It’s easy to come up with a list of awful mothers and fathers in science fiction and fantasy stories, and almost just as easy to come up with examples of super awesome SF/F moms and dads. But what about all those in between? Most of us would probably locate our own parent/child relationships somewhere in the middle. Here’s a continuum of ten relationships organized from most awesome to positively hellish. Where does your relationship with your parents fit in? Spoilers for all titles involved.
Harry may not have had a particularly long-lasting relationship with his mom and dad, but that’s only because they laid down their lives for him. That pretty much makes them -and especially Lily – the Jesus of all parents. And if we go by Deathly Hallows, they’ve been by Harry’s side all along. Maybe if Lily and James had stuck around a little longer we’d see a less idealized version of them as parents, but since we don’t, they are pretty secure as the cream of the crop.
Yes, there were moments in which these two failed to understand each other. Bill had certain expectations and Lee had certain ideals they didn’t always share, but overall they were a healthy family unit. And their differences in opinion forced them both to grow so that instead of father always teaching the child, the child taught plenty of lessons to the father. Ask any other BSG fans who tear up when they hear “A Good Lighter” and I guarantee they will attest that there are few father-son relationships more touching, hard times included.
If you just escaped the police, dusted a vampire in your own home, and told your mom you were a vampire slayer what kind of reaction would you expect? Probably not a very favorable one. Joyce Summer’s greatest misstep as a parent was born out of this situation when she gave Buffy an ultimatum that forced her to run away from home. There are a few other less-than-ideal parental responses sprinkled throughout the show, but once Joyce comes to terms with Buffy’s role as vampire slayer, the two develop a healthy respect for each other that stands in refreshing contrast to many other fictional mother-daughter relationships that showcase cattiness and other sexist clichés.
Coraline’s mother might not be much fun or all that attentive, but she loves her daughter and treats her well. She’s the real deal without any mushy stuff or made-for-tv maternal drama. When Coraline meets her Other Mother she thinks she’s found someone better: someone who caters to her every wishes and fills her world with magic. But in the end Coraline comes to appreciate the boring version of motherhood. Her real mother might not be a Bewitched-style Martha Stewart, but it turns out she’s just what Coraline needs, and the audience sees from Gaiman’s fairy tale that perhaps average parenting is more or less good parenting.
The Hunger Games books make it clear that Katniss’s mom has checked out. She is physically present and maintains a home for her children, but a weakness in her character makes her useless in almost every other maternal capacity. Katniss ends up mothering her mother more than Mrs. Everdeen ever mothers her or Prim. We can have sympathy for Katniss’s mother – after all, her husband died young and she has to watch her children suffer through miserable existences – but her absentness verging on emotional neglect makes her a poster parent for what I would define as the turning point on this continuum between the good and bad.
Some people aren’t cut out to be parents: Cersei fits that model. She is closer to eh middle of this continuum because she truly loves, raises and promotes her kids. She’s a lioness protecting her cubs, but she lacks the capacity for expressing her fierce love for her children in ways that aren’t destructive to their ultimate well-being. That becomes especially problematic when the children you’re doing a shitty job raising are inheritors of the throne. One bad mother and the entire kingdom suffers.
No matter how awesome a father might treat one child, if he treats his other child like dirt he is still a bad parent. In the official parenting handbook, favoritism gets a big red X, and sending your unfavorite son on a suicide mission that you know he’ll accept because he wants to earn your respect even though you don’t deserve it gets about a hundred red X’s. Denethor would be lower on this continuum except he seems to see the error of his ways when he believes Faramir to be dead. I guess throwing himself on the funeral pyre of his previously unfavorite son in grief allows us to erase a few red X’s from his ledger.
Torture your daughter, dismember your son, (unintentionally) kill their mother….these are the signs of a parent who needs a restraining order. Yet he seems to have a kernel of fatherliness tucked inside him somewhere. After all, he really wants Luke to join him (it’s kind of sweet in a universe-dominating way), and his final character arc is one of redemption. He’s a shitty dad for sure, but if he hadn’t died, we might have seen Vader acting more on the “good parent” side of things. Since this would have been awkward in the same way that watching a Voldemort hug is unbearably awkward, it’s probably best that Lucas offed him.
Tywin Lannister – the man on this continuum who dwells on the importance of family more than anyone else is the worst father of them all. Ironic, isn’t it? For Tywin, family legacy and honor mean more than the individuals who actually comprise his family. He’s okay with ruining Tyrion’s first marriage and the prospect of Tyrion dying later in the series; he’s okay with the prospect of Cersei marrying someone who will not make her happy; and he’s fine with berating Jamie for seeking a life of honor in the Kingsguard. As long as all his children are his pawns and uphold the family name he’s happy. Unlike Denethor and Vader, there is no redemption for him. The only thing that keeps Tywin from being at the very bottom of this continuum is that he never attempts to kill any of his children himself (although…that might be open to interpretation). And I suspect that the only reason he doesn’t is that such an act would be a stain on the House of Lannister.
If Lily and James are the Jesus of parents, Margaret White is the Satan. She tries to kill her daughter when she’s an infant, she abuses her physically and emotionally, and the two eventually fight to the death. When Carrie finally vanquishes her mother, who is undeniably the source of all the misery in her life, she says, “You gave me darkness instead of love, Momma; now I’m going to give you darkness, so you can join whatever god lives there.” There is absolutely no love in this relationship and can only be called a mother-daughter relationship in the strictest biological sense.
Where would some other big name SFF parents fall on the continuum?