Mothers on The Hero’s Journey

A Common YA Fantasy Novel Plots:

  • A bunch of kids lead perfectly ordinary lives.
  • One day they learn that the universe is full of magic (or strange science) and if they don’t put down their homework right now (like right now!), everyone they know and love will suffer horribly (or the universe will come to an end, whichever happens first).
  • Hard as they argue, their parents just won’t let them go out after bedtime to save the universe. So after endless texts back and forth, the friends decide to just finish their homework and go to bed. It’s a school night, after all.
  • But in the middle of the night, they wake up and realize that it is up to them to save the world. They sneak out of their house, leave their parents and homework behind, and go out into the night.
  • While wandering at strange times and in unfamiliar places, the friends meet a stranger that tells them he knows the way. The friends, sleep-deprived as they are, believe him and follow him to destinations unknown.
  • The stranger makes the friends do more and more dangerous and crazy stuff. And these young adults do it just because the stranger told them they must.
  • After performing many bizarre tasks, the friends are told they are finally ready to face the ultimate challenge that would save the universe. They go for it and it ends badly. Clearly, the friends should never have left their soft beds, but now they are late for school and will be marked-down by the attendance monitors.
  • As the friends try to figure out how to get back to their ordinary lives, the stranger once again reminds them that only they can save the universe. So it is a do-or-die situation. The friends swear that they would rather die than let the world down and rededicate themselves to setting everything right once again.
  • The friends face the impossible and just before everything is destroyed, they realize that it was their friendship and love for one another that had the true power to save everyone and everything all along. Sure the gods are all-powerful, the mad scientists are mad as hell, the very nature of the universe is unraveling…but love, man.
  • Against tremendous odds, the friends succeed in setting the world right and go home to get some good night’s rest.

Superhero kid

If you are interested in learning more about story structure and Hero’s Journey structure, please read up here.

Any middle-grade boy goes: “Hell, yes! I might be a nobody with zero skills or understanding of the problem, but of course I can save the world! I was destined to do that. Bring it on!” And these kinds of stories tend to be enjoyable and a fun ride for a few hours. But I keep thinking: “their poor mothers!” The whole hero’s journey is really about poor moms who are desperately trying to keep their children safe.
“Eat your dinner. Do your homework. Go to sleep on time. Don’t be late for school. Study hard. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t go to the bad side of town at bad hours. Don’t listen to your bad-influence friends. Don’t get into trouble. Stay home. Don’t freak me out. Be safe. Please! God, I’m exhausted with worry… Just you wait! Someday, you will have kids. Then, you’ll know.”

All mothers do that. All fathers, too. We all will jump in front of the train to save our children. Millions of years of evolution ensured it. And that’s why in most hero’s journey stories, parents are killed in the first few paragraphs. Authors don’t need their pesky parental love-obsessed interference with the plot. Surely most of my novels do away with mothers and fathers right off. Writing is so much easier when the hero is an orphan.

I remember reading The Wheel of Time and thinking, “No way their parents would just let those kids go off like that. They would go after that Tar Valon witch and her bodyguard and rip them both to shreds with their bare hands if necessary for trying to kidnap their babies. There is no magic stronger than mother’s love. And mothers don’t forget and they don’t forgive those who harmed their babies.”

I am still raging at a girl from kindergarten who made my son cry (“No dear, not everyone is your friend.”). That bitch might not remember what she did, but I will never ever think well of her. Our paths better not cross. I see you.

I see you

So this brings me to my original idea — what would the hero’s journey be really like if mothers (and fathers) were allowed to participate? Because the true heroes are the parents.


Perhaps this is why my stories have parent/guardian figures chase after their wayward children to try to save them, to soften every blow, to guard them against pain and suffering. In Mirror Shards, the young adult heroes on their journey are accompanied by a mother. That’s right — mom rocks! She is there to support them all the way. In Twin Time, the main characters are support ported by an older female relative who dedicates her life to making theirs better. In Pigeon, I introduced a superhero grandmother — she saves the day over and over again. In Harvest, it’s the father who drops everything and puts his own life in danger to save his daughter, because what father wouldn’t? If I followed Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey Cycle in my stories, I wouldn’t have used mysterious strangers to assist these kids on their adventures. I’d use mothers and fathers and grandparents and aunts — people who truly love the hero and are willing to give up their lives to save them. In many ways, all these hero’s journey stories are stories of parents trying to keep their kids safe against all odds as these youngsters rush heedlessly into danger. Strangers come and strangers go, and we are never sure of their true motivations. But parents have only one North Star — keep their kids safe at all costs.

Hero's Journey Illustration

So next time you pick up a fantasy or science fiction adventure, consider who is the real hero. Is it the kids without experience or skills? Or is it the adults that use all they know to protect those kids as they try to save the world? And if the author kills the parents/guardians in the first few pages of the story (guilty as charged), then you know that it was done to give their little young adult fictional hero more flexibility to act stupid and to make rash decisions.

Mirror Shards FREE Book Deal on Amazon

To make my point via a story, I’m making Mirror Shards FREE on Amazon from September 15th to September 19th. Enjoy! And if you do, please leave a review.