Penny White: More Whiskey, Vicar?

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Character: Penny White

Text: The Temptation of Dragons (Penny White) by Chrys Cymri

‘Vicar arrested for drunk driving’ is not the  sort of headline my bishop wants to read about his priests.

Penny White. Church of England Vicar. Fantasy and science fiction fan. Whiskey drinker. Life sounds good, eh? But Penny is also a widow, living alone with the memory of her late husband, and that hole in her life made bigger by the absence of her much younger brother, who she brought up herself after their parents death, plus the general weight of her calling. So she escapes with the made-up worlds of Joss Whedon or in splashes of Doctor Who, and just gets on with it. Problem is, she’s just given the last rites to a dragon on the side of a main road, and she has no idea what the hell is going on. She needs a drink.

Penny-White-and-the-Temptation-of-Dragons 2Her bishop, Nigel, explains all about this mystical otherworld and its connections to our own, and subsequently asks her if she’d like to interview for the position of Vicar General of Incursions, a sort of conduit between this world and the alternate of Lloegyr, inhabited by all manner of amazing creatures including most fantasy fan’s weakness: dragons. Obviously she’s going to say yes. But how deep does the rabbit hole go? Well, probably about as far as getting an associate who’s a sarcastic gryphon, partial himself to a drink now and again and holding some secrets of his own, then meeting dragon bishops, and dragon tacsis (did I mention they all speak Welsh in Lloegyr?), and vampires, and harpies in pubs, and snail sharks the size of labradors. And then her little brother turns up, fresh from New Zealand, ready to sponge off her again and get himself into some uber trouble. Penny White’s life? Yeah, never going to be the same.

‘It says “willies!” one girl was shouting excitedly. ‘Pack your “willies!”

‘Stupid autocorrect,’ I muttered. ‘Wellies. Bring your wellies because we’re going on a walk tomorrow.’

What’s great about Penny is that we’re shown a really normal person who drinks, binges on TV shows, is quite the workaholic, and is so very connected to humanity, its brightest gains and greatest losses, in a way most people are not. She’s not just dealing with her own life and her brother’s rather whimsical view of responsibility, but the trials and tribulations of her parish; births, marriages and deaths are all part of the package on a daily basis, raising church funds, increasing the congregation. Then with Lloegyr she’s introduced to something that would possibly throw any other person off the rails: fantasy come true. A means of escape. Another calling from God. She’s thrown into world which challenges so many perceptions in her own religion, and her colleagues and superiors, and must balance what she feels is right while trying to keep in line with the regulations of the church. It takes a complex character to handle morality of the self and of the belief system ones holds, especially when challenged with really far out experiences, and it’s fascinating seeing the struggle for a character based in a real world organisation like the CofE coping with relevance and sheer human ignorance from every angle, and then having bleedin’ dragon lore to get a hang of. Blimey!

‘Oh for a sonic screwdriver, I thought. Then I remembered that the sonic screwdriver didn’t work on wood. Once again I wondered whether this were actually reasonable, or simply a convenient plot device by the writers.’

Penny is strong, and not in that sword-wielding kind of way whilst handling the highs of fantasy battles and what-not (not that it might not be in her future, of course), but emotionally iron-clad, allowing herself to be the human buffer for everyone around her. But she’s a little too iron-clad for her health, as she cannot face her own burdens head-on. Under all that armour is a woman vying for some closure, but the armour is working both ways and keeping her from asking for help, for answers, as everyone else’s needs pile up. Penny’s walks a long road, through pain and loss, but she perseveres, she works towards what she thinks is right, and she risks herself for those she loves, bringing the family she didn’t realise she had together, and solving a disturbing crime in the process. With dragons.

‘Penny, if you want it to be anonymous you need to cut out the references to Doctor Who and whiskey.’


 

Read Chrys Cymri’s Author Spotlight interview!

Read my book review!

Sarah Harding: Dino Slayer

Character: Sarah Harding

Text: The Lost World, by Michael Crichton

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

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This is not Sarah Harding. It’s Lara Croft in a remarkably apt image. But if you’ve seen The Lost World you might understand why I choose not to associate this character with whoever that imposter was.

Sarah Harding spends most of the first half of The Lost World, well, not really in it much. Mostly because she’s off studying hyenas on the plains of Africa, you know, sciencey brain-work stuff. She exists in these first pages more as this legendary figure – the hero of thirteen-year-old Kelly, a smart but rather lonely girl – and also as sometime not-quite-but-possibly partner of Ian Malcolm, which is alluded to briefly but never acted upon. There is no romantic sub-plot, by the way, if you were worried.

‘Harding compact and muscular, looking young and energetic, in shorts and tee shirt, her short black hair pushed up on her forehead with sunglasses. Her field of study was African predators; lions and hyenas, and she was scheduled to return to Nairobi the next day.’

Harding works as an animal behaviourist in the field alone, and studies those carnivores working at night with her one guide. She’s famous for being tough and resilient – once trekking twenty miles of the Savannah after a car breakdown, and fending off lions by launching rocks at them. Because African Savannah 101: you don’t run from lions.

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Arya Stark is more Sarah Harding than the movie imposter, too.

When she’s invited to join the expedition to Isla Sorna, though unaware of exactly what they’re looking for, she’s intrigued enough to go because she can’t help herself. Her resilience is soon tested when she boards a boat to the island with lead mean guy Dodgson, and finds herself overboard, fighting for life in the waters off the coast of her destination. From that point on Sarah Harding’s ‘take no BS’ button is permanently pressed. Plus, that Dodgson guy, yeah, he’s gets his comeuppance for the boat thing.

‘…she saw that tyrannosaur has his legs in its jaws, and was pulling Dodgson out from under the car. Dodgson wrapped his hand round her boot, trying to drag her with him, trying to hold on. She put her other boot on his face and kicked hard. He let go.’

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Surely there was someone in the 90s who could have played a dark haired bad ass in that film. Anyone? You’d believe the raptor punch with this lady wouldn’t you? WOULDN’T YOU?

Harding is a woman who stands back and assesses the situation, ekes out the details until she has the answer she needs, then takes action. And when she takes action, it’s all action. While some other characters are huddled in the corner or already stewing in the belly of the beasts, she’s measuring and taking those risks to get what they need to survive and get the hell off that island. She rescuing Malcolm from a T-Rex attacked trailer falling of the edge of a cliff. She’s punching raptors in the face on a motorbike.

PUNCHING RAPTORS IN THE FACE. ON A MOTORBIKE.

But one the best achievements of her appearance in this book is the inspiration she provides Kelly. You should never meet your heroes. Except perhaps, if you hero is Sarah Harding. Kelly’s character is strengthened and enhanced by her brief acquaintance with her hero which ultimately inspires her to find her own inner strength, which was a good, strong message.

“All your life, other people will try to take your accomplishments away from you. Don’t you take it away from yourself.”

The book itself I wasn’t overly impressed with, but I don’t care what anyone says, nor how ridiculous the story and situation is, or even if it’s hard to imagine someone being that frickin’ cool: when you’ve got someone creating as much damn action as Sarah Harding, it’s hard not to jump along for the ride.

And OK. Maybe the raptor thing is on a par with inspiring young women.