It seems that for great middle grade/YA fantasy adventure to unfold, you have to do away with the parents. Childrens’ writers have long known that a hero needs the independence of an orphan to really shine. For a while, it seemed that all of us poor parents, having overturned our lives to bring wonderful children into the world, were doomed to tragic deaths. We rarely even got names. Can you name Bambi’s mum? Elsa and Anna’s parents? Thanks to J.K. Rowling, at least us dead parents see some action. Lily and James, I salute you. I used to complain to my daughter that as a parent I resented that I would have, at best, a brief cameo before being snuffed out by a storm at sea or a casually referenced car accident. Truly made me want to stay indoors. But then I began writing fantasy and I immediately understood. A parent’s incessant need to know where their children are is a serious detriment to adventure. And how can an intrepid girl or boy set about saving the world if they have curfews to worry about?
As an avid reader of MG and YA, I began to collect the various ways we can be dismissed or done in. In Map to Everywhere (Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis) the adventuring takes place in an alternate universe where time unfolds differently and the heroine, Marrill, can travel for ages and return home moments later. As an aside, her mum is critically ill and Marrill’s own actions ripple through space and impact her illness. Sophie’s parents in Keeper of the Lost City (Shannon Messenger) become a nagging problem and must have their memories wiped. A lesson to be learned about unwittingly being implanted with an elf baby and raising her as your own. Sometimes, as with Percy Jackson or Catniss Everdeen, us parents get to live but we are either so removed —any gods or goddess out there?— or so irrelevant in a world where children must fight, that we may as well be dead.
I was once far more bothered by all of this. Could no one break this trope? But then my own reader became a tween and I see now that we parents must be swept out of the way, in life and on paper. I see the kids’ metamorphosis into competent beings, reaching out into the world ever more on their own and I know I have to step back. And, let’s face it, there are quite a few days in the life of a Tween/Teen parent when you’d welcome a well placed “Obliviate” charm to make you forget the latest row!
So, I march on and hunt for the most creative ways authors have found to rid themselves of us, the hapless parent. As for me, my novel is set during WWII, a time rich in opportunity to separate kids from their parents. I have embraced CS Lewis and have sent my characters away where far more interesting adults dwell and kids may be fed and housed but never harassed in the way only a loving parent can.
I welcome any ideas on how to silence meddling adults!