Girls and Stories

I’ve been playing a new game after reading this post by sassymonkey on Blogher .  I’ve been making a list of my favourite fictional female characters.   This includes Lyra Silvertongue from the “His Dark Materials” series, Titty Walker and Nancy Blacket from “Swallows and Amazons”, Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax, Lireal and Sabriel and so many more.

I found some interviews with authors and directors about the female characters in their stories: Hayao Miyazaki always seems to have strong girls in his movies.  Chihiro, Nausicaa and Mononoke Hime are just some of them.  The older women are impressive as well: Lady Eboshi, the warrior chief in Princess Mononoke, Yu-baaba and Zeniba, the twin witches in “Spirited Away” are all convincing, strong, powerful creations.

In this interview, Miyazaki speaks about his fascination with female leads.  Part of the reason he always has female lead characters is because he tries to create stories that do not fit easily into the usual formulas  of adventure and romance. He likes to juxtapose seemingly contradictory traits in his characters.  Nausicaa is a loving, nurturing girl  who is prepared to kill. Lady Eboshi is equally as fierce in her determination to destroy the forest, as she is to protect the damaged women who work for her. I love this quote, in which he speaks about his admiration for his characters:

“I don’t logically plan it that way. When we compare a man in action and a girl in action, I feel girls are more gallant. If a boy is walking with a long stride, I don’t think anything particular, but if a girl is walking gallantly, I feel “that’s cool.”

Garth Nix says something similar in this interview in which he describes the development of the story which eventually became “Sabriel”.

” … I wanted to explore the concept of a necromancer who uses his powers in the opposite way to what you would expect, in that he banishes creatures who have come back to life. So I expected to write a book about the Abhorsen, Sabriel’s father. However in writing the prologue I found Sabriel herself was much more interesting and I ended up writing about a young woman who is a kind of anti-necromancer, rather than a middle-aged man.”

That makes sense to me!

Phillip Pullman also has some of the most appealing girls in fiction. Sally Lockhart – so brave and true, strong and vulnrable.  Lyra Silvertongue, stubborn, honest and loyal.  And apparently Lyra is the spritual daughter of another favorite heroine of mine, Marion from Paul Berna’s “A Hundred Million Franks”.  Here Phillip Pullman speaks about this influence:

“The point about that book for me was that on page 34, there was a drawing of some of the kids defying the crooks, and I fell in love with the girl in the drawing. She was a tough-looking, very French sort of character, with a leather jacket and socks rolled down to her ankles and blonde hair and black eyes, and altogether I thought she was the girl for me.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised – in fact, now I think about it, it’s obvious – to find that the girl on page 34 of A Hundred Million Francs is the girl who four decades later turned up in my own book Northern Lights, or The Golden Compass, where she was called Lyra.”

I loved Marion. She cared for all the abandoned and lost dogs in her village.  Whenever she was in trouble they would come running to look for her whenever she whistled.  She is the same tough, sharp tongued, loving character as Lyra. This theme – of a female character helping to tell a more compelling story – is also explored in this interesting article on “Women in His Dark Materials” by Christina M Huber: She concludes her article with this:

“Despite the fact that most children’s literature – especially adventure and fantasy stories – is still dominated by male characters, a female hero is not a novelty. However, it can be argued that having a girl as a central character helped Pullman convey his message substantially; the same way that having a male character describe finding his female side in his dæmon is more daring and potentially more powerful than a female character finding her male side. Pullman appeals for a positive holistic human existence, and he emphasises that by stressing the female side.”

Who are your favorite female characters?

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jennifer
    Dec 19, 2008 @ 16:18:53

    Regarding His Dark materials, I read them back to back over the period of three days. I had never before been so engrossed in a novel. I was 30 years old and pregnant. Lyra is still one of the best female characters ever written, in my view.

  2. masha
    Dec 19, 2008 @ 16:51:37

    Yes I so agree. I think you would also enjoy his “Sally Lockheart” series. I think it starts with “The Ruby in the Smoke”, and then there is also “The Tiger in the Well”, “The Tin Princess”, “The Shadow in the North”. They are absolutely excellent, tragic, lovely books.

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