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On Writing Women. Looking for honesty...

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Heliotrope, Dec 11, 2017.

  1. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Ok, I'm going to preface this by being honest.

    I never finished reading Lord of the Rings.

    I also never finished reading Dune.

    Both have been sitting on my shelf for twenty years or more, pages turned down. Never finished.

    This bothered me for a long time. I felt like something was wrong with me. They are so famous! They are the pinnacles of fantasy achievement! Why could I read The Mists of Avalon and not these books?

    I recently read this interview by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass):

    A Conversation With His Dark Materials Author Philip Pullman (and His Daemon)

    And I know we have some rules now about how much we are allowed to post, so I will just do the tiny bit that hit me:

    When I think of literature—Dickens, George Eliot, Joseph Conrad—the great novelists found their subject matter in human nature, emotion, in the ways we relate to each other. If that’s what Tolkien’s up to, he’s left out half of it. The books are wholly male-oriented. The entire question of sexual relationships is omitted.

    Bam. This was it for me. This was the reason why I couldn't finish those books. It was finally explained in a way that resonated with me. Both Lord of the Rings and Dune were so male-oriented. All the main characters were males doing male things. The only women in the books were hyper idealized virgin-esque, almost angelic beings that I could not relate to as a pre-teen girl growing up. The women did not have any of the struggles, passions, interests, or desires that I had. They were sparkling, glittering card board cut outs.

    Women readers... did anyone else have the same troubles with these books as I did? It was only when I finally found fantasy books that utilized real female characters that I could actually get into the genre.
     
  2. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

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    IMO, both the Lord Of The Rings and Dune are long winded. They are boring in many places. I'm not surprised people cannot finished them. In fact, Dune became know as the book nobody finishes on their first read. But their movies keep to their ideals, so one can watch them instead.
     
  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Ha! Good to know.
     
  4. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    The same movies that show trembling and confused eleven year old boys being given swords and armour in order to fight 10,000 hulking Uruk-hai, while the fully trained, grown ass women are sent to the caves to weep and cower. (n)
     
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  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Could be true, could be false. Many of the non-fantasy classics are very male oriented. Did you have trouble with Treasure Island? Three Musketeers? Been a long time, but even the Count of Monte Cristo... pretty much a testosterone fest. A Christmas Carol. Most Dickens as I recall. Twain too.

    My knee-jerk reaction would be this is a misdiagnosis. While it could be a piece of the issue, I expect there's something more. Part of this will be generational, when I was a lad, the selection of fantasy was atrocious and thin. Now days, its mostly atrocious but a helluva lot of it, heh heh.

    But then, I am a dude who read Dune straight through the first time (err, close to 3 decades ago?)... book 2, no, I didn't make it past book 1, LOL.
     
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  6. And Eowyn's role is significantly diminished in the movies, unfortunately.

    The Silmarillion at least has the Tale of Beren and Luthien, wherein Luthien does most of the rescuing instead of the other way round.

    Speaking of The Mists of Avalon, I finally have all three books in the trilogy. One issue I had with the 'first' one was that all of the characters were so multi-dimensional, perhaps too much so, that I found it hard to sympathize with any of them.

    Also, so far, all of my protagonists are female. I really don't have much experience with writing male characters...
     
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  7. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I did struggle with Treasure Island. And the Three Muskateers (Never read it). All the old testosterone fests. I read Anne of Green Gables. When I look at it, I loved A Wrinkle in Time (female lead character). I loved Wizard's First Rule because the women characters were real women, with urges and sexual desires and passions and hopes beyond just "being a warrior" or "being angelic beings."

    When I look at my book case, all the books I love are not testosterone fests. I'm simply wondering if other women feel the same?
     
  8. Oh, oh, The Old Kingdom series has female protagonists. They're some of my favourites. Also, Diana Wynne Jones has some very feisty female characters in her books. [Fire and Hemlock is my favourite of hers. I could read it over and over again.]
     
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  9. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I even struggled with Name of the Wind because there wasn't a single normal girl in it. It was pure machoism again. By the end I hated it. Now I'm seeing a pattern....

    I'm wondering if the fantasy section at the book store needs to be re-named to "Male Fantasy". lol. I'm kidding.
     
    Tom likes this.
  10. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Ordering this now.
     
  11. Though the first and third Earthsea books by Ursula le Guin are male-orientated, the second and fourth are not, and all four are worth a read. The fourth one, Tehanu, is my favourite of all of her books.

    Claymore is my favourite manga, mainly because it has an all-female cast [except for three important male characters].
     
  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Dickens had some fantastic female characters who were "real". I'm not talking about "the strong female character". I'm taking about women who feel like real women. Dickens was amazing at creating female characters who felt like actual, real people. Estella Havasham from Great Expectations. Not a testosterone fest.

    Nancy from Oliver Twist.
     
  13. Other recommendations from my bookshelf are:
    Seraphina [features unusual dragons and a half human half dragon protagonists] and its sequel, Shadow Scale.

    The Enchanted Forest tetology [the first three have very strong and determined female protagonists who refuse to let men boss them around, though the fourth does not].
     
  14. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Yes, and more than that, I gravitate heavily to female authors as well. My introduction to fantasy was Patricia Wrede, Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley—Garth Nix is the exception here, but as Crystal says, his Old Kingdom books have great female protagonists. My favorite authors now are still a majority women—Lois McMasters-Bujold is my absolute favorite.

    Books with a female protagonist, authors who write women as often as they write men...there’s an unconscious litmus test there for me for whether I’ll enjoy those books. The focus and the characterization tends to be different. Of course, there are plenty of men in these books, and they tend to be written perfectly well. I’m not sure if it’s a bias so much as it is seeking the absence of a bias...
     
  15. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    Huh. This thread is interesting to me because it's making me wonder how being a trans guy has influenced my reading. I read LotR and the first Dune book for the first time back when I thought I was female, and I...didn't really think about the lack of good women characters. I mean, once I got into fandom discussions online I began to realize that a lot of fantasy had a problem with this, but on my own I didn't see it.

    I didn't see myself in female characters even when I thought I was a girl, instead identifying with the male protagonists. I wonder if any other trans men have similar experiences.
     
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  16. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Exactly. I love male characters too. I love all characters. For me it was coming to this realization of a pattern after reading Pullman's interview of why I struggled with LOTR, and I was wondering if other women felt the same.
     
    noob of the north likes this.
  17. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    I don't have much of an opinion on this as I am a man and I have no knowledge whatsoever when it comes to gender-based psychology/sociology/whatever-other-field-of-study-applies-here, but this does make me wonder how I might make my main story more appealing to a female/feminine audience. My story is heavily focused on a fictionalised, but close to reality version of the Italian-American mafia, who did and do not have any female members in their heavily patriarchal sub-society. For important reasons my main characters are not in any stable relationship either, so that makes me wonder what I could do? Perhaps I could subvert this somewhat by focusing the theme of my story more on how the lack of feminity and its associated characteristics in the lives of these men affects their worldview and way of life.
    Just something to think on for me, so thanks for indirectly causing me to ponder on it.
     
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  18. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I think considering your audience is important. If you are writing for dudes (or woman) who enjoy that sort of male centric mafia stuff then I wouldn't worry too much about it, really. People love LOTR. People love Dune. People love all sorts of stuff. Write to your audience, not to please everyone.
     
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  19. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I'm just more on this path of self discovery right now and wanted to share and see if others had insights to offer :)
     
  20. <I just don’t like the conclusions Lewis comes to, after all that analysis, the way he shuts children out from heaven, or whatever it is, on the grounds that the one girl is interested in boys.>
    I agree with this point, from the Philip Pulman interview. That's one of the many problems I have with the Narnia books. It's not that I dislike them so much as I keep poking holes in them, which started after I actually understood the allegory and realized that the Telemoran "god", Tash, was far more interesting to me than anything else in the entire series, and I was confused as to why a Hindu-esque raven creature was seen as a horrific beast.

    I apologize for getting slightly sidetracked. I've never told anyone how I feel about the Narnia books, come to think of it.
     
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