-excerpted from Gryphon’s Heir by D.R. Ranshaw
Several readers have paid me the compliment that Gryphon’s Heir features some very strong, diverse female characters. I was a little nonplussed the first couple of times I heard such comments. I’d never really stopped to think about it, but yeah, I guess I do. For example, my male protagonist, Rhiss, has:
- an aunt who happens to be the evil, usurping Queen he’s trying to rid the land of
- a love interest in a fiercely independent but gentle woman he describes as “a perplexing but utterly enchanting mix of strength and vulnerability"
- an intelligent female gryphon who becomes his constant companion early on in the story
- a crusty older woman who mentors him and takes him in tow, trying to help him avoid the pitfalls of his new life
Now, in several respects, it’s unfortunate this is an issue, or worthy of comment, at all. And surprising to me, too, in this day and age. As an OWG (older white guy) who has spent his entire career as a secondary school teacher, it’s an issue that doesn’t hit me over the head every day: teaching is a pretty egalitarian profession as far as gender goes... I get paid exactly the same as my female colleagues, and have worked with a number of women assistant principals and principals. And they’re every bit as competent as their male counterparts. But apparently I live a pretty sheltered life; several female friends assure me that misogyny is, unfortunately, alive and well in our world of today. And despite the Ellen Ripleys and the Katniss Everdeens out there in film and literature, it seems we have a ways to travel yet.
A lot of fantasy --- epic, literary or otherwise --- has, historically, been very male oriented and dominated. As just one example, Frank Frazetta’s numerous images of brawny men with scantily clad women at their feet were most unhelpful in promoting equality between the sexes. And in my obligatory weekly LOTR blog reference, even Tolkien’s female characters are mostly awful. Just awful... although, to be fair, we have to remember when he was writing: England in the first half of the 20th century was hardly a bastion of gender equality. But they’re mostly meek and mild, ornamental background decorations. Even Eowyn, shield maiden of Rohan, who gets to dispatch the Witch-King on the field before Minas Tirith, has really only that one shining moment, and then is relegated to some truly dreadful dialogue as she is wooed by Faramir. We have to give Peter Jackson some credit for giving women a much stronger presence and voice in the film version --- even in The Hobbit with the character of Tauriel... although I wasn’t thrilled about his creation of a character who never existed in the book. That’s Tinkering With The Master, a cardinal sin I have already addressed (read that entry here).
So... how do we write strong female characters in fantasy lit? Without being obvious or painfully artificial or patronizing? Well, I have a few ideas on that score... even from my perch as an OWG. I’ll look at them in my next post. And in the meantime, if you have any thoughts on that matter, send me an email at email@example.com or leave a comment below.