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!

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Art Showcase – Avatar Korra: The Legend

TV Spotlight Character – Avatar Korra

Show: The Legend of Korra – Book 1: Air (c) by Nickelodeon

(all characters belong to Nickelodeon)

For our first Art Showcase let me introduce you to Black-pantheress who digitally penned our Korra (twice!) below- visit her DeviantArt page for more amazing work!

 

So, I love this show. I started it recently, and it’s almost impossible to turn off. It hits pretty much every spot in terms of fantasy and character, and has some of the most badass women in it ever. This is a post for Korra, but if you decide to watch it keep an eye on Lin Beifong and Asami Sato (who starts out cliché, subsequently swiping that aside).

Anyway, Korra. In Book 1: Air, she’s seventeen, has been known as the Avatar for almost her entire life, and is a reincarnation of the previous Avatar Aang (from The Last Airbender). She must master all four elements – which is called ‘bending’ and looks like the above amazeballs pic – to bring balance to the world. Problem is, Korra’s only mastered three abilities – her native tribe’s water (she’s from the Southern Water Tribe near the South Pole), and fire & earth. With the oncoming visit of Tenzin, the last Airbender mentor in the world and son of Aang (though his children are also airbenders) she’s excited for the chance to complete the set. But Tenzin has to go back to the city to quell some disputes and can’t stay in the south. So Korra, determined to master her destiny, heads off in pursuit on her polar bear-dog without his knowledge. Yep. Polar bear-dog.

Mako: You’re the Avatar. And I’m an idiot.

Korra: Both true.

The animators never shy away from making sure she has all the humour and silliness of expression in a girl her age. They also dress her appropriately; no weird, skimpy bikini things that fall off as soon as someone breathes, but actual clothes. I know, right? They put her in situations that girls who are determined to be ‘cool’ would never venture into, get her messed up and muddied and bloodied (as far as a family friendly animation can). She’s impatient and passionate, excitable and enthusiastic, but she has a sharpness when necessary and makes plenty of teenage mistakes, still learning about who she is in a new culture. In her friendships she is fiercely loyal and brave, and the romantic relationship in Book 1 is stubborn and entirely sweet.

Jinora: Ooh! I just read a historical saga where the heroine fell in love with the enemy general’s son, who was supposed to marry the princess. You should do what she did!

Korra: Tell me!

Jinora: She rode a dragon into battle and burned down the entire country. Then she jumped into a volcano. It was so romantic.

Ikki: No, no, no! The best way to win a boy’s heart is to brew a magic potion out of rainbows and sunsets, that makes two lovers sprout wings and fly to a magical castle in the sky, where they get married and eat clouds with spoons and use stars as ice cubes in their moonlight punch, forever and ever and ever!

Korra: The volcano is starting to make more sense to me now.dddd

Incredibly complex for an animated character, Korra is utterly compelling and instantly likeable. She’s a good person, and she surrounds herself with good people, which is a strong quality of the show.

Sure it’s animation, sure it’s family friendly, but it doesn’t retract from the fact it knows what’s a good message and what isn’t. It knows how to represent people from all walks of life, cultures and ethnicities and finds a way to expose the good in most of them (obvs. some are baddies…), and in this Korra is far away from the churned out rubbish that lazily attempts to represent female characters, or, any characters at all who are meant to be realistic.

One of the most important aspects for me is that sex and/or gender is never used as subjugation. Never does someone tell Korra she, or anyone else for that matter, can’t do something because of her age, sex, gender or colour or any other invented barrier. It is accepted as fact she can, and for me that is one of the most enjoyable aspects of stories like this, and incredibly important for the younger generations watching. Plus she’d probably tell them where to stick it. She might be animated, but I would go with what this series teaches over much else I see in the world or on the box.

Tenzen: “Please Korra, look at Menzen. He’s able to meditate peacefully.”

Korra: “Actually, I think he’s asleep.”

 

Don’t forget to visit Black-pantheress at DeviantArt, for lending us these stunning digital artworks!

Esther Lanark: Prophesy Girl

Character: Esther Lanark

Text: The Witch of Glenaster (The Lanark Chronicles #1) by Jonathan Mills

*SPOILERS AHEAD* 

lyra

Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series : another little girl who puts her strong will and intellect to good use.

After her village is razed to the ground by huge beasts called fire-drakes, Esther finds herself alone and stranded with her younger brother, Magnus, and nowhere to go. That is until she learns the fire-drakes are evil entities controlled by the Witch of Glenaster. Having previously made a pact to herself to destroy the witch when she was older and stronger, this catalyst causes her to instead embark upon the journey well before her intended time. And in her beautifully realised story, this is what makes her interesting and important.

“‘A couple of years and you’ll be wrestling the boys, I shouldn’t wonder…’

‘I can wrestle them now!’ I replied, and the men laughed again, though my father frowned, and I knew some joke had been made at my expense.”

She’s not taken particularly seriously by the people around her initially, but what I love about this character is that no matter the amount of people who tell her the intentions she bears cannot be done she does not bow to it. Nor does she expect anyone to follow her and bear the burden. Esther is fully prepared to take the journey alone, one of my absolute favourite traits in characters, and the key one in Esther whose own stubbornness raises the stakes in her journey, but also keeps you pumped up to the fact she might actually do it.

‘You did not bring us this way. We would have come anyway. If it is me the Witch wants, then I will continue my journey alone, and you will all be safer without me.”

lucy

In Narnia, as the youngest Pevensie sibling, Lucy is usually underestimated due to her age.

Esther’s story wouldn’t be complete if she didn’t have obstacles in her way. Apart from the witch’s servants, strange ghoulish men of the woods, the fire-drakes and fiery apparitions that manage to find her on the way, she has her younger brother, runny-nosed and heavily distraught, to take care of. Their relationship tumbles through sweetness, and bitterness, broken promises and rare delight. She can’t abandon him, they have no family, it’s up to her to be sure he is taken to safety. She manages to maintain a level head and doting perseverance through his mood swings which would have already gotten the better of me as a grown adult…

Then there is Thomas Taper – a mysterious traveller who offers to accompany the children on their mission to the Citadel. Where many characters could have been ruined by the adult coming to the rescue in a sticky situation, and allowed them to take the lead, Esther never loses her drive, ensuring him she will carry out her intentions when she has delivered her brother to safety. Her pure spirit and honest intentions claim Thomas’ respect and also his loyalty.

naughty

Enid Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl, Elizabeth Allen, was always headstrong, wilful and up for adventure.

But Esther’s obsession with the witch explodes when she discovers she might actually be the the key to defeating her, to the point she puts herself and her brother in danger, and pushes Thomas to fury. Every time she insists she must carry out her duty she stands corrected, but fate ties Esther’s future inexplicably with the witch, and her journey continues. Esther’s growth from carefree, ridiculed nobody in the middle of nowhere to strong, independent and respected freedom fighter, who never believes what she intends to do is impossible, is an inspiring journey worth following.

“There is fear where we are going, and horror. I know you would not flinch from it, for you are stronger in heart and mind than most grown men…”

Esther Lanark encompasses the most innocent kind of bravery. She knows right and wrong, but she is too young to fully comprehend the dangers and complexities of the path she chooses, and how it will affect everyone around her. She sees the bigger picture only, the singular problem in her life that has caused so much grief – removing it will fix everything. And this is why her journey is important; through the eyes of this twelve-year-old girl there is only one true determination, and it is little tarnished by the thoughts and will of the adults around her – instead it is her own will that changes their perspectives.

Sarah Harding: Dino Slayer

Character: Sarah Harding

Text: The Lost World, by Michael Crichton

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

lctrex

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.

arya

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.’

xena

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.

Brienne the Beauty

Character: Brienne of Tarth

Text: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

Image source: Watchers on the Wall

Brienne of Tarth

In keeping with the theme of female warriors, let me introduce (or perhaps reintroduce) Brienne of Tarth. Brienne’s character is relatively well known due to the phenomenal success of the HBO series Game of Thrones based upon the best selling series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Her transformation from text to screen has been relatively well received and is for the most part, fairly true to the novels. But, as is the case with any adaption, there has been a lot to Brienne’s backstory that has been missed which is a shame because she is one of the series most fascinating characters.

Brienne is an unusual character, she doesn’t conform the stereotypical image of the fantasy heroine, nor does she represent the typical fantasy knight. Yet Brienne is both, a heroine and a knight. Brienne is unlike the other women in the series, she is not conventionally beautiful like Daenerys, Sansa or Cersei, nor is she content to adhere to traditional gender roles. From an early age, all Brienne has wanted to do was become a knight. She is tall, strong and an exceptional fighter. She is also brave and honest, all traits which would make her an ideal knight. However, due to her gender Brienne is not permitted to join the knighthood, a fact that causes her much distress.

Brienneoftarth

[Image source: HBO]

Brienne is first introduced in the second novel of the series, A Clash of Kings. Catelyn Stark has just arrived at Renly’s camp and there is a tourney of sorts occurring. Catelyn watches as a large knight, armoured in blue beats the King’s favourite:

“His steel was a deep cobalt, even the blunt Morningstar he wielded with such deadly effect, his mount barded in the quartered sun-and-moon heraldry of House Tarth” (A Clash of Kings).

Through the eyes of Catelyn Stark, Brienne’s character is mistaken as a man. It is not until she asks why the crowd appears to dislike him so much that he is actually revealed to be a she.

“Because he is no man, my lady. That’s Brienne of Tarth, daughter of Lord Selwyn the Evenstar” (A Clash of Kings)

Catelyn’s horror upon realising that Brienne is in fact a woman is slightly hilarious, given that she herself has been around other female warriors (such as the Mormont women) and the concept is not entirely foreign to her. Instead what in actuality is shocking to Catelyn is how little Brienne resembles a woman, at least in the most conventional sense. When Brienne removes her helmet, Catelyn is immediately filled with pity:

“Beauty they called her…mocking. The hair beneath the visor was a squirrel’s nest of dirty straw, and her face…Brienne’s eyes were large and very blue, a young girl’s eyes, trusting and guileless, but the rest of her features were broad and coarse, her teeth prominent and crooked, her mouth too wide, her lips so plump they seem swollen. A thousand freckles speckled her cheeks and brow, and her nose had been broken more than once. Pity filled Catelyn’s heart. Is there any creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly woman?

Can we just take a minute to reflect on that last sentence? IS there any creature on earth as unfortunate as an ugly woman?! This is such a problematic statement for so many reasons, but really goes towards expressing the unreasonable expectations we place on appearance. Martin went to painstaking detail to describe Brienne’s appearance, more so than he did many other characters. Just to push the point that Brienne is not like other women. I think it’s important to note that in this passage it is not the author saying, “Hey this woman is ugly”, its through another character (and a female one at that) who recognises those particular characteristics as “ugly”.

Brienne’s appearance is something I find both refreshing and fascinating. I have been tired of reading novel after novel that describes conventionally beautiful women with “perfect” symmetrical features, long luscious hair, sparkling eyes, unbelievable proportioned bodies…you get the idea. What difference does their appearance make on their character? On their ability? Brienne is a tough, crazy strong, bad ass fighter and a sensitive and thoughtful woman. What does it matter if she has straw like hair and a broken nose?

As the novels go on, more of her character is revealed and I really have to commend G.R.R.M on his characterisation for Brienne. We learn her unhappiness and unease in her own body, the taunts she received as a young girl (and continues to do so) but also the strength of her own resolve. Whilst she can never be a knight, she is arguably the one true knight in Westeros, honourable, determined and dedicated to doing the right thing.

I also particularly enjoy her relationship with Jaime. Like her, it is unconventional. It is not a typical love story, nor is there any indication that it will ever eventuate in one, but it is interesting none the less. The two go from extreme dislike to a—begrudging—mutual respect. The television series definitely plays it up more than was evident in the novels, but you do begin to see how Jaime’s opinion of her starts to creep into his own way of thinking. What I wouldn’t give to have the series finish with Brienne carrying Jaime in her arms, walking off into the sunset!

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Brienne and Jaime Lannister

There is so much more to say about Brienne: her character subverts conventional gender expectations and what it means to be a “woman”, she challenges what a “true hero” is, but ultimately she is an incredibly strong, brave, kind, “ordinary” woman. She doesn’t have special powers, magic, or dragons. She is who she is, because she worked hard at it. And I think that is worth applauding.

 

Silence: Warrior Maiden of Honour

Character: Silence

Text: Le Roman de Silence, by Heldris of Cornwall – a 13th century poem in Old French.

This version is a translation by Sarah Roche-Mahdi.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

“I swear that never again will a woman inherit in the kingdom of England.”

silenceLe Roman de Silence is bloomin’ amazing story for its age, and Silence more so as its lead. Warrior maidens have been sprinkled in fiction throughout history, and thankfully to a greater extent nowadays, but this tale in particular captured my attention because despite a true era where masculinity was, and forgive the expression, king, a positive story about a female who defies all the restrictions of her sex and enforces the notion that anyone can embody the ideal morality if they act with courage, honour, valour and humility, and also be revered for it (you heard it). This from the Middle Ages. The 13th century. Seven to eight-hundred years ago. I know, right?!

And so, first, Nature creates the most perfect female ever to have existed. So perfect in fact, Nature is quite aware that everyone will be jealous of the fact and does it anyway. She’s proud of herself because Nature knows she not only rocks but owns you from birth. Then, upon birth into a kingdom where women are barred from inheriting, Silence’s parents, of course, have her raised as a boy, properly exciting Nurture. Nature wants to backslap someone.

Once discovering she’s a girl, and though our hero has a little inner turmoil, Nurture practically high-fives Reason when Silence decides she doesn’t care and heads off on adventure. She goes on to become the finest jouster, fighter and hunter in the land, become a master of minstrelsy, knighted by the king of France, the winner of a great battle for the king of England and beloved by practically the entire world. She’s inadvertently exposed in the end by Merlin (yes that Merlin) by carrying out a deed only a woman should be able to do (but she doesn’t know that): bring the magician into court from his hiding place in the woods. By that point Silence is so far gone caring who knows the ‘deception’ she tells the king to bring it on and do what he must. But in a nice way, she’s polite, you know. So he marries her.

‘There never was a woman less reluctant to engage in armed combat.’

joa-4.jpg

Joan of Arc by Jean-Jaques Scherrer – true-life warrior maiden and sometime heroine of France…until they, you know, betrayed and executed her…awkward.

What I love about Silence is that she proves herself not only equipped with marshal skills but charm and eloquence, primarily using words instead of the blade (unless absolutely necessary) to encourage change, even managing to stop her own murder in the process. Her status in hiding gives her the possibility of learning skills she definitely would not have but for the disguise. She’s also not trying to be male, everyone just decides she is purely because of her outfit – she’s just herself and the lifestyle suited her fine. It’s also interesting to see the dangers a male life of freedom brings to Silence, just as a female one would have brought a kind of imprisonment. People become jealous and possessive of his beauty and skills, even murderous, towards him, and feel they own him in some way because they are in awe or in love with him. It seems the perfection Nature put into creating the most superficially beautiful woman in the world was actually ‘reassigned’ into physical and mental skill once Silence had been denied the female sheen, and also brought on a different kind of envy. One of the most exciting questions in this tale is whether the narrator sees men and women sharing identical potential which itself is silenced depending on how they are assigned at birth. Seriously, I half believe this was written last year. It wasn’t, it was found with some forgotten letters from Henry VIII around the 19-noughties.

‘A woman’s role is to keep silent…’

And, so yes, the ending. The bit where she marries the king. Let’s do that because on first read it’s a bit…disappointing.

After all her feats of strength and honour Silence is returned to her ‘natural’ state – that of a woman. Nature wipes away all the blemishes of being male on the external and puts her in a dress and she hooks up with His Grace. But I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – I don’t think it was written as her shunning all she was. Stay with me. And pretend you’re from the Middle Ages.

agnes

Agnes de Hotot, one-time jousting legend (as far as we know) – a genuine crest of the Dudleys of Northants. Seriously, go look this lady up.

Silence as a youth is afraid that being exposed as female will lose her the heights that she has gained as a boy, but as an adult, and when exalted to being the king’s chosen wife (thus queen) she has actually achieved the very highest status for a woman, and on the merits she has gained in masquerading as a man. But exaltation to queenship and being respected and honoured by the king (the supreme master of everything if you ignore God back then) would be the ultimate honour, especially for a woman, and unbelievably so for a woman who had disguised herself and been exposed. Silence would never have achieved this state if she was not given some autonomy in disguise, and so it is not necessarily being a woman that causes incapability, it’s just being seen as a woman where everyone’s prejudice lies, because women are automatically presumed as such. So Silence is not giving up who she is, she is just embracing all she is, as is everyone else by that point. Wearing a dress is not a euphemism for weak, it’s just a piece of clothing. Ironically, the king is actually pretty fecking weak, but nobody questions him because he is the king and a man and so beyond it. Maybe he can learn a bit from his new wife about…well, everything.

Silence was great on first read, and even though I thought, dammit, she’s totally sold out at the end, luckily human beings as we are gifted with perspective on further visits. Let’s not forget there are many, many ways to interpret words, from eras long gone and our own (and you should definitely go and and read more of Silence from other perspectives), and it’s not the way I would end this story. But like I said, eight-hundred years ago. We are blessed to be able to pull out the parts that inspire us most and sweep the other stuff under the carpet if it’s not to our taste, ’cause it’s fiction! Regardless, she continues to be one of my favourite and most inspiring fictional incarnations of a female knight, a warrior maiden, and a damn badass lady. Plus, you know, there’s dragons in it.