In honour of real-life mothers everywhere on Mother’s Day today (May 12), here are 10 literary guardians we admire for how determined they are that their charges will be the best they can be.
Caroline Ingalls from Little House On The Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1935)
Ever resourceful and eternally patient, this woman crafts pretty calico dresses for her daughters to wear, whips up hot meals for the family, and runs the household with a firm but loving hand. This book is part of a semi-autobiographical series about prairie life in the American West in the 1930s. It’s a difficult, even scary, life at times – but Ma Ingalls, a true pioneer wife, sticks it out with grace and teaches her daughters what it means to be responsible, kind and selfless, even in the face of adversity.
Isabel Pullman from Wonder (RJ Palacio, 2012)
Her son has a medical condition that leaves his face disfigured, and she knows just how cruel kids can be. She also knows she can’t protect him forever and that the best thing to do, however difficult, would be for him to find his own way in life. August “Auggie” Pullman’s navigation of the “real world” is tentative and tumultuous, to say the least, but Isabel is there every step of the way – incredibly patient, supportive, and above all, hopeful, that the world will one day accept Auggie for who he is.
Jack’s mum in The Paper Menagerie And Other Stories (Ken Liu, 2011)
In the title story of this anthology, the mother is someone who doesn’t belong. Her young son, Jack, is embarrassed that she speaks little English and cooks decidedly non-American food. He just wants to fit in, and she is making that mighty difficult. But once upon a time, she used to fold him origami animals that came to life, that roared and roamed the great forests and mountains. It is only years later that he finds out what stories of her own she has woven into those carefully folded creatures, large and small. This is a tale that transcends culture and language, a story of a mother who finds a way to reach out to her son, even when nothing seems to work.
Ma from Room (Emma Donoghue, 2010)
We never do find out her real name, but her story speaks volumes about the love she has for her son, a five-year-old who has never seen the light of day. At least, not out in the open, because he has never been outside that room. Mother and son are locked in but she finds ways to make that small room his whole world. She is courageous and creative in her unwavering persistence to give him a better life, while protecting him from the worst of his present day circumstances.
Margaret March from Little Women (Louisa May Alcott, 1868)
Affectionately called Marmee by her four daughters, Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy, she is the glue that holds them together through the American Civil War and their father’s long absence. She is a woman ahead of her time, as she allows her girls to chart their own paths in life, and unlike many 19th century mothers, she does not make them marry for money. Highly principled, charitable and kind, she serves as both their moral compass and their greatest source of comfort.
Marilla Cuthbert from Anne Of Green Gables (LM Montgomery, 1908)
She does not call herself a mother, and would certainly not let anyone call her that. But when the spirited Anne comes to her and her brother – instead of a boy they had wanted to take in to help with the farm work – Marilla finds a part of herself that has never been given the opportunity to flourish and becomes a mother in all but name. Tough exterior or not, Anne and readers alike see through her steely resolve and firm hand and realise that beneath it all is a heart as vast as the ocean.
Miss Honey from Matilda (Roald Dahl, 1988)
Here is another character swept into a motherly role, this time to precocious little Matilda. It is not difficult to see why the students at school adore this sweet, endearing teacher. But for Matilda, Miss Honey eventually becomes her everything. Growing up with parents who attempt to quash her imagination and gifts, Matilda turns to this teacher who doesn’t just help her reach her full academic – and magical – potential, but even ends up rescuing her from what would almost certainly have been a tragic outcome. She ends up being the only truly maternal figure Matilda has ever known – rest assured, it is a happy ending for both in this book.
Mrs Murry from A Wrinkle In Time (Madeleine L’Engle, 1962)
Together with her husband, Mrs Murry, a scientist, comes come up with the notion of the “tesser”, the wrinkle in time. But now, it is this thing they discovered together that has something to do with Mr Murray’s sudden and mysterious disappearance. She is troubled by it, but keeps it all together for the sake of her children. There’s still hot chocolate in the middle of the night, and family dinners – even if there is one person less at the table for now. It is this steady strength that gives her daughter Meg and son Charles Wallace the courage to take that step into the tesseract to rescue their father.
Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter series (JK Rowling, 1997-2007)
The matriarch of the unruly Weasley brood is the perfect embodiment of maternal. Kind, warm and protective, she not only keeps her numerous children – and her children’s friends – in check, but decks them out lovingly in knitwear, whether they ask for it or not. Of course, she also happens to be rather impressive with her wand, and will stop at nothing to ensure the safety of children, as we see when she faces off with Bellatrix Lestrange during a dramatic battle.
Mrs Lancaster from The Fault In Our Stars (John Green, 2012)
She isn’t a major character in the book, by any means – but she is memorable all the same, in her actions and deeds, and her unrelenting devotion to Hazel. She wants to be there all the time, for everything, and goes to great lengths to ensure that her cancer-stricken daughter has everything she needs in life, and more. Such is her dedication to this cause, that it spills over into her wanting to help other families dealing with cancer, and thus prompts her to sign up to be a social worker who offers counselling services.