In an effort to bring you all into my thought processes a little more, I’m going to start writing more about my influences, both generally and specifically. Since I gave you all a profile of Connor Mac Niall last week, and since I’ve written about heroes quite a bit in the past on Fantasy Faction, I thought I’d start by exploring heroines a little.
In some sense, heroes and heroines are not all that different, I think. When we talk about motivations and how to write a protagonist and giving people agency and all that, there’s a lot of overlap, but men and women are different. Just putting a woman in metal boob armor does not a heroine make. I have no objection to badass warrior women heroines, as you will likely see further in this post, but reducing women to just smaller men who are freakishly strong is something of a disservice to women.
The women of The Taurin Chronicles are all very different, and none of them are just smaller men. Mairead has a deep faith and a strong draw to care for those less fortunate, but she also has a ruthless side, and she will absolutely drive a spike through the head of an enemy if necessary. Igraine is sarcastic and devious and crafty, but she’s also fiercely loyal to her principles and determined to make a difference in the world for the good. And Minerva is brainy and bookish and would prefer to just live a quiet life of study, but she keeps getting drawn into larger world events, even as she fights her own confusion about her role in them.
In any case, I will probably go deeper into my thoughts on heroines at a later date, but in the meantime, here are five significant influences on how I write heroines.
Ce’Nedra, The Belgariad and The Mallorean
It’s safe to say that the books of David Eddings are probably the defining fantasy series of my reading history. I think C. S. Lewis got me hooked, but Eddings secured those hooks in such a way that there was no going back. While Polgara the Sorceress also influenced me in many ways, I think Ce’Nedra, Princess of Tolnedra and wife of Belgarion, was more of a direct influence on the heroines I write. In some sense, I feel like I grew up with Garion and Ce’Nedra, probably because I started reading these books in middle school and finished them as they were published.
The really wonderful thing about Ce’Nedra was her dramatic growth over the course of the series. She started out as a spoiled brat and became a devoted wife and mother and a regal ruler by the end. Ce’Nedra grew up, and though I think Polgara also had a great character arc and a lot of growth, Ce’Nedra’s was far more dramatic. I think that reading Ce’Nedra helped me understand how to grow a character over a long series.
Boudica, British folk hero
Boudica was a queen of the Iceni people of early Britain in about 30 AD. At the time, her people were under the authority of the Romans. When her husband, King Prasutagus, died, he dictated that his property be divided between the Romans and his family. The Romans seized everything, raped Boudica’s two daughters, and flogged Boudica. In revenge, she commanded a rebellion against the Romans, and while the Romans eventually triumphed, they lost between 70,000 and 80,000 people to Boudica’s forces and almost abandoned Britain due to the difficulty of suppressing the rebellion. Boudica died in about 60 or 61 AD of either illness or suicide.
Clearly, there is a lot about this folk hero that we don’t know, but the basic story speaks to that side of me that gets fired up watching any movie where an oppressed people rises up and tries to throw off the chains of tyranny. I think it’s fair to say that there is a lot of Boudica’s ferocity and drive toward independence and freedom in all of my heroines.
Suffice to say that the Book of Judges is a tough book to read, but I do enjoy the story of Deborah and Jael. I feel like this influence has to be a twofer, because they do act in tandem, and Deborah predicts Jael’s success.
The short version of this story is that Deborah, the only woman listed as a judge in pre-monarchic Israel, went to the general Barak and told him to attack the Canaanites under the command of the general Sisera. Barak consents, but only if a prophet will come along with him. Deborah says that because he made that request, he will win the battle, but the glory of the victory will go to a woman.
The Israelites do indeed win the battle, but Sisera escapes. He comes upon Jael and asks if he can rest in her tent. She agrees, even offering him some milk before he lies down. As soon as he’s asleep, she hammers a spike through his skull and gets the glory of the victory.
Along with Boudica, I think this story explains a lot of the general badassery of my female characters. I love that Deborah is a woman called to a man’s position in ancient Israel, and I love that because a man questions her instruction, she predicts that the glory will go to a woman. And Jael–what kind of strength does it take, literal and figurative, to hammer a spike through the skull of your enemy?
Lucy Pevensie, The Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia were my gateway drug to fantasy. I loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was a kid, and Lucy Pevensie captured my imagination. Here was this adventurous, curious girl who in some ways didn’t fit in (like me), and she was one of the heroes of the entire series. I may or may not have imagined disappearing into a closet and emerging in another world…
Lucy had a quick wit and a strong independent streak, and I honestly can see a lot of her in my youngest daughter. When others didn’t believe Lucy about the wardrobe, she just stopped talking about it and went back anyway. She had a need to explore and find new adventures. She was independent and driven on her own, and that’s a streak that I am happy to encourage in all of my female characters.
Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
I’m so predictable. I will use almost any excuse to cite Jane Austen. While I do love aspects of all of Jane Austen’s heroines, Elizabeth Bennet really is the defining heroine of the Austen canon, I think. If the moving Becoming Jane is even close to being accurate, it would seem there was a lot of Jane Austen in Elizabeth’s personality.
I think Elizabeth may be the primary influence on Igraine’s personality. Elizabeth Bennet is a woman ahead of her time–someone who wants to be treated as someone with equal standing to a man, someone who resents the idea of having to marry to secure her future, someone who needs to be evenly matched to a man to genuinely love him. But–she’s also honest about herself and her own failings, and she grows over the course of the book to realize that she can make some changes without sacrificing her core personality or subsuming herself to Mr. Darcy. This is an important thing for me for all of my female characters. I want them to have their own agency–to be well-defined outside of any relationship they might enter into.
These are by no means the only heroic influences or even the only female influences on my characters. But I think if you know a bit about these five women, you probably have a pretty clear picture of the sort of heroine who typically pops up in my stories. I like female characters who are witty, strong, independent, and maybe even a little devious. They don’t have to be small men or warriors; they just have to bring the unique qualities and perspectives of women to their parts.
If you like this post and my other writings, remember to subscribe on Substack and share with friends. Unquickened is coming along and will be out on November 22, and other things are in the works as well. Stay tuned!