Sunday, July 19, 2009

the females of fantasy

i was away longer than i thought i would be. my books got mispacked during my move, so i only just got them back.

a few words on Ursula K. LeGuin's Tombs of Atuan. i love LeGuin's writing; it's imaginative and immersive. This, the second in her Earthsea Cycle series, left me wondering why exactly i needed to read another fantasy book where a girl is rescued from her evil destiny by a man, with only the barest nod to her participation through a choice--between her current life as an instrument of darkness, or a difficult future of freedom. For some reason, in books like this, it is always because a girl is good at heart or has the right nature that she is worthy of attention. Why does the hero of the first book of the series, a boy named Sparrowhawk, get to adventure, cause his own downfall, and redeem himself, when here, Tenar gets no say in her initial destany, complies with her training, feels some moral compunction about her duties involving human sacrifice, and then is rescued and depandant on Sparrowhawk for her future plans.

i don't like the "girl as passive instrument" trope, i don't like that the herione needs rescuing when she never really wanted a new life until meeting Sparrowhawk. i don't like that her positive attributes are inate traits rather than the result of personal development. i did enjoy the book, i will admit. but it raises my hackles a little bit. i really hope that in one of the sequals, Tenar gets to be a more active participant. The Tombs of Atuan was like going over all the gender stereotypes that i hated about a lot of children's novels.

Someone doing it right? Tamara Pierce. i loved her books as a girl. i loved Alanna, a girl who disguised herself as a boy to be a knight, and grew up to be the king's champion; a person who didn't let the world dictate who she could be. i loved Dianne, a wildmage who could talk to animals, learning to use her powers. These women had the support of men, but had their own adventures and did most of the rescuing themselves. The books also had really awesome male characters - George, the king of theives, for instance - but were so valuable for their levelling influence. This wasn't Narnia, where the boys got swords and the girls got weapons to use in emergencies (or distance weapons so their hands wouldn't be diritied).

i believe that until assertive literary women become unremarkable, it is imporatant to remain critical of characters, of books, of conventions. Until there are more Alannas, the Tenars cannot be left alone. Because it is easy to say that authors need freedom to write. It is not easy to find females who openly defy gender expectations and succeed. Particularly in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, worlds that are supposed to be representative of ideals. Worlds that might reflect on this one, but are not bound by the same prejudices that this one is.

Give me more heroes that i can look up to; give me something that i would love to see but don't really expect anymore. Give me more Alannas.

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