It’s almost the end of the year, so it’s time to announce the winner of the coveted (not) 2019 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.
Let’s have a bit of background: I have been informally awarding the Darth Vader Parenthood Award since sometime in the 1980s with the earliest awards being retroactive. Over the years, the list of winners migrated from a handwritten page to various computer file formats, updated every year. Last year, I finally decided to make the winners public on the Internet, because what’s an award without some publicity and a ceremony? The list of previous winners (in PDF format) up to 2017 may be found here, BTW, and the 2018 winner was announced here.
In 2017 and 2018, a clear frontrunner emerged early on. 2019 was different, because there were several likely and unlikely candidates.
Warning: Spoilers for several things including The Rise of Skywalker behind the cut:
Initially, I thought that Thanos, everybody’s least favourite purple murder eggplant, would become the second triple winner after Tywin Lannister. However, since most of Thanos’ appearances in Avengers: Endgame are in the past via time travel, he doesn’t really qualify for this year’s award, especially since the competition is strong.
For a while, it seemed as if Sarek of Vulcan and Amanda Grayson from Star Trek Discovery would finally rise above honourable mention status, which Sarek won in 2017. However, while Sarek and Amanda will never win a Parent of the Year Award (which this year would go to The Mandalorian anyway, about whose adventures and parenting skills I’ll have more to say in the new year), they are inept rather than actively malicious. Which in a year with strong competition just doesn’t cut it.
Another candidate emerged in Dr. George Hodel from Patty Jenkins’ retro crime drama I Am the Night. Now Dr. George Hodel is a horrible parent and horrible person in general. In the show, he raped and impregnated his teenaged daughter and later tried to rape and murder his granddaughter, who also is his daughter. Oh yes, and he also murdered Elizabeth Short a.k.a. the Black Dahlia. That should be enough to qualify anybody for the award. There is only one problem. Dr. George Hodel is not fictional, even though I Am the Night is a fictionalised version of the story of his granddaughter, and quite a few things in the show did not happen or at least did not happen that way. And while the real Dr. George Hodel seems to have been a horrible person, the Darth Vader Parenthood Award is still for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.
Mrs. Coulter from His Dark Materials would have been another likely candidate, but while she is undoubtedly awful, she is also a previous winner for Philip Pullman’s novels and a TV adaptation of the same story does not requalify her.
Late in the year, an unexpected eleventh hour candidate emerged with Sheev Palpatine. Now Sheev Palpatine was doubly unexpected, because a) we all thought he was dead and b) until recently no one knew that he was a parent. For more about why Sheev Palpatine qualifies, read my postmortem on The Rise of Skywalker and the Star Wars series in general. But while Sheev Palpatine is a horrible person and likely was a horrible parent, he still does not join his former apprentice, double winner Anakin Skywalker a.k.a. Darth Vader in the ranks of the winners of the award named after Vader. Why? Because while we strongly suspect that Sheev Palpatine was a horrible parent, we see hardly anything of what he did. So it’s No Award for Sheev Palpatine.
And now we come to our 2019 Honourable Mention, which goes to…
As played by actress Caroline Palmer in the movie Shazam!, Marilyn is the mother of superhero to be Billy Batson a.k.a. Shazam a.k.a. Captain Marvel. Marilyn was only seventeen, when she had Billy. She broke up with his criminal father soon thereafter and was overwhelmed as a teenaged single mother, for which I have sympathy.
However, I have no sympathy for what happened next. For when Billy was about three or four, he was separated from Marilyn at a crowded Christmas market. This isn’t exactly a rare occurrence during the holiday season. And so police officers took care of little Billy and waited for his Mom to pick him up.
But Marilyn never picked up her son and decided that he’d be better of without her. She did not decide to put Billy up for adoption or ask someone for help with her difficult situation, she just dumped him and went her merry way. Billy was not consulted and spends the next ten years running away from foster homes, desperately looking for his mother. He finally finds her living in the same city and seeks her out, only to find that Marilyn not only never looked for him, but that she is still not interested in him and won’t even ask him in. And it is this behaviour that earns her an honourable mention.
And now, we come to the grand prize. The 2019 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fiction Parents goes to…
“Ferona Who?” many/most of you will ask, because Ferona is definitely one of the more obscure winners we’ve had.
Ferona is the mother of Jinnifer Blue, protagonist of the space opera novels Blue Shift and Deep Blue by Jane O’Reilly. Ferona is a career politician on an environmentally devastated and socially divided Earth of the future. Over the course of the two novels of the Second Species Trilogy to date (a third is coming next year), Ferona rises from Secretary of Alien Affairs to Earth’s representative in the Galactic Senate via murder, backstabbing and deceit. Ferona is also responsible for conducting illegal medical experiments on poor people and selling humans (again only the poor) as slaves to aliens in return for various favours.
As a parent, Ferona systemically neglected her daughter Jinnifer and subjected her to all sorts of psychological adjustment therapies, which amounted to torture. Jinnifer finally ran away at eighteen to become a space pilot. Ferona explosively re-entered her daughter’s life some twenty years later, by first having her arrested on trumped up charges and abandoned aboard a prison ship. And then, when Jinn confronts her mother, Ferona has her own daughter potentially fatally shot and threatens to withhold medical aid to blackmail Jinn’s space pirate lover into surrendering. She also subjects Jinn to potentially fatal genetic manipulation and sells Jinn’s lover off as a slave.
That sort of villainy deserves a reward and so I delcare Ferona Blue the winner of the 2019 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.
As for why a character from two books that came out in 2017 and 2018 wins an award in 2019, I was not aware of Jane O’Reilly’s Second Species Trilogy, until I picked up the books on a whim from the dealer’s room at WorldCon this year.
Marilyn Batson declined to pick up her award in person, claiming that she would be late for her shift at a local diner and besides, her current partner would not like it.
Ferona Blue appeared in a striking gown to pick up her award and launched into an acceptance speech to justify her actions, which significantly overran the ninety second limit, so we had to switch off her microphone.
Next year, I will award the 4oth Darth Vader Parenthood Award. Who will win? You’ll find out in this space.