Fatherhood in Fantasy Fiction

Fictional Fathers

Fatherhood is a slight theme in The Life & Times of Ichabod Brooks.  He is proud of being a father and there is one story that involves a father/son.  Another involves orphans being escorted to their new homes.  Originally, I was going to do the 7 Humorous Tips type of post for this, but then I realized something.  I couldn’t really think of many fantasy fathers.  Most of them fall into these categories:

  • Deranged father who the child has to overthrow.
  • Deranged father who the child works for.
  • Dead/missing father who the child either looks for or wishes to live up to.
  • Missing father that doesn’t come up in conversation.
  • Killed at the beginning.

Parents in general seem to be fairly expendable in fiction because authors love to take away that layer of protection for the protagonists.  If there’s anybody who is going to stop a character from going on an adventure then it would be their parents.  With them being dead, you don’t have that ‘obstacle’ and most people can relate to the idea of avenging the parents.  If not that then simply not having someone to stop you, but the point is that they aren’t in the picture.  Yet, I’ve seen more dead fathers in fantasy than mothers.  If the latter is dead then the former is either already dead or died with her.

You also get more of the absent father stuff in fantasy.  They’re simply not in the picture for one reason or another.  I’m not sure why this is.  Sometimes it sets the father up as one of the villains or a future encounter of some kind.  Yet, I’ve seen it usually just be a vestigial aspect that comes up once.  ‘Your father was a great man who died’.  ‘Your father was a horrible man who abandoned us’.  ‘We aren’t sure who your father is because we want a big reveal later’.  I guess with fantasy typically being medieval settings, it’s easier to believe that the father is out of the picture than the mother.  Actually, I think that goes for these days too because people really don’t touch on single father much outside of comedy or stories where he finds a new wife.  I wonder if there’s a genre here.

Anyway, a lot of this went through my head when I was designing Ichabod Brooks.  In fact, it was the big part of his transformation.  He started as a science fiction character who could survive on the toxic surface of Earth and worked as a Diver, but he was an anti-social hermit.  When I decided to make a hero who had a family, Ichabod came back to my mind and changed.  The biggest factor for his personality going from anti-social to friendly was him having a son.  He became a guy who would happily talk about his family, especially his son.  Yet, he is restrained on this topic because he doesn’t want to reveal too much about the kid to potential enemies.  So, you get a sense of pride for his son while also a desire to protect.

How did I come up with that?  Naturally.  I used my own feelings toward my son to design Ichabod.  Still, I wondered if there had to be something different since Windemere is a magical world.  That’s where the trophy collection came from.  I don’t always make it clear what Ichabod takes back for his son, but he has a trinket from every adventure.  This is because he has a dangerous job and wants his son to have things that remind him of the man he is.  These are physical items, but he will have stories written down for each one and goes over the collection with his son all the time.  More that he answers questions and lets him examine the safer items.  Not that there is anything dangerous, but he wants to be careful.

The more I write this post and think, the more I realize that you don’t see a lot of fatherhood in fantasy.  They really do get placed more often as fallen heroes, drunks, absent, abusive, dead, and other roles that don’t involve raising the child.  Am I complaining?  A little bit because I’m at a stage where I’d like to see more male characters find balance between family and the big job.  Maybe it is because we connect fantasy to a period of history where men didn’t do much, if anything, for child-rearing.  Maybe male characters are simply more expendable because we’re used to them dying in droves.  I just can’t figure out why the closest things I had to getting help with Ichabod was thinking about myself and remembering ‘Lone Wolf & Cub’.  Only difference is that Ichabod’s son doesn’t go on the adventures, which might be for the best.

Anyway, what do you think about fathers in fiction?  Is there a change to this role that you would like to see?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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89 Responses to Fatherhood in Fantasy Fiction

  1. All of a sudden, I’m rather proud of the relationship between Parad and Cyrus in Pearseus. Then again, Parad did think that Cyrus was dead for most of the book, so maybe you’re on to something!

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    • I have to do more father/child relationships in my stories. I gravitate too much towards the absent, not mentioned, or problematic father. Wonder if the reason we see so much of that in fantasy is because it’s been mostly male authors for a while, so that’s the relationship they think of. Son battles father for respect, but always loves his mother.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think it has more to do with the patriarchal model that characterized medieval society (at least in most people’s minds). Within that model, a mother wouldn’t be expected to fight for her child. A father, would. This means that the child would have more room or need for personal growth as a warrior with the father taken out of the picture.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You also have modern relationships where children are more likely to rebel against the wishes of a parent. This could go more towards fathers because they’re seen as the authoritarian, stern ones more often. I can’t think of any fantasy story where the father was the fun-loving parent unless he was also a lazy idiot.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Bookwraiths says:

    I’d like to see more good, dedicated fathers in fantasy stories. There just are not enough of them, and if they are in a story and parenting their children, they generally are not portrayed as heroic in any way. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You know, I’ve never really thought about that, but it’s an excellent point. In my own work, I think it goes about 50/50.

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    • I didn’t realize it until I wrote Ichabod. Parents don’t make big appearances in my stories overall, but the evil father thing shows up a bit more than it should. Part of me wonders if part of that involves fiction showing men/fathers to be fairly expendable and rarely elicit a big audience reaction.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think you may be right. It’s funny how we take things like that for granted. Maybe a lot of it comes from personal experience? Not that there aren’t lots of super dads out there. 🙂

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      • Personal experience is factor. Not only what we deal with, but also what we see. Since the stern, authoritative father is so common in fiction, we find ourselves doing it out of habit. It probably also goes with the loving, tender mother who gives the emotional support factor. Even outside of fiction, I see people expecting my wife to be the emotional parent and me to be the tough one.

        Definitely plenty of super dads out there. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Most definitely! 🙂

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  4. Ali Isaac says:

    Gosh I had never questioned this, but you’re absolutely right! Maybe being parentless automatically puts the reader on the hero’s side. Or maybe it’s just biological… women remain at home minding the offspring while fathers go out to work/ war. And men lived and died by the sword in medieval times, as in fantasy. Also its an extra trial to overcome, being an orphan. Very interesting, Charles. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ali Isaac says:

      Also, just want to say that in my latest book, Swanskin, the roles are reversed; its the mother who is tyrannical and hard, and the father who is the solid, caring unsung hero. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    • True. You see an orphan and you get a sense that they’re alone. It can also allow for them ‘not being raised right’ due to a lack of stability or whatever a person might think. Personally, I find this to be fairly mean, but I’ve seen it used in critiques of the orphan trope before. The thing is that even if the father is there, most of the time he doesn’t seem to be much more than an obstacle or enemy.

      As someone who does the stay-at-home parenting thing, I’ll say that the traditional mother/father role thing is still an expectation. My wife gets no heat for being the worker, but I get criticized and funny looks for being the home parent. This is something that I think about when I’m working on parents in my stories now.

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  5. You are on fire with good topics lately. I think we all have to avoid things being a little too happy for our characters. The aristocrats often have fathers in fantasy, but the commoners don’t. That difference could be used to make a point about the society in general. Aside from the royals etc, Bootstrap Bill Turner is the only one I can think of… oh, and Keith Richards, but he was an absentee father. Otherwise it’s always a side character who has a father involved in the story, like Sir Kay.
    I’d like to see a few more attempt to change the dynamic here. I thought of Kung Fu Panda, but the duck was his uncle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Was he the uncle? Thought Po called him dad for all of those movies. The thing with commoners not having fathers and the societal commentary is that it’s usually not that. People seem to do it without thinking or for the trauma plot point. I think I’d be more surprised by a father/son plot that doesn’t have misery and pain. It’s like dad should die to make everyone else stronger and that’s all he’s good for.

      Thinking about it, I see two common single parent scenarios. The widower in over his head and trying his best. Then the determined and strong widow. At least in fantasy, those seem to be the choices. Do we know anything about Mrs Turner?

      Liked by 2 people

      • We know nothing, but Mrs. Sparrow made an appearance as a shrunken head on dad’s belt. We discussed a fantasy that’s taking shape in my mind, and I have planned to tweak the mold a bit, but it’s in the form of a twist ending. It may look tropish up front, but it won’t be by the end.

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      • Forgot about that. I think. Which movie was that? That’s one way to work a trope. Use it as bait for a twist. 😁

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think it was the World’s End movie, but don’t quote me. Some day, everything will clarify in my brain and I’ll write that sucker.

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      • Could be. I saw it twice and then never went back. First one is still the best.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oooh, the second one is my favorite. Love Davy Jones on a level with golem.

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      • My only issue with the second one was that it felt like they worked too hard to hit all of the old jokes. The three-way swordfight at the end was definitely a highlight of the trilogy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve got another couple, but they seem to hit at least one of your bullet points. Odin from mythology might work, but in comics he was killed by one son to motivate the other.

        How about Dr. Henry Jones Sr.? Even that seems to be someone for Indie to live up to.

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      • Was he killed in the comics? Hard to tell who’s dead and who’s back these days. The Jones family is an interesting one. He kind of hits that ‘distant, work-a-holic’ father part, but they do have some good bonding moments that you don’t usually see. It comes off as an issue, but not an insurmountable one like others..

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’ve really touched upon an area that could be marketable with some thought. It might make it tough to use a mentor, who is usually a substitute father, but would make for a unique enough story.

        Hector and Paris’ father seemed like a good enough guy, but obviously favored Hector right up until Achillies killed him.

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      • I thought he favored Paris since he let the dumbass cause such a mess. Always felt sorry for Hector dying because of his brother’s libido.

        Now I’m thinking of the Alfred/Bruce Wayne relationship. Surrogate fathers do seem to show up in kinder and more loving roles than birth ones.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lots of those mentor characters wouldn’t be possible with the actual father around. Also, some of this has drifted away from fantasy so your point is still valid. Miyagi would not have gotten involved if Daniel’s father were around.

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      • Maybe. I could see a mentor character being brought in due to expertise that the father is lacking. This goes away from the standard of following in their father’s footsteps, which might be a good thing. I wonder why there is a tradition of mentors only being used if the father is gone.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Probably because boys tend to not listen to their fathers. A mentor or a sports coach can get better results.

        Let’s turn this on it’s head now. And I wish I’d read this post prior to the ask Ichabod one. Ichabod is the father and main character. Most of the ones we named don’t fit that mold. So how is/was Ichabod’s relationship with his father? Is Ichabod another character with a missing father?

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      • I wonder if that’s still true today. We know it from TV and movies, but is it really as widespread in reality?

        I never really thought much about Ichabod’s father, but I think it came up in one of the questions. *checks* Yup, there was one about his family history. His father was a shepherd, so he was raised on a farm. I see it as a stable and warm relationship that might have been a little strained when he joined the military then became an adventurer. For some reason, I can see his parents having died when he was in his 20’s and that was a catalyst for him being a little more reckless in his youth.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s good, I like it. In ancient times, I would think military was a fair career move. They get fed and paid, and there were no guarantees of that elsewhere. Likely spent a lot more time walking to battlefields and moving supplies than actual fighting.

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      • Depends on the area and era. You have bandits and monsters in Windemere too. So many soldiers would put in guard duty and raids to keep their skills up.

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      • Tougher gig when you have monsters involved, no doubt.

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      • True, but there are ways to make it easier. People aren’t as defenseless as in most fantasy worlds. There’s more magic, tamed monster species, and a lot of the wild ones are more like animals than rampaging beasts. So, an attack is usually caused by something else. At least with a city. Could be the monster has made a nest on a farmland or there’s a food shortage. One day I realized that monsters being creatures of pure destruction didn’t make much sense. They’re really nothing more than unique fauna of the fictional world, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t act like our tigers and elephants. Dangerous if provoked or hungry, but not going out of their way to eat humans.

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      • Good plan, because a mindless destructor demands an explanation from readers. How do they get along with their fathers? (Lame attempt to get back on topic.)

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      • Yeah, I was wondering how we got here. Maybe the mindless destructors were raised poorly. That or the caster who created them has father/mother issues. Parental issues are the low-hanging fruit of villain trauma.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s become so true. I remember when villains were motivated by more than mommie issues.

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      • What happened to good old megalomania? Just a guy who has his heart set to evil.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think that still exists today. It might be a bit too common actually.

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      • Yeah. Definitely have a global megalomaniac issue.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. L. Marie says:

    I also would like to see more fathers who are present in the lives of their children. I’ve seen grieving fathers like Theoden who also fit the deranged category, since he was temporarily out of commission until Gandalf came along. But I agree, there are so many evil or absentee dads. Denethor was cold and calculating, and then bonkers.
    I love Vimes in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. He is an active father.
    Celeborn wasn’t mentioned much. He seemed to be a caring dad as was Elrond.

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  7. Checking back to see what other comments folks have today. We can’t forget about Arthur Weasley either, who was a good dad. Even he was father of a supporting character(s).

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    • Trying to think of any other father figures in Harry Potter. Do we count Ghost Dad Potter? There was the minister guy whose son was evil Doctor Who. Oh, and the father of the guy who was killed and came back a sparkling vampire. (This is how I piss off my Potter-obsessed friends.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hermione talke about her parents being dentists, but they were like the old Monty Python gag, “Also not appearing in this film.”

        You have Arthur and Mordred, but that was kind of a toxic relationship. (They killed each other.)

        There have been a lot of bad fathers in GOT, but I know you aren’t a fan. The good one died in season one.

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      • They were sacked by the people who sacked the original sackers. Also, a llama.

        Mythology is certainly full of the toxic relationships. Greek deities kept having that ‘eat my children’ thing.

        I sometimes wonder if the point of GoT is that good rarely wins.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Can’t wait to see how GOT plays out. Maybe good enough wins. Maybe it’s more survival of the fittest.

        Also, “But I don’t want to marry the princess.” – “But she has HUGE… tracts of land.”

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      • Eh, the new ruler hasn’t killed as many people and doesn’t have a sibling to sleep with, so that’s an upgrade. 😛

        ‘Let me go a face the peril.’

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, we have two different threads going here. Let me think of a father… “Nope, sorry children. We can’t afford to feed you, so it’s medical experiments for the lot of you.”

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      • Took me a second to remember that one. Yeah. Dual threads happen from time to time.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Most of the fathers I’ve come across in fiction are more stereotypes than anything. You know the hard boiled guy who never said “I love you to the son,” who the son rebels against until that final day when the son realizes the father was only hard to make him tough. (Boy name sue kind of thing) You’ve pointed out others but they have had less impact on the character development like the unloving father.

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  9. I didn’t give it much thought before, but now that you mention it… You’ve got a point.

    Now you’ve made me want to read something where the opposite is true: Where the Father is the supportive present character, and the Mother is the absent parent. We need stories with evil Mothers intent on taking over the world.

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    • For some reason, I was thinking of Homer Simpson. His father wasn’t perfect or really supportive, but he was there. His mother ran off to protest for the Earth or something. There’s Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon too. Neither of them have evil mothers though. Just absent for a cause until they come back. I do have a future story with an evil mother, but it’s far down the line.

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      • Homer Simpson and Hiccup are great examples of characters who actually have Fathers there and not Mothers. As you said though, their Mothers aren’t really evil. Still, even their situations make a change from how things usually work.

        I hope you get a chance to write that story some time.

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  10. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Here’s a great post from Legends of Windemere blog on the role of fatherhood in fantasy fiction.

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  11. Fantasy is better than fairy tales, where the weak-willed father is always giving in to his evil wife, the step-mother.

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  14. sadgalseries says:

    This is something I’ve never considered until now, father figures in this genre need to revamped !

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  15. I think that it’s often more about the relationships of parents in the writers real life that influences fiction. George R.R Martin tends to have overbearing, disapproving fathers. I tend to have some good fathers and some absent or unreliable fathers because of experiences in my own life. We do need more representation of the single father and of other situations. I have one character who is an older brother from a neglected family acting as a father figure to his younger brother. Some people also get raised by their grandparents, aunties/uncles or siblings and that is rarely ever represented either. Great article!

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    • Good point. One of the influences of the Luke (son) and Ilan (father) relationships is how I butt heads with my own dad over my life choices. I try to change it up though because not every father is like that. With the new series I’m hoping to release next year, I’m going more for a teasing, friendly father/son connection between two of the characters. I really should think about doing a single father story. Have to admit that I’m cautious of attempting it because I have no experience there, so I might have to talk to my single father friends about that one.

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  16. YaksterX says:

    I think that the main issue with fantasy stories is that the father figure is some sort of what is pushing our character to become an adventurer. If they had a father figure that was strong and at home through childhood as well, then the heroes of fantasy would never go out to the world as they would have been following their father’s footsteps. A cobbler father would have a cobbler son, blacksmith father a blacksmith son, and so on.

    Even when the characters do go out on adventures it is also because they are following their father’s footsteps. So this is all about the father figure.

    Even when they have a father figure that is strong, if it is an adopting father, they will still look at their real father. And when it comes to abusive/drunk sort of father figure, the character just want to get away. Fathers in fantasy are just tools to push the story. Even Star Wars for example, Luke goes out because he heard that his father was a great warrior. This piece of information was really what made him want to get out of the farm who is owned by adopting uncle?! and I just gave example to two points that I brought earlier without noticing (totally unintentional by the way 😀 ).

    This is at least my take on things. It would be great to see just a normal dude father figure though.

    /thumbs up

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    • Interesting. So a father figure would actually prevent the story because sons typically take after their fathers. Makes sense for worlds where that’s the norm and even expected.

      This does seem to limit the father roles. They’re always inspiration either by the idol or a cautionary tale. This is why I wonder if we’re at a time where the father characters can find new niches. Especially with the rise of stay-at-home fathers in the real world.

      Liked by 1 person

      • YaksterX says:

        I want to say yes. Men and women roles are mixing now, fading and coming out as new things today. Father at home, mother at work, and daughter becomes an adventurer. 😀

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      • I’ve had a lot of fun writing female adventurers. Not sure why, but it could be that they have more unexplored territory in terms of characterization. The father connection can fit into that. We usually see father/son and mother/daughter relationships. The flipped ones are almost entirely the male side defending the female side. So, maybe it’s time for a daughter defending her dad who isn’t a warrior. Like she’s protecting his farm or something.

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      • YaksterX says:

        I see no reason one. Many stories, books, lately even movies, (Disney’s “Mulan” for example fits almost exactly to the daughter protecting family honor), are starting to balance out. It is a good direction.

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      • Forgot about Mulan. You have Brave there too. Maybe you’re right and the balancing is happening.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. Dan Melnick says:

    I’m sure fathers get a bad rap and glossed over because of the hero’s journey. If you have parents of any kind in the story, then your protagonist is a youth and part of that journey is growing up. OK not ALWAYS the case, but I’m simplifying here.

    My guess is in that scenario, stereotyping abounds. Moms can be loving and the best caretakers, but the kid needs to learn not to lean on them. Whereas a dad is seen as the sturdy pillar. As long as the dad is around, the kid doesn’t have to grow cause dad will always bail him/her out of trouble. Remove dad and you remove the pillar. Again, I’m simplifying here and making some guesses. I think this would be a great dissertation topic.

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    • It does seem like parents in a hero’s journey act as an obstacle, but especially the father. It’s a shame since it prevents a lot of relationship types from being used. Your simplification is really true and gets right to the core of it. Even in fiction, fathers tend to be the stable pillars and protectors, which blocks the hero from doing stuff on their own. It’s different from a mentor too because you have the familial connection that brings the expectation of protection.

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