In my fantasy epic, the protagonist meets a young, female thief who eventually become his partner in crime. She is part of a family business that involves theft, and she wants to go to give her family name a better reputation. In this case scenario, her parents are not dead or abusive, but in her culture, they need approval from parents. What would be a reason why her parents would allow her to go on this long, dangerous journey, with some random person they just met?
I'm not sure about the general case, but in your specific case, it's worth noting that thievery is a pretty dangerous profession in its own right:
- There's obviously the threat of being caught by law enforcement, and subjected to whatever punishment is meted out for thievery in your setting (which may be as extreme as cutting off the thief's hands)
- There's the threat of whoever they're trying to steal from fighting back - I read a news story just the other day about a guy in the US who tried to rob a convenience store and got stabbed to death by the owner
- Depending on what kind of thefts they commit, there's the threat of booby traps (think Indiana Jones) or other dangerous anti-theft measures
- There's the threat of being double-crossed by another thief, for one reason or another
Her parents may weigh up the risks of going on this long, dangerous journey, and conclude that it's actually not that much more dangerous than the life she's already living.
I think you’ve answered your own question: “she wants to go to give her family name a better reputation.”
This could be her parents’ motivation as well. Going on a quest could be a once-in-a-lifetime goal for everyone from her cultural background.
Alternatively, she could have done something that has brought shame on her household and needs to go on a quest in order to restore her family’s good name. In the real world there are cultures where it’s acceptable to murder and maim women in the name of honour, so requiring a long, dangerous journey isn’t unthinkable.
As High Performance Mark also mentions in their answer, this is an opportunity to introduce additional conflict. Perhaps she doesn’t want to go, but her parents insist. Maybe they even found your protagonist on her behalf. That would potentially give you conflict with her parents, her culture, and the protagonist.
"What would be a reason why her parents would allow her to go on this long, dangerous journey, with some random person they just met?"
They believe they raised her well, and they trust her judgment.
I mean, this is epic fantasy, we can pretend parents actually raise their children to deal with the world before they're kicked out of the house.
As she's been getting older, they've been letting her make more and more (and bigger) decisions that affect her life and could potentially hurt her. She's not living in a make-believe dreamworld where her parents flattened out any creases before she tripped over them. They've raised her to think about the consequences of her actions, to make mistakes and learn from them.
If her parents have any misgivings about the protagonist, of course they'll bring that up; ask if she's sure about this, etc. (And maybe take him aside a moment to quietly threaten him if anything happens to her.) But ultimately, they trust that this is a decision she can make. And if she gets hurts, they'll be here for her to come back to.
What do young women who want to run away with young men, against their parents wishes, usually do? They ease the bedroom window open late one night after the house has become quiet, and climb down the trellis / drainpipe / stonework to be met by their lover waiting in the shadows across the street.
All the better that the young woman in your story is already a thief, how many times must she have climbed into a house late at night through an upper-floor window? There's an interesting contrast for her to ponder as she elopes.
I think that by seeking to find some way to acquire her parents approval you're passing up the opportunity to make the start of the quest one of the points of conflict on which your story might further draw.
It's just as dangerous not to go
She is in serious trouble with a local mob boss or powerful gangster, perhaps having stolen something she shouldn't. The parents allow her to go on the quest because at least that way she would be getting out of town. Why can't she leave town without doing the quest? She really wants to do it, and uses her present danger as leverage to persuade her parents. (Or maybe the quest is simply to escape from the bad guy!)
It could even be that doing the quest somehow redeems her in the eyes of the gangster. e.g. the McGuffin she is going to get will make a suitable replacement and the danger she is willing to put herself in to get it is a sign of respect.
The most obvious answer is that your protagonist lied to their parents.
Either by omission or outright fabrication, the truth has been misrepresented. This is instantly understandable to anyone who has had an adventurous childhood or adventurous children of their own, and will be easier to write without causing cognitive dissonance and plot holes.
Perhaps on a recent heist, some locals spotted her, and law enforcement are rounding up people fitting her description for identification, so her parents decide it's probably for the best if she goes and gets more experience, whilst also not being around to be linked to the crime.
The harm she might befall is surely smaller than the punishment she will receive.
- The parents don't know the true nature of the quest. They are unaware of the details of the quest that would be morally/culturally objectionable to them. It's framed in a different way.
- It's some kind of rite of passage for a girl coming-of-age in their culture to go on some kind of quest or journey, and this one seems to fit the bill.
- The girl is extremely strong-willed, and wears down their parents after a while. They finally throw their hands up in the air and go, oh well, she will be the way she will be. Better to let her go with our blessing than to continue to have all this trouble in our household.
She Ignores their Disapproval
I question the premise that this is a family of thieves who deeply abide by cultural norms. Robbing people is generally not approved of in any culture.
So the answer is: this is a source of conflict between the woman and her parents, and when they try to forbid her departure, she throws their hypocrisy in their face and leaves.
Now she gets to examine her culture and her upbringing and choose which parts of each she wants to embrace.
In "The Lies of Locke Lamora", the thieving youths are sent to train at various priesthoods, noble's houses, guilds, etc so they learn as much as possible about their future marks. If they're impersonating a noble from x country, they need to know the intricacies of how a noble eats, talks, & walks.
This quest will give a budding thief great experience outside of her city and give her an understanding of future marks. Her parents had to go on similar missions when they were young, and they know it's time for her to get this training.
Good parents wouldn't allow an underage child to go on a dangerous quest.
Of course if her parents have raised her in a family of the trade of thieving, they would not be good parents from the viewpoint of society as a whole, and perhaps not from the viewpoint of their child, depending on the probability that their child will be severely punished by the law when caught.
Good parents wouldn't allow an underage child to go on a dangerous quest.
But real life historic parents often did allow their underage children to go on dangerous quests and to have dangerous occupations, or even ordered them to do so.
Of course many children with dangerous jobs or going on dangerous trips were orphans or otherwise separated from any parental authority. I once accidentally found a record of a household of children living in Lancaster, PA, according to a 19th century census. The census stated the head and oldest person in the family was a 12-year-old boy who worked in a factory.
So many of the boys who held dangerous jobs or went on dangerous voyages or military expeditions were parentless. Others had parents who opposed their dangerous activities but ran away from home to do them.
And many other kids took up dangerous occupations with the permission or even the orders of their parents.
According to: W.W. Gist “The Ages of the Soldiers in the Civil war”, Iowa Journal of History and Politics, July 1918, pages 387-399:
“On June 30, 1917, there were 329,226 survivors of the Civil war enrolled as pensioners. Of this number 38,190 receive pensions on account of general disability. The remaining 291, 036 receive pensions in accordance with their length of service and ages. The table showing their ages in 1917 is as follows:
62 years and under 66….3,113
66 and under 70 ….28,966
70 years and under 75…121,476
75 years and older….137,481
The 28,966 pensioners aged 66 to 69 were born between July 1, 1847, and June 30, 1851 and were aged between ten and fourteen when the war began and between fourteen and eighteen when the war ended.
The 3,113 pensioners 62 to 65 would have been born between July 1, 1851, and June 30, 1855, and were aged six to ten when the war began and between ten and fourteen when the war ended.
Of course some of the 38,190 pensioners who were pensioned for disabilities would have been boys during the war. Some boy soldiers and sailors during the war would not have claimed pensions by 1917. And many boy soldiers and sailors during the war would have died during the war or in the 52 years since it ended.
So there were a lot of boy soldiers and sailors during the war, and some were orphans, some ran away from home, and some enlisted with the permission of their parents and guardians or even at the command of their parents and guardians.
“Abram F. Springsteen was born 5 July 1850 in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York…Abram enlisted…on 15 Oct 1861, in Co. A 25th Indiana Regiment as a drummer Boy; he was only 11 years, 2 months old at the time. His parents consented to the enlistment as it was believed he would only be a member of the Home Guard, and his drumming would be beneficial to the cause.
When it became clear that his regiment would be sent off to fight in the south, his parents demanded that he be discharged, which was done 23 Dec 1861.
Just eight months later, when Abram was all of 12 years old, after beating the drum about the streets of Indianapolis while a regiment was being recruited, Abram re-enlisted 9 August 1862 into Co. I of the 63rd Indiana Regiment. He did have parental consent, perhaps because his father had runaway to the circus when he was a young lad, and thus understood the yearning of a young boy for the excitement of new places and war. His parents probably realized they could not deter Abram from military service any longer…Abram was discharged 21 June 1865.”
Thomas J. Foy enlisted in the 5th US Infantry, his father's unit, in 1860 aged 11 year, 1 month, and 27 days.
William Howe of the 55th Illinois Volunteers had 2 sons with him, Orion P. Howe (1848-1930), who enlisted age 12 and earned the Medal of Honor aged 14, and Lyston Howe who enlisted aged 10 years and 9 months.
Thomas Hubler (1851-1913) enlisted in his father's company of the 12th Indiana Volunteers aged 9 years and 6 months old, reenlisted, and served until the end of the war, being present in 26 battles.
Bernard Brady enlisted aged 8 years, 11 months, and 7 days.
“I had a stepfather whose name was James Dempsey. He enlisted as member of the 4th United States artillery in 1859, when it was stationed at Fort Monroe, Va. Two years later he left the army and with my mother and me, removed from our home at Hampton, Va., to Portsmouth, Va., where we resided until 1862, when the latter place was taken by Union soldiers. Among the troops there was the 58th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Immediately upon their entry to the Virginia city, my stepfather enlisted in Company D. Shortly afterwards he had me enlisted in his company as a drummer boy, giving my age much older than I was.
“I was but nine years old when I entered the army, and thirteen when the war closed.” continued Mr. Brady. “As a matter of course I was entirely too young to fully realize my position, but, boylike, I was only too willing to enlist, even though my stepfather made it compulsory. He died in a hospital at Hampton in 1864, when my mother removed to Philadelphia, where she died two years later.
John Brooks began serving as a drummer boy aged 8 years and 9 months, though he was not officially enlisted.
...Johnnie made it into the service as a drummer boy at the age of nine years. He served from July, 1863, to August, 1865. But he was not enlisted. His father was a fifer in the musicians’ corps, and the boy went along to beat a drum. One of Johnnie’s sad duties was to beat the dead march in Indianapolis when the body of President Lincoln was borne through the streets there to lie in state for a brief time on the journey from Washington to Springfield. Thirty years after the war this drummer boy’s congressman introduced a resolution to have the secretary of war muster in and discharge John F. Brooks, so that he might get the regular pay for his two years of service.”
George H. Black of Indianopolis served in the 21st Indiana Infantry, which later became the First Indiana Heavy Artillery.
...His son, Edward E., enlisted in July, 1861, when only eight and a half years of age, as drummer boy in the Twenty-first Regiment band, and was the youngest boy in the United States to enlist. He served two years and nine months when the band was dispensed with and he returned home. At the time that Company L. was recruited by his father, George H. Black, this boy reenlisted as bugler and served until the close of the war.
Curiously, I have not yet found confirmation that George Black's older son Charles H. Black (1850-1918) also served in the Union army.
Anyway, these few examples show that many parents were willing for their children to take up dangerous occupations, even children who were probably much younger than than the female thief in the original question.
And one other possibility, in Heinlein's Time for the Stars telepaths on starships use intantaneous telepathy to communicate with their telepathic partners on Earth. The narrator meets a bratty fellow telephath in his early teens. He wonders why the parents let so yung a kid go on a dangerous exploring expedition and thinks maybe they wanted something bad to happen to the bratty kid.
A similar real life question would be: What would be a reason why parents would allow their teens to go on this long, dangerous training and potential war with some military recruiter they just met?
In the US, you can legally join the military at 17.5 years old with parent or guardian permission. (This is 6 months before the teen is considered an adult at 18 years old.) I did. Joining the military can be a cultural or family tradition. (During different eras, very young boys joined the military as non-combatants, or even as fighters as young as 12.)
In your story, it sounds like it's just as much a family tradition as it is a cultural thing. And yes, these two types of tradition tend to intertwine so they reinforce each other. Sometimes they are so intertwined that there's little to no difference between them. And sometimes they are eventually codified into law. But I digress.
In some cultures, thieving is a respected profession. In some cultures, joining the military or police is akin to being a traitor.
Some cultures even conscript very young kids (usually boys) to fight their wars. Maybe the culture in your story does something like this. Maybe they treat volunteers better than they do conscripts. Knowing this, the parents gamble that their child will do better as a volunteer than as a conscript. Since they don't have a choice about their child is doing this, they can choose how well their child is treated. This can be anything from size/availability of food and drink rations, availability of sleeping quarters, how roughly the child is treated in general, or even just garnering the goodwill of the people involved so there isn't a "black mark" against them, think horn/halo effect.
So let's circle back to the question I raised about military service. Maybe in your story's thieving world, there are benefits. Maybe "serving time", as it's called in the military, garners student financial aid packages. There's also the realization that the child will fit better into a rigidly hierarchical system with a tendency to curb actions that would otherwise end up in disciplinary problems throughout the child's later life.
Maybe the child was going to be a thief regardless and the parents wanted them to get better training than they can provide, sort of like how some people join the military to make sure they have a better chance at becoming police officers.
Heck, it might even be a situation that the child was going to do it anyway, so instead of completely destroying what little respect the child has left for their parents, the parents decide it would be better to concede and give their permission.
One other possibility exists: the person they met is has a reputation that precedes them. They have a more than uncanny knack at surviving the unsurvivable, and bringing their crew back safely at the same time. Consider this, if General Dwight Eisenhower personally asked you to to let your child join him on a campaign in his personal guard, would you let them go? Maybe that's not a great example, but you get the idea: someone with extreme fame asks you to do something, are you doing to refuse, especially if completing the mission makes you or your child just as highly regarded as the person asking?
The survival rate is not that great, truly. But the rewards balance out the risks, and there's more children in the oven.
OP didn't say but I'm assuming this is a medieval-esque fantasy setting.
Peasants, even the urban burgeois, don't have many prospects in life. They will toil, get taxed, get robbed by brigands, get robbed by the tax collector, tithe most of their labor in the Lord's fields, starve through Winter, then start it all over again.
Their children are fated to the same cycle. The only way to break out of it is to try to strike it big by adventuring. Also, most children don't survive to adulthood, disease, starvation, goblins, and monsters taking their toll on the vulnerable ones.
Fortunately, peasants have access to one source of entertainment that's free. And surprise, surprise, it often gives them more children.
A daughter wishing to try her luck and going on an adventure don't have a hard time getting permission. It is one less mouth to feed, one that doesn't have as much physical strength than a son, for example.
In the rare event she succeeds and becomes a wealthy adventurer or something else worth of notice, the family instantly improves their standing in life in a way that not even 10 generations toiling the fields or crafting goods could achieve.
The thing is, we XXI century folks value our children a lot. The medieval fantasy peasants, maybe value theirs as much but they don't have the luxury or opportunities we do. They need to gamble.
Because she has told them she will have the opportunity to steal great riches.
If the family steals because they're money hungry then the moment they hear promises of rich rewards the currency signs will hit their eyes and they won't think twice about letting her go.
Alternatively, she has convinced someone wealthy to pay her parents a large sum of money in exchange for their consent. Perhaps one of the people supporting the quest is a wealthy businessman or a rich countess?