Fourteen Ways To Depict Fictional Mothers (Part II)

In the previous blog post, we began a miniseries on the fourteen ways to depict fictional mothers. There, we looked at conventionally ‘strong’ mothers. In this blog post, we shall look at some very different sorts of mothers, and the effect that these mothers have had on their children in stories.

6 – The Mother Who Is Never Mentioned

The sixth of the fourteen ways to depict fictional mothers surrounds the mother who is never mentioned. Mothers are one of the two parents necessary for procreation. Therefore, one would think that mothers have an important part to play in the main character’s personality.

However, in a lot of fairy tales and Disney films, it’s as if the central protagonist’s mother never existed.

Example – The Little Mermaid (1989)

The Little Mermaid kicked off the Disney Renaissance in 1989. It is a brilliant film and a classic. But one glaring omission is that Ariel, the main character, never mentions her mother. She never asks her father about her and no-one even makes a comment about Ariel’s mother either. This is bizarre as (surely) Ariel had a mother? How else was she born?

Nevertheless, if one were to speculate about the effect of having a never-mentioned mother on Ariel, maybe it explains why she is so keen to leave the underwater world that her father rules? Indeed, maybe the lack of a mother explains why Ariel is so keen to explore the land above?

Arial singing the ‘I want’ song (Part of Your World), wherein she expresses her desire to see the world above surface.

7 – Mentioned, But Not Involved

One level up from never being mentioned is… being mentioned. Some mothers in fiction and fantasy are mentioned, but they are not involved in their children’s lives for one reason or another. This can have wide-ranging implications on the child’s behaviour, both towards his/her mother and his/her peers.

Example – Whiplash

As was discussed in one of the blog posts on fathers of fiction/fantasy, Andrew’s father brought him up as a single-parent. During the course of the narrative, Andrew mentions his mother once. That’s it. All that we know is that she left him when he was baby.

Andrew seems to have little remorse or care for his mother. (It’s hard to blame him, to be honest.) But, perhaps, the absence of his mother is a reason for why he is socially incapable? This is particularly true when it comes to how he treats the girl he tries to date, Bicole (Melissa Benoist).

8 – Present, But Not Prominent

Another of the fourteen ways to portray fictional mothers is the mother who is present, but not prominent in the child’s life. At face value, this seems absurd considering that the mother gives birth to the child.

Nonetheless, at least the mother is in seen in the narrative. Plus, as she is there, she can have a part to play (however small) in the story. 

Example – Serabi from The Lion King

Simba learns a lot from Mufasa, Rafiki and Timon & Pumbaa. But, oddly, he learns nothing from his mother, Serabi. Serabi is there throughout the entirety of the film. But she hardly spends any time with her son and nor does she educate him. Indeed, the only thing she does is to give him permission to go to the Waterhole, which is Simba’s ploy to getting to the Elephant Graveyard.

Again, it is strange that Serabi has no significant influence on Simba (unlike Littlefoot’s mother in The Land Before Time). However, Serabi does show her worth/relevance at the end, when she fights ferociously to help Simba retrieve Pride Rock from Scar.

9 – Adds Little To The Story And Dies

Similar to present, but not prominent is the mother who adds little to the story and then dies or gets killed. This mother may in the beginning of the narrative teach her children a thing or two; yet, whatever she teaches them before she dies is not especially profound and has no lasting impression on her offspring.

Example – Bambi’s Mother

fourteen ways to depict fictional mothers - bambi's mother
Bambi with his mother, early on in the film. But what does Bambi’s mother really do for him and the plot?

The Disney classic, Bambi, came out in 1942. Since then, the movie has become synonymous with the sudden and heart-breaking death of the titular deer’s mother.

In the beginning, Bambi’s mother teaches Bambi how to survive in an especially harsh winter. This is a good lesson. But then Bambi’s mother is shot by a hunter and Bambi finds his father. Subsequently, Bambi is brought up by his father and never mentions his mother again. Nor indeed does he need any of the skills that she has taught him. So, what was the point of her?

10 – Dead Before The Story Starts

Some mothers are never mentioned; mentioned, but are not involved; present, but not prominent; or add little to the story and die soon into the narrative. Sometimes, though, the mother is dead before the story starts.

In this scenario, there are two ways in which a dead mother can influence her child: if the child knew her or not.

10a – When The Child Knew Her – Vaelin’s Mother

As discussed in a previous blog post, in Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song, Vaelin’s father wilfully (and deceitfully) abandoned him as a boy at the gates to the Sixth Order, a monastic-style warrior academy that turns men into killers. Understandably, Vaelin resents his father.

Yet, the same cannot be said for his mother. She dies before the start of the story, but Vaelin thinks positively of her. In fact, she may be the only true source of joy in his life. Mayhap, if she had lived longer (and if his father had not abandoned him), Vaelin could have been more than just a duty-bound killing machine? Maybe, he would have had better people skills, particularly around the opposite sex?

10b – Never Knew Her – Lily Potter

Like his father, Harry’s mother died defending him when Lord Voldemort tried to kill him in the crib. Consequently, Harry never knew his mother. This is why he longs to see her and wants to make her proud of him.

Moreover, it also explains why why he is so fond of Mrs Molly Weasley, Ron’s mother. She is the closest thing he has ever had to a caring mother-figure in his life.

fourteen ways to depict fictional mothers - lily potter
Harry looking into the Mirror of Erised, which reveals what one wants most. In Harry’s case, it is to see his parents again, whom he never knew.

11 – The Mother Who Is Going Through An Internal Crisis

We shall look at this type of mother and last of the fourteen ways to depict fictional mothers in the final blog post on this miniseries.

I hope you enjoyed this article and let me know me know what you think in the comments below.


PS: If you enjoyed this blog piece and want to be the first to receive the concluding article on the fourteen ways to depict fictional mothers, please fill in the short form below:


  1. In my series the mother is missing but then finally reunites with her daughter. I am enjoying writing about their reunion. Thank you for highlighting mothers in fiction – it is an interesting topic that is often overlooked!

    1. Thank you Elizabeth for your comment! I really appreciate it. I am glad I can fill a gap in the market as such 😉

      The mother-daughter relationship you have in your series sounds very emotional and wonderful. Let me know when it is ready to be published and I will promote it on my Facebook and Instagram pages, if you like?

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