The Good and The Bad – Memorable Moms in Literature

(We originally published this list in 2014, updated here to include links to the digital versions of each title where available.)

moms collage

Mothers play a lot of roles in literature, as in life. They can be protectors and nurturers,  oppressors and manipulators, or anything in between. One thing literary moms have in common, they are definitely memorable characters. For better or worse, here are some of literatures most memorable moms:

Sophie ZawistowskiSophie’s Choice. Sophie, a Polish survivor of the German Nazi concentration camps, may be one of the most tragic characters in 20th century fiction.  The plot ultimately centers around a tragic decision involving her children which Sophie was forced to make upon entering the concentration camp.

Mrs. BennetPride and Prejudice. Poor, misguided Mrs. Bennet. With 5 daughters to marry off, she’s got a lot of worries. Her priorities may not always be in the right place,  but she tries!

Charlotte HazeLolita. Falls squarely in the “bad” category.  She invites a pedophile to live in her home, doesn’t seem to think his avid interest in her young daughter is a little weird, then gets hit by a car and leaves said daughter with the world’s most inappropriate guardian. Lolita didn’t stand a chance.

Joan CrawfordMommie Dearest. One of the yardsticks we measure bad mothers against, Ms. Crawford is probably known more for her poor parenting than for her lengthy film career. No Wire Hangers Ever!

Molly WeasleyHarry Potter series. Mother of Ron, Mrs. Weasley is a desperately needed mother figure for our hero Harry. She is the center of a large and raucous family, by turns gentle nurturer and fierce defender. A mom with a magic wand is formidable indeed!

MaRoom. In this shocking and surprisingly tender story, woman and  her child are living in unspeakable circumstances. Jack’s mom, Ma, manages to make one small room feel like a whole world for her little boy, and is ultimately driven by her mother-love to try and break away from a very dangerous man.

Sarah WheatonSarah, Plain and Tall. Sarah answers an ad for a mail-order bride, and travels from Maine to Kansas to meet her future husband and become and instant mother to his two children. A multiple award winner, including the 1986 Newbery Medal.

 

CharlotteCharlotte’s Web.Charlotte the spider is very much a wise and loving mother figure to Wilbur the pig in this classic children’s book. She becomes his staunch defender, eventually saving his life. The end, with Charlotte’s life ending as her babies are coming into the world, is a total tearjerker.

Daenerys TargaryenA Song of Ice and Fire series. A rather non-traditional mom, Daenerys is the Mother of Dragons in George R. R. Martin’s wildly popular fantasy series. She’s had her hands full raising these fiery children. Whether she’s a good or bad mother has been debated, but there’s no doubt she’s her hands full raising these little monsters.

Eleanor IselinThe Manchurian Candidate. Bad mom, no debate here. Creepy and evil, this mom is the mastermind of a sinister plot that involves controlling her brainwashed son to unwittingly act as an assassin on orders from the KGB.

 

Ten Good Moms from Fiction

I’m not sure how the topic came up, but recently my daughter asked me if I could name the ten best moms from literature.

“What do you mean by best?” I countered. “Best written? Strongest? Nicest?”

“Just the ten best. I tried and couldn’t think of many, and the Internet wasn’t very helpful.”

“Well,” I began, resolved to be a good mom and take a stab at it. “How about Marmee from Louisa May Alcott’s  Little Women?”

“Yep, I thought of her. That’s one.”

Caroline Ingalls from the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.”

“That’s two.”

Molly Weasley from Harry Potter,” I said with a smile, thinking that this would be easy.

“Three.” She watched me.

Ma Joad from Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. She was the strong one in her family.”

She considered this. “Okay, Four.”

“Um…” I thought. And thought. “Kanga,” I said after a long silence.

“She’s a kangaroo!”

“She’s a mom, the mother of Roo in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books. She counts.”

She grinned. “Five. It’s not easy, is it? Shall we include Duchess the cat from The Artistocats?”

I ignored this.  “What about that series you liked when you were younger? The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede. Cimorene was a good mother.”

“Yeah, but she wasn’t a mom until the last book.”

“It counts,” I said sternly.

“Six.”

We looked at each other in silence.

“The six best moms of literature doesn’t sound too bad,” I suggested.

“If you write a blog about it, ten would sound better,” she challenged.

So I took my quest in to the library and started asking my colleagues.

“Marmee,” everyone immediately said.

I explained that I had already thought of her, my dilemma in not being able to find ten, and listed the six I had come up with.

Ramona and her motherRamona Quimby’s mom,” the library director, whose name is Ramona, too,  promptly said.

Seven.

“The mom in Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor,” one of the children’s librarians suggested. “Because a good mom  should be fun, too!”

Eight. I was inching closer to the magic number.

Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White,” the deputy director offered in an email later that day. “She is one of the best mothers in literature, both to her own future babies (whom she will never see, but provides for all the same) and of course Wilbur. And heroine of one of the best books of all times!”

Nine. One was a kangaroo and one was a spider, but I was not about to be picky.

Where, oh, where was the elusive ten?

It came, ironically, from the one who had started it all. When I went home that evening and listed the nine candidates, my daughter immediately said, “Keladry’s mom in the Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce. She was a good mom and could out fight any man. I thought of her after you went to work.”protector

Ten. The magic ten. I smiled. She smiled. And then she asked, “Are you going to make a list for the ten best fathers, too?”

“Ten best fathers in literature,” I began to muse.

Expect a sequel in June, folks.

Who would you put on a list of the ten best moms in literature? Make a suggestion in the comments!