Big Boobs and Book Covers: A Critique of Fantasy Art

When I began soliciting artists interesting in creating the covers for At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree, I asked the artists for a rendering of Mhari, an elfe (politically correct term for female elf in Odessiya) who would become the first teacher of my protagonist, Seanchai.

I explained that she was old but vibrant, tough but wise, and I waited for the examples. Every one of the four artists produced sexy, buxom female warriors. I realize that sex sells ­– I considered moving to T-Mobile because of the woman in the advert not her motorbike, helicopter or the beautiful color purple (okay I am partial to motorbikes and purple, but lets stay on topic…) ­­– but these are YA books.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

Apparently, the use of beautiful women on covers of YA Fantasy and Sci Fi are nothing new. This article follows the noble battle by author, Jim Hines.

Hines produced a series of great photos in which he poses in similar positions to scantily-clad women on book covers. Mr. Hines wasn’t against showing some skin himself.

_65356744_scifi“The way women are portrayed is just so ridiculous, so often, you just stop seeing it,” Hines says. “I think posing has made people see it again – you see how ridiculous it is when a 38-year-old fantasy writer is doing it.”

Hines began posting his poses at the beginning of 2012 and they quickly became the most visited. This gave him the idea to create a series to raise money for research to help fight Aicardi Syndrome, a genetic disorder, and he has raised over $15,000 to date.

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The issue of depicting women in fantasy art in a sexual way is nothing new and, in fact, quite rampant in role playing games like D&D. Tracey Hurley, co-founder of Prismatic Art Collection, has commented: “Women are so often portrayed assuming that a stereotypical hetero male is going to be the person looking at the cover, … Male characters [are] powerful and strong, and women’s sexuality will be emphasised. And why is that a problem? It’s constraining for both men and women.”

I find this really depressing. I guess I expected something different from a genre free of stereotypical constraints because it creates its own reality. This is all the more disappointing when dealing with Young Adult literature because of the target audience. I wonder whether a scantily-dressed, thin, and cleavage-heavy woman might also be a turn-off for young women, conscious of their own body-type. Add to this that most of the women portrayed are white and I am left wondering if this explains why less teenage women read fantasy. I also think it explains the success of The Hunger Games, though the promo photos for the movie also follow the concept.

imgresIt is not enough to just thrust a sword in her hand or dress her in a chain mail bikini to project strong images of women, nor is the cover of the book enough to reinforce strong, positive female values.

While my protagonist is a male, I made sure to add strong female characters, who are indispensable to his quest. I believe I showed them as more than equal warriors, each with her own special character. I needed prodding with this, I admit, and even changed Seanchai’s teacher from a man to a woman. Interestingly, it opened up a number of exciting avenues.

Authors are powerful influencers in the community, and even more so when writing for a Young Adult market. But power comes with responsibility and we have a role to play in shaping the next generation of thinkers, leaders, and innovators.

Even though many of us write about different worlds and kingdoms, let’s help make this world a better place.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of GalbriethThe First Decree is due out in March 2013.

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Sword and Gun Control

Epic Fantasy, among many genres, has the ability to whisk us away from reality and send us into a world of noble quests, ancient swords, and magnificent mythical animals. It also has the ability to offer wisdom for the world we live in and I have written about this before.

Airship10But sometimes it is really hard to let go and enter this world – or to return to the one we live in. I needed to write a post for this blog a day or so after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, and I couldn’t. What can one possibly write on a blog like this? 

I searched the Internet, found something amusing and pre posted it. It was a cop-out; admittedly perhaps some much-needed comic relief. But I’ve been thinking about this ever since. If epic fantasy is anything more than escapism, then we should have something to say? 

When National Rifle Association VP, Wayne LaPierre, blames violent video games, perhaps to deflect the debate on gun control, we need to ask ourselves whether we as fantasy authors and readers are also glorifying violence. 

The fact we use bows and arrows, axes and swords instead of semi-automatic machine guns doesn’t make it cleaner. I admire (begrudgingly as it is sometimes hard to read) the gruesomeness of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones series. What he describes in his battle scenes are probably the closest we come to the reality of battle. 

imgres-8But I am stuck with the feeling that if we do not write about the darker side, how can we reach for the lighter? For a rainbow to appear, there needs to be a storm. We do have a responsibility not to glorify or keep the violence clean. I am not sure that I achieve this in At The Walls Of Galbrieth and especially not in the huge battles that take place in The First Decree. I am not sure how to even achieve this without excluding the young adults for whom I primarily write. I do not believe my 14-year-old son and his friends, who devour my books, should read A Game of Thrones because of the violence (and also the way he portrays sex).

How can we keep on moving forward after a tragedy? Does it not maybe become even more important not to give up? I’ll leave the last words to a couple of good friends.

FRODO: “What are we holding onto Sam?”

SAM: “That there’s some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Frodo and Sam

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Did Tolkien Ever Rap?

Okay, I’m sure I’m not alone still in Hobbit land, trying to remain cocooned in Middle Earth magic for twelve months until the next movie ain’t gonna to be easy. But there are some things that will help us on our way. I don’t know who produced this, but I suspect it wasn’t a certain pipe-loving Oxford Professor.

Thank you to those who have contacted me about At The Walls Of Galbrieth. I set myself a goal to have five reviews posted by mid-January.If you read the book, please take a few minutes to post a review at Amazon.com. I really appreciate the help. Clocks ticking…

Have a great weekend,

Elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Words of Truth – Terry Goodkind

“I like to deliver my philosophy at sword-point.” Terry Goodkind.

I was first introduced to Terry Goodkind, courtesy of Legend of the Seeker – his first two books serialized for TV. A handsome everyday hero, beautiful and oft-evil women, a quest, a sword, magic … need I say more?

imgresFor some inexplicable reason, despite solid ratings, the series lasted only two series. If you feel so moved by the injustice, you can join the Save The Seeker movement and show that there is a following for a third season.

I am in the middle of the second book and incredibly impressed with Terry Goodkind. He provides all the ingredients one would expect from a master of epic fantasy. In particular, his world building is so effortless and clear.

One warning: the books are far more gritty than the TV series. I’m not sure I would want my 14-year-old to read them, but having said that, some of the scenes that I am thinking of, are amazingly written. While I loved Legend of the Seeker, it is in no way a replacement for the books. I do wonder, however, having watched Game of Thrones, whether these gritty scenes could appear in a third series and whether this might propel Seeker to the same ratings as Game of Thrones.

imgres-1I confess to being a fan of authors and so went looking for some interviews with Terry Goodkind. The third and fourth interviews provide a great insight to a very unique man. This is a very cool interview.

But it is the first two interviews that really excited me. Last week I made a suggestion that epic fantasy can be a vehicle for imparting social values. In his ‘Confessor’ interviews, Goodkind articulates a similar perspective – and like his books, he is quite inspirational.

Make yourself a cup of coffee, put your feet up, and have a great weekend.

Elfwriter.

‘Confessor’ interviews:

Words of Truth:

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Alon Shalev is the author oAt The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted HeroesThe Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).