Partially motivated by having read the blog of my good friend AredhelDethlar who wrote a wonderful entry on the role of women in Fantasy Literature, I decided to present some of my own thoughts on the matter. Her views can be found here and is well worth the read, so if you have the time, head over there!
Concerning the role of women in fantasy literature, it is very hard to deny the fact that in many fantasies women are sidelined to the extreme in many cases. Take for example the Wheel of Time Series. The very nature of magic is geared in such a way that men are always more powerful than women. Within the series, magic is named The One Power and having the power to access it gives someone the title of Channeler. Now, the nature of the one power is that is is divided into two separate components: Saidar (the female half) and Saidin (the male half). Though each have their advantages, the fact remains that within the Wheel of Time universe, a male Channeler would be able to overpower a female Channeler unless the women had the support of a male Channeler. Another example is the Confessors from The Sword of Truth Series. These individuals had the power of Confession, meaning that with a single touch they could make another person fall so deeply in love with them that they would do anything that they asked. Female Confessors were weakened once their power was used whereas Male confessors had no such limitation, able to Confess as many people as they saw fit.
Call me over simplistic but this seems unequal.
The Wheel of Time series was originally published in 1990, which, although it is not that long ago (ironically it was published before I was born and is therefore older than I am), is far enough that we have since had some level of paradigm shift in the western world. In terms of literature, the Wheel of Time is not so recent as other novels. Wizard’s First Rule (the first book in the Sword of Truth Series) was published the year I was born (1994), therefore it still remains early enough to have come before this recent shift in perception.
One thing to note about both the series which I have just mentioned is that, despite men being given far more power, both of these novels do make the point of saying that women are more responsible. Within the Wheel of Time, due to past sins, the Male half of the One Power has become tainted, therefore meaning that any man who tries to use magic becomes corrupted by it and goes mad. Similarly, in the Sword of Truth series, male Confessors become so corrupted by their power that they commit terrible sins. In both worlds, men with the kind of power I have outlined have to be slain. Hence, it may not be so uneven after all.
I think that this is reflective of many areas of our own world. Men are stronger than women, on average, due to biological factors and such and such. However, women tend to be more compassionate, more emotionally active and more wise. In both these stories, men are given more raw power and aptitude, but in both they are shown as being unfit to actually use such powers.
In other fantasy, the role of women is also diminished. Take, for example, the Song of Ice and Fire series, in which women are constantly treated as second class citizens. One thing that I like about this series is that it does take its basis from a historical setting (Imperial Rome) and therefore does have some justification for the way it treats women. However, the main redeeming factor of the series is that most of the female characters are strong and powerful women who remain resolute despite their lot in life. Take for example Daenerys, a girl who is forced to marry into a harsh tribal culture (to put it lightly). Though she is at first treated terribly, through her own strength of will, she begins to flourish until she gains the upper hand.
The bottom line is that not all women are treated equally in fantasy literature. However, what marks the difference between good and bad fantasy from a female perspective is whether or not the women are strong characters, not how they are treated.
And so, to end this entry, I thought that I would give some of my favourite female characters from the fantasy genre. Some are from novels and some are from other story telling formats, such as films or games. Here we go:
- A Song of Ice and Fire (George R.R. Martin) – Daenerys Targaryen, Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister (she may be evil but she is definitely a strong female character)
- Sword of Truth (Terry Goodkind) – Kahlan Amnell, Cara,
- The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R Tolkein) – Eowyn,
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (N.K. Jemsin) – Yeine Darr,
- The Black Magician Trilogy (Trudi Canavan) – Sonea,
- The Magician’s Apprentice (Trudi Canavan) – Tessia,
- Dragon Age: Origins – Morrigan, Wynne,
- Dragon Age II – Aveline
- Dungeons and Dragons Wrath of the Dragon God - Lux
And there are many more where these have come from!