By Lydia Chen
I am an avid reader, to say the least (more like absolutely book-obsessed), and fantasy is one of my favorite genres. I just love the magic, the adventure, and, most of all, the spontaneity so root to the fantasy genre. Fantasy novels tend to be set in historic, pseudo-medieval, and patriarchal societies, so male protagonists tended to be the norm, with girls taking a back seat. Now, this isn’t unreasonable as what an author wants to write about is his/her prerogative. HOWEVER, that’s not to say I wouldn’t mind reading about a female lead that can kick butt. After all, the whole point of fiction is to rewrite history (and write the future). This is where Tamora Pierce comes in.
About Tamora: Pierce is a YA fantasy author whose teenaged girl warriors have been inspiring readers for over 30 years now. Pierce, who was born in 1954, developed interests in medieval history, sci-fi, and fantasy fairly early – Lord of the Rings was one of her favorite series as a child. Pierce would often tell herself stories out loud while doing chores around the house, and her dad eventually inspired her to start writing them down. Her debut novel, Alanna: The First Adventure, would be published in 1983 with a total of 28 novels out as of now. One thing characterizes Tamora Pierce’s novels: her strong, female heroines who were, and still often are, a rarity in the world of epic fantasy. When asked about how this came about, Pierce said, “I tried to write the kind of thing I was reading, with one difference: the books I loved were missing teenaged girl warriors. I couldn’t understand this lapse of attention on the part of the writers I loved, so until I could talk them into correcting this small problem, I wrote about those girls, the fearless, bold, athletic creatures that I was not, but wanted so badly to be.”
In the words of The New York Times, “[Tamora Pierce’s heroines] faithfully reiterate an ideal of feminine power that relies on brains, not beauty; of feminine attractiveness that relies on competence, not helplessness; and of feminine alliances that grow stronger, not weaker, in the face of conflicts.”
Tamora Pierce builds worlds with social dynamics that parallel the real world. She addresses issues like gender equality, racism, slavery, bullying/hazing, social class barriers, etc. through the lives of her characters and does so thoughtfully. This occurs over multiple story arcs, series, and spin-offs, giving readers a variety of viewpoints and characters to meet as well as in-depth world building.
Literature, especially science fiction and fantasy, have been traditionally dominated by males (especially up until the 1960s; even then, female authors often wrote about male heroes), and if that’s what they want to write about, then that’s their prerogative. However, female authors writing about heroines have been gaining more traction in literature, and there are more and more relatable female protagonists out there for girls to read about. Tamora Pierce is just one of many awesome female authors writing about awesome female characters in fantasy. See Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas for one of the more recent ones, and check out Ursula Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones for two influential female fantasy giants with interesting takes on gender equality.