Monday, July 6, 2009

Rides a Dread Legion and Raymond Feist's heroines

Tough this isn't really comics related, I thought I'd write about it here since this is on my mind now, following the disappointment of Justice League: Cry For Justice.

It's a terrible thing to grow up loving an author and then, later on, to be disappointed by them. I had a number of friends who dealt with this not too long ago - they being big fans of Orson Scott Card and being horrified by his horrible comments regarding gay marriage. Recently, I had a similar revelation regarding one of my favorite fantasy writers' - Raymond Feist.

It was sparked by an article I read on When Fangirls Attack! (I apologize for the lack of a direct link, but an hour's searching has left me unable to find that article again) by a woman who complained about the lack of decent heroines in most fantasy novels outside of the Young Adult market.

In the wake of reading that article, I thought "Well, that's a very good point. Most high fantasy IS written in societies based on Middle Ages life where women were treated badly." And as a teen librarian, this subject touches me deeply. There are a lot of young people - mostly women - with an interest in fantasy and I am hard pressed to think of that many series written on an adult level that feature female protagonists.

Which is silly because - and I agree with this point made by the author - there really is no good reason why - if you're going to make the leap and say that magic, dragons and elves exist in your world - to be obsessive about historical accuracy and say that your society MUST be patriarchal with women having little role outside of bearing children, unless it is strictly relevant to the plot somehow.

It wasn't until later I thought about my own tastes and realized something about my favorite high fantasy author - I was hard pressed to think of more than five female characters in Raymond Feist's work I could point to and say without any doubt that they are "strong, positive female characters". At least, in the sense that their character has a purpose outside of supporting the male characters in the story.

To give a quick summary of all the major heroines I can think off of the top of my head...

Princess Carline - the first girl our main protagonist Pug has a crush on. Daughter of the Duke who adopts Pug into his household and sister to Arutha and Martin.

PROS: Insists on being taught how to use a sword since her home is now on the frontlines of war and might need to protect herself. Winds up single-handedly holding back a group of tunneling soldiers until help arrives. Is feisty, strong-willed and still lusting after young men well into her senior years.

CONS: While she does learn how to use a sword, we never see her fighting alongside the other men after that first battle. She also doesn't do much in the second or third books of The Riftwar Saga other than nag her boyfriend about getting married, nag her brother about giving her permission to marry and comfort everyone else in the family as various other family members are dying or near death.

Princess Anita - Daughter of Prince Erland. Develops crush on Prince Arutha at the age of six and becomes obessed with marrying him afterwards.

PROS: None really. She's Princess Peach - she's there to get rescued.

CONS: See above. She's Princess Peach. She's there to get rescued.

Katala - daughter of a barbarian tribe on the distant world of Kelewan. Serves as a slave in the same household as Pug after he is enslaved. Later, has his child and returns to him with his homeworld, where she oversees the daily operations of his magical college.

PROS: We're told repeatedly how strong, intelligent and wise she is.

CONS: We're given surprisingly little evidence of this. Spends most of her time taking care of kids, running the household while Pug is away doing magic things and the greatest indicator of her strength in the text is, according to her husband, not having a nervous breakdown after being told she has to give up everything she knows and travel to another planet.

Gamina - Pug's adopted daughter. We first see her as a six-year-old with strong telepathic abilities. Later, she falls in love with and marries James/Jimmy The Hand - and uses her powers to aid him in his role as the Kingdom's chief spy.

PROS: Proves her bravery even as a little girl, confronting things she'd rather not with her powers. Had a major role doing spy work in Prince of the Blood and apparently served in that capacity in several unseen adventures. Had perhaps the coolest heroic death ever, along with her husband.

CONS: None, really - save that she meets her future husband after he accidentaly sees her bathing, thinks "She has the most beautiful bottom I've ever seen" and she telepathically stuns him on reflex, accidentally scanning his mind in the process and instantly falls in love with the little boy afraid of being abandoned underneath the jaded ex-thief. It's a bit pat even if it is written off as being true love with Gamina and James complementing each other perfectly.

Bree - second in command of the armies of Aremengar. Falls in love with and marries Martin, becoming Duchess of Crydee.

PROS: Strong warrior woman who can hunt, fish and fight as well as any man. Is also the aggresor in her relationship with Martin, telling him plainly that "I would not be alone this night". She also resists a commitment at first, noting that with where she lives (big fortress surrounded on all sides by dark elves) it is not wise to plan past tomorrow. Also gets heroic death, fighting slavers at a point when she is well past Social Security age and taking a lot of them with her when she finally falls from blood loss.

CONS: None, really. Bree kicks ass and only has one tearful moment in the whole series after she and Martin share one last night together as he goes off to run a message to the calvary and she asks him to tell her what future he would have for them.

Margaret - Martin and Bree's daughter. Definitely takes after her mom.

PROS: Despite spending most of the one novel she stars in being a captive - first to slavers, then to cultists - she does not despair, does not give up hope of escape and winds up killing a lot of her captors directly and indirectly, risking her life to stop one slaver from raping a young girl. Also pimpslaps the girl who says "give up... we're going to be drudges and whores for the rest of our lives", refuses to be ashamed as she is forced to march and bathe before strange men in nothing but chains and winds up making several escape attempts that would probably work if she didn't have to worry about Abigail.

CONS: None, save that the scenes in which she is stripped by slavers, chained up by slavers and bathing before slavers suggest that Ray needed a cold shower.

Abigail - Margaret's lady in waiting. Crush of the two main male protagonists in The King's Buccaneer AKA The Load.

PROS: Eventually toughens up after repeated prompting by Margaret.

CONS: Just about everything else. She's beautiful but utterly useless in a fight. Serves to provide most of the cheesecake, as we are informed when being accessed by the slavers that while Margaret has a lean, fighting figure that would serve her well in the arena, Abigail has a body that men like and that she could go for as high as 50,000 gold if she is a virgin. Provides most of the "oh woe is me" dialogue in the above describes scenes involving stripping, chaining and bathing.

Brisa - street girl in the pirate city of Freeport. Joins the party and proves invaluable in acting as a scout and thief.

PROS: Smart enough to hide her good looks under grime and boy's clothes. Is said to tell dirty jokes as well as any sailor and curses about as often. Confident enough - when being strong-armed by four of the heroes - to declare "Stop it! I don't like being grabbed that way! *smiles at male Protagonist 2* Be polite and maybe I'll show you how to grab me."

CONS: Does wind up in a harem girl outfit at one point, acting as a distraction to the City Guard. However, she does give the rest of the team hell about this immediately after.

Miranda - powerful sorceress who has traveled far around the Universe. We eventually find out she is the daughter of Merlin-level magician Macros the Black and she marries Pug at the end of the Serpent War books, eventually having two children with him.

PROS: Is presented as Pugs equal in power, if not knowledge. Is better at some forms of magic than him. Does many heroic deeds on her own in Shadow of a Dark Queen before teaming with Pug.

CONS: In the more recent novels, her role as an active hero has lessened, with her seeming to have assumed a role similar to that of Katala in running Pug's secret magic school on Sorceror's Isle. Spends most of these books worrying about Pug, worrying about her sons and doing percious little adventuring on her own.


So what prompted me to start considering all of this and writing all of this recently? In the latest book, Rides a Dread Legion, we are introduced to one new female heroine; Sandreena. Sandreena is a Knight-Adamant - a special group of warrior-priests appointed by Dala, the goddess of war (aka The Shield of the Weak). She is an expert in fighting demons and, we are told, stunningly beautiful. Despite this she is not the least bit vain. Indeed, she considers her beauty a weakness and is loathe to use or even acknowledge her good looks to the point where she allows her battle wounds to scar, not caring if they mar her natural beauty.

A woman driven to protect the weak and fight evil by taking up arms who also has to fight the perceptions of beautiful women in her society. And yes, she does wear men's tunic and trousers and wears full-plate armor and a helm when in the field. None of this chainmail bikini shite. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Well, she might be if it weren't for her past and the exact reasons why she considers her beauty a flaw.

Sandreena's mother was a whore and a drug addict. And when she died of an overdose, Sandreena was adopted into the local thieves guild and put to work in one of the higher-class brothels. She was eventually sold off to one of the guild's more valuable business contacts (The Kingdom outlawed slavery years ago, so the guild arranged a contract for "extended professional customer service for an indeterminate period of several years") but was found and rescued by Knight Adamant of Dala who took her in, saw her taken care of and eventually oversaw her training.

Now why does this bother me? Because the "whore becomes warrior who loathes her body" background in fantasy is nearly as cliched as "orphan boy becomes Chosen One"? Yes, but also because it really ads nothing to Sandreena's character for her to have this background or be distrustful of all men, save for the priest who saved her.

It also doesn't add anything for her to have a previous relationship with the other new protagonist introduced in Rides a Dread Legion - a con-man/demonologist who uses his talent for summonining and banishing demons for good... when he isn't robbing people blind by convincing them their houses are haunted and only he can save them. Somehow, he managed to work behind her defenses just long enough for a one-night stand with honeyed words... just before ditching her and leaving her convinced that all me are scum... again.

So now not only is Sandreena a 'whore turned warrior' stereotype, she's also the "man-hating amazon" stereotype to boot!

But what really gets me is that Miranda dies at the end of the book... and it serves no purpose other than to make Pug really pissed off and drive home just how powerful the enemy they are fighting is... even though Miranda basically dies like a punk, getting her throat slashed by a demon monkey that all the people without magic powers have no problem with.

It's just so anti-climactic after the last book in which Nakor (one of the other powerful mage characters) dies... just after snapping the neck of the main villain, thus preventing the destruction of at least two universes. It's a long story but basically, this beloved character who has been around since the fourth book of the saga got a nice, solid heroic death that wound up having a hand in saving all reality.

Miranda deserved something like that but she didn't get it. She got her throat cut by some random demon. Cut to a Valeria funeral, Pug swearing revenge quietly and that's it. Fade to black. Tune in next time.

And thinking about all of this... it just bugs me in ways I can't articulate any further.

I dunno... anyone else have any thoughts?

No comments:

Post a Comment