Worst. Literary. Parents. Ever.

Inspired by the resurgence of V.C. Andrews in my life thanks to Lifetime I’ve found myself dwelling on the theme of terrible parents in literature. Sprinkled throughout book history are evil, awful, questionable or simply giant failures of parental examples from Queen Jocasta from the three Theban plays to Christian-crazy Margaret White from Carrie.

So please sit back and enjoy this list of god-awful parents brought to you by the minds of your friendly, neighbourhood authors.

*This list is weighed on a scale of Bambi’s mum to a V.C. Andrews book parent*

Corrine Dollanganger -Foxworth, (Or any parent in the V.C. Andrews canon of borderline sociopathic parental units) Flowers in the Attic, V.C. Andrews
What’s worst than a girl-child mother? A girl-child, lazy, kind of slutty, definitely selfish, self-involved, obviously lazy because really she could have attempted to get a job or just marry rich for the sake of her children mother. Oh did I mention she shows shades of the crazy her psycho mom definitely called dibs on years earlier? Cause she totes does. There’s also that whole thing where she married her half-uncle/half-brother, agrees to lock up her four children in her crazy mother’s attic, then tries to poison them to death with arsenic laced doughnuts. Can you say evil?

I'm their mother FITA

Obviously a V.C. Andrews parent. The original to boot.

Awesome fan art from http://tumblr.penbitten.com/, obviously not her parents

Awesome fan art from http://tumblr.penbitten.com/, obviously not her parents

Eleanor’s ParentsEleanor and Park, Rainbow Rowell
Poor Eleanor, she gets dealt a pretty rough hand as a teen – quirky, with red hair and a bit of extra weight she stands out like the proverbial sore thumb of lore before. Lucky for her she has Park to act as her port in the storm (this post is just littered with lame sayings, let’s see how long I can keep it up.) With a mother more concerned about pleasing her abusive, alcoholic second husband, a father more concerned with being cool, reliving his youth and shucking all parental responsibility, oh and again that alcoholic, abusive stepfather, who kicked her out of her own home, let her come back and then haunts her with crude sexual messages and on occasion beats her mother is it any wonder they make it on this list?

Definitely leaning towards the V.C. standard of parents (but with far less cheese.)

Marisa Coulter – His Dark Materials, Phillip Pullman
In the words of Damien from Mean Girls “She’s fabulous but she’s evil.” Marisa Coulter, mother of Lyra, one of two children enlisted to *spoiler* basically kill God works for the Magesterium, and uses her position and influence to manipulate the church into giving her the money to fund her evil schemes. Her Daemon is nameless which suggests she may be lacking in the love gene. Yet she’s curiously kind to Lyra. A greater parental oxymoron has there never been.

"She's fabulous but she's evil."

“She’s fabulous but she’s evil.”

On a scale of Bambi’s mum to a V.C. Andrews adult, let’s place her in the middle beside Katniss’ mum from The Hunger Games.

Uncle Vernon & Aunt PetuniaHarry Potter, J.K. Rowling
The best worst guardians ever, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were so concerned with keeping up appearances (another saying! Also a delightful British comedy from the 1990s FYI) that they locked poor Harry in a closet under the stairs, told him lies about his parents and pretended to send him to St Brutus’s Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys (best fake school name of all time) all to save face. The brilliance of J.K. Rowling eventually reveals that at least for Aunt Petunia there was jealousy and envy on her part that led to her behaviour. Uncle Vernon however, is just a jerk.

Why this clip? I don’t know.

On the Bambi-V.C. Andrews Scale they’re a solid Uncle Vernon & Aunt Petunia.

Marcus EatonDivergent series, Veronica Roth Eaton
Allegiant controversy aside – one thing Veronica Roth did well was bad parents, especially in the form of Poppa Don’t Preach preaching poppa (seriously my verbosity knows no bounds) Marcus Eaton. Leader of the Abnegation, a group that is meant to be selfless, controlled and understanding, is instead manipulative, power hungry and abusive (a common theme on the bad parent scale.) Tobias “Four” Eaton got his nickname because his fear landscaped showed he only had four fears to master – the biggest, scariest of them all? You got it, Poppa Marcus.  Oh and Mama Evelyn? Well she ain’t no walk in the park either.

Not quite V.C.A but definitely a head above the Dursley’s.

Stepmothers the literary world over, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretl, Snow White
Lady Tremaine with her big bouffant and hideous daughters, the evil Queen with her desire for hearts ripped straight from the cavity (or in the original a meal of freshly procured virgin lungs), H&G’s mommy dearest with her super awful “the world revolves around me” mentality that leads her to demand her husband take his children to the woods and lose them. *Cough bitch cough* Is it any wonder that children with divorced parents fear remarriage? Thanks for that Hans Christian Andersen. Thanks a bunch.

Time for vicious practical jokes. Perhaps we can put it to better use. Now let me see... There's the large carpet in the main hall; clean it! And the windows, upstairs and down; wash them! Oh yes, and the tapestries and the draperies—-

Time for vicious practical jokes. Perhaps we can put it to better use. Now let me see… There’s the large carpet in the main hall; clean it! And the windows, upstairs and down; wash them! Oh yes, and the tapestries and the draperies—-

The Bambi-V.C.A. Scale goes something like Bambi, mediocre parents, Evil Stepmothers, V.C.A parents.

The WormwoodsMatilda, Roald Dahl
My personal favourite book in the Roald Dalh oeuvre, Matilda herself is strong, smart, a lover of art and books, all around a real classy kid. Her parents however are dimwitted, lowbrow trash who wouldn’t know their daughters worth if it bit them in the butt. As a child I remember being nothing but disgusted by these two, and feeling a sense of great satisfaction when Matilda went on to live with Miss Honey.

matilda gif

No doubt somewhere along the lines the Woormwoods and the Dursley’s share some genetic makeup.

What other fictional parents are out there I’ve no doubt overlooked?

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Flowers in the Attic – TV Movie

Top cheese network Lifetime’s much anticipated adaptation of the salacious, incest riddled, cos-02-Flowers-in-the-Attic-book-cover-mdnmelodramatic V.C. Andrews classic Flowers in the Attic premiered last night and with it came the collective release of many a bated breath for all those who devoured the Dollanganger series under the covers, late at night, flashlight in hand. Or, if you were me, openly, in the family room while your multitude of brothers watched some sports related movie and your mother took it at face value when you told her the book was about a girl growing a garden in an attic. Regardless, it’s almost a right of passage for thirteen-year-olds the world over to get their hands on a copy and blush over its many indecencies.

So it comes as no surprise that many a person was looking forward to spending a cold Saturday night in January at home, on the couch, to watch Don Draper’s daughter (Kiernan Shipka) take the lead as Cathy Dollanganger as she stumbles into a world of child abuse and ugh, brother lovin’.

And that’s okay, I won’t lie, I was one of those people. I even had a reminder set up on the TV. I watched, I shuddered, I laughed at the terribly bad acting, I felt strange disappointment that it wasn’t as blatantly prurient as I expected. Which says a lot about where my mind was at. (This is obviously something one shouldn’t freely admit to but it’s done, and I’m obviously too lazy to hold down the delete key so the admission stays!)

According to People magazine (that triumph in journalism) Lifetime’s Flowers in the Attic is “a gripping, psychologically coherent foray into American Gothic” I would say that was reaching. I don’t think people expect much from a Lifetime TV movie apart from excessive melodrama and questionable acting.  And really that’s the beauty of Lifetime. So Flowers in the Attic found its perfect home. And offered the chance for someone to finally answer the question: What does melodrama + melodrama =? Sadly it would seem the answer is not Uber-melodrama but rather a strange struggle between putting it all out there and maintaining some element of timidity.

So let’s set it up to knock it all down shall we?

The Acting

Oh Heather Graham, oh dear, dear, dear Heather Graham – she was kind of everything I wanted Corrine to be. Just vacuous. Vacuous with seedy undertones. A lot of people said her acting was awful. I agree, but I’d like to pretend that it was intentional. That the terrible acting was just an element of the character, who spent all of her life acting a certain way to get what she wants – that effusive happiness, all that child-like joyful innocence, none of it’s real. It’s all an act. Because deep down Corrine’s just as bat shit crazy as her bible thumping mother Olivia. It’s delightful.

The Dresden Dolls: Cathy, Christopher, Cory and Carrie

I’d like to thank the writer/writers for limiting the amount of lines given to the creepy Children of the Corn twins because every time they opened their mouths I couldn’t help but think “It’s quite possible I’d have locked them in the attic too.” Obviously I wouldn’t. But sometimes the thought is enough to satisfy.

I will give praise where praise is due, it can’t be easy for two young actors like Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper guys. Sally freaking Draper) and Mason Dye (who let’s be honest is kind of dreamy in that whole clean cut, I’m on the row team and wear sweaters tied around my shoulders Yale graduate way) to take on roles that involve sibling lustin’, I mean I think if that were me I’d have spent all of my time giggling uncomfortably. But they did it, and I say this with a limited amount of irony, with class? If that’s possible.

And then there’s Ellen Burstyn – no one plays crazy old lady quite like her. Every time she uttered “Remember, God sees everything” I expected fire and brimstone. And though in the end it’s really awesomely ridiculous that a tiny hallway leading to the attic acts as her downfall, Burstyn plays it so beautifully you almost feel bad for dear ol’ granny. And then you remember that whole crazy abusing, locking her grandchildren in a room for years, calling them abominations and devil spawn thing and then you laugh because really Flowers in the Attic is amazing.

The Story

It’s so good guys. It’s just so bad it’s good. I love it. I’m obsessed. There’s so much crazy coming from all the adults and so much temperance from the kids, it’s like a weird Freaky Friday but with incest. Which isn’t cool but you know you read the books because of it. And watched the movie to see how it was done. And in the movie it just kind of happens. Like it was inevitable and so you know there you go. It was almost offensive in how seemingly accepting Cathy and Chris are about it. And okay there are many issues with how it happens in the book (that whole Cathy blaming herself for her brother raping her thing, definitely some sort of latent anti-rational thought on V.C. Andrews part) but the movie kind of made it seem romantic? I put a question mark there because ew.

As far as adaptations go though this one really did try to maintain the integrity of the original work, which I really appreciate. It’s definitely miles ahead of the dreadful 1987 film starring the original Buffy (Kristy Swanson) and Troy’s friend from The Goonies. It’s like cheesecake, you know it’s going to go straight to your thighs but you’re all “whatever” cause it’s delicious. But then after you’ve eaten the whole thing you can’t help but feel sick at how much you enjoyed it.

So in honour of the best piece of ridiculous, gothic horror, young adult melodrama out there let’s bask in this gem from the original book, and raise a glass to V.C. Andrews and her strange, twisted, over-the-top, theatrical stories of crazy, rich white people.

“There is no hate such as that born out of love betrayed- and my brain screamed out for revenge.” And cue Petals in the Wind. 

Flowers in the Attic/Petals on the Wind

Flowers in the Attic/Petals on the Wind

This article is amazing. It points out in the most beautiful way possible the insanity of V.C. Andrews’ books. It’s also a riot.

Is it wrong that I kind of want to watch the movie? Ah childhood – when reading smut was considered subversive and not just lame. *sigh*