To celebrate Mother's day, I decided to write a post about the mother/child relationship in children fantasy books.
It seemed a good idea until, after looking for examples in my favorite ones, I came to realize mothers are a rare commodity in them, and the loving, nurturing type even more so.
It does make sense, for it's the golden rule of writing a book for children that children must get into and out of trouble on their own, and nothing would spoil their independence faster than a good, caring mother. So what is a writer to do with mothers if she wants the children to, realistically, become the protagonists of their own stories? Eliminate them of course.
The easiest, most drastic way to do so is to kill them. This is what Disney's writers did in Bambi, traumatizing in the process, generations of kids.
But, if doing the killing half way into the story was a new concept, the theme of the dead mother seems to be, not the exception, but the rule in the oldest of the children's stories, the Fairy Tales.
Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty in Beauty and the Beast, they all have lost their mother and in two of these cases they have also gained an evil step mother in the process. A great move from a story telling perspective, for, this way, the story gains a worthy antagonist, creating conflict even before the protagonist leaves her home.
In another group of tales the mother is not dead, but absent from the story. This is best accomplished if the protagonist(s) is, either forced to leave home (Hansel and Gretel), or decides to leave in want of adventures. East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and The Snow Queen belong to this last group.
A satisfying ending, in these cases, includes a return home and the reunion of a wiser protagonist with the Mother figure (sometimes a grandmother).
Fairy tales where the mother is the protagonist are rare. Among them, Rumplestiltskin comes to mind. And also, in modern fiction, Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, a dark retelling of Snow-White and Rose-Red, in which the protagonist is a teenage mother and the story centers in her unconditional love for her two daughters.
Although how they deal with the mother may not be a conscious decision, all writers must do so in order to ensure that their protagonists start their journey into adulthood.
For instance, while writing this, I realized that my YA novel, Two Moon Princess, belongs to the 'absent mother/return home' category. Andrea, the protagonist of the story, runs away from home. Twice. But only after solving her conflicted relationship with her mother, she's really able to leave.
Which category better fits your own book or your favorite one?