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Tolkien & Beyond: Real Heroines for Real Women

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Image from flickr account nxtgnlvcrft

A lot of my friends make fun of my penchant for fantasy novels – they dismiss fantasy as silly. As a fantasy follower since middle school, I know that these books are quality literature, and contain great social, political, and moral commentary. In Elantris and Mistborn, for instance, author Brandon Sanderson uses strong-willed women as his main characters.

In Elantris, Sanderson’s debut novel, the heroine, Sarene, is a princess betrothed to Prince Raoden. But when she arrives in Arelon, Raoden’s homeland, for the wedding, she finds that she is a widow.  Sarene has no ties to Arelon except for her almost-marriage and her marriage contract, but she stays, because she knows it would be best for her home country – they need Arelon as an ally. As Sarene stays and begins to meet people of the court and learn of the social and political atmosphere, she immediately shoves her way into a political environment that forbids women to participate. She is a strong, intelligent woman, who is pushed around by no one – but she is also an appealing character to me because of how normal she is. She has insecurities and sometimes an awkwardness about her that makes her easy to relate to. Just like any ordinary person, she has trouble fitting in, but she pushes past her disadvantage and wins the love and respect of her people.

In Mistborn, the first in Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, Vin is like Sarene in her determination and her ability to gain power and respect in a male-dominated society.  But she does not start as a princess – Vin is a street urchin raised by an abusive brother in thieving gangs. Vin has very different problems to overcome than Sarene, but she does – with the support of her friends, and without the aid of a royal title. Vin grows to know and appreciate herself more, and she finally learns to trust people, despite her harsh life.  And, like Sarene, Vin has that awkward appeal – my favorite trait of any character, because it appeals to my own terrible awkwardness!

Both Vin and Sarene step out of the stereotypical female role of a damsel in distress, but they also don’t fall into the stereotypical “strong female” category. A lot of heroines tend to be fantastically beautiful and powerful – they are all the same! Vin and Sarene, however, are insecure, attractive but not “supermodel-like”, and they work to gain power and respect. These heroines make me, as a modern woman, proud.

But besides all of this, it’s such a great change to see the girls kicking butt for once – they both have great fight scenes! And, to appeal to my more romantic notions, they both fall in love – but nothing too mushy!

–Alyssa Krueger

Alyssa Krueger is an undergraduate English major at the University of Connecticut.  Her column, “Tolkien & Beyond,” appears every Wednesday.


Written by whitney teal

March 24, 2010 at 1:58 pm

One Response

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  1. I love how your personality comes out in your writing. Keep up the good work!


    March 25, 2010 at 5:10 pm

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