Roose Boltons Pet Leech

Queer characters in fantasy

119 posts in this topic

11 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

While Googling myself (don't judge me), I had a nice moment of amusement. On the Vox Populi website, my books were trashed by commentators as one of the worst books they ever read.

This amuses me to no end.

It does actually put lie to a weakness in my first book, though, which I felt the need to correct in the previous one which was having the characters (female or otherwise) revolve around the central protagonist too much. I felt the book improved markedly in its depiction of people when there were a lot more female (and otherwise) characters with lives (love or otherwise) which did not involve the protagonist.

I think it's better to get an angry review than an indifferent review.  At least the reader has engaged with your book, and it's had an impact on him.

I remember Joe Abercrombie once published a hilarious e-mail he got which read something like "I've just finished the Thresh (sic)  Law Trilogy, and what a turd!  Please do us all a favour, and don't write anything again!"  Joe praised the critic's "raw honesty."

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3 hours ago, Yukle said:

This also ties into the idea of women being the expected moral compass in a sexual relationship. The man has all the feelings, he just can't help it, and the woman needs to remind him to stay on track. Or, should I say, the "right" woman. The woman who sleeps around is always morally flawed - the femme fatale is an enduring myth.

Female characters who are sexually active and not in a relationship with the protagonist are fairly rare even now in fiction. Unproblematic female sexuality (to coin a term for it) is making progress but still something which has to be fought tooth and nail by genre expectations.

Here's a FASCINATING article which I spent an hour looking for. I was originally going to share it with my grimdark writing list and had it saved for a month but deleted it when I realized it wasn't really on-topic but it's perfect here. It's a discussion on how the same characters get "warped" by gender expectations.

http://benjaminrosenbaum.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-view.cgi/1/entry/976

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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4 hours ago, Lyanna Stark said:

Oh God Lin. I liked Lin. And now I have to stop myself from spoiling you.

No spoilers! I'm now about 5 hours in (audio version -- roughly 20-25% of the way through) and enjoying it.

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47 minutes ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Female characters who are sexually active and not in a relationship with the protagonist are fairly rare even now in fiction.

Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, Effi Briest, Natalya Filipowna, Grushenka, Molly Bloom (o.k. the last three are also in a kind of (non-exclusive) relationship with protagonists). There is a whole genre of sexually active female protagonists since the 19th century... granted, sexually active usually meaning adulterous affairs often with bad consequences for everyone back then but nevertheless.

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15 minutes ago, Jo498 said:

Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, Effi Briest, Natalya Filipowna, Grushenka, Molly Bloom (o.k. the last three are also in a kind of (non-exclusive) relationship with protagonists). There is a whole genre of sexually active female protagonists since the 19th century... granted, sexually active usually meaning adulterous affairs often with bad consequences for everyone back then but nevertheless.

I'm not sure if this is actually meant to be sarcastic or not given the fate of some of these women. Madame Bovary in particular got its author off of a morality charge because of its protagonist being so horrifically punished for her sexuality.

Also, it wouldn't exactly work as an argument against female sexuality not being related to the protagonist given they're the protagonists. I'm referring specifically to women being sexually active in books where they are not the protagonist and not shamed.

Obviously, this is not as much the case in female written fiction but I'm speaking of male driven.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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1 hour ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Really interesting article. One part of me is curious though - how would this effect stand with languages like Finnish, which have no differentiation between "he" and "she" ("hän" does double duty for both)? Would the same disorientation still take place when character gender is flipped, given that you are now determining gender by context and not by grammar?

Edited by Roose Boltons Pet Leech

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53 minutes ago, C.T. Phipps said:

I'm not sure if this is actually meant to be sarcastic or not given the fate of some of these women. Madame Bovary in particular got its author off of a morality charge because of its protagonist being so horrifically punished for her sexuality.

Also, it wouldn't exactly work as an argument against female sexuality not being related to the protagonist given they're the protagonists. I'm referring specifically to women being sexually active in books where they are not the protagonist and not shamed.

Obviously, this is not as much the case in female written fiction but I'm speaking of male driven.

Yes, I agree with this. Isn't the whole point of characters like Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina that having sexual desire leads to Your Downfall. I mean, this is the topic of everything from fairy tale to classics: cautionary tales. See "Little Red Riding Hood". Don't walk alone in the forest, or the big bad wolf will get you.

Eh, with fiction written by women, it can be either or? I mean, if you are looking at some of the romance novel "classics", it's pretty goddamn awful. I mean sure, there is always a happy ending, but I am thinking more of the judgemental attitudes, which can often be glossed over in the case of the heroine, or at least excused, or she was "actually pure" and the hero just didn't understand that.

 

 

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6 minutes ago, Lyanna Stark said:

Yes, I agree with this. Isn't the whole point of characters like Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina that having sexual desire leads to Your Downfall. I mean, this is the topic of everything from fairy tale to classics: cautionary tales. See "Little Red Riding Hood". Don't walk alone in the forest, or the big bad wolf will get you.

Eh, with fiction written by women, it can be either or? I mean, if you are looking at some of the romance novel "classics", it's pretty goddamn awful. I mean sure, there is always a happy ending, but I am thinking more of the judgemental attitudes, which can often be glossed over in the case of the heroine, or at least excused, or she was "actually pure" and the hero just didn't understand that.

Random aside: Poor Lydia Bennet. Yeah, she was bratty but she was a teenager. Now she's stuck in a marriage to a sociopath.

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43 minutes ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Really interesting article. One part of me is curious though - how would this effect stand with languages like Finnish, which have no differentiation between "he" and "she" ("hän" does double duty for both)? Would the same disorientation still take place when character gender is flipped, given that you are now determining gender by context and not by grammar?

i think the issue was more the gender swapping of the characters changed the context in which the characters were perceived.

In the case of Barry the Vampire Slayer as a 16 year old boy in love with Angel (played by Julie Benz) you have an interesting issue of an older woman crushing on a boy and all that emotional baggage thereof. The social cues of what's expected and what's not are changed with the reader/viewer. Moments like Barry losing his virgnity would have a different context as well as how he's expected to be emotional or deal with responsibility.

Part of what interested me about the article was the author found themselves trying to rewrite the characters because they were suddenly put off by their actions even though they, themselves, were God of that world. It's something which came up in my Supervillainy Books when I was writing the protagonist Gary in relation to an ex-flame, specifically Gabrielle (who is effectively an Afro-Hispanic Supergirl).

A lot of readers really loved their relationship, even more than Gary's current lover and talked at length about it. Others were somewhat off-put by it and talked about why it was "unhealthy" without ever quite seemingly able to express why. I, in fact, knew exactly why it was striking them as odd because I wrote Gary and Gabrielle as a relationship where Gary was "The Chick."

Their relationship was him always getting saved, Gabrielle keeping her emotional distance due to his enemies, and Gary being her emotional crutch. By reversing the usual Spiderman/Superman to Lois Lane/Mary Jane Watson dynamics up to and including her erasing his memories it made many readers feel weird. The gender reversal affected the readers even if they couldn't quite figure out why.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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I've actually used the gender flip argument for the unhealthiness of the Jon Snow/Ygritte relationship in ASOIAF. A virgin Joanna Snow being pressured into sex by Ygri the Wilding in exchange for protection...

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27 minutes ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

I've actually used the gender flip argument for the unhealthiness of the Jon Snow/Ygritte relationship in ASOIAF. A virgin Joanna Snow being pressured into sex by Ygri the Wilding in exchange for protection...

But, let's face it, most teenage boys would be only too pleased to meet an Ygritte.

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On 16/11/2016 at 2:07 AM, SeanF said:

That is very funny.  I take it that it's meant to promote abstinence.

Further investigation shows that someone has done a dramatic reading of it:

I feel so honoured.

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On 18/11/2016 at 3:07 PM, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

I've actually used the gender flip argument for the unhealthiness of the Jon Snow/Ygritte relationship in ASOIAF. A virgin Joanna Snow being pressured into sex by Ygri the Wilding in exchange for protection...

Only problem with this though is that we know Jon Snow actually desired Ygritte (who was what? three years older? It's not that she was a legal adult and he was a child by Westerosi standards), and the reason he held off was because of his vows, so it's not as if it was him thinking "nah I don't like this Ygritte woman", since we are already in his head and can discern what he thinks, it's somewhat different (and I might add, a common trope for romance novels). Not saying it is *perfect* by any means (it is prolly meant to be morally ambiguous) but I would hesitate to say it would be significantly worse if the genders were flipped and Joanna Snow really desired Ygri the Wildling, but held off because of her monastic vows. While I agree the age difference is an issue, and the pressure, the fact is that thinking a man's desire for a woman must be stronger and more overruling than a woman's desire for a man devalues female sexuality as a directional power of its own.

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1 hour ago, Lyanna Stark said:

Only problem with this though is that we know Jon Snow actually desired Ygritte (who was what? three years older? It's not that she was a legal adult and he was a child by Westerosi standards), and the reason he held off was because of his vows, so it's not as if it was him thinking "nah I don't like this Ygritte woman", since we are already in his head and can discern what he thinks, it's somewhat different (and I might add, a common trope for romance novels). Not saying it is *perfect* by any means (it is prolly meant to be morally ambiguous) but I would hesitate to say it would be significantly worse if the genders were flipped and Joanna Snow really desired Ygri the Wildling, but held off because of her monastic vows. While I agree the age difference is an issue, and the pressure, the fact is that thinking a man's desire for a woman must be stronger and more overruling than a woman's desire for a man devalues female sexuality as a directional power of its own.

Like Edward and Bella! Bella's needs were prominent!

*Lyanna Stark glares*

I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.

The very fact it comes up, of course, is a good illustration of how gender carries a bunch of cultural baggage in fantasy even when not taking place in the quote-unquote real world.

BIG DIGRESSION

One of my favorite web articles on the internet right now is the Lovecraft Re-Read project. How does this relate to queer characters in fantasy? Well, it's interesting because the two reviewers Anne M. Pillsworth and Ruthanna Emrys are both women who have very different sorts of views than HPL. They often end up reading the stories they review from the perspective of either the racial minorities, monsters, or the rare female in the tales.

For example, The Medusa Coil is one of the most singular racist of HPL's work (and helped along by Zealia Bishop who was actually every bit as racist as HPL but more feminist--surprise surprise). Their review of it pointed out, ironically, the story actually read like an excellent revenge tale against the horrible racist and misogynist jerkasses who tried to ruin the "villain's" life.

Perhaps the first time I really agreed with Death of the Author because reading it from that perspective honestly made it a much better story.

http://www.tor.com/2016/02/10/lovecrafts-most-bigoted-collaboration-no-really-medusas-coil/

Both women have also talked about how difficult it is to write in the Mythos about the issues that are meaningful since it requires them to often go off script as, particularly for Ruthanna, queer issues aren't so much against the spirit of HPL but entirely absent. It's something I'm interested in seeing how she tackles with Winter's Tide coming out in 2017.

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I'll throw in to the Kushiel's Dart discussion. I read the entire first two trilogies some years ago, and even though they had some great stuff, I ultimately couldn't "love" the books. It's hard to pinpoint why. They are very much romance/political thrillers more so than erotica. I agree that the uber-perfect Terre D'Ange people got very annoying after a while. In particular, the final pairing in the second trilogy rubbed me the wrong way. I did like how the world-building went to great lengths to set up a sex-positive religious foundation, since so much of sexual repression is tied up in religious dogma. The third book of the first trilogy (I want to say it's Kushiel's Avatar) was my favorite because of the high stakes, even though I distinctly recall some over-the-top awfulness. :wacko: (it may very well be that since I have no desire to reread the books, that's why I can't say I loved them. But I'm not sorry I read them, if that makes sense.)

This one's from a video game, but the Viera bunny-women from Final Fantasy XII and some of the Tactics games are an all female-race of... shapely bunny women. No bunny-men (or bunny-kids, either, that I've seen). And in XII they tend to wear what my brother disparagingly called "battle teddies" and had Barbie-style high-heeled feet.  From a design standpoint, their big ears always bugged me, since they stay upright even when said character is running or fighting. I'm fairly sure rabbits tuck their ears when running. (FFXII is a favorite of mine, despite this oddness.) 

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On ‎11‎/‎19‎/‎2016 at 10:01 AM, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Further investigation shows that someone has done a dramatic reading of it:

I feel so honoured.

Congratulations.  You should seek a royalty.

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Great conversation, I've enjoyed reading it.

A book that hasn't been mentioned is Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg. Mordred is reworked as a gay man - and as a character is incredibly compelling.

While the story as a whole didn't quite work for me, Clegg's portrayal of Mordred was wonderful.

It wasn't a "HEY, I'M MORDRED! I'M A GAY MAN DOING GAY THINGS!"

Mordred was a man not a sexual identity. He had strong motivations beyond sex and sexual conquest, he acted as a person who happened to be gay, and his sexual orientation was just a part of his character, just like all of our sexual orientations are just part of us not all-consuming.

When Mordred has his first sexual encounter (with a young monk), it was so wonderfully subtle and REAL that I as a straight man didn't bat an eye, didn't come out of the story, and in fact related to Mordred as a person enjoying the love/sex of another person.

And that's the way I wish all fiction would be. The more a character is just behaving naturally to him/herself and things like orientation, race, religion, whatever unfold naturally, the story will flow. It's when these things become blatant or obvious, like the author is saying "HEY! HERE'S MY GAY CHARACTER!"  - that's when I'm not interested.

Interestingly, for me, I think gay authors and women write gay characters that way more so than straight authors - straight authors seem really "clumsy" when writing gay characters most of the time. But that's probably because they can't relate, in the way that often male writers can't write convincing female characters.

Anyway, great discussion - I enjoyed reading all of your thoughts.

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