Dead Woman in the Snow

So I confess: I am the one who came up with this topic idea of “Showing Our Freudian Slips” during our last brainstorming session several weeks ago. I had a very clever idea then, which I did not write down (clever x2) and now I have no idea what I wanted to talk about. So instead of being clever, I’m going write a little on women and invisibility in fantasy fiction, which ties into why I wrote my novel. I was inspired to write this post in part by the furor currently surrounding SPEAK.

I first started writing The Iron Key on June 15 of 2005* on a canary yellow notepad with kittens stamped on the edges, in an ER in downtown Phoenix.

I don’t know where the kitten pad came from, but it was in my purse. I’d come directly from an awful waitressing shift where none of my coworkers would help me so I could go to the hospital.  I was pale and feverish and the lower right side of my torso was blown up like a balloon. I’d no idea what was wrong, but was secretly terrified I had a tubal pregnancy. **

In order to distract myself, I started to write about another woman, a rape survivor who was pregnant, and who was just as scared as I was. Her name was Sahrel, and as happens so often to beautiful woman (I’ve been friends with a few), her only obvious worth to the world, her beauty, had become a deadly trap.

This was an idea I had been kicking around in the back of my head for years- it grew out of the fact that epic fantasy traditionally models itself on the Hero’s Journey, and in order to launch the Hero on his journey, his parents need to be out of the picture.

For some reason, this has resulted in my reading a hell of a lot of Prologues where a nameless woman dies giving birth, usually in a damn snowbank or something.

The babe? Our hero, of course.

But isn’t what the woman does for the baby, for a person she’d never even met, equally heroic? And not only does she never get a voice in these damned prologues, most of the time she doesn’t even have a name. Sometimes it gets revealed halfway through the book, when the Hero learns his True Destiny. So the mother is only a person as she relates to the Hero. The only exception to this fantasy cliché that I can think of off the top of my head is an oldschool Norton/Lackey jam The Elvenbane, where Serina Daeth gets a name AND her own POV chapters before she dies. (Know of another book? Drop a comment, I’m sure I’d like to read it, whatever it is.)

Now, I love epic fantasy. I probably enjoyed every one of those books with the nameless-dead-mother prologue. But this tradition of voicelessness, of invisibility*** is painful to me. It’s not just painful. It’s bullshit.

So I’m writing something different. And whether I sell this book or not, I will continue to do so.

*Yep, 5 years. Slow and steady, right? God, I hope so.

**turns out I had an inguinal adenopathy for no apparent reason whatsoever. I guess my lymph node just stopped being able to process things? I don’t know, and the docs didn’t either. Yay science!

***See also: rape survivors, unattractive women, two other issues I touch in TIK.