1 April is my own private Mother’s Day—i.e. it’s my mother's birthday—and being Supernatural Underground day as well, that of course got me thinking about mothers in SFF.
By which I mean, SFF stories that are about women specifically as mothers: that maybe capture, just a little, what it means to be a Mom? And not just a bit part, but as a central character in a novel-length work?
What story immediately springs to mind for you?
The first Mom I thought of was in Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Wars—specifically, the Mom who ripped off a zombie’s head when it was about to take out her kids. Very “tigress defending her young”—but because there are so many “survivors” “interviewed” in World War Z, she doesn’t fit my “novel length work” criterion.
The most obvious contender, just because it’s recent, has to be Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, which tells the tale of steampunk heroine, Briar Wilkes. Briar risks all to enter—via dirigible, of course!—the zombie-infested precinct of alternate 19th century Seattle, all to rescue her teenage son, Zeke, who has foolishly ventured there in a quest to find his missing father. Briar is a feisty steampunk heroine, but most importantly, the raison d’etre behind her adventure is first and foremost about being a Mom.
Francesca Annis as Jessica
My second example was easy, too, and drawn from amongst my first forays into SFF. Yup, I’m talking about Frank Herbert’s Dune, where although the main character may officially be Paul Muad’dib, his mother, the Bene Gesserit, Jessica, gets almost as much air time. What a character she is: strong, resourceful, smart—and a Mom who is determined that her son’s going to survive against extreme odds, even if this means that she has to deny thousands of years of the Bene Gesserit tradition to which she belongs. I still recall how much I loved Jessica as a teen reader—her vulnerability and strength, her toughness and love for her son. A Mom and a mover-and-shaker at the same time: way to go, Jessica, I thought. I think that was my single greatest disappointment with the David Lynch movie version of Dune. OK, let’s be honest, there were a lot of disappointments, but the sharpest one was Jessica—I thought actress Francesca Annis was superbly cast in terms of her “look”, but her character was almost unrecognizable. Instead of being a Mom who was saving and protecting her son, they made her into a woman who needed her son to save and protect her.
My first and second choices may have been easy, but my third was more difficult. I considered Signe Barbentain in Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne, but decided that her primary role in the story is not really that of Mom. (She’s more “Grandmother-of-the-country”—and fantastic with it!) Mara of the Acoma from Janny Wurts and Raymond E Feist’s Empire series is also a strong contender—but in the end I went for the wizard, Jenny Waynest, in Barbara Hambly’s Dragonsbane. The thing about Jenny is that she’s struggling with what it means to be a wizard and yet also be a Mom and a partner to her kids’ father, John Aversin. In that sense she’s “everywoman”, wanting to love her kids and be a good Mom, yet still realise herself at the same time.
So in celebration of my own Mom’s birthday, these are my three great Moms of SFF: Briar Wilkes (Boneshaker), Jessica (Dune), and Jenny Waynest (Dragonsbane.)
How about you, Supe readers—what’s your favorite Mom-based story? Or just a favorite story about your Mom?
Supernatural Underground author Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet and interviewer. Her latest novel, The Heir of Night, the first of THE WALL OF NIGHT quartet, is recently published in the USA, UK, Australia & NZ. Her first novel, Thornspell, (Knopf, 2008) won the 2009 Sir Julius Vogel Award for “Best Novel, Young Adult.” Helen blogs every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really site and on the 1st of every month right here on the Supernatural Underground.