So I’m a girl who likes fantasy.

It’s more common than you’d think, actually. And I’m not just talking about Twilight fans.

The fact that there are female fantasy fans–and authors– is not new. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight came out in 1968 with a female protagonist, so they’ve been around for quite a while. And as for modern authors, one only need look at J.K. Rowling, the world’s first billionaire author, who moved her fantasy epic into mainstream consciousness.

But the Dragonriders of Pern series is for adults, and Harry Potter is, well, not a female protagonist. At eleven, I was all into high fantasy, especially Tolkien. I loved The Hobbit– still do, in fact– but you can’t help but notice the distinct lack of women in that book. I also thought Eowyn was basically the best thing ever with her horses and swords and death charges, and I wanted to see more of her, but the Two Towers movie hadn’t come out yet, so nothing doing.

And then one day, I found Tamora Pierce.

This is a cover from one of her earlier books:

Awesome? Or REALLY AWESOME???????

For you people out there going, “Huh?”, Tamora Pierce is a young adult fantasy writer who typically has female protagonists and medieval high fantasy settings, with lots of worldbuilding and politics thrown into the mix. She has two main worlds: the Tortall universe, which focuses more on knights and heroic adventures, and the Circle universe, which focuses more on magic and mages. Her Song of the Lioness series is the first set in Tortall, and stars a girl named Alanna (see above),  who disguises herself as a boy in order to become a knight. Really awesome adventures ensue.

I was probably a bit young to be reading those books, especially the later ones, but it was the library’s fault for putting them in the children’s section. And I’m really glad they did, because Alanna was my model for fantasy women– she basically set the standards for how far I would tolerate badly written female characters in my fantasy media.

Alanna was  a well-rounded character who didn’t abide by common stereotypes of women, she was just as capable as her fellow male knights, and she was completely independent, never existing solely as a love interest. She eventually did get married and start a family, but she was the one who went to war, not her husband.

I also love the variety of Pierce’s heroines; she never writes the same character over and over. Alanna’s daughter Aly is very different from her mother and finds her talent in places other than fighting, while Kel, the first woman to train openly for knighthood, sometimes resents that everyone is constantly comparing her to Alanna. Not all of them are action girls, either, as the nonviolent and  feminine Sandry from the Circle Universe can attest, but Sandry is still a perfectly capable person and can get rid of anything that threatens her or her friends.

They also all look very different, and none of them are ‘traditionally’ beautiful, just like there are a large variety of appearances for male characters. I would love to see more of this in general fantasy (and everything else, really)– women judged  not by their appearance, but their abilities.

I loved these books as a teenager, and I still read through them every so often. I would recommend them to anyone, not just girls, who loves good fantasy and YA fiction.

————————————————–

…Well, that wasn’t much of a rant, was it? I have to learn to stay on topic here.

I suppose my real point for this post is that I want to see female characters like that as the rule, not the exception. It has gotten much better since Pierce started publishing Alanna books back in the 80’s, but there’s still a long way to go.

I was going to use other examples of fantasy women and see if they  matched up to Pierce’s heroines at all, but most examples flying through my head were that of video game women. I could make a whole series of posts about the video game industry’s treatment of women, but thankfully, it’s already been done for me.

Enjoy. Or not.

Next time: I talk about an old animated movie for kids… or is it?

Childhood nightmares returning...


Leave a comment

Filed under fantasy talk, literature, Tamora Pierce, video games, women in fantasy

Tolkien Talk

Okay, so originally my plan was going to be to talk about J.R.R. Tolkien’s works in some detail, but I don’t actually have any of the books with me, so this post will be a bit more meta than I’d expected.  I hope I’m being coherent here, I’ve been sick all week and it’s hard to concentrate on the topic.

So, Tolkien. I’m sure even non-fantasy fans are at least somewhat familiar with the Lord of the Rings; if not the books, probably the movies. This isn’t high fantasy, it’s the high fantasy. There are Tolkien scholars. Yes, people get actual degrees in analyzing someone’s imaginary world. It’s not really the story that everyone’s interested in, which ends up boiling down to pretty standard hero’s journey material, and all those other things you expect to see in an epic (fyi, A Game of Thrones is also epic fantasy, although its tone is drastically different).

In creating Middle-earth, Tolkien borrowed quite a bit from humankind’s original fantasy– mythology, folklore and legend–  and took much of the rest from his studies of linguistics and literature as a professor at Oxford University.  The sheer scope of Middle-earth and the amount of material on it, its geography, its races, its language, and just about everything else is staggering. This is a man who was absolutely qualified to create an entire creation mythos, and invent an entire system of language for an imaginary race. The Silmarillion, which details the story of Middle-earth’s creation all the way up to the beginning of the Third Age, reads like a combination of a bible and a history book. It’s something I can enjoy separately from Lord of the Rings, and in some ways I prefer it.

See, I’m one of those weird fans who read the books first but actually prefers the movies, because the movies are trying to tell an entertaining story, and that’s ultimately what I’m most interested in. Sometimes I don’t really feel like getting told over and over that Hobbits = Englishmen = good; Sauron = devil = bad; the Ring = the devil’s temptation, etc. (I’m not making this up. This was very much an intentional allegory on Tolkien’s part.)

Also no one likes reading all those lists of people begating other people in the bible, and he uses that way too much in what’s supposedly an adventure story about saving the world.

Anyway, I’m not saying Tolkien was a bad writer because he was too heavy-handed, since his stories can be perfectly enjoyable and read on their own without all that analysis. He is, after all, responsible for pretty much all the fantasy material that I love, and thus his works have a special place in my heart (and my bookshelf).

Leave a comment

Filed under fantasy talk, literature, Tolkien

“Winter is Coming.”

Terms for today’s post have been added to the dictionary. Be sure to check it every week!

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One)

Synopsis: Westeros is a land where seasons last for years, not months, and a long winter approaches. Many years after Eddard Stark and his friend Robert Baratheon overthrew the Mad King Aerys and brought peace to the Seven Kingdoms, Eddard is content to remain the Lord of Winterfell, living in the quiet north with his wife and children. When Robert, now King, calls Eddard to his side to become his advisor, Eddard reluctantly complies, sensing trouble approaching, while his wife Catelyn receives a message that could plunge the kingdoms into war. Meanwhile, Aerys’ heir Viserys and his sister Daenarys plot to reclaim his lost throne. And in the forests beyond the great Wall surrounding the kingdoms, supernatural beings known as the Others are beginning to move…

Review: Ah, the fantasy doorstopper. You know, those gigantic hardcover books that can be used as weapons of deadly assault? With the fifty thousand pages and eleventy billion characters and places and other little details that you have to pretty much memorize if you want to get through the book with a minimum of confusion? Part 135346 of a series?

Yeah.

I’m a fast and voracious reader, so giant books that take a while to get through usually fill me with glee. I was actually sort of reluctant to get started on this series (more on that later) but I was pleased by its unique structure, which features an ensemble cast and a ton of viewpoint characters. The appendix in the back of the book is pretty much required, but Martin also forgoes true chapters and just switches viewpoint characters every five-to-ten pages, splitting the book into manageable chunks and showing all the different sides to a situation instead of simply mentioning something once and then forgetting about it.

Martin’s prose is fluid and natural, a welcome change from all those books trying to sound old-fashioned but just coming off as pretentious. His descriptions are rich and vivid, with fantastic word choice that properly hits the targeted emotion. This, combined with the short sections which you can easily catch your breath at, sent me speeding through the book, reading through a three-hour car ride, not wanting to put it down at night.

There is a ton of complex political intrigue and other complications that drive the plot forward, making this a book you need to turn your full attention on. At the same time, there is a lot of humanity and emotion that can be downright painful to read. I can’t talk too much about the plot (since I’m not actually done the book  yet) and I don’t really want too, since this blog is for getting people interested, not for recapping the story. However, I would like to talk a bit about the worldbuilding Martin has done and how it sets the tone he is going for.

A Game of Thrones is true dark fantasy. This is more difficult to find than it seems. ‘Edgy’ versions of just about everything under the sun have been popping up for years, but just taking a classic fairy tale and adding a lot of sex and violence does not a dark fantasy make.

Case in point.

In fantasy, the type of world you create sets the tone for your story. Everything you include or leave out has an impact. The brutal violence, illicit and disturbing sexual relationships, and, yes, the crippled children and slaughtered puppies that this book contains is not there simply to make it more ‘edgy’. It is setting the tone of the book, and defining the world the characters live in.

See, Westeros is a medieval, magicless world– medieval with all the screwed-up values and horrible living conditions, magicless and thus defenseless against the Others, or any other supernatural beings that may appear. Also, if you’re not white male nobility, your life is basically screwed. This is a bleak, gray world.

I can think of one other true dark fantasy off the top of my head. It’s a show called Berserk, and– surprise!– it’s also set in a medieval, magicless, bleak world with supernatural beings humans are defenseless against. So why this type of setting? It’s a way of showing that essentially, no one is safe. The ‘good guys’ might not come out on top… and do we even want them to? Even if the Starks ‘win’, what’s going to change? Their lives will still suck. Tragedy will come (it came in Berserk, and I see winter approaching for Westeros). And this is only the first book of a series, so there’s plenty of opportunity for things to get even worse.

Yeah, so if you couldn’t already tell, I like my fantasy to be just a teensy bit more idealistic. I’m not talking constant friendship speeches, I just don’t like this pervasive feeling of despair. I’ll finish the book, I’ll probably even start on the rest of the series, and I have nothing bad to say about the writing or plot. Dark fantasy is just not my thing, and this will never be on a list of my top favorites.

Do I recommend A Game of Thrones? Yes, but take note of the extremely mature content contained within. And if you don’t feel like reading 800+ pages, check out the TV series, which I have heard nothing but good things about. But if it’s all right by you, I’m going back to my JRPGs.

Leave a comment

Filed under A Game of Thrones, fantasy talk, literature, review