Mother Characters in Geeky Literature: Pass the Test!

Thursday Next from the SpecOps, beside her painted car
Retinal Screensaver 1. SpecOps PR shot of Thursday

As a new mum and a compulsive reader, I’m beginning to feel concerned about the lack of cool moms “role models” in literature, especially geeky literature like fantasy, comic books and so on.

Are you feeling the same?

Even in books I love, even with authors who build great female characters, I find very few strong characters of mothers. It appears that other people (even men) are feeling the same, since they spent some Mother’s Days trying to uncover such characters.

March 12, 2010 (British Mother’s Day) : The Times Online had fun to classify “Great Literary Matriarchs” using an acrostic and categories’ names worthy of Lemony Snicket’s titles.

Of course “matriarch” isn’t a synonym of “mother”, and the writer includes Adversarial Aunts and Rigid Regals. Their examples come from classical literature, not especially geeky books, but are quite easy to transpose: Cersei Lannister from G. R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire would be a mix of Rigid Regal and Manipulative Meddler.

Anyway, which of you Geek Moms want to identify with “Absolute Angels” mothers or “Ruthless Ravagers” types? The very names confirm the problem. A few days earlier, Geek Dad had offered its own list of “Top 10 Mothers in Science Fiction and Fantasy”.Some of them are really cool, of course, like Cordelia Vorkosigan and Helen Parr from The Incredibles.

But I strongly disagree with a few others.

Martha Kent. Padme Amidala? Please!

Even GeekDad author Matt Blum sounds sometimes embarrassed with his own choices:

“yes, we know, she never actually had the opportunity to be a mother to Luke and Leia. And she did spend most of Episode III sitting at home being pregnant and spouting mind-numbingly bad dialogue.”

(Actually she gets one single good line in Episode III : “So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.”) And what about Mrs Weasley? I know she gets her kickass scene against Bellatrix at the end, and I enjoyed it, but that’s only one moment in seven books!

As movies have their Bechdel Test, let’s have a GeekMom Test for books and comic books we love.

To pass the test, female characters who happen to become mothers shall :

1. be and remain main characters. They DON’T quickly fade into the background, even less conveniently die in childbirth or a few years later.
That’s why delightful Dunizel in Tanith Lee’s Tales From The Flat Earth doesn’t qualify.

2. share (at least part-time) the life of their children. They DON’T leave their children in the care of some nanny type, only to remember them  from time to time. That would be too easy! In which are they even mothers if they do that?

That’s why Morgaine in Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon doeesn’t qualify.

3. still have issues of their own. They DON’T care only about their children, becoming a “Molly Weasley” type or a figure meaningful only for the wonderful offspring she gave the world.
That’s why Lady Jessica Atreides in the Dune series doesn’t qualify.

One might notice a common variant to item 3 : if something happens to their children, they become another archetype, the Fury who’ll do anything to save/avenge her child (Kill Bill‘s Bride, or Lyta Hall in The Sandman). And once they succeed? End of story.

That’s all very well, but what about real moms? Characters being in the same time mothers and independent persons, trying to conciliate all these concerns, which is one of the major challenges in motherhood?

Here’s the few ones I found, in addition to the ones already listed by GeekDad.
1. the wonderful Thursday Next in Jasper Ffforde’s novels.
She’s the best GeekMom Role Model I found. She kicks ass, even in her fifties. She’s a literary geek who sometimes hunts vampires and meets the Cheshire Cat. Her father’s in Time Travel, her uncle is the ultimate science geek (I highly recommend the Entroposcope, very easy to craft and very handy for any GeekMom careful of Entropy Level in her house). Her husband is a stay-at-home writer, and her kids are perfect geeklings (Friday seems to be the “tedious teenage cliché: grunting, sighing at any request, and staying in bed until past midday” but is much much more ; Tuesday is a mathematical genius, who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem at the age of 9). Another thing I love about her is that she’s not the typically “young and beautiful mother”. She married and had children in her thirties and she’s never said to be especially gorgeous.

Catelyn Stark
Catelyn Stark, wife of Lord of Winterfell Ned Stark, portrayed by Michelle Fairley in HBO's upcoming series. (Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO)

2. Catelyn Stark in G. R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. She’s the loving and realistic mother of five very different children, and manages to be in the same time a wife, a lady with a political mind and sometimes a warleader. She inspires admiration and loyalty, even to other women with no boon to the family (like Brienne, another great female character, but not a mother).

3. Phedre, Melisande and Ysandre… almost every character from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series.
The main character Phedre chooses to become an adoptive mother and loses none of her brains, neither her sex-appeal nor her adventuring tendencies. Ysandre is a queen, with many enemies, a surprising loving marriage and two daughters: that’s a lot to manage and she does it brilliantly!
Melisande is the series’ recurring villain, and that would almost be enough to qualify. Though item 2’s dubious in her case, motherhood changes very subtly her character, far from any stereotype.

4. Miranda Belmonte d’Alvede from Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of al-Rassan.
I’m not sure Miranda’s a main character or not. But she’s a concerned mother of teenage twin boys, the high-born wife of the Captain modeled after El Cid, she’s got a sharp tongue, a fighting side and a quite funny bondage love scene. She had to be there!

What about you?
Do you agree with the lack of cool mom’s models?
Could you propose characters who fill the 3 criteria?

Comment accordingly in the GeekMom forums! Comments have been disabled on this post to allow for further discussion.

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The GeekMom blog is captained by Jenny Bristol and Corrina Lawson, and supported by a brilliant team of writers. Since launching in 2010, we’ve created a robust community of writers, readers, and media geeks, dedicated to the vision of creating a smart, savvy, social online experience for geek parents everywhere.