Why Are Mothers Killed Off in Children’s Fiction?

Have you noticed how often the mother gets killed off in children’s stories?  We’ve been reading Heidi, and her poor mother died of a broken heart.  A recent Atlantic article lamented that the mothers were so often dead, and a recent article in the Deseret News asks why Ana’s parents had to die in Frozen.

Both articles have some great insights, but they don’t get to the heart of it.  Mothers keep their kids from doing something stupid.  Writers, on the other hand, need their characters to do stupid things.  So they kill the mother off.


Take Ana, in Frozen for example.  What mother would let Ana go out to find her sister in the middle of the night?  Alone?  In the winter?  And without her coat!!!!?   But if Ana had had a mother, we would not have gotten this adorable scene.

A mother would have never let her son be as clueless as the prince in Ella Enchanted.

I’m sort of paraphrasing this dialogue, but you get the gist.

Ella:  Why are you such a meanie prince?

Prince:  I’m not mean.

Ella:  Your kingdom has enslaved all the giants, and they make the elves dance, even when the elves don’t feel like dancing.

Prince:  We don’t make the giants slaves!

Ella:  How could you not know this?  You’re the prince.

Prince:   I don’t know anything  because I’m so good looking.  Haven’t you noticed my great hair? Seriously, it’s like two hours every day, and then I have this huge fan club of screaming girls to manage.   Oh, and I don’t have a mother.  She used to tell me everything that was going on, but since she died, there is like NOTHING going on upstairs.

Ella:  Well, it’s a good thing you have me.  I’ll clue you in, and then you can kiss me.

Prince:  Well I guess that’s worth it, giving how hot you are, but just how much do you have to clue me in?  I’ve really enjoyed being clueless.

Anyway, if we hadn’t had a clueless prince, he wouldn’t have had to go with Ella to straighten things out with the giants, and then we wouldn’t have gotten one of my favorite scenes in all of movie history.  I mean, seriously, if the prince’s mother had had to sing it, it would not have been the same.

So moms, don’t take it personally if you end up dead in most children’s stories.  You know what a full time job it is to keep your kids from doing something stupid.  Unfortunately, writers simply will not tolerate you.  Their job is to lead their characters into very very stupid situations.  You, mom, make that very difficult to do.

Do you think moms get the shaft when it comes to children’s books?



  1. It’s a good point about parents in fiction! Books about children tend to require that the main character’s parents be either dead, missing or just plan bad parents in order for the plot to move forward.

    About Ella Enchanted, though, the movie bears almost no resemblance to the book. Char’s parents are very much alive in the book, and he is a genuinely heroic character and much braver, more intelligent and more humble. The various fantastic races are very different from their depictions in the movies as well. The entire world was changed from creative and unique to a supposedly stereotypical fantasy world just so that the filmmakers could deconstruct the stereotype they introduced. I don’t believe that no movie based on a book can be good, but this one in particular took everything that made the book great and threw it out.

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