Maetel: Divine Mother or Demigoddess?

By Jin-yeong Yi

Maetel (1)

“Mother is the name of God in the lips and hearts of children.”

—William Makepeace Thackeray

That one can be captivated by a person who does not exist—while being fully aware that that person does not exist—is a testament to the power of fiction. From the age of seven or eight or so, I found myself allured by Maetel, the mysterious and elegantly beautiful heroine of Galaxy Express 999.

Maetel, which appears to be a mistransliteration of mēteru, is the Japanized form of mater, which is simply Latin for “mother.” Here’s the million dollar question (or hundred million yen question, if you like) for today: does Maetel qualify for divine motherhood? Does she possess the credentials necessary to enter the august pantheon occupied by the likes of Mary, mother of Jesus; Maya, mother of Buddha; Devaki, mother of Krishna; and Isis, mother of Horus?

Maetel (2)

Maetel is, from the get-go, a curiosity. A woman with seemingly Indo-European features, who speaks only Japanese, but has a name that is neither Indo-European nor Japanese, and, as it turns out, wasn’t born on Earth?

She is not Tetsuro’s dead mother, but she is the spitting image of her. And we learn that this is no coincidence: physically speaking, she is Tetsuro’s mother. (She is essentially an ageless soul without a permanent physical form, switching bodies when one begins to grow old. She happened to be occupying a copy of the body of Tetsuro’s mother during the events of Galaxy Express 999.)

However, Tetsuro is, of course, not a god-man, but an ordinary human placed in extraordinary circumstances. Even if he were God incarnate, it wasn’t Maetel who gave birth to him, despite the fact that she inhabits the body of the woman who did.

Furthermore, her relationship with Tetsuro is ambiguous. While at first glance she seems to comfortably fit the role of surrogate mother, the fact that she kisses Tetsuro on the lips when they part ways for the last time cannot be overlooked. However, the kiss is ambiguous as well, in part because it is unknown what exactly the cultural connotations of kissing were on the planet she was raised on.

Finally, unlike the aforementioned Divine Mothers, Maetel cannot intercede for humankind. It is also unclear what kind of deity or deities she believes in, if any.

Maetel (3)

In the end, one is forced to admit that Maetel does not qualify as a Divine Mother, or a demigoddess, or even a Divine Lover. Though of royal lineage, she is, in the last analysis, very human. But perhaps that is why I adore her so. She is as much of a goddess as a woman can be without actually being one.

Odes to Maetel[1]

“Blue Earth”

by Jun Hashimoto

I shut my eyes and remember my mother’s vestiges
O distant blue earth, sleep in peace
Maetel – another star fades away
Burning red, red
As if it were flowing through the galaxy
As if it were flowing through the galaxy

Her lonesome smile resembles that of my mother
She is calling out to the stars scattered far across space
Maetel – someday you shall find happiness
As if your hotly, hotly burned
Life were shining
Life were shining

Maetel – you seem to be looking at my mother
Within your pallidly, pallidly clear eyes
Courage wells up
Courage wells up

“My Dear Maetel”

By Jun Hashimoto 

It is said that there is a sad star
That is as pale as ice
It is said that people looking for happiness
Are waiting for you
Maetel… my dear Maetel
My dear, sweet Maetel
Like an angel innocent of corruption
Comfort those who are lonely

It is said that the call of wanderers
Will become twinkling stars
You gaze gently at the light lacking in happiness
Maetel… my dear Maetel
My dear, sweet Maetel
Your cheeks are wet with tears
As if you were an angel stripped of her wings
Maetel… my dear Maetel
My dear, sweet Maetel
Resembling an angel traversing the galaxy
Your sleeping face is so beautiful


[1] Translations mine.

3 thoughts on “Maetel: Divine Mother or Demigoddess?

  1. I just started watching the original Galaxy Express 999 TV show, and I love it. I’m on episode 7, so I have a long way to go!

  2. Jin-yeong Yi says:

    That’s nice :). I’ve never watched all 37 hours of the original TV series, only the first two or three episodes or so, and maybe a few of the later episodes if I remember correctly. (I might get the DVDs at some point in the future.) But the 2 hour movie, which I first saw when I was about seven or eight years old, is quite easily one of my all-time favorites.

    • CE says:

      I didn’t like the way that the movies made the Machine Empire so much more overtly monstrous than the TV series–it seemed like something of a cop-out, in that the TV series had been daring enough to accede to almost every major premise of transhumanism, and then just ruthlessly carry those premises forward to a ghastly logical conclusion. It’s what made them so much more interesting to me than similar sci-fi nasties like the Daleks, Cybermen, and Borg–that and the way that unlike the latter three, the Machine Empire actually seems to have heard of a PR department. (The later movies made matters even worse, with the machine people’s vampiric flourishes getting escalated to actual blood-drinking. More dramatic, sure, but damned silly.)

      It’s much like what happened with the scene with the mice in Hitchhiker’s Guide–in the original radio series the scene ends with the mice admitting all they can think of doing with the Ultimate Question once they’ve got it is to make money flogging it in the mass media. Later versions change this to their threatening Arthur with vivisection while the original bit is reduced to a parting quip. It’s more dramatic but it badly muddies up the theme the story was exploring–that modern society is so venal and shallow that it wouldn’t even know what to do with the meaning of life if it had it had it handed to it on a silver platter and tied up with a ribbon.

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