Last week I asked in my blog post, 10 Questions For J.R.R Tolkien, what questions people would like to ask the Professor if they had the opportunity. The answers were great, but one stood out for me.
A person with the twitter username @oneyearnovel (happy to enter your name and website) wrote: “I would ask if he ever considered a woman character who was not beautiful?”
This got me wondering. When I began looking around for a book cover artist and shared my concept of Mhari, an elfe (the politically correct term for a female elf) and Seanchai’s teacher, I was offered sketches of buxom women with cleavage-revealing armor, muscled (bare) legs etc. You get the picture. I talk about this in an earlier post – Big Boobs and Book Covers. While these images might have sold more copies of At The Walls Of Galbrieth, the pensive, wise face that adorns the cover truly represents the wise, yet world-weary mentor for my protagonist, Seanchai.
I don’t in truth know if @oneyearnovel is correct that Tolkien’s females in his books are all beautiful, or if this is Peter Jackson pandering to what he believes his Hollywood audience wants. I have not read Lord of the Rings in years and can’t even recall a female in the Hobbit.
Tolkien students: please enlighten us on this in the comments.
There are three main female characters who each leave an indelible mark on the first four books of the Wycaan Master series. Sellia is dark, exotic and beautiful, but she is also an excellent warrior and probably fits the stereotype. While I never talk about her breasts, hips etc. (this is YA), she intimidates the younger male elves and has them stuttering. She makes a game of eliciting a blush from Rhoddan or Seanchai.
Ilana is tough, an ideologue, constantly seeking a peaceful solution and offering Seanchai her unwavering support. As a romance blossoms she is viewed for her beauty, but it is seen through the eyes of one who is falling in love with her. Don’t we doting men all think our wives/partners are the most beautiful women in the world? Of course mine really is!
But Ilana is possibly the most popular character among readers, certainly female readers. It is not anything physical about her that binds the reader to her, but her deep principles, cutting sense of humor, and well just about everything else concerning her.
Maugwen is a human, short and pudgy. She is a weak character at first and I never meant to give her a long run. But she grows, matures and becomes a wise friend and strong individual. Readers have told me that she intrigues them and, just between us, she intrigues me.
We don’t make all our male characters handsome and ripped, so why our females? I think @oneyearnovel has a great point. Society expects us to bind ourselves to a pretty woman, and in truth, this goes for good or bad characters, but fiction has a responsibility to not only change with the times, but to be present at the tipping edge of that change.
It is very popular to write a coming-of-age novel. Perhaps it is time for our genre to come of age.
Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).