This post in the third in a series of posts on my favourite feminist characters and female role models in books and TV. Check out my other posts on Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Martha from Doctor Who!
One of my favourite fantasy authors is Tamora Pierce, who basically could be given the award for most feminist fantasy author ever. I don’t think there’s really a single female character that she’s written who isn’t a brilliant role model. Fantasy is difficult for me as a feminist sometimes, because the historical/medieval contexts can sometimes recreate a lot of misogyny and just run with it. You can see some inequality in Pierce’s works, but it’s something that’s always dealt with.
Keladry of Mindelan is the protagonist of the Protector of the Small series – the title itself gives away some of the main themes of the books. We first meet her as an ten-year-old, she is the first girl to start training as a knight since the laws were changed to allow women to do so (after Alanna the Lioness, the heroine of Pierce’s first series, disguises herself as a boy for eight years to become a knight). Kel doesn’t have the advantage of pretending to be a boy though, and her enrollment is met with a lot of hostility from her training master Lord Wyldon and her fellow pages. She is even put on probation for her first year, which none of the male pages are. Kel isn’t happy.
‘It’s not right,’ she muttered to herself. ‘You’re a page for four years, that’s how it’s been done for centuries, and now they’re gonna change it? Just because I’m a girl? They ought to treat me the same. All I want is the same chance as the boys, no more, no less. That’s right, isn’t it?’
Of course, Kel’s not giving up so easily: she ‘s dedicated and she doesn’t give up easily, going above and beyond to achieve her goals, such as getting up extra early to train and using weighted weapons (a practical joke that turned out to help her rather than deter her). Eventually, Kel achieves her dream, despite all the opposition and adversity she faces by men who think she doesn’t have what it takes, and she continues to make her point by wearing dresses at dinner time. She’s strong, capable, and keeps her head in tough situations, and demonstrates that yeah, women can be excellent fighters and leaders as well.
That’s not all that’s awesome about Kel though: she’s also extraordinarily compassionate and a bit of a humanitarian (sensing a theme here?) She abhors the bullying and hazing that goes on in page training and stands up for her friends against older boys (and isn’t afraid to pick a fight – or ‘fall down’ when asked why she has a black eye). At the end of her page training, she jeopardises her graduation to rescue her friend Lalasa, who had been kidnapped and held at the top of Balor’s Needle, managing to overcome her fear of heights in the process. She is compassionate not only towards people, but animals as well, refusing to use spurs on her horse and looking after a baby griffin (despite being regularly mauled in the process). She is guided by her own moral compass, and if standing up for what’s right means getting in trouble, then so be it.
After Kel has become a fully-fledged knight, she is assigned to oversee a refugee camp on the border to Scanra during the Scanran War. She’s frustrated with the assignment because the Chamber of Ordeal (the rite of passage for all aspiring knights) has given her visions of her own unique task, to find and kill the Nothing Man, who makes metal killing machines run on the souls of dead children. While she becomes an effective camp leader starts to appreciate her assignment, she eventually risks her knighthood to complete the task the Chamber gave her. She earns the title ‘Protector of the Small’ because of her devotion to fighting for those who are marginalised and overlooked. At the end of the series, the Chamber tells her:
‘You are the Protector of the Small. You see real people in the humans and animals overlooked by your peers. There will always be work for you.’
Of course, Kel isn’t the only awesome female character in the Tamora Pierce world – like I said, almost every female protagonist is complex, kick-arse and a brilliant role model. Whether it’s the King’s Champion Alanna the Lioness, Provost’s Guard Beka Cooper or her mentor Clara Goodwin, Wildmage Daine, or any one of the Winding Circle mages, Pierce gives us a whole range of excellent feminist characters to delight in – and some darn good plots as well. She’s definitely a must for the feminist reader.