“Strong Female Characters”

Can a female character be a “brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, polymath genius”? Well, I don’t see why not, and nor does Sophia McDougall at the New Statesman.

That a female character is allowed to get away with behaviour that, in a male character, would rightly be seen as abusive (or outright murderous) may seem – if you’re MRA minded, anyway – an unfair imbalance in her favour. But really these scenes reveals the underlying deficit of respect the character starts with, which she’s then required to overcome by whatever desperate, over-the-top, cartoonish means to hand.

Another essay on the subject comes from Carina Chocano in the New York Times.

“Strength”, in the parlance, is the 21st-century equivalent of “virtue”. And what we think of as “virtuous”, or culturally sanctioned, socially acceptable behavior now, in women as in men, is the ability to play down qualities that have been traditionally considered feminine and play up the qualities that have traditionally been considered masculine. “Strong female characters”, in other words, are often just female characters with the gendered behavior taken out.

So, what does a real “strong female character” look like? Well, here’s a snippet from Ana Mardoll talking about Disney’s Frozen.

The movie really brings home (especially through the song lyrics, which are just PERFECT) that this Good Girl / Bad Girl dichotomy is damaging to Elsa, and the only way she can really be free is to reject them both. She doesn’t need to be (and fundamentally can’t be) a perfect good girl, but she won’t find freedom by moving over to the bad girl stereotype offered to her by a restrictive society. She’s only free when she throws both of them in the trash.

Also amazing, and very rare: a cursed girl saves herself.

Strong female character? Perhaps.

“Let it Go” Lyrics.

Of course, I can never hear the phrase “Strong Female Characters” without thinking of the iconic strip from Hark a Vagrant (“sexism is over”). Looking for that, I also found a sequel.


Film: Calvin & Hobbes

Bill Watterson has said that there will absolutely definitively not be a Calvin & Hobbes film. That’s probably a good thing. I can’t imagine that any such film could be anything less than a travesty. However, there is going to be a film about Calvin & Hobbes and Bill Watterson. It’s called Dear Mr Watterson, and looks like it might be interesting and rather pleasing.


Sexist Fantasy: It doesn’t have to be that way

History is sexist. We know that. We don’t need to be reminded. The modern day is pretty sexist too.

Fantasy is fantasy. It can be sexist, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

And, of course, a sexist society can be portrayed in a non-sexist fashion, by examining it partly from the perspectives of the oppressed. So if you do want to write about a sexist culture, write about all of it.

Furthermore, history was not necessarily as sexist as you might imagine. In fact, there are rather a lot of recorded women doing things women don’t do.


Narnia: Thoughts on Susan Pevensie

C.S. Lewis mistakenly wrote that Susan had turned her back on Narnia, but what it really seems is that Lewis had turned his back on Susan.
Fred Clark (Slacktivist), “Redeeming Susan Pevensie

One queen said ‘I am not a toy’, and she never returned.
Senan Mcuire, “Wicked Girls Saving Themselves

A god who would punish me for liking nylons and parties by making me walk through that school dining room, with the flies, to identify Ed, well . . . he’s enjoying himself a bit too much, isn’t he? Like a cat, getting the last ounce of enjoyment out of a mouse.
Neil Gaiman, “The Problem of Susan”
I can’t find this one online legally. If you can (and I know some of Neil Gaiman’s stuff is legally available online, so it’s possible), please let me know in the comments.

Susan is committing Lewis’s cardinal sin: getting confused about what is real and what not.
Andrew Rilstone, “Lipstick on my Scholar

[The Last Battle is] definitely the weakest of all the books from a story perspective, because Lewis seems to have abandoned entirely such minor issues as characterization, world-building, plot, and the rest, all to hammer home a series of doctrinal points.

[Lewis is] eager to punish his characters and interested in how to do it.
hapax and Kit Whitfield, “The Question of Susan

Perhaps a very great problem with Susan is that the man who wrote her and other men who write about her consider her a vapid, egotistical, un-gentle person and assert that she is so without ever feeling the need to justify this characterization on the page, with in-character actions.

Denying Narnia can be a method of self-defense against being continually walled off from the outside world of which one may want desperately to be a part.
Narnia, as a place, is deeply hostile to the idea of consent.
Ana Mardoll, “Narnia: Susan, Problems of
(See also Ana Mardoll’s full Narnia deconstruction index.)

He shows beautifully. His telling—when it works it works, but in some cases, you get this weird tug-of-war where Lewis-the-writer shows you a thing and Lewis-the-narrator tells you how to feel about it, and Lewis-the-narrator is flat-out wrong.
Ursula Vernon, “Narnian Apocalyptica

This time an entire country doesn’t have to suffer for years upon years just to act as a backdrop to some British children’s magic adventure time.
yubishines (repent, harlequin), Narnia Deconstruction discussion

You cannot keep the death-vigil for a god and go unchanged.
Ursula Vernon, “Elegant and Fine

Susan let her tears fall freely when she and Peter heard the news.
pukingtoreador, “The Real Reason

And, because not everything is necessarily Narnia (or, at least, not directly),

It reminded her of Porphylia and everything she wanted to forget.
Jo Walton, “Relentlessly Mundane

You saved our kingdom and found your self-confidence.
Randall Munroe (xkcd), “Children’s Fantasy

The riddle of Gollum

It is probably well known by any fan of Tolkien that The Hobbit was slightly rewritten to account for the changed nature of the ring in The Lord of the Rings (a book originally intended as a shorter sequel). The original ring was a mere magic trinket which conferred invisibility on its wearer. It had no higher powers or darker purpose, and Gollum himself was a much less dark character. I’ve never actually read the original version of The Hobbit, but one person who has wrote a fascinating article about the genesis of Gollum, and the genius of Tolkein’s 1947 rewrite, maintaining much of the same characterisation, but with a far darker edge.


Neil Gaiman interviews Terry Pratchett

On the publication of Snuff, Terry Pratchett was interviewed by his one-time collaborator Neil Gaiman. Lovely reading.

On Sam Vimes,

Coppers are easy to write for; they tend to run on rails.

On favourite books and research,

I did a lot of interesting work for Monstrous Regiment in lesbian book shops.

On characters who should return but haven’t,

Somewhere in the back of my mind there is a plot where the hero is Evil Harry Dread.

And on Victorian reference books,

Did I not tell you that in Hay-on-Wye I picked up a collection of very large books with the series title ‘London Then And Now’ and realised that the ‘now’ was in fact 1880? There was even a lovely woodcut of Primrose Hill when it had primroses on it. It really is wonderful stuff. Small things that people might not notice but to me are like a fly to a rising trout.