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy).