A picture of Mary was first seen in the limited series The Books of Magic issue 4 by writer Neil Gaiman and artist Paul Johnson in 1991.
She was first referenced in The Books of Magic stand-alone series issue 2 by writer John Ney Rieber in 1994, and her name, gravestone, and basic origin were first given in issue 5 (writer John Ney Rieber and artist Peter Snejbjerg) in 1994.
She was first seen "live" in a flashback in The Books of Magic issue 25, by writer John Ney Rieber and artist Peter Gross in 1996.
Origin and Identity Questions
Mary Hunter, the wife of Bill and mother of Tim, is an ambiguous figure in more ways than one.
She is rarely seen on panel, having died some years before the story of Tim’s life in comics. Thus she only appears in flashbacks.
But even more than that, it is unclear who she really was, and what relation she had to Tim. She is almost certainly not human, and is most likely not Tim’s biological mother.
Here is what we know: when her grave was broken open by a magical lightning bolt, her skull was shaped differently than a normal human’s, and had fangs. Moreover, she wore a glamour stone necklace which cast an illusion that made anyone who wore it look like her. Clearly she used the necklace to look like the illusion instead of whatever she actually looked like.
Tim’s parentage is a matter of some dispute. The most common belief is that his mother is Queen Titania of Faerie (who is, however, actually a human) and that his father is the human falconer from centuries ago named Tamlin. When Titania had a child, and it looked human--unlike her and unlike her fairy husband Auberon--she agreed to have it taken away. Bridey, her midwife, took the child. The last we saw of the baby was Bidey carrying it and trying to decide whether she could find a human foster family, or if she should give it to Gran, the woman who first sent Titania to Faerie as a child (and who herself may be a fairy).
One possibility is that Mary is actually Bridey, but Bridey didn’t have fangs. Another is that Mary is Gran. She could also be some other fairy. It is also possible that this child was not Tim, and that Tim’s mother is actually Mary, or some other woman. It has been said on multiple occasions that Tim is not part fairy, so if Mary was his biological mother, then she would have to be human.
Bill says that Mary was pregnant when he knew her, before they got married. He guessed Tim wasn’t his biological child because they were nothing alike, but that didn’t matter to him. Mary’s pregnancy makes things more complicated since if Tim were Titania’s, Mary could not have been pregnant with him. Possibly the glamour stone could have made the illusion of her being pregnant, but presumably Bill was present at the birth. Many questions remain. See the Names of Magic section below for more information on this topic.
Interestingly, the demon Barbatos at one point mentions that Mary's soul "is beyond my reach." This could be interpreted either as the fact that she went to heaven, or that as a Faerie she would not go to Hell.
Regardless of the mystery of Mary’s identity and past, she had a loving relationship with both Bill and Tim.
Major Story Arcs
The Books of Magic
Nothing is known of Mary's early life. She marries Bill on January 1981.
They take fun trips to the Brighton beach. Tim’s dad and Auntie Blodwyn would tell him and his friend Jimmy Morehead crazy stories, but Mary would let him know they were only stories.
When the other kids are mean to Tim, she reassures him with the fact that the people who really love us love us for who we are, not what we look like.
On February 17, 1988, when Tim is 6, she and Bill are celebrating and Bill crashes the car. Mary is killed and Bill loses an arm. Her gravestone says “Mary Elizabeth Hunter, 1950-1988, Beloved by all who knew her.”
Bill spends the next several years mourning her, falling further into alcoholism and neglecting Tim. He just watches TV all the time. He keeps a photo of her on the wall. On the anniversary of her death, he sits in the still-destroyed car, which he keeps on the lawn, and looks at her picture.
At the age of 12, Tim learns that he is destined to become a great magician, and chooses a life of magic.
Some time later, Tim is given some magic seeds from Death. He plants them on Mary's grave and much later, they sprout strawberries. If you eat the strawberries, you can relive a specific memory of hers. Three people figure this out: Jimmy Morehead’s mother, Sir Derek Sutler, and Gwendolyn. Jimmy Morehead was Tim’s childhood best friend; he died, and his mother likes to see if she can find any of Mary’s memories that are about him. She says that Mary “notices everything so keen, and feels everything so strong.” Sutler is a composer, and gets musical inspiration from them. Gwendolyn is a friend of Tim’s and turns the berries into jam so that one day he can experience these memories.
Later, after Tim argues with Titania, a bolt from the blue blasts Mary's gravesite apart as Titania teleports away, scattering her bones and giving us a view of her fanged skull. Tim finds the bones and puts them back, but doesn’t notice the skull. He does find the glamour stone, which she was buried with, and takes it. He only later realizes what it is, and questions why she would need it. He ends up wearing it for a long time when he lives in Faerie, using it to disguise himself as a teen girl that looks similar to Mary, even calling himself Mary.
The Names of Magic
Merlin explains to Tim that his parentage is not one reality, but many realities, like the many ways a myth is told. His parents are Tamlin and Titania in one telling of the story, and Tamlin and a human woman named Mary in another telling of the story, and even other ways beyond that. Tamlin remains his father in all versions. All these stories are simultaneously true. These realities were created by the magic that both Merlin and Tim both tap into. It is unclear how to consider this approach in relation to the physical evidence in The Books of Magic (the fanged skull and the glamour stone).
Tim unconsciously created numerous alternate universes whenever he went through a painful emotional episode. These universes varied in ways great and small from the real one. Mary Hunter existed in many of these universes. In some, she survived past the accident, in others she did not. The Other, a Tim from one of these universes, noted that when Tim’s mom was still alive, Tim usually did not turn to a life of magic.