Freudian Fridays: Daddy Issues in Urban Fantasy

Did you know that if you search Wikipedia for “daddy issues,” it’ll auto-redirect you to Electra complex? Neither did I. Now we both know.

That very Wikipedia article says,

The psychodynamic character of the daughter–mother relationship in the Electra complex derives from penis envy, caused by mother, who also caused the girl’s castration; however, upon re-aligning her sexual attraction to father (heterosexuality), the girl represses the hostile female competition, for fear of losing the love of her mother… The girl’s penis envy is rooted in biologic fact, without a penis, she cannot sexually possess mother, as the infantile id demands. Resultantly, the girl redirects her desire for sexual union upon father, and thus progresses to heterosexual femininity, which culminates in bearing a child who replaces the absent penis

If sexual competition for the opposite-sex parent is unresolved, a phallic-stage fixation might arise, leading a girl to become a woman who continually strives to dominate men (viz. penis envy), either as an unusually seductive woman (high self-esteem) or as an unusually submissive woman (low self-esteem).

Whoa. I’m not going to talk too much about the “actual” Electra complex, because that Freud was a wacky dude, I’m not a trained psychoanalyst,  and you just don’t see that much blatant Daddy-desire or penis envy (Buffy penis-monsters aside) in urban fantasy.

I want to talk about the plain-and-simple father issues of female protagonists in urban fantasy novels. The strong, self-sufficient female character, either an orphan or just independent, is a trope in fantasy novels, and a good one at that, but so often those strong women come with baggage. That’s part of what makes them interesting. No one wants to read about a perfect hero solving every crime. That’s just irritating.

However, that baggage often comes in the form of unresolved issues with her father. Maybe he abandoned her when she was a kid, maybe he’s a Bad Dude, maybe she loved him and he died, or maybe he’s just not who she thought he was.

Why? Well, parents are people we’re supposed to trust above anyone else. They watch over us at our most vulnerable, they shape us into who we will become, and they should be there to cheer us on when we’re an adult. Violation of that trust is a trauma, one that shapes all future actions and can even cause a person to try to prove herself worthy of that love—or to try to prove she doesn’t need it.

Additionally, withdrawal from family and community is a part of the hero’s journey. A hero isn’t a hero unless she can stand alone. Perhaps part of the reason female main characters frequently have father issues is because a woman’s father is “supposed” to be her protector: if a woman has to fight her battles without that protection or, worse, has to fight her battles against her father, that’s more dramatic, traumatic, and every -atic in between.

Let’s look at a few examples. We’ll talk about these girls in detail in the next few weeks, but I want to give you an overview before we start. (WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS)

Buffy: Buffy’s a tough chick, but she has continual fears of abandonment by her father, fears which eventually come true. Her nightmares reveal that she’s afraid her mom and dad got divorced because of her and that her dad doesn’t love her the way he should. She gets attached to Giles, expecting him to pick up some of the adult-slack after her mother dies, and becomes angry with Giles for refusing. Buffy’s a classic case of daddy issues, but she also shows that emotional baggage does not break a woman.

Rachel Morgan: Rachel thinks her dad died when she was a kid, and she spends a lot of her time trying to live up to his legacy. Later, of course, she finds out that he was not exactly who she thought he was and he engaged in illegal research, tinkered with her genes to keep her alive, and (BIG SPOILER), was not actually her biological father. Her real dad is a man she likes and admires, but—the horror—she was actually a little smitten with him before she discovered he was her dad!

Kate Daniels: Okay, Kate’s daddy issues are totally warranted. Her dad is the Big Bad, the chief necromancer, the Sauron of this universe. She was raised by a foster father to know that someday she is the only one who can kill her true father and save the world. If that won’t mess a kid up, what will?

Savannah Levine: Savannah actually (accidentally) killed her dad, who was also a big bad. That can’t be good. Savannah’s actually a fairly new POV character in Women of the Otherworld, so it will be interesting to see how her past will effect her actions in future books.

Dante Valentine: Dante’s parents abandoned her when she was born. Her social worker/father figure was killed in front of her by a mugger when she was an adolescent. Her daddy issues don’t manifest quite as obviously as some of these other girls’, but she has severe trust issues and ends up dating a demon.

So there you have it. Lots of women with lots of issues. (Don’t worry—we’ll get to the guys soon enough.) This is just an introduction, too. On future Fridays, we’ll look at why these women have these issues, and what it adds to their character development.

Here’s your part, though: Can you think of more women with daddy-issues in fantasy novels? What do you think these issues add to character development?

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10 thoughts on “Freudian Fridays: Daddy Issues in Urban Fantasy

  1. This was really interesting. I have a thought percolating, but I kind of want it to stew a bit before I try to give it voice. Freud was one strange fellow, that’s for sure.

  2. A good read. I consider myself an amateur psychoanalyst, and one thing I can tell you is that Freud’s public proclamations had a lot to do with the social pressures of the time. According to psychohistory.com, Freud’s actual research revealed that sexual abuse of children was rampant all over the place, but there was a massive outcry when THESE findings were released (because he was laying bare the open secret).
    So instead, he proclaimed that the children had fantasies of sex with their parents to explain away the widespread finding of sexual abuse (you know, because he wanted to continue living in society without being lynched in the street).

  3. Daddy issues are really interesting, and I’ve been noticing them lately in many of the fantasy books I’ve been reading. I know this post was about women, but if you’re considering looking at male characters with Daddy issues, I’ve noticed Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones), Gavin Guile (The Black Prism), and Elend Venture (the Mistborn series). It’s interesting the way these (mostly) good characters think about and interact with their (mostly) evil fathers. Great post!

  4. As a infant boomer, I did not develop up in a technological environment.

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