Seeing the Full Picture
I was eighteen when I first discovered romance novels. Until then, my tastes were strongly science fiction and fantasy, with a bit of the historical thrown in for good taste (I was a mad Jean Plaidy fan).
The thing about those books (apart from the Jean Plaidy) is that, well, there wasn’t a lot of action for the girlies. There was the occasional fabulous female character who was integral to the plot and held her own, but on the whole the magic and quests and monsters and so on were the stronghold of the boys. Now, I love those books – LOTR will forever hold a special place in my heart and I still dream from time to time about the Runestaff books. But for a teenage girl that wasn’t as much a tomboy anymore and was getting into girly stuff, there wasn’t a lot there that spoke to me.
Then I went to teachers college, moved in with my grandparents and discovered Grandma’s Mills and Boon collection. I was entranced with these stories in which not only were women important but could even be the ONLY point-of-view character in the whole book. And not just the occasional book like there was in my old loves – here there were thousands of these oases in the desert.
Then along comes urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Oh my, women taking centre stage and claiming the magic, the quests and the monsters for themselves! I was in heaven.
Yet not quite. It became clear that some of these women were pseudo-men. They were gaining their ability to stand tall in these books by taking on attributes normally associated with men – strength, fighting skills, lack of emotion, being the alpha.
For a while, there was a sense of wonder in this – how cool to see women kicking arse! Then came a sense of wondering about why a woman had to take on male archetypes in order to be strong and the hero of a story. Why couldn’t female archetypes – such as caring, nurturing, even being cunning – be the way these women took their place centre stage?
And so the uber-masculinity of the women started to take a back-seat to more feminine traits, but then that caused more problems. In my field of paranormal romance, the desire to not have every heroine be kick-arse ran up against the alpha heroes that populate the field. Vampires and werewolves are not necessarily going to fall for a woman whose greatest skill is cooking (although come to think of it, werewolves enjoy a good meal more than anyone …)
The nice thing is that the growth of romance, and urban fantasy, is filtering through into mainstream fantasy and science fiction as well. Sure, there’s still the old comrades on a quest and boy discovering his magical power stuff and I’m glad about that. But there’s also more of those stories being told from the woman’s point of view. Women standing alongside the men and showing us the fullness of the world they live in.
Because in the end, I think that was the failing of what used to be available. Without seeing a world through the eye of both men and women – you weren’t seeing the whole thing.
Take my great love LOTR for example. The world of the elves, and the hobbits to me seems removed, fantastical, other. The world that really worked for me was Rohan and why? Cause we actually get to see it from the woman’s POV as well. Eowyn gives us a deeper understanding of the troubles besetting the Rohirrim and the strength they have to overcome it than we would have gained if we were just seeing it all from the men’s perspective.
Now, imagine how much worse those scenes of the destruction of the Shire would have been if we knew that worldfrom the perspective of more than four young men who jumped up and left as quickly as they could. What if one of Frodo’s companions had been a girl who was struggling to have her family see her as the individual she was because she wouldn’t conform and then she returns from this great adventure where she’d proven herself, only to find …
I can’t go on – the idea is too upsetting. But I think you get the idea. We need stories of men and women in order to see fully and feel the real ramifications of the actions of a story.
Nicole Murphy has been a primary school teacher, bookstore owner, journalist and checkout chick. She grew up reading Tolkien, Lewis and Le Guin; spent her twenties discovering Quick, Lindsey and Deveraux and lives her love of science fiction and fantasy through her involvement with the Conflux science fiction conventions. Her urban fantasy trilogy Dream of Asarlai is published in Australia/NZ by HarperVoyager. She lives with her husband in Queanbeyan, NSW. Visit her website nicolermurphy.com