In a lot of fiction, whether in comic books or fantasy, the parents of the main character (MC) are often dead, unknown, or unavailable. Whether it’s one parent or both, it is a very common theme. Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Katniss Everdeen, Kvothe, Merlin, Lyra, Luke Skywalker, and many, many more have complicated family structures.
The lack of at least one parent is a common theme which creates sympathy and depth in the MC. For some reason, damage grabs our interest and pushes us to feel empathy towards another. It’s rare to see a character who has two loving, supportive, and living parents, whether together or not. The most prominent characters usually come from sorrow, neglect, and/or tragedy. Even the parents that are alive are less than satisfactory as mothers and fathers.
Then, almost always, we have a guardian (or multiple guardians) for that character. Someone who cares for them, guides them, and treats them as their own. This “guardian” is usually like a guide. Pushing them towards the “good”, and keeping them from the “bad”. Teaching them about life and encouraging them to overcome the “evil” that they face. These characters are generally older, experienced, and a lot of them end up sacrificing themselves for some reason or another in the end. They almost always die or disappear, leaving the MC drowning in depression until they bounce back.
I often find myself wondering why parents are so expendable in fiction, and why it is almost necessary to keep them from being a living part of the story. I understand that we need to feel for the MC, and that sympathy is an excellent way to create empathy and a strong character. We love to see the MC rise from the ashes, overcoming all of the hardships of life only to become strong and brave. But wouldn’t it be more enthralling, and challenging, to create a character who was just an everyday person, with a regular life? A character that real people could relate to?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that everyone comes from a normal, happy, cookie cutter life. Broken homes are all too common, and many children have faced some sort of abuse in their lives, but that doesn’t make them extraordinary. I didn’t have what I would call an ideal childhood, but I don’t feel special because of it. I don’t feel like everyone needs to have a sad tale to tell for them to be a good person or to succeed in life.
I feel like it would be extremely refreshing to experience a book in which the MC was just a regular person with regular parents. No dead mother, no dead father. No abusive or cold caregivers, no lack of love or attention. They don’t have to have a perfect life, the parents don’t even need to be together. I would just like to a piece of fiction where the MC is encouraged to achieve their goals not because they started so low, but because that’s what they want to do.
As much as I love fiction, I feel that in situations where the MC has had a hard life, we are being taught that to become great we must have a sob story. Many of us do have sob stories, but I for one don’t want to be recognized and applauded for the darker parts of my life. I want to be recognized for my skill. I don’t think that to love a character we should have to pity them. I would like to see a character who is so well-written that I can’t help but enjoy them. I want to see a character that doesn’t need sympathy to pop. I would like to see a few parents who aren’t either dead or useless. I want to see parents that aren’t expendable.
MCs don’t need to be shattered every time. We can enjoy them for who they are, not what has happened to them.
What about you? Do you agree that parents in fiction are often expendable? Do you know of any fiction where the MC doesn’t have a twisted, depressing, or broken past?