Tags: fantasy


Women and Fantasy: tell me why.

The mistress-works of fantasy is growing apace and now has a wonderful array of books and writers. We are light on books first published in other languages than English, and on writers of colour -- there are so many good women of colour writing fantasy now, but there seem to be far too few before 2000. There are sure to be writers I've missed. Keep the names coming, please.

Plus I have a new challenge for you. Tell me about the writers you love. Tell me why you put their name forward. Tell you what they mean to you. Tell me why you love them.

I put together my initial list from memory and from a brief skim of my bookshelves. Those were my automatic names, the women I instinctively want to belong there. These are my touchstone writers, the writers who, to me, make up what fantasy means. Let me tell you about just one of them.

Judith Tarr (dancinghorse) was one of the very first names I thought of. I was 23 or 24 when her first book, The Isle of Glass came out in 1986. (1987 over here in the UK) and towards the end of my PhD (mediaeval history, specifically 11th century Wales.) Before I was five chapters in, I knew that this was going to be one of the books of my heart. Here was a writer who got it, who sensed the same nuances and colours and textures that I sensed in my historical studies, who saw beyond the panoply and Hollywood-shiny popular view of Merrie England. Here was a book with characters who belonged in their mediaeval setting, who were not all high nobles and fated heroes.
It's hard to explain what this meant to me. I'd read a lot of fantasy by then and met a lot of characters and worlds I loved. But somehow, however much I loved and admired them, how much I hoped one day to write as well as them, they all felt a long way away from me. The reigning fantasy writers of my childhood were men -- Lewis, Garner, Tolkien, Andrew Lang, Carroll. They were academics, scholars, important figures who were talked about on television and radio. My 10-year-old self thought I had to be like them, achieve their levels of knowledge and significance to write. Or else I needed to spring forth, a fully-fledged Great Talent, by 17 or 18, as I imagined Tanith Lee to have done, or at least be being published in pulp magazines in my late teens and early twenties. The only other route into fantasy success seemed to be by becoming somehow part of that mysterious American world of sf cons and contacts -- hard to achieve from rural Leicestershire.
And then I wasn't pretty or confident. I wasn't brilliant. I was just a misfit who liked books and always did her homework. I went to university and went on liking books and doing my homework. I joined the sf society and the fantasy society, and discovered that, as a writer, I was good for a girl (and for a non-scientist. Ah, young men. How tactless you are).
I'd written a lot of words by 1986. Fanfic, through my teens, and random stories that occurred to me. Papers for class and the bulk of the 120K of my PhD. I was working on a novel (Illuris -- the tale of Gaverne Orcandros and the first Allandurin kings, which eventually turned into the back-drop of Living with Ghosts), but I didn't have real faith in it.
Then I discovered Judith Tarr.
She was like me, or so I thought. She too was trained as a mediaevalist. She wrote about the sort of world I studied, the middle ages I knew. She wrote about magic and monasticism, about what religion really meant in that context (and not the straw man of 'pagans good, Christians bad' that riddled so much other fantasy), about relationships that weren't fated or easy but needed to be worked at, about political expediency, dynastic breakdown, poverty and battles that hurt people. She wrote about a world very like the one I was researching without shortcuts or simplifications or fakery. She was the real deal. I loved that first book of hers with a passion.I still do. I have all her books, a long shelf of them, much loved, much read, much recommended. Later on, when I'd finished the PhD and was teaching in universities, I used to recommend several of her books to my students as a way of getting a true sense of what the 8th, the 9th, the 12th centuries were really like. She's the finest writer of mediaevalist fantasy we have in English.
And she encouraged me to write, back in 1987. She showed me that there was space for women like me.
Thank you, Judy. You're priced above rubies.
Goth marquise

Women and Fantasy

I'm probably not the best person to do this. Or the right one. But in the light of Ian Sales' excellent list of women sf writers (http://iansales.com/2011/03/17/the-sf-mistressworks-meme/), the wonderful work done by Maura McHugh (splinister) about women in horror, and all the excellent articles being written on the sf side, it occurs to me that us fantasy types need perhaps to do our own stand-up-and-be-counted thing.

Fantasy is always going to be difficult, of course. As a genre, it attracts more than its share (imho, anyway) of negative comment for its supposed lack of rules, logic, rigour etc etc. I've lost track of the number of times I've seen articles and programme items asking questions on the lines of 'Is good sf being drowned in the fantasy slush pile?' I've definitely lost count of the number of times excellent fantasy novels are re-labelled sf or slipstream or anything so that those who like them but claim to disdain fantasy can feel safe. I seem to see phrases on the lines of 'all those fantasy-writer women' used all too regularly as a put-down of both my genre and my sex. Then there's the fantasy equivalent of that hoary old chestnut 'literary writer writes sf novel and gets plaudits for something done in the genre 40 years earlier,' when an established (and nearly always male) sf writer writes a fantasy. 'That'll show 'em', comes the cry (and usually the 'them' are characterised as probably female, probably bad, probably unaware of the possibilities of our genre). And out comes yet another book that, like those literary ones, doesn't know enough to know the cliches. Like everyday sexism, it slips by largely unnoticed, and I sigh. Fantasy is seen as a step down for women but a playground to be dominated for men. When a few years back an excellent female sf writer produced a novel with fantasy elements, there were loud mutters about her 'selling out' and 'failing'; around the same time a male sf writer produced a very dull fantasy and 'that'll show those fantasy women' said someone on a mailing list.

Then there are the in-genre hierarchies. In our litany of ancestors, we recall Dumas and Haggard, Burroughs and Howard and Lieber, but not Georges Sand or Hope Mirrless or Sylvia Townsend Warner. Two of those latter were not prolific. Then again, they had the problem of being female to contend with -- of being allowed that space to write and access and acceptance that men had far less trouble acquiring. There are many, many fine female fantasy authors, but the master lists remain that -- lists mainly of men. Male writers occupy more shelf space (albeit rather less than in sf), get more plaudits, more reviews, more acclaim and, I suspect, more rewards. I've said this before: for every acclaimed male fantasy author, there's a female author just as good or better who is not noticed, not reviewed, not rated. George R R Martin (whose work I love) and Kate Elliott, who is every bit as good, and sometimes more rigorous; The wonderful Patrick Rothfuss and the equally wonderful and horribly unfairly overlooked Barbara Hambly. China Mieville, whose books I admire but don't hugely like, and the -- too me, anyway -- more innovative Mary Gentle. Guy Gavriel Gay, whose books I have to admit don't grab me (though I can see why other people love them) and the astonishing Judith Tarr, the best writer of historical fantasy out there, whose books I've collected avidly since her very first.

And then there are the female innovators -- and Mirrlees is one, with her Austen-esque, wicked, playful, delicious Lud-in-the-Mist. Katherine Kurtz, whose Deryni novels are the real start of historical high mediaeval fantasy. The peerless Tanith Lee, whose range and depth and creativity is breathtaking. Anna Kavan, turning madness into slipstream without the masturbatory elements that some male writers seem to find unavoidable. Louise Cooper, with her questionable heroes and layered worlds, going beyond Moorcock to ask serious questions about sexual domination and control. Marion Zimmer Bradley -- much though I dislike The Mists of Avalon, it cannot be ignored as a book about the nature or female spirituality and about the other side of myth. Katherine Kerr, who did something genuinely original and creative and plausible with Celtic tropes. Leigh Brackett and C L Moore. R. A. MacAvoy. Evangeline Walton. Naomi Mitchison. Vera Chapman. Clemence Housman.

So, let's have some names and some books. Here are a few of my picks, just to start.

Clemence Housman, The History of Sir Aglovale de Galis.
Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Kingdoms of Elfin
Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist
Leigh Brackett, The Sword of Rhiannon
C. L. Moore, Jirel of Joiry
Evangeline Walton, The Prince of Annwn
Naomi Mitchison, To the Chapel Perilous
Katherine Kurtz, Deryni Rising
Louise Cooper, Mirage
Susan Cooper The Dark is Rising
Diana Wynne Jones, The Spellcoats
Tanith Lee, Lycanthia
Katherine Kerr, Daggerspell
Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon
Judith Tarr, A Fall of Princes
Nancy Springer, Madbond
Barbara Hambly Dog Wizard
Claudia J Edwards, Bright and Shining Tiger
Ursula K Le Guin A Wizard of Earthsea
Sheila Gilluly, Greenbriar Queen
Freda Warrington, A Drink of Blood Wine
Storm Constantine, Sea Dragon Heir
Patricia McKillip, The Sorceress and the Cygnet
Alis Rasmussen, The Labyrinth Gate
Sheri Tepper, Marianne, the Magus and the Manticore
Jenny Nimmo, The Chestnut Soldier
Miyuki Miyabe, Crossfire
Elizabeth A Lynn, The Dancers of Arun
Nina Kirikki Hoffman, The Thread that Binds the Bones
Ellen Kushner, Swordspoint
Delia Sherman, The Porcelain Dove
Emma Bull, War for the Oaks
Pamela Dean, Tam Lin

Edited to add:
Greer Gilman, Moonwise
Megan Lindholm, Wizard of the Pigeons
R A MacAvoy,Tea with the Black Dragon
Patricia Geary, Living in Ether
Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
Tove Janssen, Comet in Moominland
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber
Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse
Joan Aiken, Black Hearts in Battersea
Robin McKinley, Deerskin
Meredith Anne Pierce, The Darkangel
Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
Elizabeth Marie Pope, A College of Magics
Laurie J Marks, Delan the Mislaid
Sherwood Smith, Crown Duel
Lisa Goldstein, The Red Magician
Lynn Abbey. Daughter of the Bright Moon
Carol Berg. Transformation
Francesca Lia Bloch. Ecstasia or Weetzie Bat
Mary Brown. The Unlikely Ones
Lois McMaster Bujold. The Curse of Chalion (I think it's 2001, but too good to leave out)
Joy Chant. Red Moon and Black Mountain
Suzy McKee Charnas. The Vampire Tapestry
Jo Clayton. Duel of Sorcery
Diane Duane. So You Want To Be A Wizard?
Doranna Durgin. Dun Lady's Jess
Phyllis Eisenstein. In the Red Lord's Reach
Esther Friesner. Elf Defense
Linda Haldeman. Esbae: A Winter's Tale
L. Dean James. Summerland
Phyllis Ann Karr. Frostflower and Thorn
Carol Kendall. The Gammage Cup
Adrienne Martine-Barnes. The Fire Sword
Diana L. Paxson. The White Raven
Rachel Pollack. Godmother Night
Elizabeth Marie Pope. The Sherwood Ring
Irene Radford. The Glass Dragon
Melanie Rawn. Dragon Prince
Jennifer Roberson. Sword Dancer
Kathleen Sky. Witchdame
Michelle West, The Broken Crown
Mary Stanton. The Heavenly Horse From the Outermost West
Sydney Van Scyoc. Sunstone series
Janny Wurtz. The Master of Whitestorm
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Hotel Transylvania
P. C. Hodgell, God Stalk.
Caroline Stevermer, When the King Comes Home.
C S Friedman, Black Sun Rising
Tanya Huff, Sing the Four Quarters
JV Jones The Barbed Coil
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, The Healer's War
Patricia Wrede, Mairelon the Magician
Jane Yolen, White Jenna
Lucie M Chin, The Fairy of Ku-She
Juliet E McKenna, The Thief's Gamble
Francis Stevens (Gertrude Barrows Bennett), The Citadel of Fear.
Vera Chapman, Three Damosels
Anne Bishop, Daughter of the Blood
Kristine Katheryn Rusch, Heart Readers
Elizabeth Moon, Sheep Farmer's Daughter
Ann Lawrence, The Hawk of May
C J Cherryh, Gate of Ivrel
Jane Gaskell, The Serpent
Lynette Muir, The Unicorn Window
Mary Gentle, Rats and Gargoyles
Louise Lawrence, The Wyndcliffe
Gill Alderman, The Archivist
Gillian Bradshaw, Hawk of May
Eleanor Arnason, Daughter of the Bear King
Ru Emerson, Princess of Flames
Teresa Edgerton, Goblin Moon
Peg Kerr, Emerald House Rising
Sasha Miller, Ladylord
Susan Shwartz & Andre Norton, Imperial Lady
Martha Wells, The Element of Fire
Gael Baudino, Gossamer Axe
Katya Reimann, Wind from a Foreign Sky
Elyse Guttenberg, Sunder, Eclipse & Seed
Josepha Sherman, The Shining Falcon
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Taminy
Mercedes Lackey, Arrows of the Queen
Katherine Eliska Kimberley, Night Calls
K M Briggs, Hobberdy Dick
Penelope Lively, he Driftway
Edith Nesbit, Five Children and It
Hilda Lewis, The Ship That Flew
P L Travers, Mary Poppins
Rosemary Harris, The Moon in the Cloud
Ursula Moray Williams,Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat
Lucy M Boston, The Children of Green Knowe
Margo Lanagan, Walking Through Albert
Sara Coleridge, Phantasion (more on this one here: http://www.blackgate.com/2010/09/19/worlds-within-worlds-the-first-heroic-fantasy-part-iv/) Thank you to Matthew for the heads'-up.
Tananarive Due, My Soul to Keep

And there are more -- I've consciously left out books published after 2000, including some that I rate very highly, like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (N K Jemisin); Traitors' Gate (Kate Elliott); Inda (Sherwood Smith) and General Winston's Daughter (Sharon Shinn) -- I think the Miyabe is the most recent on the above list, and that mainly for reasons of translation date. (It was originally published in Japan in 1998.)

What do you all think? What I have I forgotten? Who deserves to be included? And if any of you know what became of Sheila Gilluly, whose books I adore, please tell me.

Skirt of the day: black pinstripe wrap.

Edited to add: jemck has been keeping track of female review share on her blog for a while now, too. Fascinating stuff on how attention is divided, and how male writers are still getting the bigger share. Do read it.

The women who could

I'm mulling, still, on jemck's excellent post yesterday. And in my head, a play-list is forming of all those female fantasy writers who have built worlds I love, opened doors, set standards, taken steps into the new, the unknown. So here, in no particular order, are the writers who made me think, made me see fantasy as space where I could be, who broke new ground, who shaped the genre as I know and love it.

Hope Mirrlees, who opened that door between worlds with wit and wisdom.
Sylvia Townsend Warner, who brought elegance and grace.
Katherine Kurtz. I outgrew her books, but she was an innovator with her approach to High Magic, to religion in fantasy and in her expression of the High Mediaeval mode. I read everything with fantasy on the label in the 70s, and Kurtz was genuinely different: the fashion when she first appeared was still Heroic/swords and sorcery or 'low' style fantasy. She harked back to Morris and Dunsany, but in a far less mannered, far less forced mode.
Katherine Kerr (aberwyn). Other writers had done Celtic-influenced things, but Kit's Deverry books have a really solid, authentic, well-supported and internally consistent basis in real history, they aren't riven with new age thinking, historical wishful thinking or sentiment. And they're good.
Tanith Lee. Queen of the Universe. No arguments. She is easily as innovative a writer as Moorcock, yet she gets a fraction of the recognition and respect. (Yes, he has an important editorial side too. But I'm talking about books.)
Susan Cooper.
Diana Wynne Jones.
Alis Rasmussen (kateelliott: The Labyrinth Gate prefigured the whole steampunk fantasy thing by nearly two decades. Nobody seems to remember.
Judith Tarr (dancinghorse). One of the earliest writers of mediaeval alternate history, yet we had to wait for a book by a man for the applause to start.
Mary Gentle.

I could go on and on. But these are the writers whose books lit up my reading world. There are many more who I've discovered more recently, many women writing wonderful, innovative, intelligent fantasy. We need a banner and an anthem. We need a parade. Who would you honour and invite?
Goth marquise

Fantasy names: a rant.

So, one of the charges often levelled at fantasy is that it's full of polysyllabic names and that that's totally unrealistic. Because, y'know, in the Real World (TM), everyone is called Bob or Sue. Just everyone.
This, with respect (okay, with minimal respect) is nonsense. The Real World is full of all sorts of names and naming customs. And, frankly, as a complaint, it's riddled with entitlement. I, the reader, want everything to be easy for me and familiar to me. I don't want to face difference. It's scary.
Bollocks to that. Language -- language in its widest sense, meaning all those wonderful, contradictory, baffling, eloquent, elegant, fluid, magical, changeable, ways in which we communicate and miscommunicate with one another -- is one of our greatest gifts and challenges and tools. Languages are rich and nuanced and redolent and textured. Language is one of our greatest adventures.
And I, for one, want to go on those adventures. I don't want to read about worlds that are exactly like mine, to see only my own practices and expectations and ideas mirrored. I want to be shocked and scared, challenged and surprised, baffled, frustrated, delighted, awakened, expanded. I want to learn.
And I don't learn in a landscape where everyone is limited by one set of rules, where it's only 'realistic' for characters to be called Boyon and Girla (or, for daring writing, Boyol and Girlie). That isn't the world I live in now, for heaven's sake.
Reality check. Not everyone has a name like Bob or Sue. Even within my own white British culture, I know or know of Elizabeths and Bartholemews, Susannahs and Benedicts, Annabels and Julians. Not all of them are Liz or Bart, Sue or Ben, Anne or Jules, either. And if we lift those cultural blinkers, the wider world has and uses proudly, happily, longer names every single day. Saraswati. Paradorn. Ssima Be-Ping. Hideyoshi. Hitomi. Bronislav. Go and look at Thai names, or Indian ones, or even Irish. Conchubhair. Mael-Sechlainn. Derbhorgaill. We are not all white and Germanic. We are not all uniform, nor should we be.
And I won't fit my characters with the strait-jacket of lazy (culturally privileged?) reader expectation. Most of the names I use derive from Old French, Middle English and Welsh. Some of those are short -- Aude, Jehan. Some of them aren't -- Thiercelin, Gracielis.
Name vary, people. Names and naming conventions differ with time, with culture. Some times and cultures allow for abbreviations or pet names -- Thierry, Sue, Pinky. Some add syllables to indicate intimacy or respect -- Ryouga-kun, Mo-Colum. My characters don't live in a world defined by my junior school, which was in a white-bread small village. They don't have to end with the suffixes that make my culture-mates feel comforted. They aren't me. They aren't Jane-from-Basingstoke or Jack-from-Poughkeepsie, either. If I want to read about Jane and Jack, Ill buy a book set in those sort of places. If I find Jane in Fantasyland, her writer needs to convince me that Jane is a natural fit in that place -- and that that place is real in itself and not just Basingstoke with dragons. (Actually, Basingstoke with dragons might be an improvement. But you know what I mean.)
When William Morris made his translations of Old Norse sagas, he adapted the female names he found in them so that they ended in -a, enforcing Latin grammatical practice and (in part) naming practices on 12th century Scandinavia. It looks and sounds wrong. Like 19th century contemporaries who, following the fashion for Anglo-Saxon revivals, gave their daughters Old English names (Ethelberta), he was blinkered by his own cultural expectations.
Fantasy needs to be bigger than that. So, don't go telling me I have to stick to Boyon and Girla. This world I write about is not the world right outside your door. The Real World is bigger than your street. And so should fantasy be.