Guest Post: Fantasy Families by Anne Leonard, author of MOTH AND SPARK

Posted 21 February, 2014 | Mary @ TheBookSwarm | | 14 Comments

Today, I’m so pleased to welcome the lovely Anne Leonard, author of MOTH AND SPARK, one of my favorite reads of 2014 (that may only encompass two months but I’ve already read 40 books, so that’s saying something!). Check out my REVIEW HERE. She’s here today with a fabulous post on Fantasy Families — I mean, we’ve all thought about those absentee parent figures (a common issue in YA and in fantasy) but *why* are the families fractured to such an extreme?

Fantasy Families
by Anne Leonard

384 pages, hardcover
Available now (February 2014)
Publisher: Viking Adult
Goodreads | Amazon |
IndieBound | Barnes and Noble

Harry Potter. Frodo Baggins. Luke Skywalker. Katniss Everdeen. What do they have in common? Well, besides being heroes, they suffered the childhood loss of one or both of their parents. When my son was younger, it seemed that every book I read him had a protagonist with at least one dead or missing parent. And it’s not just fantasy. Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly. Jane Eyre is an orphan. Hamlet’s just lost his father. King Arthur doesn’t know his father. Many fairytales have wicked stepmothers. It’s hard to think offhand of any hero or heroine who still lives with both parents at the time the adventures begin.

I suspect that a lot of this is because an adventure story is also often an archetypal story about leaving home and entering adulthood. It’s about the hero’s self-actualization. It’s about the heroine learning to use her own agency. Killing off the parents is a symbolic representation of this journey. (Frodo and Bilbo are somewhat unique in being middle-aged when their adventures begin.)

Killing off parents also often serves useful plot purposes – death of a family member destroys a person’s support system, creates a reason for vengeance or a need for help, is the first sign of catastrophic evil, or in some other way becomes the shake that gets the story moving. Handled right, it can bring out rich emotional depth in the characters as they grieve or change their lives.

Wrecking the family before the story starts, however, also cuts off all sorts of interesting possibilities for a more complicated story. Human families are both fraught with conflict and a source of strength and motivation. This was something the Greek tragedians knew. Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, so his wife Clytemnestra kills him, and then her son Orestes kills her. Oedipus famously kills his father and marries his mother, then goes wandering the earth with his daughters. Antigone chooses to bury her brother and is thus condemned to die by her uncle. The climactic point of The Iliad is not a battle scene, but is when Hektor’s father Priam comes to the Greeks and pleads to be allowed a proper burial of his son. I think this family drama is one of the things the gives Game of Thrones such broad appeal. Tangle families with politics and power, and there’s a recipe for limitless stories.

Family is one of the things I’ve tweaked in MOTH AND SPARK. Both protagonists comes from families that get along internally. All four parents are still living. No hero-orphans here.

There are two main reasons that I did this. First, it’s a love story. When a person first falls in love, that’s one of the major points differentiating self from parents. I thought it would be interesting to have characters going through all those thoughts about love and family while family is still around to have an influence on the decisions. The normal tension of bringing home a significant other to meet the parents allows the characters to have all sorts of emotions they wouldn’t otherwise. The tension is even greater if you respect your parents and are worried they will disapprove of your choice.

Second, I did want to tangle family with politics and power. What’s it like to grow up knowing you’re going to inherit the family business when the family business is running the kingdom (instead of, say, a plumbing company)? What about when something as personal as marriage is reduced to obligation? How about being an adult who still has to take orders from the parents? It’s a situation that is pretty foreign to me as an ordinary middle-class person, and that made it interesting to speculate about. If I’d made the main royal character the king instead of an adult prince, a lot of family dynamics would have evaporated.

MOTH AND SPARK tells a story about each of its two main characters fulfilling a quest with support only from each other and not from their families. Tam and Corin are in fact cut off by distance and events from their families in the last part of the book, so in that sense the novel fits the familiar pattern. Independence from one’s family means family members can’t help. However, once the quest is achieved, family is back in the picture. Independence exists within the context of relationships.

Fantasy as a genre does more than retell fairytales. It allows for the exploration of possibilities that don’t exist in the “real” world. As a reader (and, I admit, as a parent) I’d like to see more stories where family dynamics influence the hero or heroine through the entire book, rather than being a backdrop. As a writer, I want to dig a lot deeper into this area.

People unfamiliar with the genre often dismiss fantasy as not about important or real things. Sometimes that’s the case, and there’s nothing wrong with escapism. But fantasy families can have the same experiences and rich emotional lives that literary realism families do, and I hope that as the genre grows and expands, we’ll see more fantasies where family matters.

Personally, I loved the strong family ties in MOTH AND SPARK. They added another dimension to the story and layers to the characters’ development. Like you, Anne, I’d like to see more stories with strong family dynamics and ties. 

Thank you so much for stopping by with a thought-provoking post, Anne!

ANNE LEONARD has degrees from St. John’s College, Annapolis (BA), the University of Pittsburgh (MFA), Kent State University (PhD), and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, and two black cats.

Find her on: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon

About Mary @ TheBookSwarm

14 Responses to “Guest Post: Fantasy Families by Anne Leonard, author of MOTH AND SPARK”

  1. I’ve been thinking that I would really enjoy this book! I love that the parents are all alive and well as that really is rare in books like this anymore. I’m looking forward to read this!

  2. Oh what a great post! I never really thought about it further but there more I think the more stories with absent parents I remember. Coming from a wonderful tight family, I always enjoy the stories when the family bonds are stronger.

    Definitely must check out Moth and Spark!

  3. LOVE this post!

    It’s so true that many famous characters throughout time haven’t had families, but it’s also true that those with a family unit have been singularly more interesting. Lizzie Bennett, for instance, wouldn’t be the beloved heroine she is today if she didn’t stand up for her family, despite their evident flaws. And would Darcy be even half as swoon-worthy if he had fallen for her without knowing he was inheriting that crazy family too? In romances especially, family can be such an interesting equation so I’m excited to see that in MOTH AND SPARK once my copy arrives. I can’t wait to read this soon and this guest post has just made me fall in love wit Leonard’s prose as well, so thanks for sharing, Mary! 🙂

  4. This post is fabulous in so many ways. I love a novel (and an author) that isn’t afraid to grapple with true familial drama, as well as the politics of such. There is such an innate power to that, if it’s done well! Lovely feature, Mary and Anne!

  5. Yes! I loved that family played such a big role in this story! Corin’s family was just epic, particularly his father, it made me so happy that all the typical court politics weren’t at play within the family itself, even as they raged outside of it. Aram was a highlight for me every time he was on page. Such a fantastic post, thanks so much for sharing Mary and Anne!

  6. I’ve read so many great reviews for Moth and Spark this week.

    “I’d like to see more stories where family dynamics influence the hero or heroine through the entire book, rather than being a backdrop.”

    This post seals the deal. I’m going to go order it right now.

  7. I almost wanted more family in the book. I wanted to see more of Tam’s birth family rather than just seeing them through her eyes. Still, reallly can’t complain since I loved her in-laws and adopted family. 🙂 Really enjoyed the romance in this book.

  8. What an interesting post and I have noticed recently that almost all families in books are either dysfunctional or the kids are orphans or living with an aunt etc. It’s actually refreshing to see that a story was written with a family with both parents and even still together bc that does still happen even if much less common sadly.

  9. Wonderful post and such food for though regarding families and our heroes and heroines. I loved Moth and Spark and just get this big sloppy grin on my face every time I think about it..I want more.

  10. Wow, what a fantastic post. I’m always a little sad that so many books seem to ignore family life and relationships–it’s such a huge part of our human existence, and skate over that seems to miss out on some of the most rewarding experiences we have. I tend to love books where families are included in a significant way–Little Women, All of a Kind Family, the Ramona books, and more recently, Unearthly, The Winner’s Curse–so I have even more reason to pick this book up soon!

    Thanks so much to you both for the amazing essay.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  11. I’m was very excited to read Moth & Spark after reading your review and am about to start it (yay!). This guest post rocks. I’m so glad to hear Anne steered away from orphan heroes. I agree it’s so much more interesting to have the families involved when a couple is falling in love, especially when you add in politics and obligation to a kingdom. Wonderful piece, thanks for sharing! 🙂