Don't you love it when you write a blog post and you realize something you never really considered before? That happened to me just over a month ago when I wrote the Mentor post in this series, about the time I was trying to find some pictures.
They were all male.
I tried really hard, for that post, to think of a mentor who was female and I just couldn't, which initially bugged me, but then it lead to some serious analysis to figure out why. When I realized the same thing with the villains, I thought about launching an equality movement to get women into the books. And then it hit me.
Most of the time, if a mentor is female, we perceive them as a mother figure because of the way she treats the hero. But this tricky mother figure can play the role of mentor OR she can be one of the worst villains.
A woman in this role can be exceptionally influential, and often feels a void that the hero had in his/her life. This is particularly true when dealing with a character who fits the orphan archetype. The mother figure will step in, giving little acts of kindness when it hasn't been there before, finding small ways to encourage and uplift, essentially mothering the hero to success.
Quite often, when a woman is in the mother figure role, she is subtle about it. The reader may think she is just showing pity on the hero, but most of the time, she is encouraging him/her to believe, to have faith and courage that the task can be accomplished, even giving a gift or two to help along the way if necessary.
She can also be incredibly diabolical, taking the role of villain and often seeming more cruel when she does it. Because there is the tendency to think women who see someone in danger will be kind and motherly, when they aren't, the reader and the hero feel the betrayal stronger.
If you think through some of your favorite movies and books, I'm sure there are several female villains who surprise you or haunt you, sometimes even more than the male characters. The shift from what we expect women to be, even if they are never depicted that way in the story, makes us cringe or loath them, often even more than their more powerful male counterparts.
Do you have a favorite nurturing mother figure in literature? A female villain who still makes you cringe to think about?